The 2015 ESPYS aired on Wednesday, July 15th, bringing together some of the finest and proudest athletes from throughout the world. One such athlete was Caitlyn Jenner, who made her debut appearance when she received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to an individual whose contributions transcend sports. While her speech served as a voice for the transgender community, many people regarded her speech with criticism.
“One man traded 2 legs for the freedom of the other to trade 2 balls for 2 boobs. Guess which man made the cover of Vanity Fair, was praised for his courage by President Obama and is to be honored with the ‘Arthur Ashe Courage Award’ by ESPN?” –Peter Berg, director of ‘Lone Survivor
To me, courage means you are fearless enough to go outside the traditional norms to pursue something greater than yourself. It’s having something that you care about so deeply that you’d be willing to shake the gates of hell for, to thrust yourself in the open abyss of the Great Unknown, and to face the sharks that swim in the tears that they proudly make. Courage is about redefining your world, changing perspectives and paving a new path for the misrepresented. So why do we try to put courage in a box, limiting it only to people who don a service uniform and fight in the army?
Don’t misunderstand me, here. I am so grateful for the lives of service-people that sacrifice their time, security, and well-being for the freedoms I take for granted daily. However, when we begin to misconstrue the idea of courage and who is allowed to don that label, that’s when I have a problem.
I have courage. I may have not traveled across the world to find the cure for a major disease or saved a life, but I got out of bed today, which took more courage than I could muster. The words that I once hated are finally being used for good, and I’m being courageous by pouring my heart to an audience that might not even read or respect my opinions. But I’m not in the Army, so does that make me less brave?
Caitlyn Jenner is the epitome of what it means to be brave. For one, she had to confront a global audience that preyed off her every move, and explain to them why she was undergoing her personal transformation. I have enough trouble coming to terms with who I am, but to live in a body I wasn’t meant to be in is an unfathomable challenge. Not to mention she had to face the difficult conversation with her family and friends, undergo a surgery that could have costed her life, and endure the readjustment period into an entirely new gender. Plus, there comes the struggles every girl faces: chipped nail polish, finding the perfect outfit to wear (and turning your closet upside down in the process), and the desire to achieve a perfect winged eyeliner.
You have courage. You clicking on this link meant that you were searching for new perspectives, or confirmation of your own. You got out of bed today, you are alive, and that’s more courage than what we give credit to. We’re revolving around a ball of fire, and you decided to use your limited time for the day to read an article from an eighteen-something year old teenager.
Courage isn’t a one size fits all definition. We all exhibit courage, and have the opportunity to exude excellence in all situations. Calling someone undeserving of a courage award doesn’t make you any more courageous, but rather exhibits your weakness in understanding the changing world that we live in. What’s true courage is the ability to understand the weight of Caitlyn Jenner’s words towards the transgender community, and to choose to be an ally for LGBTQA rights. You don’t have to agree with her lifestyle or the choices she made, but as a decent human being, you have to be tolerant of the fact that not everyone will be exactly like you.
Don’t silence the voices of those who are speaking out about relevant, life-saving issues because you are fixated on one style of courage. Like EE Cummings once said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Whether your journey to find yourself is through changing your gender or serving in the military, you are as equally brave as the person next to you. The extent of someone’s bravery or courage is not up for debate based upon the archetype commonly accepted as courageous action. Every action, big or small, matters, and it’s time for us to celebrate it, instead of using it as a basis for inferiority.