Is that Bruce Jenner? I thought at LAX as a man with a face frozen in time from plastic surgery and Botox passed by me on my way home for a family visit.
Upon further inspection I realized that it indeed was Bruce Jenner. When I arrived in St. Louis, MO, I told my mother of this lackluster celebrity sighting.
“He was a Superman,” she said, referring to his Olympic Gold Medal wins.
“Yeah, now he’s a Kardashian,” I replied sarcastically.
Before Caitlyn Jenner came out to the world, this is how she was viewed in popular culture. She was less a former champion and more a dumb dad, a wealthier and less funny Ted Bundy from Married, With Children. At least that’s how every generation not alive in the 70s viewed her.
Those that witnessed Caitlyn’s Olympic triumphs had more literal context to base their option on than later generations. Which is why Caitlyn Jenner matters so much to not only the trans rights movement, but civil rights in general.
It’s difficult to accept change when you don’t feel it in your own world, your own reality. Could racist Southerner’s accept black Americans as equals pre-desegregation? It took seeing black Americans in their homes, schools and workplaces to realize they’re human—although many fought this, and some still are.
The same can be sad for gay Americans. Before Ellen DeGeneres, many people had never met a gay person. Hard at first, she remained honest and herself, and now she’s an essential part of our homes every afternoon on TV.
It takes something or someone unfamiliar to become part of the familiar for change to occur. For older Americans, seeing their “Superman” looking beautiful as a woman at the ESPY Awards will be the same as watching Ellen come out, seeing Ryan White battle AIDS, watching Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs, or hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.
As Jenner said, you can make fun of her, question her motives, but you can’t deny the impact someone of her caliber, which includes the Kardashian part of her story, will have on trans acceptance in the United States.
Heroes aren’t chosen, they’re made over time. Caitlyn Jenner’s life, from Olympian to Kardashian, amounts to many things, including a healthy dose of white privilege. Jenner on Keeping Up with the Kardashians proved the infallibility of people who are formerly lauded as champions or a “Superman.” Who would have guessed that the former Superman would become the Superwoman she was always meant to be? We, young and old, cis and trans alike, are better off as a country for seeing her story unfold.