A gay dad’s open letter to those who doubt Caitlyn Jenner’s heroism

Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe award for courage at the ESPY Awards.
Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe award for courage at the ESPY Awards. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

When I was ten years old, I remember waking up in bed, cuddled up in my sheet from the night before. As I lay there daydreaming, I tucked the sheet around me and imagined it was a flowing ball gown; elegant, sophisticated and completely feminine. The fantasy came from deep inside me, and it was overwhelming.

That fantasy persisted into the Halloween season, and I proposed a “unique” costume idea to my mother: I would go as her.

Creative thinker that my mother was, she went for the idea.

On Halloween night, I pulled off the look quite well: Dress, makeup, pumps and pearls. I wasn’t a comic rendition of a woman — I looked like a younger version of my mother. Under the cover of Halloween, no one saw my motives, my self-exploration; nor did they react with knee-jerk misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia. I went off into the night and collected candy.

I hated it. What I discovered was that I wasn’t transgender in the least. I was, and am, a cisgender guy; a male in a male body. I probably had only gone a block when I began to loathe everything about the presentation. Not because it wasn’t working — it was. It just wasn’t me.

Perhaps walking that block in heels gave me a glimpse of what it feels like to be a closeted transgender person. I don’t know that for a fact; I can only imagine it to be true.

Was walking down the street in a dress courageous at so young an age? Was I a hero? Probably not. I wasn’t in danger. I had played my experimentation as a gag, a lark, a creative idea.

Now we’re in the age of Caitlyn Jenner. Public tabloid discussion has quickly moved from whether Bruce Jenner might be transgender to a debate about whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. And the latter discussion has gained a great deal of momentum since Caitlyn was awarded the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

My sons are both 12 years old, and we’ve discussed Caitlyn. They truly didn’t understand how she felt, nor her need to emerge as her true self. The issues involved needed to be explained. I told them why she, in my opinion, is a hero.

Apparently a lot of people out there need to have a similar discussion. HLN’s show Dr. Drew On Call recently assembled a panel to discuss whether Caitlyn was courageous and deserved an award. The panel consisted of television analyst Segun Oduolowu, transgender reporter Zoey Tur, and right-wing columnist Ben Shapiro.

As far as television goes, the panel and their interaction ended up being less like The View and more like Jerry Springer.

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