16 July

Caitlyn Jenner’s Video: Authenticity, Choice, And The Return Of Acceptance

by Jon Katz
Caitlyn Jenner's Video
Caitlyn Jenner’s Video

I imagine many of the people reading this have struggled with acceptance in your lives, I know I have, I know  my wife has. Most of the people I know and love have.  In one sense, I have come to believe a part of loving animals is a search for healing, community and acceptance.

So this morning, the two of us watched a video of Caitlyn Jenner’s very powerful acceptance speech (she got an award for courage) at the ESPN awards broadcast last night. We were both in tears, the talk was one of the most powerful television moments in recent memory.

For most of my life, such a talk would have been unimaginable. The life of the trans was a mystery, transgender people were never mentioned in my home or discussed in school or in public. When my friends mentioned it, it was only in the fearfully bigoted way of insecure men.  When the idea of the transgender person was raised, it was in horror and revulsion, never in acceptance or understanding. For all the bad news we see, tolerance won a major victory on television last night, there is much reason to hope.

Jenner, as most of you know, was born Bruce Jenner, a famed Olympic athlete and American cult hero. Last year, at age 65, she chose to come out dramatically and in front of millions of people as a transgender person and acknowledge her secret identity as a woman, and her lifelong struggle to come to terms with it. She wanted, she said, to make a plea for acceptance.

If you want to cry, focus on her elderly mother, telling the world in an interview that it is the job of any mother to know her child and accept  him or her.  She never knew what was going on inside of her son.

Caitlyn is very much a woman now, and perhaps  savior to many of her successors. I bought Wheaties because she was on the cover of the cereal box as Bruce. Now, she gets to be a hero to me again.

Why am I writing about this very poignant moment on my website, normally about other things? Because I think it is important, and I know it will touch the hearts and souls of many of the people reading this. Her very  brave talk made me think about acceptance, choice and about identity.

At age 65, Jenner decided to become the woman she always felt she was inside, she chose to be authentic, to stop living a lie, a life in secret, to speak out on behalf of the idea of acceptance, often in peril in our divided culture, where the political ethos seems to be to hate those who are different from us.

And everyone is different from us. We are all different from one another, we are all our own unique fingerprints. Acceptance is a universal need, a universal gift, one of the greatest of human values. I believe acceptance is breaking out. In the decision to put the Confederate Flag in museums, where it deserves to be. In the Supreme Court’s decision to ratify the right of Americans to marry who they choose. In Pope Francis call for us to accept the reality of climate change and help heal our Mother, the earth. In the struggle to come to terms with race. In the search for peace, rather than war.

We all have this choice to make: accept one another or walk down the other path, the one to hatred and confusion.

In the acceptance of a transgender woman on prime-time national television. Ed Sullivan would be in a coma.

I see acceptance in the rise of consciousness of the next generation, who seem to embrace tolerance in a new way, perhaps because the Internet has freed them of their parent’s bigotry, anger and blindness and permitted them to talk with and listen to people who are different from  themselves.

I suppose, in a way, this is what drew me to write about the New York Carriage Horses, I could not abide or accept the hatred in the words and deeds and hearts of the people seeking to ban them. Today, NYClass has launched yet another hate campaign against the New York Carriage Horses, this time in the form of Russell Simmons, the rapper, who claims pulling carriages in Central Park for a horse is the same thing as slavery or the Holocaust. The people seeking to ban the horses seem to know nothing about horses, slavery or holocausts.

Every time they speak, they remind us that they are a group that promotes hatred, not the rights or welfare of animals. As so often happens with hate groups, they are destroying themselves.

Jenner chose to be authentic in her life, even at age 65, even at the risk of losing her family, her children, the love of her mother. I confess I thought of my friend Paul Moshimer who committed suicide a few weeks ago, in  his 65th year. He was not able to be authentic in that way, to live with the person he really was. He had to hide what was happening inside of him. I do not judge him for that, I fully love and accept him for who he was, just as Jenner asks acceptance for who he is.

Acceptance is, for me, a basic human right.  Not always easy to do, but always important to do.  The future of the world depends on it, we will either learn to live in harmony or perish together.

In my life, I struggled almost every day for acceptance, I could not find it or offer  it until I met Maria, who was the first person in my life to accept me fully. I no longer had to hide, I could come out. I could be authentic. It was stirring to see Caitlyn Jenner, who had a much tougher road than I did, take the risk of authenticity. I like to think I took it as well. I imagine she saved her our own soul, her own life, I imagine she saved the lives of many others.

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