Caitlyn Jenner proves there’s more than one way to be an American hero

The decision to feature Caitlyn Jenner was historic. What’s followed? Not so much.
The decision to feature Caitlyn Jenner was historic. What’s followed? Not so much.
Image: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Producer Peter Berg, creator of the acclaimed American television series Friday Night Lights, does not care for Caitlyn Jenner.

Following Jenner’s much publicized plea for trans acceptance at the 2015 ESPY Awards on July 15, Berg took to his Instagram account to repost a highly circulated meme deriding the Olympian decathalon runner’s recent notoriety:

Berg has since walked back his comments (slightly), posting this follow-up a few hours later:

Of course, it’s pretty gross for a man of such cultural clout and influence to so glibly dismiss a significant moment in the fight for transgender equality. His half-hearted apology didn’t do much to rectify the situation—but it did reveal some important points worth discussing.

First, the elevation of American heroes is not a zero-sum game. Applauding Caitlyn Jenner for her bravery in the face of relentless —and up until very recently, overwhelmingly anti-trans—public scrutiny does not lessen one’s admiration for the men and women who sacrifice life and limb to protect the United States on the battlefield. And vice versa.

Second, quantifying and comparing acts of heroism is the definitive game of apples and oranges. No logical person would compare transitioning in the public eye to fighting a war in the mountains of Afghanistan. Because they are incomparable. They are totally and utterly different experiences. Frankly, Peter Berg invites comparison by perpetuating such wrongheaded memes, proving that his priorities are the opposite of pragmatic—he’s really just a fool drawing erratic comparisons for social media points.

Finally, though it’s theoretically admirable that Berg would raise awareness about the epidemic of veteran suicide through his Instagram, it’s the kind of move that wreaks of opportunistic slacktivism. It’s also a classic move for defenders of the socio-cultural status quo—we shouldn’t be focusing on feminism, or racial equality, or trans advancement because there are “more important things going on.” And apparently adult humans are incapable of multitasking.

This type of thinking is irresponsible and illogical. Because our soldiers are at a more visibly higher risk of physical danger (we won’t talk about the fact that 46% of trans men and 42% of trans women attempt suicide in the US), they deserve all  of our attention at all times; and attention diverted anywhere else is attention diverted to definitively frivolous causes.

America’s transgender community struggles with a PR problem soldiers don’t have. In American culture, soldiers are still pretty damn elevated, both by the public and those in positions of power. The transgender community, conversely, struggles against a mountain of misinformation and prejudice. Magazines and award shows won’t cure that problem overnight, but entry into the cultural mainstream is essential for any group hoping to one day bypass the strictures of discrimination.

The fact is, Mr. Berg, our veterans don’t need ESPY awards or Vanity Fair covers. They need a reformed Department of Veteran Affairs—a hopeless mess of bureaucracy and inefficiency. They need better funded post-combat PTSD counseling; particularly for female veterans, who commit suicide at a rate of more than five times their civilian counterparts. They need people like you—and everyone else who has shared that horrible meme—to do something a bit more active than a few taps on a keyboard.