Thursday, October 8, 2015
A few thoughts about courage. . .
In one sense Jenner's life has been relatively easy. The success hard work provided and its Olympic gold reward propelled Jenner into a life of fame and made celebrity status first possible. The notoriety of the Kardashians made Jenner into a famous (or infamous) member of the cult hero clan so well known as a media phenomenon more than for any particular achievements. Jenner was recognized for courage but that courage was made easier because of the privilege of wealth, fame, the many available media platforms and all of the other advantages that Jenner has enjoyed along the way. I do not mean to express sour grapes but the fact is that Jenner's courage came at far less a cost than many, many others who have not been so recognized.
Yes, it did take some courage to come out and Jenner exploited the moment fairly well. But the kind of courage Jenner is being recognized for is a different kind of courage. Those who have shown their courage by their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others are not quite the same as those whose courage led them to be true to themselves despite what others might think.
Certainly Jenner is correct in noting that in the acceptance speech about transgenders: “They’re getting bullied, they’re getting beaten up, they’re getting murdered, they’re committing suicide.” No one should be happy or smug or content by the pain these folks are enduring. Yet, on one level we must admit that it is a choice -- a choice to make one's gender identity the chief component of their identity. I am uneasy about the idea of basing your whole identity on desires (as I have expressed here before) and I am also uneasy about equating the GLBT liberation movement with the truly heroic and courageous figures in history whose lives have been sacrificed for the sake of others. It is one thing to face the consequences of your decision to make the world see you in your terms and it is something different to endure the consequences of your race (not your choice). Hardly any Black Americans had a choice about being known as Black but nearly every GLBT has a choice about whether they will make their sexuality the defining lens through which the world must see them.
Just a few weeks ago we heard the courage of three Americans who fought a terrorist on a train and prevented many lives from being lost. We just remembered the fourteenth anniversary of the terrorism that took down the World Trade Center towers and the courage of those people who ran into the buildings to rescue those inside. We are constantly surrounded by the courage and self-less attitudes of quiet heroes who choose others over themselves day in and day out. Yes, GLBT people fight all sorts of judgments against them (some fair and many not) but it is easier to be GLBT today than about any other time in history. They have the law of the land on their side (including when it comes to marriage). All I am suggesting is that this kind of courage is not the same kind of courage as those who step in harm's way for strangers all the time -- the police who protect us, the firefighters who risk their lives to save us, the disaster workers who run toward the ruin we run from, the soldiers who continue to pay the cost of our freedom with their lives, etc...
Funny how we honor Jenner for being true to self in being publicly known as transgender but the baker who chose not to make a wedding cake is vilified and told to hide their true self. If being true to yourself is what makes you a hero, that heroism is something different than the courage of those who risk all for the sake of others. My point is not to trash Jenner but to suggest that the courage to come out is a different kind of courage than those who put self in the background to put others first. I don't think we should forget that. Some may label me a hater or blind but that is why we live in a free country. The courage of Jenner has been deemed worthy of notice and honored with an award. It is their award to give. Just don't forget the courage of the unsung heroes whose selfless service enriches the lives of all people -- often at the cost of their very lives!