Thanks to Bruce Jenner diving headfirst into femdom, we the people have resumed our usual social media sword fighting, proudly swinging our penises and thumping our chests to see who can out-hero who.
Quick recap, for continuity’s sake: Several weeks after announcing his plan to live the rest of his life as a transgender woman, the 65-year-old former Olympic gold medalist whipped the entire Twitterverse into a frenzy this week by posing on the cover of Vanity Fair in full mascara and lipstick wearing a dangerously-short white dress with her shoulder-length brown hair styled accordingly.
Within hours, ESPN jumped on the bandwagon by announcing Jenner would receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPY’s in July, further launching the collective homophobic alpha male population into full troll mode. So in between all of the posts on your Facebook newsfeed by those annoying fitness girls reminding you they squat six days a week and the hipster crossfit vegans snapping selfies with their quinoa asparagus salads, you now have hypersensitive mouth-breathers sharing photos of war vets with their limbs blown off shouting in all caps about the meaning of real courage.
ESPN could’ve given this award to LeBron James for playing through stomach cramps in the Eastern Conference Finals and people would’ve been far less offended than they are now at the audacity of The Worldwide Leader to bestow such a prestigious honor upon a fading reality television star who finally gathered up the nerve to wear heels in public.
It probably should’ve given the award to the late Lauren Hill, the college basketball player who last her battle against brain cancer at the age of 19 after helping raise more than $1.5 million for cancer research. It also could’ve picked Iraq war vet Noah Galloway, who lost two limbs during combat and still went on to compete in extreme sports and participate in Dancing With The Stars.
The reality is award winners should be as unique as they are worthy, and while Hill or Galloway – or anyone else – would’ve been remarkable choices, stories similar to theirs have been front and center on the collective sports landscape for years, decades even. Jenner’s has not.
What may seem like nothing more than a ratings grab for a network no longer the only player in the 24-hour sports universe is actually an opportunity to celebrate a unique form of courage while highlighting issues often ignored beyond the boxscore. ESPN might as well give the award to itself for thinking outside of the box and not being afraid of the predictable backlash.
Applauding Jenner is by no means suggesting he – or anyone else dealing with gender dysphoria – is braver than a Navy SEAL risking life and limb to pull a small child out of a burning building in Fallujah, but what he’s doing takes balls (no pun intended), and if you don’t think so, try wearing a sundress during your morning shift at Jiffy Lube tomorrow without eliciting a few hundred accusatory stares.
Courage does not come wrapped in a neat and tidy box. We’re all brave in our way, whether it’s through something as courageous as fighting for our country’s freedom or something as trivial as conquering a fear of public speaking. Feel free to pat yourself on the back regardless, and don’t apologize for lamenting a crappy day because it’s not nearly as bad as being one of those starving children in Africa your mother reminded you about ad nauseam 25 years ago.
The irony of this unilateral backlash is our military fights to protect the freedom of others battling personal demons to do what Jenner did and pursue their own happiness, not to become the subject of a viral Facebook share or to rub everyone else’s nose in their achievements.
Social media tends to divvy everything into black and white binary coding with no middle ground. Life off the grid is far more complex, more colorful and infinitely more imaginative than the odorous cesspool of internet memes and demonstrative absolutes. Jenner may never serve our country, cure a terminal disease or improve anyone’s quality of life beyond a friendly Retweet, but he’s courageous in his own right, and it’s perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that without feeling like you’re spitting on the American flag.
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