Posted by: minnow | June 8, 2015

Hating Hiding

Caitlyn Jenner is slated to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the ESPYs in July. For those who might not know the ESPYs are given in a variety of categories, to individual athletes and teams. The Arthur Ashe Award is given to the individual(s) who contributed “most significantly” to the world beyond sports during a given year.  The award has no gender or event qualifications.  For many the announcement Jenner will be this year’s recipient brings hope, an opportunity to elevate someone who shares part of their story, a chance to educate society by normalizing real life situations which most often bring with them confusion, pain, frustration, and loneliness. Sadly, for others it is just one more chance to demonstrate their ignorance, ugly sides, and God-complexes.

Not being much of a sport enthusiast (I watch my own children play, but that’s about it.), I had to do some research into the ESPYs and the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in order to understand the “controversy”.  I must say, after reading Arthur Ashe’s story and the definition of his Courage Award, I hardily agree with the Jenner nomination.

Ms. Jenner has shown courage in the extreme by making her journey public.  And, she has contributed to humanity in ways most of us can only begin to measure.  But let me try anyway.  Ms. Jenner has shown a group of people who are typically ostracized, completely misunderstood and unreasonably vilified that it is never too late to live authentic lives. She has made herself a lightning rod thereby giving transgender advocates a way to expose the lies plaguing transgender people without needing to risk shining a spotlight on their own loved ones.

Additionally, Jenner has shouldered a ton of criticism not only about her personal experience but also about her decision to share her experience publicly.  Seriously, if her critics aren’t burning her in hell they’re trying to shame her into silence. These insensitive, brutish people, who frankly have no dog in the fight and thus no legitimate right to the inordinate amount of attention they’ve garnered, ought to be quiet.  (If I weren’t an advocate of free speech I would be tempted to say they don’t even have a right to an opinion in the matter). At the very least, they ought to take their petty preaching back inside their tax-exempt buildings and leave the rest of us in peace.  (Of course, the religious naysayers aren’t the only negative voices but they’re  the one’s I’m most frequently exposed to and often the loudest).

Some may be wondering Since I don’t have a transgender child what gives me the “right” to speak out about this issue. I could point to my gay son and claim LGBT people and their families have to stick together.  But honestly, if I did that I would be using my son in a way I don’t fully believe to be true.  You see all LGBT people are not alike any more than all straight people are alike, or all Christians are alike or all… [you get the point].  The truth is I DON’T have a physical dog in this fight.  What I have is an emotional understanding of what it feels like to pretend you are someone you are not. For me personally, breaking out of hiding (and perhaps helping others do the same) is how Ms. Jenner has contributed most significantly to humanity.

I understand living with the fear you are going to be “found out”.  I resonate with the  shame and the desperation.  I resonate with the feeling of waking up to the realization you can no longer pretend. I have stood frozen in fear  then suddenly knowing that even if it meant I would live the rest of my life separated from community, rejected by my loved ones, and eventually have to face an angry, vengeful God, I could no longer continue to live a lie, a lie which ultimately helps no one.  As an adult, my entire life inside the walls of religious institutions was spent immersed in a pervasive, manipulative, immobilizing fear.  I was frightened to death of death–that nebulous somewhere worse than this. My fear was sucking the life out of me and caused me to deny my strengths, my talents, my discernment, my voice.

If it were not for a former pastor who discovered an escape clause from all the mind controlling religious rhetoric and risked sharing it with me one gorgeously sunny day in June while we ate BBQ at my son’s graduation party, I honestly do not know if I would ever have woken from the nightmare of my fear.  This all sounds rather melodramatic, even to me.  I apologize. But, the truth remains.  Fear is a powerful manipulator and I had been in its grips.

So I can say without a minute’s hesitation–if by sharing her story, Caitlyn Jenner has shed light on the truth about transgender people, if she’s given just one other person hope for a brighter future free from the pain of living a lie, then that’s reason enough to recognize her courage and give the woman an award.  If you disagree, if you think someone else is more deserving, feel free to advocate for your preference but do so without diminishing Caitlyn Jenner’s contribution, since in all likelihood you simply do not understand!

One last note–I am embarrassed by my fellow Christians who claim to worship a God of love but refuse to show compassion to Caitlyn Jenner.  I am specifically thinking of those people who have ridiculed and belittled Jenner’s experience, who refuse to use her chosen name  and thoughtlessly insist on using male pronouns, who have called her names, and who have sought to take away or tarnish the legitimately earned recognition for her superior athleticism. I realize my apology on their behalf cannot undo the pain their words and behavior have caused.  Still, I am saddened and I do apologize.

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