You may have noticed the headlines lately all have one thing in common – people keeping secrets. Consider Dennis Hastert, once the third most powerful man in America, now accused of molesting teen boys when he was a high school wrestling coach. And then there is Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who was so convincing in her masquerade to be black, that she ultimately rose to the position of state leader of the Washington NAACP. And then there is Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, who recently resigned after it was revealed he failed to protect children from a pedophile priest by never revealing that priest’s wrongdoing. Secrets. So many secrets, some understandable, and others inexplicably vile.
And then: The secret of all secrets: Caitlyn Jenner.
Unless you have felt unduly forced to keep a secret about your very personhood, it may be that you cannot understand some of these recent revelations. While some of it baffles me, unfortunately I do understand the feeling of being forced to keep a personal secret. I do not understand the Charleston shooter, for example, and I suppose no one ever will. But I do understand Caitlyn Jenner, and in some twisted fashion I understand Denny Hastert, although I certainly do not condone his alleged behavior. You see, I grew up in the middle of middle America, in the middle of the 20th century. At that time, the 1950s were really still alive and well, and the themes were conformity and sameness. I think of the 1950s as I do of the color beige – uninspired, unenlightened, and safe – very safe. The country had only recently experienced World War II, the “Big One,” as it came to be called. People needed order and shelter – not just physical shelter, but emotional and cultural shelter. Everything had been too uncertain, unpredictable and frightening for too long. What America did not need during my formative years was anyone to rock the boat.
|The American Dream - 1950s style|
I guess I kept my secret because I knew not to rock anything in landlocked, repressed St. Louis, MO. My secret would be no big deal in today’s America, but back then, one was simply not allowed to be gay. People like me were still considered mentally disordered and certainly abnormal. So I kept my secret for 37 years. That’s a long time. When you consider the life expectancy of an American male back in the 1960s was less than 70, one could fairly state that I kept my secret for more than half of my anticipated life.
Caitlyn Jenner, on the other hand, kept her secret for 65 years. Sixty-five years. If you are 65 or older, you know what a long, long road it was to get there. If you are under 65, many of you still view 65 as “old.” Imagine keeping a secret about your very being until you are “old.” Some will say Jenner lived a lie for his entire life. Others will say Jenner lived a “double life.” And still others will question how he could be so deceitful to marry three unknowing women and father six children and four step-children. How could he? How dare he!
I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner, but I do not hesitate in answering that question. Bruce Jenner did what was expected of him. He never really felt he had a choice. Neither did I. Like Jenner, I grew up and got married. Believe it or not, a trans sexual like Jenner is fully capable of falling in love with a woman. And a gay man is equally prone to falling in love – with a woman. It’s complicated. Bruce did, and I did. But anyone with such secrets will tell you: Life catches up to you and eventually, authenticity trumps conformity. Sooner or later, one must be who one is, and respect oneself for being so. I believe that happened to Caitlyn Jenner, and I know unequivocally it happened to me. What people like us are most grateful for in life is the privilege of truth. There is no bitterness about having felt forced to live less than authentically for so many decades. There is only clarity and determination about living the legitimate life of today.
I would venture to say most trans sexual human beings are not living in their truth because they feel the world around them will not allow it. And I am more than sad to say that many, many gay men and women, even in the 21st century, still feel too fearful to live their God-given true lives. And I would go even further to say there are a number of other secrets that we humans feel unduly compelled to keep in our pockets – poverty, insecurity, shyness, illiteracy, dyslexia, disease, failure, mental illness, depression, domestic violence, weakness – I could go on, and so could you, if you are harboring your own covert self, deep inside. Each time we deny others their birthright to be exactly who they were born to be, we fail in our humanity. Each time any one of those people goes deeper and deeper into himself or herself due to our judgmental intolerance, we shame ourselves, not them.
On July 15, 2015, Caitlyn Jenner took to the stage at the annual ESPY awards and spoke her truth. Her speech was less about herself than it was about the thousands of human beings who are still somehow unable to speak theirs. Watch:
Caitlyn Jenner’s provocative pose on the cover of Vanity Fair was not a publicity stunt and it was not a “fuck you” to the whole world. It was not frivolous, narcissistic or impulsive. It was a statement of authenticity. Whether you praise or condemn Jenner’s methods of debuting herself, just know that the thousands of photos you have seen of Bruce Jenner over the past four decades were, each and every one, a lie. The only true image of Jenner was the one the people are so polarized by – Caitlyn Jenner, 65, on the cover of Vanity Fair.
I am not here to defend Jenner. I am here only to inform those who may still have Jenner and the thousands of others like her, locked into a compartment labeled “abnormal.” My aim is simply to ask people to think bigger. That family member that you have shunned or at least felt ashamed of? Are you sure you’ve thought it through? Your son or daughter whose humanity is not what you might have hoped for? Can you overcome your own socialization or dogmatism or likely unfounded bias to consider his or her real self? Everybody wins when the failed patterns of exclusion and discrimination are struck down.