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.