We never were Mayberry

<small><strong>Bruce Jenner debuts as a transgender woman named Caitlyn Jenner on the July cover of Vanity Fair magazine. | AP </strong></small>

Bruce Jenner debuts as a transgender woman named Caitlyn Jenner on the July cover of Vanity Fair magazine. | AP

Had you asked me, even a few years ago, whether transgender Americans would be able to scoot through the door of acceptability that had been pried open by gays and lesbians, I’d have replied, “Probably not.”

It was asking too much, too broad of a stretch for the only recently limbered muscle of tolerance for Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sixpack. They feel the need to loathe somebody, and with gays and lesbians suddenly freed from the penalty box and making themselves comfortable on the home team bench, then an even tinier minority, whose lifestyle is even more unfamiliar, the men becoming women, women becoming men, would have to be pressed into service as the Despised Other.

If anything, I’d have guessed their lot would become even worse as they moved from near-complete obscurity to drawing the attention of a public already being forced to tolerate more than is their habit.

But it happened; it is happening, right now.

There is Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, that icon of manliness, on the cover of Vanity Fair, in an Annie Leibowitz fashion shot, now the woman she has long considered herself to be. And the reaction is — a kind of awe. Acknowledgement of the courage to make that leap, to be true to your inner self, wherever that self leads you.To accept the consequences. It was a trust drop into society’s arms and, amazingly, society caught her.

“Fans and family alike came out in droves to support her transition,” noted People magazine, in an item castigating former child star Drake Bell for tweeting “Sorry . . . still calling you Bruce.”

How did this happen?

The explanation, I believe, is this: The progress of gays and lesbians is usually seen in terms of what the change did for them — allowed them, first, to keep their jobs, then to see their relationships respected, first in the marriage columns of newspapers and then by law and, it seems someday soon, even in bakeries in Kansas.

But what did this dramatic adjustment do, not just for gays, but for the society making the change? I would suggest that it drew attention to the tragic and pointless oppression of certain people for being who they are.That lives were constrained and destroyed trying to maintain a template of uniformity that isn’t found in nature. We were never Mayberry. We were never all like the Cleavers, and those who strayed from the Ward and June Cleaver ideal actually have the right to live their lives too.

It helps that transgendered people were often manifesting themselves as very young children, and society is faced with the choice of repressing and abusing these little kids because of who they feel themselves to be — society’s answer up to now — or letting those kids be the people they are determined to become.

It’s astounding progress. Who knew, when we were telling kids to go for their dreams, that we’d really mean it? People are always saying there is no good news, but this is good news. It’s as if combatants fighting a long, bloody, pointless war suddenly looked at each other, saw their shared humanity, and just stopped fighting.

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