Let's start a few hundred miles north of here today, circa 1976. As a ten-year-old boy, I had the tremendous privilege to travel to the city of Montreal to see the Olympic Games. We missed the ceremonies, but I can still remember seeing some gymnastics, and spending a lot of time sitting in the Olympic stadium watching track and field events.
We were in the stadium over several days of the decathalon, and watched Bruce Jenner take home the gold for the United States.
(See me back there in the upper deck??)
So let's fast-forward to today. Bear with me on this; I hope none of this comes across as mean-spirited or intolerant...but I am trying to make a point. We've all seen the pictures of the new Caitlyn Jenner.
More power to her. It's a good thing for someone to stop living a lie and step into the truth. I daresay she's looking pretty good - but think about this. It's all a construct. Caitlyn was born male, and despite looking as good as she does now, it's more a testament to her surgery team than anything else.
But she had the resources to do so. What happened here is not covered by any insurance carrier. It may speak more to society than medicine, but such things are generally considered "elective surgery" and as such aren't medically necessary (no matter how much the patient may think so) and are generally not covered. It's difficult to find figures out there, but one source
states the surgery alone is in the $50,000 range. That doesn't include all the pre-work, labs, hormone therapy, counseling, post-op, and all the things associated with major surgery. The real cost of such things might approach a quarter of a million dollars.
So Caitlyn can thank the power of her celebrity for giving her the resources to pursue what was necessary for her new life. This is all fine and good, but what's next?
Are we headed back for the trashy "reality" show on "E!" network, or might something bigger and better come of all this?
Think about somebody ordinary that might be living this way. A kid struggles with this all his life, is perhaps mercilessly shamed and bullied all through school - may live a double life away from his family and friends...and has no real hope of transitioning, and probably has a complete lack of a support network. It's no joke; the suicide rate among transgenders is above 40%.
Ash Haffner died in North Carolina last Thursday—another transgender teen lost to suicide. His mother says the 16-year-old had encountered bullying, which worsened when he began to transition publicly. “Ash had been so strong for years,” she said, using the female pronoun. “Ash started enduring the most bullying when she cut her hair short.”
Haffner’s death follows that of Leelah Alcorn, the 17-year-old transgender high schooler from Ohio, whose suicide attracted international attention last December and ignited a broader debate about early transition and conversion therapy. But perhaps most troubling about the deaths of these two young people is that they’re part of a broader trend in the U.S., which sees a disproportionate number of transgender and gender non-conforming teens and adults attempting suicide.
According to surveys, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt, with that number climbing to between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. By comparison, 41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide.
The most recent, comprehensive data on suicide attempts was gathered by The Williams Institute, in collaboration with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Its report, Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults, analyzed responses from 6,456 self-identified transgender and gender non-conforming adults (18+) who took part in the U.S. National Transgender Discrimination Survey. The results are staggering.
Having such a well-known and public figure go through an equally public transition is only going to help, but it's a small step among many more that need to be taken. I'm fortunate to live in the Northeast - we seem to be more tolerant about these things than other places in the country. As always, your mileage may vary, but imagine a transgendered youth in places like Alabama, Texas, or worse...Utah?
I suppose it all does go back to "religion". There's increasingly quaint notions about sexuality and gender roles in some of our religious texts - and reams of words written about the punishments and fate awaiting us if we fail to comply with the words of those ancient authors. But think about this - in the same book is written to "Love the sinner, and hate the sin". Think about it - all the roadblocks in place to reaching gender truth, and the attitude of society and those that would denigrate others among us on this path...that is hating the sinner, isn't it?
Society is advancing. I have a minister acquaintance that believes as we go further away from "biblical truths", society will fall further away from God and nearer to Satan. But I wonder if a quote from George Pal's 1953 version of War of the Worlds might actually be relevant. A Catholic Priest is wondering about the nature of the advanced society that's invaded the Earth...and he concludes, "If they are more advanced, then they should be nearer the Creator for that reason".
Curious that maybe Hollywood has something meaningful to add after all.