My thoughts on the Caitlin Jenner transition and controversy

I’m going to assume most readers know what I’m referring to without needing to cite a specific news story (a practice which is becoming more hit-or-miss as the days go on and which I’m considering changing; more on this in a later post). For those of you who have missed it and need some backstory, start with this section of the Caitlin Jenner article on Wikipedia.

(I had hoped to get this out there while it was still relatively topical. By now, it’s a bit stale, but I do have a lot to say on the subject, and a lot of the topics will remain relevant for some time to come.)

The last decade has seen a fair number of high-profile events involving sexual preference, gender identity, and gender norms. For example, the “coming out” of college football player, Michael Sam, originally drafted by the St. Louis Rams, later joining the Dallas Cowboys practice squad and then the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. (Other players have since “come out” as gay or lesbian.) It’s no longer the huge taboo it once was for men to use color cosmetics (makeup), though it’s still a relatively small minority that choose to do so. Target has just recently (2015 August) decided to remove gender-based signage from the toys aisles (and some other departments) in its stores. (More on this in a future post, since this is still somewhat topical and worthy of its own post.) The Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that life partnership (marriage) can no longer legally be withheld from same-sex couples. All of these combined mean a very different world going forward.

A lot of the controversy surrounded Caitlin receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the 2015 ESPY Awards. It could be said that Caitlin, with her athletic career long since over, was not all that courageous “coming out” as transgender. I can see the logic behind giving her the award though, because coming out as transgender is damned hard enough as it is, and having become this famous as a male athlete, even if three decades prior, can’t possibly have made it any easier.

When the Ashe Award has been given to multiple recipients, there has always been some connection; examples include Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick in 2002, who perished on-board United Flight 93 hijacked as part of the terrorist attacks of 2001 September 11; the Tillman brothers in 2003; and a few others. So one possible answer to the criticism, to award multiple recipients in 2015 for completely unrelated acts of courage, would probably not have gone over well and for good reason.

I’m not going to pretend to be omnipotent regarding who really should have received the award. Indeed, it could be argued there’s no objective way to measure courage and, thus, the answer as to who was the most courageous over the course of a year will vary depending on who is making the decision, and that the debate over whether or not Caitlin deserved the award will continue for many years if not decades. While we as a society have made a lot of progress, there is still a huge gap to close before we can say we have eliminated bias based on unconventional gender identity. I hope that those that disagree with the decision to give Caitlin the Ashe Award can at least respect that decision no matter how vehement their disagreement may be. It is also my hope that Caitlin’s coming out leads to more acceptance of transgender individuals and greater awareness of LGBTQ issues.

A prom gone wrong

This post on Wine & Marble ( (warning: coarse language) and the followup post made soon thereafter chronicle the very unfortunate tale of a young woman named Clare in Richmond, VA, who wanted to put the cap on her time in high school with a good time at the prom. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Quoting the first post:

The only dress code specified on the registration form was that “Ladies, please keep your dresses fingertip length or longer.” Like a good little homeschooler, I made sure that the dress was fingertip length on me; I even tried it on with my shoes, just to be sure. It was fingertip length, I was ecstatic, and I laid down several weeks worth of tip money I had been saving up to buy it.

And you know what happened? I got kicked out of prom because of it.

The post goes on to explain a sequence of events that I, as an adult, find mind-boggling, which I will summarize here (the original post is linked if you want to read it in full). On the night of the prom, one of the prom organizers tells Clare her dress is too short, she shows that it is fingertip length, and the organizer says “make sure it stays pulled down, it’s too short.” And then, fast forward to a few moments later, when this same organizer gestures Clare off the dance floor and accuses her of dancing inappropriately. To make a long story short, Clare is kicked out of the prom for her dress being too short (which it was not, she made sure it was long enough before buying it, and at a considerable expense at that) as well as “inappropriate dancing.”

Clare at least gets her ticket refunded. The rest of Clare’s group is verbally promised a refund (they came to prom together and if Clare is forced to leave, the rest of the group has to leave with her). However, when they walk up front to leave with Clare, only Clare gets her refund. A parent of someone else in Clare’s group calls the prom organizers to ask about the refund, and is told “We aren’t going to do refunds.”

The crux of the problem seems to be the dads on the balcony who were in charge of chaperoning the event. Clare, in the conclusion of the post, says she felt “felt violated by the sheer number of male parents that were assigned to do nothing for five hours other then watch girls in short dresses and heels dance to upbeat music.” I would agree that it is a bit over the top to have a majority of the adult chaperones be male and there is no good reason for it.

Yes, it was a prom for a Christian homeschool (and I’ve discussed religious schools before). The profanity in Clare’s post shows just how frustrated she is. I don’t blame her for “breaking the swear barrier.” I would too, and in fact I have before in similar situations. I don’t see what is so wholesome about giving dads old enough to have teenage daughters five hours’ worth of unrestricted girl watching. I don’t see why half as many couples (mother and father) couldn’t do just as an effective job of chaperoning; the intent behind having couples being to reduce the blatant perverted gazing (by both genders). It’s just not appropriate to have an excess of one gender chaperoning an event like this–men or women.

Back to inappropriate dancing for a moment. According to one of Clare’s friends, there was some truly inappropriate “dirty dancing” going on later in the evening, and nobody else was kicked out for it. Nobody besides Clare, who if she is being truthful (and I have no reason to believe she isn’t), barely moved to the music.

These are high school students, who we are expecting to become adults and act like adults in anywhere from a little over three years after this dance to possibly a few short months. It is shameful that the organizers of this prom and the parents who chaperoned it are showing an incredible lack of maturity in their uneven enforcement of the rules, as well as treating these students as significantly younger and less mature than they are.

Finally, a commenter named Mila may have found the reason (edited for grammar):

I’m a black girl and I would give you MY view. I really don’t think it was because they were ogling at you in that dress… you are pretty, but nothing to ogle over. I think it was because your date is BLACK and they felt very uncomfortable watching you grinding on him… sad but TRUE. You are a very tall blonde white girl with a short (but appropriate) dress dancing on a black guy. They noticed! I doubt they would have kicked you out if your date were a white guy or better yet if YOU were a black girl. This is way worse, and you AND your boyfriend deserve an apology!

I hope Mila’s wrong. I really do. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this happened barely a couple of weeks after the incident involving LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling which I just blogged about. I had really hoped by now we as a society have moved beyond flagrant racism. I don’t expect the prom organizers to acknowledge that this was racially motivated if it was (quite the opposite in fact). It certainly looks damn suspicious, but I would need to know how much of that “dirty dancing” involved couples of obviously different ethnicities to know for sure. That’s an observation that, unfortunately, was probably just not made at the time.

A little over a month ago marked 46 years that the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was brutally ended long before it should have. His final speech stated, in part:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Have we gotten any closer to the promised land of a world without bigotry in 46 years? I hope so. But when instances of racism come to light, I have to wonder for a moment just how far we’ve truly come.