At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, U.S. track and field athlete Bruce Jenner made headlines for winning the gold medal in the decathlon and became an instant American celebrity. And now, after the long-awaited interview last week on national television in which Jenner said he is "for all intents and purposes" a woman, it's time to recognize Jenner as an American hero yet again.
The numbers are shocking. A whopping 41 percent of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, according to the results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. No one should ever contemplate taking their own life simply because they feel trapped in their own body and believe they were destined to be someone else. To these men and women, Bruce Jenner is a hero. He's now an outspoken voice that sends the message of, "You're not alone," and "It's OK to be who you truly are."
The reality is that some people never get comfortable in their own skin and silently suffer a life of unintentional inauthenticity. They live every day with the guilt and shame our culture stamps on everyone who makes their minority positions public. While many psychologists, psychiatrists and religious leaders want to use techniques to "fix" these people, the truth is they were never broken.
When people have plastic surgery to improve their appearance, do we stigmatize them and claim they have a psychological disorder? The delusion is that transgender people are suffering from a psychological disorder or they have chosen to feel the way they do. This is absurd. The good news is that celebrities like Bruce Jenner and Chaz Bono, for example, have the platform and ambition to educate Americans.
Some religious leaders have spoken out and claimed that being transgender is a sin because it disregards God-given gender distinctions and provides for and promotes homosexuality. They also claim that it dishonors marriage and the home as ordained by God. This is yet another example of how religious leaders in America use their power to control the faithful through guilt and shame.
Whether it's being bullied in school by students and teachers or being labeled a sinner by the church, it's time for Americans to grow up and start treating people the way they wish to be treated. Once again I'll pose this critical thinking question: would Jesus, or any other serious leader, condone the behavior of bullies and bigots? How many people have to kill themselves before we finally realize we are all equal regardless of color, creed or sexual orientation?
If America is really the beacon of hope that we claim it is, shouldn't that include acceptance and support for people struggling to navigate the trials and tribulations of life? Critical thinking says it's time to reject the religious dogma and societal brainwashing and open our hearts to people of every kind. Isn't life tough enough without our most cherished institutions attacking us for being different? When will the day come when we are all accepted for who we are? Until that day, America will continue to be a second-rate country when it comes to these important social issues.
To my transgender friends and readers, please know that you are loved. Remember that you are as good as everyone else, and the critics are attacking you out of fear and ignorance. It has nothing to do with you. Stay Tough!