Unless you spent 2015 living under a rock, you know that a little less than a year ago, Bruce Jenner, Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete and dad/step-dad to the Jenner/Kardashian clan, revealed his identity as a trans woman. Bruce is now Caitlyn. One doesn’t have to identify as LGBTQ in order to the empathize with the difficulty she must have faced in first accepting and then honoring her true, female self. To me, the bravery and fearlessness Caitlyn Jenner demonstrates is awe-inspiring. Consider the stakes she faced as she transitioned: here was a 65-year-old that the world knew as a man, very much in the public eye, in a marriage of over twenty years, and father/stepfather to ten children. Caitlyn’s transition would affect her family—there would be no avoiding feelings of confusion and even grief, for as her family members have shared, being introduced to Caitlyn meant saying goodbye to Bruce. More, because Bruce was famous and already closely covered in tabloid news, Caitlyn’s transition would be the target of endless scrutiny and judgement. In light of this, Caitlyn went through with what she needed to do in order to live authentically. I can think of no greater role model than someone willing to risk experiencing scrutiny, judgement, and even bigotry, in the name living honestly.
Shortly after Caitlyn announced her transition, her reality series I Am Cait premiered on E!. In the eight-part series, Caitlyn shares with viewers her introduction to family members—including her mother, Esther, and ex-wife, Kris Jenner. A large portion of the series features Caitlyn’s introduction to advocates for the transgender community. These new friends are supportive of Caitlyn, but also challenge her to share intimately, (for example, to talk about to whom she’s attracted sexually). They’re not afraid to call her out when she’s “playing both sides,” (like when Caitlyn is anxious to change her name at her country club). As Caitlyn is educated about issues facing members of the transgender community, so are her viewers. I Am Cait brings transphobia into the spotlight and we learn about the significantly higher suicide rates among transgender teens. In one episode, Caitlyn meets with the parents of Kyler Prescott, a teen who committed suicide as a result of the transphobic abuse to which he was subjected. I Am Cait is as much about what day-to-day life is like for a trans person—one episode features her daughter Kylie helping with hair extensions—as it is about Caitlyn stepping into the role of spokesperson for the transgender community. While Caitlyn could have released a statement we often hear from celebrities in the midst of a tumultuous time in their personal lives, (“We ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time”), she instead realizes the great service she could do for the transgender community by opening herself up to a world-wide audience and stepping becoming a spokesperson for transgender men and women. Caitlyn isn’t always a perfect role model, but there’s no denying that she brings much-needed attention to a community that has been historically and horrifically marginalized.
Kinda hard to not feel inspired by Caitlyn’s courage, right? Her story has prompted me to look at my own life and wonder if there isn’t a part of me that’s hiding, fearful of how others would respond if I were to let it all hang out. Caitlyn would suggest that it’s never too late to change your life—to rewrite who you are. It’s never too late to face your fear of losing approval of friends and family in the name of honest living. You don’t have to have anything radical in mind, too. As someone who absolutely dreads confrontation, I often keep hurt feelings to myself. What’s up with that? And as a writer, there are many times I avoid risk taking out of fear that the experiment will fail, (i.e., face ridicule in a writing workshop or even when shared with friends). These moments of hiding are the first that come to mind, but 2016 is just getting started, so I’m sure more will be revealed…But don’t forget—and I won’t either—that courage often sets off a chain reaction. Your honesty may be the nudge someone close to you needs to get honest about themselves. So thank you, Caitlyn Jenner. In 2016, I’m gonna try to worry a lot less about what other people think about me. If you can, so can I.