Why Caitlyn Jenner deserves the Arthur Ashe Courage Award

My first instinct when reading the angry - and often hateful - responses to Caitlyn Jenner and her gender transition was, "Why do people care?" After all, how does Caitlyn Jenner's journey personally affect anyone outside her own family and friends?

Then, I took a step back.

I realized her journey does affect people. Caitlyn Jenner has made her journey very public and in doing so is asking all of us to fundamentally re-examine our understanding of gender

That is huge. That is scary. I get that. 

But - like I tell my kids - anything worth doing is a little scary.

Over the past several decades, our society has taken the huge and scary step of re-examining what we believe about sexuality. I believe we are better because of it.

It is now time we do the same with gender.

It is not binary. It is not as simple as male and female. It never has been.

Since the dawn of time, this spectrum has existed. Some societies did a better job of understanding and valuing this unique perspective than others, but - make no mistake - there is VALUE in a culture that allows for a more expansive and embracing understanding of the human experience.

After all, we have all had personal experiences that conflicted with societal expectations.

Maybe you've gotten divorced. Maybe you battled addiction or obesity or infertility. Maybe you have chosen to remain childless. Maybe you've chosen to have a large family. Maybe you've faced bankruptcy or adultery or disability. 

Whatever it was, everyone has dealt with the shame of not always being what people want or expect us to be. If Caitlyn Jenner has lessened the burden of those swimming upstream of society's standards, then I say bravo. I say she deserves The Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

The award is for those who "transcend sports through courageous action" and there has been an outcry over those who believe Noah Galloway or Lauren Hill deserve the award more. 

Courage is a difficult thing to define, but I agree with Brené Brown's definition. 

The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.
— Brené Brown

Noah Galloway is a hero. He put his life on the line in Iraq and he exhibited incredibly "heart courage" by going on Dancing with the Stars and putting himself out there for all to see. Lauren Hill is a hero. Her life was literally on the line and she used her personal tragedy to raise awareness for cancer research and inspire others.

However, it is not an insult to either of these incredible individuals to recognize the courage of Caitlyn Jenner.  This is not a zero sum game. There is plenty of praise and recognition to go around. 

Courage comes in many forms and the courage to your listen to your heart and put your "vulnerability on the line" deserves to be lauded as well. 

We all want a better world for the next generation. We all want a world where everyone is accepted for who they are and the unique contribution. There are so rarely two simple options. 

I'm always saying the world isn't black and white.  I used to say that the world is gray, but that's not quite right. Gray is singular. Gray is boring. Gray is uninteresting. 

We don't find gray when we finally stop seeing things in black and white. We find COLOR. So. Much. Color. 

And, y'all, it is beautiful. 

We all want a more beautiful world - now and for the generations to come. 

Caitlyn Jenner has taken some very courageous steps to make that possible and for that she deserves recognition.