Someone I grow up with, and who I now know mostly through Facebook made a comment today about Caitlyn Jenner. And, I'm absolutely sure that it's a comment which has been echoed all around the world. Before I respond to it, let me say that this old friend of mine is a pretty reasonable guy, from what I can tell. He certainly isn't some foaming at the mouth, hate filled homophobe, or anything like that.
So, what did he say? He made the (probably mostly offhand) remark that while he's fine with Caitlyn Jenner (who was, Of course, until recently Bruce Jenner*), he's tired of having the picture of her thrown in his face. Be happy, he says, but keep it private.
* My dictation software just changed "Bruce Jenner" to "Bruce Gender."
We all have our own sense of privacy – how much we need it for ourselves, and how much we expect/prefer it from others. As someone who hates most reality shows, and especially hates celebrity reality shows, I get it. I wish nothing bad for the Kardashians, for example, but I would be just fine if I never hear or see from them again. But, I think that this was different.
Being LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) is difficult on many interconnected levels, I'm sure. But, one of the ways in which it must be the most difficult, the most painful and the most dangerous is in the sense of shame that comes with it. People who are not straight are subjected to a seemingly endless stream of reminders that they aren't normal. This happens in subtle ways, and it happens in ways which are anything but subtle. And while being told that you aren't "normal" is rarely fun for most of us, in this case it's often served with a generous helping of outright disdain or hatred, as well. Throw in the very real possibility of physical violence, and it's not the least bit surprising that so many LGBTQ people stay in the closet. It's not surprising that so many of them internalize that hatred. It's not surprising that far too many of them take their own lives out of a feeling of desperation, loneliness, and God knows what else.
And so, standing up and presenting themselves, in public, as who they really are, is more than just another version of 21st century exhibitionism. It is not an analog to the rest of the "hey, look at me" culture which has become so prevalent in the Internet age. And, it's not forcing their opinions down other people's throats. It is a powerful statement of self acceptance, and a brave stand against hatred and fear.
There's nothing wrong with sitting in the back of the bus, until someone tells you that's the only place you're allowed to sit. There's nothing wrong with being quiet about who you are, until someone tells you that you shouldn't talk about it. Then, it's more than acceptable to move your seat, or open your mouth. Then, it's a moral imperative.
Somewhere out there, probably more than once today, some child who questions his/her sexual identity saw Caitlyn Jenner, and just as importantly, saw the reaction to her, and felt braver. Some adult who has felt the need to hide his/her sexuality is one step closer to being willing to stop hiding. Someone who felt that they'll never be understood, and never be accepted, took one step away from harming him/herself.
Thank God Caitlyn Jenner found the courage to transition, and the courage to stand before the cameras, before and after. Thank God that we live in an age when she is able to do so. Thank God for everyone who shared, retweeted and otherwise spread the word that the arc of the moral universe continues to bed. And, at long last, it seems to be bending faster and faster.