This post was written by Bess Auer for our Parenting section.
With the recent barrage of news articles, TV features, tweets, headlines, and blog posts, the world is abuzz and seems quite divided on Bruce Jenner’s undergoing an identity change and asking to be called Caitlyn. I know from my own Facebook feed that people seem to either be extremely supportive or utterly outraged at Bruce’s recent choices.
In fact, one of my Facebook friends was mortified that her daughter asked about the Vanity Fair cover and was lamenting the fact that she even had to have a conversation with her about it. The vitriolic and hate-filled stream of comments underneath left me shaking my head at how so many people live in such ivory towers.
And if you were wondering, yes, your son or daughter already knows about Caitlyn, too. But as a parent, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we see this as an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with our children regardless of our personal feelings about transgender identity?
There are some excellent lessons our swimmers can learn from the still-evolving storyline of Caitlyn.
1) You never know the burden others carry.
Bruce is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and with his good looks and charming personality, celebrity status and wealth seemed to come naturally. Marrying into a large family, he looked to be on top of the world and to be content with the crazy Kardashian clan. However, outsiders (and even some of his own family members) were not aware of the crisis long brewing within this All-American man.
Bruce is a good reminder to not judge a book by its cover or by the mask people choose to show the world. More times than not we’re oblivious to the troubles teammates are carrying, their unspoken worries, and the difficult choices they are facing. Every person we meet has a burden of which we are unaware.
The swim community has faced this recently with several suicides, so what better time to have this conversation with your child than now?
2) Be true to yourself.
As parents, we have no greater mission than to help our children find their own place in the world and then occupy it as happy, healthy adults.
We parents sometimes unknowingly work against this mission, though. I learned this difficult lesson earlier this year when my son decided to quit swimming. It wasn’t his passion anymore, and he was ready to let go even if his dad and I weren’t. It took us quite a bit of time to come to terms with our son being true to himself and not just swimming because we wanted him to.
So when Caitlyn tweeted, “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self,” I thought that this was a good reminder for us all. The words I focused on most were, “I’m so happy.” I wish more people could honestly claim that because isn’t that what we really want in life?
3) Courage comes in a variety of forms.
Yes, courage comes in the shape of a soldier on the battle field, a person standing up to a bully, or an advocate speaking out for someone who cannot. Courage also comes in the form of willingly opening yourself up to the world for all to see and judge you.
I’ve read posts about Bruce becoming an abomination. I’ve seen petitions to take away his Olympic medals, and I’ve heard outrage over ESPN’s plan to present the Arthur Ashe Award to Caitlyn. Certainly Bruce knew this would be a reaction by many when he publicly declared his transformation. One of the Facebook comments I read asked, “Why did he have to make such a big deal over it? Why couldn’t he just keep quiet about becoming a woman.”
For more than a year before his official announcement the media had been speculating about what was happening with Bruce and plastering unkind photos, ugly innuendo, and vicious rumors across magazine covers.
Not everyone would have the courage to stay standing under such fire and still go through with this a radical transformation. Not many people would forge ahead knowing the world was watching and in many cases snickering.
I’d like for my son to have the courage to stand up for what he believes in despite what others might say or think.
4) You are never too old to follow your dream.
At 65 years old, Bruce made the decision to become Caitlyn. Another of the Facebook comments was, “Why would he even bother at this age?”
I can’t imagine anything worse than a person not pursuing something just because they have turned a year older. When we reach the stage where we feel we are too old to try something new, then life has lost a little meaning.
Nobody explains this better than Growing Bolder, which was started by Marc Middleton, who was an All-American swimmer at FSU and is a current World Record Holder in Masters Swimming. Growing Bolder has built a worldwide community based on the themes of hope, inspiration, and possibility and the idea that you’re not growing older, but growing bolder.
The world is definitely a strange, strange place filled with people making all sorts of unusual and controversial decisions. I can’t pretend to even start to understand Bruce and his transgender issues. But not having walked in anybody else’s shoes than my own, I think I’ll take the kinder gentler road, and hope the people who meet me do the same.