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Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner
by Jim Longworth

Caitlyn JennerBack in 1976 Bruce Jenner's likeness was everywhere. He was on magazine covers, cereal boxes, and posters, and appeared on talk shows, variety shows, and in movies. Having just won the Olympic gold medal in the Decathlon, and named as the AP's Male Athlete of the Year, Jenner was a sports hero of the highest order, and the attention heaped upon him was well deserved. Today nearly forty years later, you can't look anywhere without seeing Jenner's image again, only this time around, he's in the news BECAUSE of his likeness, and not because of an outstanding achievement.

In those intervening four decades, Jenner hooked up with the Kardashian Klan and learned first-hand from wife Kris and step daughter Kim how to orchestrate, manipulate, and sustain an outlandish event then turn it into a cash cow. For Kris and Kim it was a sex video. For Bruce it was slowly transforming into what he refers to as a woman, and calling himself Caitlyn. I have resisted writing about the Jenner story for three reasons. I didn't want to further legitimize the Kardashian circus machine which so enthralls the American public. I didn't want to be labeled "transphobic." And I didn't want to disrespect those who have struggled quietly to become transgender. But after the ESPY's gave Bruce/Caitlyn the Arthur Ashe Courage Award earlier this month, I could no longer sit back and stay silent.

First of all, there is nothing courageous about a multi millionaire, hen pecked White guy taking hormones and wearing a dress for Vanity Fair. Even worse is that the politically correct ESPY crowd (most of who probably never met Arthur Ashe), passed over some very deserving people with real courage to honor Bruce/Caitlyn. I'm sorry, but I find the whole thing to be a disrespectful publicity stunt that dishonors Mr. Ashe's memory.

I was fortunate to spend a Saturday afternoon with Arthur back in the Fall of 1988. Some mutual friends of ours, Drs. Sandra and Stephen Vaughan, were hosting a private party to celebrate the publication of Arthur's groundbreaking trilogy, A Hard Road to Glory, and it was a chance to honor the man and his achievements. We all knew that Arthur had undergone heart surgery several years earlier, but none of us knew that the great humanitarian had contracted AIDS from tainted blood used during his operation. In fact, as best I can recall, Arthur himself had only learned of his fate a month or so prior to our meeting. Anyway, about a half hour before the party, a knock came at my office door. It was Arthur. He had just gotten off the interstate, and wanted to make sure he had the correct directions to the Vaughan's house. He was quiet and soft spoken that day, which was par for the course for Arthur. But he also seemed a bit distant and sullen, and that was not normal for the tennis great. I gave him directions, then followed in my car to the event. Several years later we all learned why Arthur was overly quiet that day. Hell, he was probably still in shock. His plan was to keep the AIDS diagnosis private, but, faced with being outed by a journalist from USA Today, Arthur finally and reluctantly went public in 1992.

It wasn't the first time Arthur had dealt with adversity. Forty years earlier Ashe had been denied access to the Whites-only city tennis courts in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. He spent the rest of his life fighting racism, even to the point of being arrested for protesting apartheid. Overcoming racism took one kind of courage. Facing a horrible death took another kind of courage altogether.
Ashe had both kinds.

Some columnists and commentators have speculated that, were he alive today, Arthur would embrace Bruce/Caitlyn's "courageous" transformation, but I disagree. Arthur didn't suffer fools, frauds, or showboats lightly. Jenner is first and foremost a celebrity in the Kardashian mold. He is not a hero. He is not a role model, and he is certainly not courageous. Lauren Hill was courageous. She died in April at age 19 after playing basketball while battling cancer. Noah Galloway is courageous too. He competes in adventure runs despite having lost an arm and a leg in Iraq. Either Lauren or Noah would have been fitting recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. But then, neither of them was a millionaire showman like Bruce/Caitlyn.

And lest you think mine are the ramblings of an old, out-of-touch heterosexual guy, be advised that even some in the LGBT community are none too pleased with Bruce/Caitlyn's grandstanding either. They point out that, unlike most of the estimated 700,000 transgender people in America, Jenner hasn't lived with the fear of losing a job, being beaten up at work, or denied opportunities to support a family.

I can't possibly know what it's like to overcome racism, and thus far I don't know what it's like to face a death sentence, so I suppose I don't really know what courage is. But I sure as hell know what courage ISN'T, and that's posing for Vanity Fair.


Jim Longworth is a television talk show host, columnist for YESWeekly, and author of the TV Creators series of books for Syracuse University Press

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