OPINION – The media exploded Monday when Vanity Fair introduced Caitlyn Jenner to the world.
Caitlyn, as surely everybody on the planet must know by now, was once Bruce Jenner, the darling of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, who set a world record in the decathlon, earning the title as the World’s Greatest Athlete.
Bruce is now a name for the record books, a piece of sports history.
Caitlyn is the name of a woman who I suspect will be remembered for her courage, honesty and determination to find the peace in her world that had been elusive for 64 years.
Bruce Jenner became a national hero, a household name, a role model. He trained eight hours a day to become the greatest decathlete in the world and sold insurance by night to pay the bills.
But, that’s nothing when compared with what Caitlyn endured every waking moment of every day, keeping a secret most would carry to their grave.
Caitlyn introduced herself to the world Monday via a startling photograph taken by the masterful photographer, Annie Leibovitz.
There was an outpouring of love and support when the photo hit the streets. There was also the predictable backlash.
A lot of commentary centered on Caitlyn’s physical appearance, with the word “gorgeous” used many times to describe her look.
It’s time to stop being so superficial, however, and realize what has occurred here.
We have just seen a man give up his very public persona in exchange for a radically different one that is difficult to understand. As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. That’s why it is OK to admit to being a little confused by all of this. It is a very complex issue, one that is very difficult to understand that goes way beyond the simple explanation of Jenner having been a woman trapped inside of a man’s body.
It’s just not that simple, not when you realize the ignorance that prevails when we go beneath the skin and try to figure out what makes us all tick. Best I can figure is that for all the things that we have in common as humans sharing this life, there are many more that we cannot even begin to comprehend that make us the widely unique people we are.
Sometimes, admitting who and what we are is not only uncomfortable, but dangerous, especially in these days when sexual orientation and preference have become a battleground between warring political and religious factions.
The Jenner story should open some eyes, or at least provoke honest discussion, I hope.
Vanity Fair not only published the first photographs of Caitlyn Jenner, but also snippets from its story, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger, which will appear in VF’s July edition, available on newsstands June 9.
It is a revelatory and intriguing piece, from what I’ve read so far, that will unquestionably be shocking to some because of its candor. We have become so accustomed to spin, so overwhelmed with hyperbole, so inundated with the trite and mundane that a journalistic piece of this magnitude, depth and context will, hopefully, right the unsteady media ship that has floundered on the rocks for too long now.
It is a story that matters.
It matters because of the number of people who hide who they are for fear of being shunned by a greater society that has little tolerance or understanding of a world that is far more complex than their own, narrow worldview.
It matters because it is relative to our time when we spend so much energy on being judgmental of others because of their race, creed or gender.
It matters, most of all, because it just may help others who are seeking the support, the example, the courage to become who they truly are. So many of these troubled souls endure lives of desperation or end their time on this good Earth prematurely.
“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen,” Jenner tells Bissinger in the VF story.
Bruce Jenner was a macho guy.
He was the World’s Greatest Athlete, he was a race car driver, appeared on the cover of the Wheaties box, was considered to play Superman until Christopher Reeve got the nod.
He received the 1976 James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States; the 1976 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year award; and was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame and the Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1980 and the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
We don’t know much yet about who Caitlyn Jenner is, what she will accomplish, who she will become.
We get a glimpse of Caitlyn in the VF story, of course, and she will make her first public appearance on July 15 when she will be presented with the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award during ESPN’s ESPY Awards presentations.
The award bears the name of one of the sports world’s true gentlemen, who was not only an incredible athlete but a civil rights pioneer, who became the first black player to play for the U.S. Davis Cup Team and the only black man ever to win the singles title at the U.S. Open and Australian Open tournaments, as well as at Wimbledon.
That’s a lot to live up to.
But, Bruce Jenner was always up for a challenge, saying during the 1976 Olympics: “It hurts every day when you practice hard. Plus, when this decathlon is over, I got the rest of my life to recuperate. Who cares how bad it hurts?”
Hopefully, the hurt is over and Caitlyn will live the rest of her life as she wishes.
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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