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.