Yesterday, for some reason, (why yesterday? I really don’t know) three people shared “Caitlyn Jenner isn’t courageous because someone else is courageous” memes. Two featured pictures of wounded soldiers – two different pictures of two different soldiers – next to the picture of Caitlyn Jenner giving her ESPY speech. Both copied the meme that someone else created last week with the same picture of Caitlyn next two other wounded veterans.
Here are some things I have to say about this, in no particular order:
1) Memes are designed to create an action, a click. The more compelling the image, the more likely the click. Our clicks lead to ad revenue. A picture of a wounded soldier next to Caitlyn Jenner is an attempt at viral marketing.
2) Using a soldier’s sacrifice to mock someone else and to boost a viral marketing company’s page reach is not honoring that sacrifice. You can’t know if that veteran has given permission for his or her image to be used in this manner, and unless you do, it’s exploitative.
3) Giving one person an award for courage doesn’t create a vacuum in which ALL the rest of the possible awards for courage are destroyed. It doesn’t take away another person’s existing award for courage. It doesn’t suggest that other people are not also courageous.
4) Between 2003 and now, only two U.S. soldiers have been awarded the Arthur Ashe Award, both in 2003: brothers Pat and Kevin Tillman. Why the uproar this year?
5) Caitlyn Jenner didn’t transition publicly so she could win the Arthur Ashe award.
6) Soldiers do not take heroic action so they can win the Arthur Ashe award.
These pictures are meant to imply that there is nothing courageous about transitioning genders. The mere fact that there is a backlash like this (as Caitlyn knew there would be) suggests otherwise.
I couldn’t imagine doing it. And clearly, the people who created and shared the meme couldn’t.
Imagine telling every person you know that you are now someone else, and hoping they will still accept you.
Imagine the invasive questions you will field from strangers regarding your genitals.
Imagine the hormones and surgeries, the expense, the recovery, the pain.
Imagine the fear of losing your job, your family, your home or even your life.
Now imagine doing that in front of the whole world. That is a different kind of courage, but it’s big courage.
I wasn’t going to write about this, because I don’t know what a soldier at war or a transgender person experiences. Who am I to say anything about either? But it kept coming up all day. Then at the end of the day, this happened: India Clarke, a young transgender woman, was murdered in Tampa. I don’t know her, but I hurt for her and her family. I hope she didn’t suffer. I hope they find her murderer. I hope she is at peace. I want to acknowledge (even if I can’t begin to imagine) how much bravery it takes to just live in the world as a transgender person.
India Clarke is the 12th transgender woman murdered in the U.S. in 2015. It is dangerous to be a transgender woman in the U.S.
And now, I feel strangely compelled to say that by making that statement, I am not suggesting that it’s not also dangerous to serve in the armed forces. I’m not saying that it is not dangerous to be a fire fighter or a police officer or a paramedic. Lots of things can be dangerous at the same time, just like lots of people can be courageous at the same time.
Our veterans are routinely not receiving the services and support they deserve. I don’t believe that Caitlyn Jenner or ESPN are to blame for that. I’m not entirely convinced that juxtaposing the two issues will result in any tangible support for veterans. I also don’t believe that was the intent of juxtaposing the two. Instead, it looks like people are using the brave actions of others as a distraction from a completely unrelated issue that makes them feel uneasy. Which, if you think about it, actually isn’t very courageous.