My Personal Appreciation for Caitlyn Jenner’s Bravery
by William Skink
A pastor friend of mine put a New York Post article on his Facebook feed. The article is about a massive, silent cultural revolution that has changed America. Here is the opening salvo in the next iteration of the culture war:
It happened without a Summer of Love, without Timothy Leary, without a groovy anthem or a shaggy new national look. In the past decade or so, there’s been a silent revolution in American culture, one at least as profound as the ’60s upheavals.
We’ve hardly taken notice of it, because it happened in people’s minds instead of in the streets, happened in ordinary people instead of in the elites and the punditocracy.
Compared to just a few years ago, we have a completely different set of ideas about what constitutes acceptable behavior. As Caitlyn Jenner puts it in her new reality show, “I’m the new normal.”
I am reluctant to perpetuate the culture war by referring to the “upheavals” of the 60’s in those terms, but that is the language Kyle Smith, writing for the New York Post, chooses to use.
What follows is a weird mix of polling showing the cultural shifts with issues like gay rights, marijuana use and raising kids born out of wedlock. To provide contrast to where we are in 2015, post-Caitlyn Jenner, Smith takes us back to the long-gone days of 2002:
Consider America circa 2002: Not that different from today, seemingly. A time traveler who spent a few hours walking around your town then and now might have a difficult time filling a small notebook with observations about what’s changed. Maybe there are more Starbuckses. And what happened to Blockbuster Video?
Yet support for gay marriages to be treated the same as straight ones went from 39% just nine years ago to 60% today, according to Gallup. As recently as 2010, a clear majority opposed gay marriage. Today, a large majority support it.
As for the broader issue of whether gay and lesbian relationships are even morally acceptable, only 40% said yes in 2001. Today that number stands at 63%.
In other words, more Americans are OK with homosexuality than were OK with divorce (59%) in 2001. A decade ago, a plurality of Americans did not even believe that homosexuality is innate.
This silent victory in the ongoing cultural war, which includes LGBT rights, is compared to the less successful push to normalize Marijuana use. And some how morality gets dragged into the picture. And Ellen DeGeneres. It gets confusing:
Today, by a margin of 51% to 30%, Americans think if you’re gay, you were born that way.
What caused all these changes? It’s hard to say. Older Americans are dying off. Popular culture not only deals with homosexuality approvingly, but has added more and more gay personalities to the mix.
In 2002, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” had not yet debuted. As my colleague Sara Stewart noted, today she’s “our culture’s lovable gay grandma.”
Are we more attuned to pop culture than we used to be? Maybe. In the 1960s and 1970s, marijuana usage became a hugely popular theme in entertainment. Public opinion, though, did not follow.
In 1969, the year of “Easy Rider,” support for legal pot stood at 12%. As recently as 2003, it was still only 34%. But in the last two Gallup polls on the subject, in 2013 and 2014, support hit an outright majority for the first time.
And yet only 7% told Gallup in 2013 that they themselves currently take marijuana.
Choosing to use a substance like Marijuana (or caffeine, alcohol, nicotine) is not analogous to trying to understand and live according to one’s sexual/gender orientation.
In a fantastic twist of irony, some guy tried to call into question Caitlyn Jenner’s bravery on Facebook, contrasting her coming out with an image of war-time heroism. The irony arrived when the viral post led to the eventual provenance of the image:
Soon after he shared the photo, it went viral. However, several commenters quickly identified the irony in the photo Coffey shared.
The image is credited to Mark Hogancamp, who created the photo as part of an exercise to manage his pain after he was nearly beaten to death by five men in New York 15 years ago because he was crossdressing. He suffered serious brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, which he combats by creating World War II narratives in one-sixth scale using dolls.
I cried when I read this story, just like I cried when I listened to the story of Sissy Goodwin on NPR driving to work one day in April:
Sissy Goodwin teaches power plant technology at Casper College in Wyoming. The 68-year-old Vietnam veteran dresses in women’s clothing, wears bows in his hair, likes his skirts exactly 17 inches short, and prefers his toolboxes in pink.
Sissy is also straight. And he wasn’t born with that name. His given name is Larry, but one day after a woman on the street called him sissy in a derogatory way, he chose to fully adopt the name. He says he was initially upset, but felt that by taking on the name he was taking ownership of her insulting comment.
His wife, Vickie, didn’t know he wore women’s clothing when they met, but has stood by his side for more than four decades.
“I knew I had to hide my behavior,” Sissy told 66-year-old Vickie during a recent visit to StoryCorps. “So I tried to be very macho, as you know. The second or third date I took you on I rode in a rodeo.”
I desperately hope that the acceptance of gender fluidity is the new normal, because my youngest son’s life may depend on it.
He is only four years old, but his preferences began emerging well over a year ago. He would take towels and ask his mother or myself to tie them to his waist, like a skirt. He preferred the “girl” colors over the boy ones, and gravitated to Lego Friends instead of Star Wars. Eventually he began raiding my wife’s closet for colorful tops. I distinctly remember buying him his first dress at Target.
My son still dresses like a boy at pre-school because he knows his classmates may make fun of him. He isn’t feeling brave enough to confront that just yet. Otherwise, even in public, he prefers dresses.
So far the only negative reaction has been some old woman at the Good Food Store telling my wife that my son should be wearing jeans. Thankfully her generation is dying out.
Earlier today, I joined my friend’s family in beating the late spring heat at Frenchtown Pond State Park. I was admittedly relieved when my son traded his dress for swim trunks. After swimming, though, it was back to wearing the dress. Nothing bad happened, but part of me is always subconsciously ready for confrontation.
I can’t put into words how amazing my kids are. My oldest has had his moments of being embarrassed and annoyed that his brother likes to wear dresses, but we address it as honestly and directly as we can. We tread carefully, though, because parental attention between siblings is a precious commodity, so we don’t want little brother’s inclination to be an attention-suck that older brother becomes resentful of.
If my son doesn’t have the support of his immediate family, the statistical probability that he will some day attempt suicide is staggering:
According to surveys, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt, with that number climbing to between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. By comparison, 41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide.
The most recent, comprehensive data on suicide attempts was gathered by The Williams Institute, in collaboration with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Its report, Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults, analyzed responses from 6,456 self-identified transgender and gender non-conforming adults (18+) who took part in the U.S. National Transgender Discrimination Survey. The results are staggering.
Beyond the overall number of suicide attempts, the rates are consistently high from respondents ages 18 to 65, when they begin to recede. Trans men are the most impacted, with 46 percent reporting an attempt in their lifetime. Trans women are close behind at 42 percent, and female-assigned cross-dressers report rates of 44 percent.
What we are seeing is not some silent revolution, as reported by the New York Post. It’s evolution.
And it has nothing to do with smoking weed or single parent households, Kyle Smith.