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.

  1. Turner

    As the father of a bisexual daughter, I congratulate you and your wife for being so supportive of your son so early in his life. Growing up still won’t be easy for him, but at least he won’t have to put up with harassment at home.

    It could be worse for him, of course. It’s not like you’re trying to raise him in Putin’s Russia.

    • JC

      Yeah, Obama’s America is so much kinder and gentle to those of the opposite gender and race of the police.

      • Turner

        Too bad Putin isn’t eligible to run for office in our country. He’d have your undying support, as well as the support of the American Family Foundation.

        • I encounter this so often is is worthy of note: Your attitude about Putin is virtually a 1:1 reflection of the attitude of the American news media about Putin.

          A couple of reflections: One, no leader survives without the support of the powerful people around him/her, that is, there is no leader who is in power by means of brute force. Rather, it is a consensus process by which certain factions in countries are able to place their man or woman in power. This is true of the US as well as Russia, China, Canada, and Costa Rica. When a leader loses support of the powerful people around him, he is removed from power, even awful things like being murdered in a public plaza.

          A well-understood but seldom talked about method of propaganda is called “personalization,” or “putting a face on the enemy. It can be used for good or evil – so Maggie Thatcher became the “Iron Lady” and our attitude towards militaristic and warlike Britain was softened. Saddam Hussein became a “madman,” and it therefore followed that it was OK to kill Iraqis by the boatload. Both were capable leaders, but received different media treatment in the US.

          So I think it would be prudent to not allow distorted views of Putin provided by our media to shape your attitude about current policies in say, Ukraine or Georgia or about NATO or the EU. The odds are they are using his image to distort your view of reality.

          • Turner

            So accounts from Russia of Putin’s encouraging anti-gay violence are false because they were reported in western media? You seem to think that anyone who believes anything bad about Putin has been duped by the press. Because, you know, he’s such a great guy.

            All world leaders are demonized in some outlets. This includes our president, of course. Do you think distorted views of Obama should disregarded as well as distorted views of other leaders? Or are bad things said about Obama to be encouraged while bad things said about Putin to be aggressively denied?

          • You’re creating a black/white scene. Putin is just a man. He is the public leader of a large country that has factions, just like here. He has to maintain the support of various factions to stay in power, just like here. If he was not highly skilled at this game, he would not be there. Indeed, outside this country, he is regarded as the most important and capable leader on the world stage.

            It may be true that all world leaders are demonized on some stage, but so what. That is a sweeping generalization of no importance. This is about American treatment of Putin. If done for purpose (that is, if we ignore really corrupt leaders everywhere. Poroshenko, for instance, but focus on this one), what might that purpose be?

            Do you not think it odd that he is demonized by the American right wing for his treatment of gays? The American right wing? And, if treatment of gays is but wedge politics in US domestic politics, can it be in international as well?

            • Turner

              The American right wing ADMIRES Putin for his (mis)treatment of gays. Or haven’t you noticed?

            • So What? I don’t see that as critically important. Other countries generally are less tolerant of such matters, and our tolerance is only a recent development as Skink demonstrates in his post here.

              What about “Putin’s” refusal to rise to bait in Ukraine, of not invading, not responding to provocations like the union Hall massacre or the MH17 airliner shootdown? “He” is doing the exact opposite of what the US-led EU/NATO consortium and its Ukarianian putcsch wants. That has avoided major confrontation of nuclear powers.

              We have our wild men in the wings, they have theirs. He has kept his at bay. Have we ours?

              Important you think?

        • JC

          You have no idea where my political support lies, Turner. Hint: I put no value in personalities. I value policies. As such I am as willing to criticize Obama as Putin, as the issue warrants. And I would vote for neither in any election.

          And which foundations do you think support the type of policing we see above in Obama’s America? Probably the Heritage Foundation as well the American Family Foundation, too — those dang black girls running around the streets in their bikinis having too much fun in a nice neighborhood.

          • Turner

            So Obama encourages white cops to attack black teens? This is based on what? I’ve heard nothing of this sort from him. To the contrary, he and his new attorney general have repeatedly attacked racist policing and encouraged cracking down on it, as in Baltimore.

            You say you’re willing to criticize Putin. Since when and about what? I thought, for you, he walked on water.

            • JC

              You’ve continually asserted “Putin’s encouraging anti-gay violence” here. Give me a link, then we’ll talk.

              You say “Putin’s Russia”. Why cannot I then say “Obama’s America”?

              And criticize Putin? Up above, I laid out three scenarios that Putin might have been under re: coup in Kiev. I picked the one that had him using politics to cover up what he and the Kremlin actually know.

