In December of last year I read an article about a teenage girl who committed suicide by stepping in front a semi truck. Her name was Leelah and she was transgender.
She left a suicide note on her tumblr account, which was published a few hours after her death. Here’s part of that note,
“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was, I immediately told my mom and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that is was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.”
Remember what it was like to be a teen when almost everything felt awful and out of place anyway? Everyone was always judging each other and you never wanted to say or do the wrong thing that might make you feel stupid or look like you don’t belong.
Imagine those feelings multiplied times a hundred. Imagine feeling out of place in your own body. From that very first second you wake up in the morning, until the moment you go to bed, you’re walking around in a body that doesn’t feel like it belongs to you.
I almost get claustrophobic just thinking about how terrible that would be. How isolating and scary it must feel. And then when you finally get the courage to tell someone they confirm your biggest fears. That you’re wrong. Sick. Mentally ill.
I will never know what it’s like to feel trapped in a body that doesn’t feel like it’s my own. But 700,000 other people do know what it feels like- it’s impossible to know the exact number of transpeople in the world, but that is the number most commonly cited.
I’ve watched Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY speech from last night as she accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award a few times now. It’s an award given to someone every year “who’s contributions transcend sports,”-that last part was taken directly from wiki because I wanted to see exactly how the award is defined.
I think a lot of other people could have won this award as well. There are courageous men and women everywhere, fighting their own fight, and the fight for others, in all walks of life. But last night Jenner was the recipient. And really this award isn’t about competing with those other people. If you listened to Jenner’s speech it wasn’t about her being better or more deserving than anyone else. In fact, it was hardly about Jenner at all.
She took the moment as a platform to speak on behalf of the 700,000 other people who don’t have the voice Jenner does. Or the support, the spotlight, or the courage- not just yet.
“With attention comes responsibility,” Jenner said. And right now she’s taken it as her responsibility to speak up for the transcommunity. For the men and women who are being murdered because of their gender, for the kids who don’t understand why they’re different from everyone else, and for the teenagers who think death is their only way out.
“If you want to call me names, make jokes and doubt my intentions, go ahead because the reality is I can take it,” Jenner said. And the people will. They already have been calling her names and they probably will continue to for awhile. We live in a society where we don’t accept what we can’t understand.
If Caitlyn Jenner is “mentally ill” as I’ve heard a lot of people claim, perhaps it’s time we rethink our urge to constantly use that label as well. Jenner seems to have a better head on her shoulders and clearer picture on life and the direction she’d like to see this world go in than most of us could ever hope to have.
And finally, if this is all just a big media scam, a ploy to get more attention, I can’t say that really bothers me either. Because if Jenner’s speech saves even just one more teenager from jumping in front of a semi truck, to me that seems pretty worth the media attention.