The Non-Case of Jenner v Galloway

Caitlyn Jenner v Noah Galloway

At least the meme had the courtesy to refer to Caitlyn by her new name.  That’s about all it has going for it.

Some time ago I described a peculiar reaction that occurs in the conservative community whenever somebody of whom conservatives generally disapprove is singled out for special recognition or a reward.  I dubbed this reaction the Obama-Kyle Law: Whenever President Obama speaks favorably of somebody, the honoree will always be compared – unfavorably – to the late Chris Kyle.  Although this is a different situation, I think we’re seeing the same effect at work.  In this case, the role of President Obama is being played by ESPN, the sport-centered network that officiates the ESPY awards, of which the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is one, and the role of Chris Kyle is being played by Noah Galloway (which is not to imply that Galloway is anything like Kyle – I’m just trying to construct an analogy.)

And what of the honoree?  Who is this Caitlyn Jenner, the conservative pariah who pales in comparison to Noah Galloway?

In case you’ve been avoiding the Internet for the past month, allow me to bring you up to speed.  Caitlyn Jenner was formerly Bruce Jenner, an Olympic decathlon gold medalist in the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.  In April 2015, Jenner came out as a transgender woman – that is, a person who, although being genetically male, identifies more strongly as a woman.  Jenner revealed that she had been cross-dressing and taking hormone replacement therapy for many years, but had subdued her feminine side during her marriage (which officially ended shortly prior to Caitlyn’s coming out).

In June 2015, Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new name and look in a Vanity Fair cover story – a photograph that launched a million memes.  Predictably, there were many detractors, but also many supporters.  And, lest we forget that feminism still has a long way to go in America, there were many commenting on Jenner’s physical attractiveness, as if to remind us all that a woman’s value extends only so far as her beauty.

In any case, Caitlyn Jenner is a she.  That’s the appropriate pronoun.  When referring to Jenner, you should say she and her; not he or him, and for heaven’s sake, don’t say it.  Jenner identifies herself as a woman, and frankly, that’s the only identification that matters.

Now let’s talk about the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  According to ESPN, the award is granted

to honor individuals whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action. Sometimes that courage is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime and sometimes it is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue.

ESPN goes on to say that there are always numerous worthy candidates, but there is no such thing as a runner-up for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  This is important, so pay attention, anonymous meme-maker.  Many websites have already made this clear: there is no indication that either Galloway or any of the other athletes that the outraged Tweetosphere would have preferred instead of Jenner were ever being considered for the award.  Many people believe, for example, that Lauren Hill, the courageous 19-year-old college basketball player who recently succumbed to brain cancer, would have been a more worthy recipient.  And of course everybody is entitled to their own opinion.  For my part, I understand why Jenner was chosen: coming out as a high-profile transgender person is a very bold move, particularly in a nation that is still wrestling with its own transphobia.

Lest you think I’m bad-mouthing Noah Galloway, nothing could be further from the truth.  (Let’s be honest; anybody who thinks I’m bad-mouthing Noah Galloway probably stopped reading three paragraphs ago and has already hit the Comment button to tell me what a liberal commie pinko swine I am.)  I respect and admire Galloway.  Had Galloway been selected to receive any kind of award, I’d probably say “Good for him!” and mean it!  As much as I look up to him – as much as I wish that I had one-tenth of his courage and determination – I’m not going to let my admiration blind me to the facts.  The fact is that Caitlyn Jenner did not beat Noah Galloway to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

The confusion regarding Galloway’s faux runner-up status seems to stem from a single tweet, originally posted by Gerry Callahan.  Callahan’s tweet included the picture of Galloway shown above and the text:

Caitlyn Jenner wins Arthur Ashe Courage Award. And the runner-up is ….

Was Gerry Callahan privy to the selection process for the Courage Award when he tweeted his opinion?  Probably not, but his comment launched an uninformed firestorm on Twitter and Facebook.  His tweet had just the right mixture of conservative righteous indignation: a war vet is snubbed while a weirdo is awarded – what is our nation coming to!?!  It’s no wonder that it took off like a right-wing rocket; it provided like-minded people the ability to be angry without actually understanding what they were angry about.  In a way, Callahan’s tweet is sort of the antithesis of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award; while ESPN seeks to recognize Caitlyn Jenner for spreading understanding and acceptance of transgender people; Callahan seeks to divert attention elsewhere.  Here’s a very sarcastic Way to go! for you, Mr Callahan, and also to the people who uncritically spread your message.  You are all runners-up in my book.

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Heroes and Villains

Heroes

Wait a minute: was Obama supposed to conduct a seance to contact Chris Kyle after his death? I’m very confused.

Everytime President Obama says something nice about anyone, conservatives will compare the complimentee – unfavorably – to Chris Kyle. I’ve noticed this often enough that I feel the phenomenon deserves a name: the Obama-Kyle Law. If you don’t have conservative friends on Facebook, you might not know who Chris Kyle was. Allow me to enlighten you: Chris Kyle was a sniper in the Navy SEALS; in fact, he has the dubious honor of being the most lethal sniper in American military history. Seriously, this guy was a one-man epidemic. The Iraqi insurgents referred to him as the “Devil of Ramadi” and placed a bounty on his head that eventually amounted to US$80,000.

Chris Kyle and a friend named Chad Littlefield were shot and killed by a deeply troubled fellow veteran – a former marine named Eddie Ray Routh – at a Texas gun range. By all accounts, Routh suffers severely from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has great difficulty distinguishing reality from his own dark, terrible fantasy world. On February 2, 2013, Kyle and Littlefield took Routh to the gun range as a sort of therapy. Routh became convinced that Kyle and Littlefield were trying to kill him, so he struck first. May Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield rest in peace.

The details of Kyle’s life and death are complex, and he was not without flaws. Kyle served his country proudly, and his superiors’ reports were glowing. On the other hand, he made no secret of the fact that he hated his targets. He saw his mission in Iraq as sort of a holy war, and he spoke of the insurgents in terms that, if they had been said by a Muslim about Americans, would have had him branded a terrorist and a jihadist. After his honorable discharge, Kyle made real efforts to help other veterans readjust to civilian life, perhaps driven by his own struggles with PTSD. Then again, he also fabricated wild stories about shooting would-be carjackers in Texas and perching atop the Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pick off armed citizens who were contributing to the general chaos. None of these stories has been authenticated by local authorities. He has become a historical figure shortly after his own time, and like other historical figures, the fact and the legend have become…muddled.

So is Chris Kyle a hero? I’ll be honest: I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s a thorny question.

It comes as no surprise that the meme’s author does not consider Jason Collins a hero. Jason Collins did not kill 160 insurgents in Iraq. Jason Collins did not dedicate his life to helping veterans. Jason Collins just announced he was gay, which lots of people do all the time…except that Jason Collins is a professional basketball player. He is a high-profile individual, and his announcement is seen as a step toward LGBT acceptance. President Obama recognized that when he congratulated Collins.

I have no idea why President Obama did not mention Chris Kyle after Kyle’s death. Imagine that Obama had issued a declaration of gratitude for Kyle’s service. Imagine that Obama had spoken at length about Kyle’s selfless devotion to his nation, painting Kyle as a Real American Hero. What would the Anti-Obama Club say about Chris Kyle then? My prediction is this: Kyle would be the one on the left side of this meme with his warts exposed for all to see, and some other unsung hero would take Kyle’s place on the right. You see, this meme pulls double duty. Not only does it downplay Jason Collins’ bravery (since nothing associated with homosexuality should be portrayed as heroic in any way), but it gives the Anti-Obama Club yet another reason to gripe about something Obama did (or did not do). What’s not to love?