I was angry when the media first began speculating that Caitlyn Jenner might be transgender. I was angry for all the obvious reasons, sure, angry that they invaded her privacy and that they treated the gut-wrenching experience she’s been through for the past six decades with absolutely no respect, referring to her potential transition as a “scandal”, which probably made a whole lot of kids out there afraid to be themselves. But I was also angry for another reason. I was angry that people cared so much in the first place.
It didn’t make sense to me that people were so invested in Jenner’s gender identity. I thought, here is a person who may as well live in a different universe than most of us, and no matter what happens in her life, nothing about ours are going to change. Why, then, can’t we just leave her alone?
To me, caring was the epitome of being transphobic because it meant we saw what she was doing as abnormal, it meant egging on the spectacle that the media had made her transition out to be. It’s why I was hesitant to even watch the Diane Sawyer interview. I wanted to live in a world where we could hear news like Jenner’s and think, “Oh, great! I’m so happy she’s becoming her true self,” and then move on with our lives.
The reality is, though, we don’t live in a world like that. We live in a world that drives teenagers to kill themselves because of something over which they have absolutely no control. We live in a world where parents disown their children and leave them homeless and starving because they choose to wear a dress to the school dance instead of a tuxedo. We live in a world where, in certain places, dressing in clothes not tailored to your gender can get you arrested.
So when I did watch Jenner’s Diane Sawyer interview and the way it so profoundly humanized a transgender person in front of more than twenty million viewers—many of whom had probably never encountered someone who is transgender before, let alone a woman who once stood for the epitome of American manhood—I realized that we have to care. We have to care a whole lot. Until we live in a world that isn’t so damn senseless, that doesn’t crucify people for being ‘different’, we have to read and learn and listen to as many stories as possible so that we can understand and in turn help others begin to understand. We have to promote visibility so that those who do look at transgender people as “others” and “abnormal” and “freaks” can start to see that they are just human beings like the rest of us. We have to care so that someday, generations from now, people won’t anymore. We have to care until there are no more haters left.
Of course, it is unfortunate that Jenner was more or less forced to come out by the media. While we do have to care, it is best that we let people decide to tell their stories on their own terms. But, I guess that comes with the territory of being a celebrity, and I am happy that Jenner did ultimately decide to take control of the conversation and steer it in the direction it deserved to go. By doing that interview, by posing for that Vanity Fair cover, Jenner has altered the media circus. She has helped it transform her story from a spectacle into a moving depiction of one woman’s incredible journey. I hope she has helped more people see that transitioning into the person she was always meant to be is not the least bit scandalous.
When I saw Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair and read the outpour of supportive messages for her all over social media, I felt proud. I felt proud that finally, because of people like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox who are willing to let the world into their stories and demanding that people care in all the right ways, things might just be starting to change.
Sure, there have been the usual haters. There have been offensive tweets and ignorant Fox News reports. But how amazing is it that they have been so heavily criticized and so drowned out by all the positive reactions?
I was wrong when I thought that people’s lives couldn’t change because of Caitlyn Jenner’s public transition. I think it will change a lot of lives, and I don’t think you have to be transgender or even know someone who is to be inspired by Jenner’s story. We all have something we can learn from her. We can learn that it is never too late to change and become our true selves. We can learn that you never ever know what is going on inside a person’s head and that even an all-American Olympic champion can be fighting a deep inner battle. We can learn to be a little more tolerant of everyone.
Things are changing. They’re changing slowly, and there is still a lot to do, but Jenner’s cover story is a big moment. A person who was once the ultimate icon for male athleticism has become a beautiful, happy woman, and I think it is so valuable for us to see that something like that is possible and okay. It is even more valuable that Jenner has allowed us to see the human being beneath those physical changes.
I hope the many struggling kids and adults out there will be able to look past the negative, ignorant reactions to Jenner’s transition and focus on the beauty of the positive ones. It is another reason why I have realized that we have to care. The only way to drown out the noise of those who choose to hate is to be louder than they are.