Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Transgender Hero

I don’t understand all the controversy surrounding Caitlyn Jenner. A person in a free country made a personal choice that does not affect anyone else. End of story.

Except that it isn’t. As Jenner’s interview and Vanity Fair cover photo inundated the Internet, something incredibly ugly happened. I expected Christian conservatives to say judgmental things (it seems that’s what Christian conservatism is – you just sit around all day and judge people and their (sex) lives instead of, you know, actually doing something to make the world a better place.)

What I didn’t expect was that the words “hero” and “courage” applied to Jenner’s transformation would trigger such venom from people – some of whom I was horrified to see were my own Facebook friends. As if, somehow, these words were meant to only be applied to soldiers and those who wear uniforms. No one has ownership of these words or any others. Anyone can choose who they admire as a personal hero, and there are many ways to display courage. Not every soldier is a hero - recall the three U.S. Servicemen who kidnapped and raped a 12-year old Japanese girl in 1995. It was one of many rapes that have occurred in Japan – never mind worldwide - involving U.S. soldiers who could never be considered heroic.

When I was 16, I met my first transgendered friend. He was one of the first people I met at the Larkin Street Youth Services drop-in center for homeless youth in San Francisco. He looked out for me when I was on the streets, and was far savvier about than I was. I have no idea what would have happened to me if it had not been for him – and for that, he is my hero. Before he turned 18, he committed suicide. His conservative Christian family had rejected him, and society was hardly kinder.

Today I am proud to have several transgender women in my life, including my advisor at Yale University and a professional colleague. I am grateful that transgendered teens now have a mainstream role model to look up to. Maybe my friend would be alive today had there been a Caitlyn Jenner in the limelight then.

There are many kinds of heros, and different ways to be a courageous and brave. Be understanding of other people’s struggles, even if their struggle isn’t yours.

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