              If you want to know one thing about me, I detest politics as used by elected officials to obfuscate the truth and mislead. When I said that Putin resorted to politics to explain the coup in Kiev, that was me being as critical as I criticize Obama for having said the following yesterday:

              Obama said that the sanctions are hurting the Russian economy. He added that President Vladimir Putin would have to make a decision.

              “Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate glories of the Soviet empire, or does he recognize that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?” Obama said.

              Pure politics. And bullshit.

            • JC

              And Obama and his DoJ’s talk is just that: talk. They’ve made use of Consent Decrees to avoid taking any corrupt police officer to court.

              Legal settlements between the Department of Justice and local police departments across the country have skyrocketed under the Obama administration.

              The settlements are known as consent decrees and are reached after a federal investigation. The departments typically do not have to admit guilt or liability.

              Personally, I think some convictions of corrupt cops and bankers would effect more change than all of the political doublespeak you refer to. Cops and bankers behind bars would do more to advance civil rights and equality in this country than any of the talk talk coming out of D.C.

              • Turner

                I looked at the article on consent decrees. The author doesn’t actually claim that “they’re all talk.” DOJ prosecutions of cops isn’t precluded by these decrees, which seem to be reform guidelines for departments. She even states that the Obama DOJ is more interested than the Bush DOJ in abuse by cops than attacks against them.

                Anyway, there have been several recent actions taken against racist cops who killed black people. The DOJ’s role isn’t obvious in all of them, but it’s probably an important one.

                I agree entirely with you on the bankers. I’ve just ordered Nomi Prins’s book, It Takes a Pillage. It seems that bankers have all of us by the short hairs. They’re more powerful than governments of any kind, apparently.

        • JC

          Also, Turner, here’s a good story by Robert Parry about the new McCarthyism 2.0 to go with Cold War 2.0. You do realize you’re participating in the new McCarthyism here, don’t you?

          To top off this modern [U.S.] propaganda structure, we now have the paper-of-record New York Times coming along to suggest that anyone who isn’t disseminating U.S. propaganda must be in Moscow’s pocket.

    • lizard19

      I am incredibly disappointed that you chose to insert your anti-Putin bullshit in this comment thread. you politicized a very personal disclosure to score some cheap points. I find that disgusting.

      • Turner

        Sorry you’re disgusted. But as the parent of a gay child I have no patience with state-supported homophobia in Russia or anywhere else. I’m surprised that you have. But I understand that when ideology and actual life collide something has to give.

        • lizard19

          at least your daughter wasn’t born in Saudi Arabia, right? because then whatever awful shit happened to her wouldn’t get nearly the attention because they are integral to US foreign policy.

    • I am weirded out by Jenner, and cannot help it. It is part of my makeup. Still, I’d say without too much thought that he has courage, more say than, say … you.

      • Too little thought indeed. But I’m surprised at you Mark, for being able to ferret out the hidden agendas in all things.

        For it’s clear to me that this is a money grab to the tune of half a billion.

        Good return on your investment of fake boobs and facelifts, wouldn’t ya think?

        • Do you remember Jenner in 1976? The guy marketed himself like no other, jumping off every cereal box in the country. He was already wealthy. This move was unnecessary from a financial standpoint.

          He has kept his genitals, I understand. He also claims not to be gay, so the guy just wants to be a gal. I don’t get it, don’t understand, but it does take courage I think.

          Moral courage like that is very rare. Physical courage, as you linked to above, even absent logic and reason, as in getting your brains blown out for your country when we’re not even being attacked by anyone, is sadly quite common. Our youth have that. They just ain’t very bright.

  2. Sorry guys and gals. I just couldn’t help myself.

  3. Eric

    Don’t overlook the possibility that he might not be brave at all, that he’s just hungry for the spotlights. He sure got on the magazine cover fast, didn’t he? And given the fact that he’s kept his equipment, he may just keep this saga going for years, and go back to being Bruce. Time will tell.

    • lizard19

      you might want to consider this: it doesn’t matter if this is just a publicity stunt. a major glossy running this spread is significant for those struggling with their identity.

      • Eric

        I think you’re misusing the verb ‘struggling’ .

        To figure out your identity – simply look at your birth certificate / DL / Passport, whatever.

        To figure out hat sex you are, simply drop your pants, and refer to commonly available anatomy textbooks – LOL

        I think it’s a hoot – the year 2015 in America, where you can wake up in the morning and decide what sex you are.

  4. Dedicated song to all those transgenders out there.

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