An Unlikely Superhero

‘Yes, I am a woman. People look at me differently. They see me as this macho male. But my heart and my soul and everything that I do in life, what is part of me is feminine. It is who I am. I was not genetically born that way. I have all the male parts. In a lot of ways we’re different. But we still identify as female. But that is very hard for Bruce Jenner to say.”

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Yesterday a gold medal winning olympic athlete came out as transgendered. There are a million things on our screens that aren’t worth watching, but seventeen million people watched last night and I am guessing that a lot of those people learned more than they bargained for sitting down to eat their dinner in front of the tv.

I forget how different it is in other parts of the country. The veil of acceptance and equality I witness on the west coast is just the opposite in so many places. When I lived in Oregon, a professor told the class that Portland State was one of the only places in the country to have bathrooms with gender neutral labels. I had never even thought about it before: even using the bathroom can be present a dilemma for someone who identifies as trans.

The saying, ‘at the end of the day you have to look yourself in the mirror’ came to mind as I watched Bruce talk about spending over 60 years of his life feeling like he was deceiving everyone, most of all himself. To most of us, our reflection can be comforting, reassuring us even after the longest days that we’re still holding up. For him, it seems as if it would be devastating. There is no one alive who is more you’er than you is one of my favorite Dr Seus quotes, it is hard to imagine feeling like your body didn’t match up with what is in your heart.

Clearly, Bruce had been fighting that battle since he was 6 (when he first realized he was different) and will continue to deal with the harsh criticisms and bigotry that stem from ignorance. Of those 17 million people who watched, at least a couple of them probably grew up staring at Bruce Jenner on their cereal box. He was penned as the ‘normal’ Kardashian from day one… boring even. Hearing that he identifies as woman no doubt blew a lot of peoples minds. The families who watched from rural Kansas probably had a lot to take in as Bruce spoke candidly and eloquently about his decision to tell the world who he really is. Truth bombs like how identifying as trans does not mean you are universally the same as the next transgendered person (just like how being straight doesn’t mean youre a carbon copy of your neighbor). Bruce is still attracted to women. He prefers to wear women’s clothing. He also enjoys playing golf. Frankly, He is still the most boring Kardashian…if you take away societies constraints that is. What we’ve deemed “normal”.

Bruce’s answers are so important to listen to, and what I hope people continue to discuss. His words demonstrated that your gender is not mutually exclusive with your sexuality and interests (duh!). There are millions of people who probably thought that all transgendered people are gay. Kinda like how all gay people are promiscuous. And only poor people get STDs. It sounds ridiculous but millions of them were on twitter last night and I’ll bet you most of them did not watch the interview. My ignorance is the real enemy stance holds strong. That is why I wanted to take the time to bring this to the couple hundred or so people I know on facebook.

Admissions like this can be polarizing. Although the west coast is far more accepting than a lot of cities, even on my own facebook feed there are probably people who judge and shame Bruce because when he looks in the mirror he sees the woman he has been hiding for almost seven decades. How at 6 years old he probably would have walked into the girls bathroom because that is where he thought he should go and how as he got older that feeling never went away but became more and more critical to suppress. The shaming, ridicule, jokes made at Bruce’s expense these last few months are daily reminders of how we treat people who are different, except this kind of taunting often leaves a body count. 41% of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, nearly nine times the national average. Some of them will succeed.

Bruce has eight beautiful children and a gold medal. Who knows what the people who end their lives could have been, perhaps they thought no one wanted to see. The waxing poetic sentiment aside, its the god damn truth that we bully and shame people into conforming to societies norms. Bruce the handsome Olympic athlete republican father identifying as a woman no doubt stirs some people into rethinking what they believed to be true about _____ type of person. That is the goal  we need to be moving towards, living in a world that allows people to come as they are. I think Kurt Cobain said that two decades ago, it sounds so simple yet, here we are.

I’ve used the term ‘he’ because Bruce Jenner told ABC news that he is comfortable with it right now, despite using female pronouns when he speaks about himself. When Diane Sawyer shows him a video of himself winning the Olympic medal he said “she looks so happy”.

He won that medal as a woman. He isn’t asking for everyone to see that though, and he acknowledges that it will take some time. This isn’t a recipe for overnight acceptance. There isn’t anything wrong with accidentally referring to Bruce or someone like him with an incorrect gender pronoun. The key word being accidentally, because even if its hard to correct, we should all make an effort to refer to people as they would like to be referred to. Kind of like how we should do unto others as we would have done to ourselves.

Thank you for your courage, Bruce Jenner. An unlikely candidate for the lesson in humility, but one of the greater ones I can remember none the less.

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