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I’ve never met Caitlyn. But we have a lot in common. We both identify as female, transgender, Christian and politically conservative on a number of issues. We both spent a significant portion of our respective childhoods within a few miles of the Tappan Zee Bridge (I was on the opposite shore from her). And since I am only three years younger than Caitlyn, some of that time was concurrent (from November 1960 to the summer of 1963, according to my calculations, based on when my family moved there and Caitlyn’s family moving to Connecticut after her freshman year of high school).
We share a love of sports. I lettered in four sports in high school. However, it was a very small prep school and the only way my career in sports would continue was because I became the manager for the track & field and cross country teams at a Division One university (Cornell) with an excellent program for over a century in those sports. While I had some evidence of athletic ability, it came in a body that was considerably more compact.
In fact, there was most likely only one degree of separation between us before she came out in public. That is because as team manager, I met one of Jenner’s teammates on the 1972 Olympic track team and also had a nodding acquaintance with a former U.S. Olympian (Bob Kane) who would become the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee shortly after Jenner’s gold medal in 1976 Olympics. And there are likely others in track & field circles that both of us know.
It seems that a lot of people are telling Caitlyn Jenner what she should and shouldn’t do. I should think I have as much right to do so, if not more. However, I have reached an age where I try not to tell anyone what to do; I only make suggestions. And I admit that the suggestions I make to my tax clients are quite authoritative.
But I have no intention of sending a letter to her home to get intermingled with hundreds of other letters from fans and foes. So I am posting it publicly. If one of my blog readers or LinkedIn connections knows her personally and finds it worthy of passing along, so be it.
After some downtime, you are finding your way back into the news again. Criticism of you by people who are hostile to transgender people is to be expected. But much criticism also comes from others within the transgender community. Is it warranted?
Let’s start with something that was unquestionably positive for the transgender community: your contact of South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard regarding recent legislation that would have discriminated against trans youth. Did your voice play a part in paving the way for the Governor, who admitted never having knowingly met a transgender person, to remedy that omission? Did that in turn help lead to his eventual veto? I’m sure it did.
What about your meeting with Pastor Ed Young, a prime mover in the defeat of the HERO bill in Houston last November? You prayed with him and while that is always a blessing in general, hopefully the pastor could see the Holy Spirit in you as you prayed together and in your conversation as well. But it also gave you the opportunity to share how hateful the pastor’s trans hostile videos have been. Someone well battle-tested on the front lines of our struggle, Kate Bornstein, gave you kudos for that.
Yes, it is important to meet with others in the transgender community (and our allies) to continue to get educated on who we are as individuals and as a group. But what progress do we make if we only meet with each other. Only Nixon could go to China. Only Kirk could negotiate a peace treaty with the Klingons. I’ve made a positive impact with many (not all) Christians in my little corner of the globe. But so far, there are only so many I can reach.
Caitlyn, please keep some things in mind. First of all, there is only so much any one person can do. I know that you were remarkably consistent in your decathlon scores, but you were able to train for those both physically and with technique. Training to live as a woman in real life, undoing a lifetime of habits, is many times more difficult. Plus the available coaching is far more rudimentary than anything you would have received in preparation for Montreal 1976.
Second, you are not alone in the work. There are many others out here as well. You don’t have to become exactly like them, but you also want to be careful about acting at cross purposes with them.
But most of all, Caitlyn, you don’t even have a year living full-time as you. And with your lifestyle and opportunities, in some ways you have experienced less than most of us. (Make note of Renee Richards’ hindsight about how unrealistic it was for her to spend her one year life experience by taking a cruise to Italy, living for a while in a real life Fellini movie and then tooling around western Europe in a sports car, before losing her nerve in Morocco on the steps of the hospital – twice.) Ten months ago, immediately after watching Diane Sawyer interview you, my biggest concern was that you still wouldn’t be you. You know how to be a feted celebrity. You’ve been there and done that forty years ago. But do you know how to be Caitlyn Jenner? Make sure you treat yourself to the time you need to find out, away from the cameras, the banquets and even your entourage sometimes.
And this brings me to your remarks about Ted Cruz. I am acknowledging up front that there are people who read the headlines and went nuclear without reading anything else that you said on the subject. (Headline writers provoke more than inform.) Indeed you acknowledge that Sen. Cruz has one of the worst records on trans issues when viewed by the transgender community. What you don’t acknowledge is how unlikely it would be for Cruz or most Republicans today to be willing to even consider having a liaison with the transgender community. When he met you prior to coming out, Cruz treated you as an Olympic gold medalist and sports hero. As a little boy, he may have even idolized you on the front of the Wheaties box. There is no reason to expect he will treat you so kindly now.
I truly understand the dilemma you face politically. What do you do when the politicians and party whose values you tend to agree with on a broad range of issues: a) see people like us as moral deviants at best and part of the vanguard of end times wickedness at worst; b) refuse to believe our testimonies that this is who we are and have always known ourselves to be with respect to gender, and who continue to insist that we have made an immoral choice; c) don’t believe we have the right to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as the rest of society enjoys: protection from job discrimination; proper medical care consistent with the findings of the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association; the ability to make life choices consistent with our innate gender identity; the right to safety; d) actively campaign to take away our recently-won rights (not special rights, just the “unalienable” right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)?
Some have quoted you (or perhaps assumed) that you believe that Republicans are better on transgender issues than Democrats are. Later articles appear to have corrected that misquote, and you admit that Democrats are more favorable on trans issues. So I am going to take it that the latter is true for you. But I will share that when I first read the former, my impulse was that you needed to name names. Just who are these supportive Republicans?
Then I remembered that the Log Cabin Republicans claim to advocate on behalf of transgender individuals, not just lesbians, gays and bisexuals. So I went to their website. I looked at their recent initiatives. I looked through their press releases. They congratulated you for coming out during the Diane Sawyer interview. Since then, keeping in mind all the transgender oriented legislation and votes that have been in play since then in places like Houston and South Dakota, they have been totally silent on transgender issues. It has been disappointing to say the least.
On the one hand, it is good to have a positive attitude and a belief that you can make a difference in Christian and politically conservative circles. But while there is no crime in being naïve, it is not helpful to overestimate the speed with which you will be able to change hearts. You have strengths: a warm, likable personality, a record of achievement that few people can match and access to channels that most of us will never come close to having. But on the negative side, your association with Kardashian reality television and continuing with that format to some extent on your own show makes it easy for some people to dismiss you as a publicity hound.
Caitlyn, I know you have heard much of this before from many sources. But you may not have heard it from a source who is similar to you in as many ways as I am: transgender, MTF, Christian, conservative, background in track and field (and athletics in general), and raised in the Lower Hudson Valley. You and I understand how much work there needs to be done on transgender in the Christian and politically conservative communities. At the same time, we are not willing to write them off as hopeless.
I have more that I could say to you, but I’d prefer to convey it privately, if indeed you should grace me with a personal contact. Contact can be initiated through my blog or contact information on my LinkedIn page.
Caitlyn, I am in the habit of closing out my blog posts with scripture. This verse is on a monthly prayer calendar for a Christian ministry I am associated with. It is a perfect admonition from the Lord to leave you with.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. – Psalm 37:5