There’s nothing that makes me want to blog (or throw people out a window) like a good old-fashioned social media explosion. (That might have been a little unnecessary, but I hope you’ll forgive me. I forgot to take my anti-sarcasm medicine this morning.) Today, it was Caitlyn Jenner. On June 1, the first day of Pride Month, Caitlyn Jenner announced her name in Vanity Fair magazine, along with photos of herself unlike any that had been released before.
Of course, following its release, the article created quite a buzz, both in the secular world and in the Christian world. Some were amazed at her bravery, while others were disgusted and unafraid to tell the world just that.
As I read tweet after tweet, comment after comment, I realized something. Some people do not know what they are and are not allowed to say about trans people. As people spoke at length about Caitlyn, they made that very clear. So as I read one unnecessary comment and tweet after another, I decided that maybe it was my duty to put together a list of acceptable things to say about Caitlyn Jenner, and really trans people anywhere. So here they are. (Please note that these are my own personal rules. I think that you should consider abiding by them, too, but I cannot force you. I only hope you will think long and hard about them.)
1. She/her, and Caitlyn
It is incredibly insensitive, unkind, and disrespectful to address a trans person by their previous pronouns or their deadname. (In case you were unaware, as I was earlier today, “deadname” is another word used to refer a person’s birth name.) As human beings, part of our purpose, I believe, is to love, respect, and be sensitive to other human beings. Caitlyn Jenner is a human being, and so we owe her our respect.
Frankly (and I mean this in the kindest, most respectful way that I can say it), I do not care if you agree with Jenner. I do not care if you think she is brave or disgusting, enlightened or misguided. She. is. a. human. being. You owe her your respect. Part of respecting other humans is treating them with dignity. It tears apart a trans person’s dignity when people refuse to refer to them with their preferred pronouns and continue to use their birth name.
There is good news for those of us who have failed to do this! If you have purposefully (or accidentally) referred to a trans person by the wrong name or pronouns, all you have to do is go to them and ask for their forgiveness and patience, and then begin to refer to them rightly. If you do this, my best guess is that most trans people would be incredibly gracious and kind about it.
2. “She is brave.”
Again, I do not really care if you agree with Jenner or not. You have to give her credit for her bravery. She did what few have had the bravery to do in their entire lives. She made a choice which she believed was in line with who she truly is and who she was created to be that she knew would bring her immense ridicule. Could you have made that choice?
I am not saying she chose to be transgender. Do not hear me say that. What she did chose was to come out publicly and to do it boldly. You have to give her credit for that bravery. You have to recognize the bravery it takes to come out as part of the LGBT community, especially as a trans member of the LGBT community.
It is unlikely that people close to you would come out as trans in the way that Caitlyn Jenner did. They will probably come out to you privately, if they feel safe to come out to you. If a trans person, or any LGBT person, comes out to you, “You are so brave,” ought to be some of the first words to come out of your mouth. The amount of courage that it takes to come out to someone, especially someone you fear might disagree with you or ridicule you, is unfathomable to anyone who has never done it. So respect that.
3. “I will always protect her humanity and dignity.”
I feel like I should not have to say this. But I know that I do. As human beings, we ought to be the guardians of other human beings. No matter who that person is, not matter what they do that we do not agree with, we ought to protect each other from shame, ridicule, and hatred.
Humans should protect other humans. That protection ought to be physical: we should never allow bodily harm to come to another human being as long as we are able to stop it. Trans people are highly likely to experience violence because of their gender identity. We, as human beings, ought to do everything in our power to prevent such violence. Part of what we can do to prevent such violence is to be educated and educated others. That is why I started this blog.
But as human beings, we must also protect the reputations and integrity of other human beings. With our computers and internet connections, we often think that we can say whatever we want on the internet and get away with it. That is not true. It also shows an incredible lack of integrity. We ought to only speak of others in the way we want to be spoken of by others, even if it’s just in a comment on an article on Facebook.
Caitlyn Jenner has been a victim of ridicule and hateful-sounding words, and she may never know exactly what was said, or who said it. But that does not give people the right to say those things. We are all human beings, and we all have a responsibility to protect other human beings in every way that we can.
4. That’s about it.
In my personal opinion, if what you have to say falls outside those guidelines, you probably ought to keep your thoughts to yourself. Or at the very least keep them off the internet.
The internet is full of outspoken, sometimes ignorant, usually forceful voices on every side of every issue imaginable. The explosion today about Caitlyn Jenner proved that. I think that we, human beings, have a job to do.
Our job is to love. Sometimes, love looks like a hug. Sometimes, it looks like a smile and a kind word. Sometimes, love looks like a spontaneous gift. Sometimes, it looks like saying the right thing at the right time. Other times, it looks like not saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
When it comes to trans people, we need to learn to say that right things, not the wrong things. I hope that this has helped you to see what might be some of the right things you can say about Caitlyn Jenner and other trans people like her. I also hope it has shown you some of the wrong things to say, to all LGBTQ people.
To any LGBTQ people who are reading this and have been in some way hurt by the reactions to Caitlyn Jenner today, I am sorry. To LGBTQ people who have been personally hurt by uninformed or just downright hurtful people, I am sorry.
Keep your head up. Keep your heart strong. And repay hatred with love. Love wins more fights than hatred.