This past week, Vanity Fair revealed the result of 1976 Olympic Decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner’s transition into life as Caitlyn Jenner.
The magazine’s cover was hailed as a landmark, watershed moment for transgendered persons and LGBT progress. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Jenner would be the recipient of the 2015 Arthur Ashe Courage Award—an award given to an individual for contributions that “transcend sports.” The announcement was met with praise by many in the sports community and beyond.
However, it was in response to this distinction that an air of transphobia began to descend upon what should have been an otherwise unimpeachable story.
Beyond the bigoted tweets and comments that are unfortunately commonplace in response to stories like this, there were also the arguments concerning how “courage” ought to be defined and the blatantly ignorant comparison of the struggles that a trans-woman faces and those experienced by a double-amputee United States military veteran.
A meme began to make the rounds on social media that Sgt. Noah Galloway, a recipient of the Purple Heart after losing part of his left arm and left leg, was the runner-up to Jenner for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
However, as ESPN noted (and anyone who remotely pays attention to sports knows), there is no “runner-up” for the ESPY award. Anyone whose name isn’t Caitlyn Jenner who accomplished a newsworthy or noteworthy feat that transcends sports can consider themselves runner-up this year.
Galloway certainly fits the bill when one considers his motivational workshops for veterans and school children and his continued participation in athletic competitions.
He has also recently appeared on the cover of Men’s Health and was named “Ultimate Men’s Health Guy” in addition to appearing on Dancing with the Stars.
It is disappointing that anyone would use this man’s hardship and subsequent achievements as a cudgel against Caitlyn Jenner. There couldn’t be an easier apples and oranges distinction made in this instance, and there is undoubtedly an air of transphobia and bigotry in the way that Jenner was treated.
If there is a moral to be found in this story, it is this.
Until you have the unfortunate occurrence of being on the wrong side of an IED or being trapped inside of a mismatched existence and experience the toll of either one of those, it’s probably best that you don’t attack the apple or the orange.
Merriam-Webster defines courage as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” We are annually reminded multiple times—year in and year out—of the courage that it takes to enter a war-zone.
Yet, many of the people expressing their outrage over Sgt. Galloway’s supposed snub care only to experience war through Call of Duty or Battlefield on their 40” television screen in the comfort of their own homes—forsaking the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects that contribute to war or the efforts to create and sustain peace.
Who has time for learning about any of that stuff when you’re too busy existing as an outraged keyboard warrior without any sense of propriety whatsoever?
I have a feeling that those same people would shudder at the possibility of experiencing life as a transgendered person. The inner strife that one must deal with along with the hatred and vitriol from the outside world would be too much to handle—not very dissimilar from what the average Vietnam veteran experienced upon returning home to an ungrateful country in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In this respect—and it is one that is highly controversial to say the least—perhaps there are some similarities to be had between Sgt. Galloway and Caitlyn Jenner that ought to be fleshed out in regards to the mental toughness and—yes—courage that they both possess.
Albeit, they are apples and oranges. But are they not both fruit after all?