As Bruce Jenner prepares to tell some of his story in an interview with Diane Sawyer, I find myself intrigued and terrified. Intrigued to hear how he tells it. Terrified of the hateful mockery that is likely to continue and intensify.
On that front, I am reminded of what LZ Granderson wrote a few months ago:
“When Jenner does speak, I hope we resist the urge to mock. If not for his sake, then for the sake of the countless others who may be able to identify with what Jenner says. According to a recent Williams Institute study, 50% of respondents who are openly transgender attempted suicide.”
Our collective responses will say something about us, and they will send messages to trans* people young and old who are watching what we who are in the cisgender majority do. How we treat those who are on the margins of our societies and our understanding is a standard for humanity set up long ago and inscribed in texts and traditions:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; … So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
“I shaped and breathed into the human being some of my spirit.” (Quran 15:29)
Granderson ended his piece with a call for understanding that bears repeating:
“Over time I have learned to replace the urge to judge with the desire to seek our like humanity. … So as we wait for Jenner to tell us what his journey is, now would be a good time for many of us to embark on a soul-searching journey of our own. We think jokes are harmless because we’re only paying attention to the people who are laughing.”
Pay attention to the one who isn’t laughing. The one who looks upset. The one who is desperately trying to escape the gaze and the mockery.
Pay attention to the ones on the margins. Whose image are they created in?
For more information on how to appropriately talk about these issues, check out the GLAAD Media Reference Guide on Transgender Issues.
UPDATE (June 2015):
How should people of faith respond to Caitlyn Jenner? One might ask how God would respond.
Here’s the thing: God has long been in the habit of changing people’s names. In fact, it’s a thread that stretches from the Hebrew Scriptures into the Christian Scriptures. All throughout our Sacred texts God changes people names. And it’s always done to highlight or reveal their true selves. God called renamed Jacob, Israel. Jesus renamed Simon to Peter, and the Twins to the Sons of Thunder. God renamed Saul, Paul. In every one of these moments a new facet of their identity was being revealed. They were being called to live into the truth of their identities and fulfill their callings in the world. One could make the claim that before they were renamed they were only showing part of who they were.
The response is therefore obvious. If someone says #CallMeCaitlyn … do it. God does.