I’ve spent several years in therapy dealing with a crippling fear of spiders. Where some find these creepy-crawlies to be minor annoyances, I have been known to attempt to jump out of moving vehicles to escape a small arachnid crawling across the dashboard. In the past few months, I have moved past panic attacks and night terrors to being able to successfully knock eight-legged mutants off of my front door without a full-blown anxiety attack. For somebody with overwhelming arachnophobia, that’s a pretty fucking courageous act.
Now, my courage may not be on the same level as a firefighter rescuing a baby from a burning building or somebody leaping in front of a bullet to save a stranger. But that’s the interesting thing about courage – there are many different types. There’s this crazy thing that happens with language where words can mean many things and be interpreted in many ways (trust me on this, I’m a writer).
So, one could argue that a public figure coming out as a transgender woman – potentially risking her career and athletic legacy while setting herself up for the harassment and ridicule faced by many in the transgender community – is a form of courage. Much in the same way that anyone coming out as their true selves is a courageous act that takes an incredible amount of self awareness, Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to come out publicly as transgender was truly brave. Considering the fact that I am a cisgender woman who has never had to grapple with gender identity issues (let alone the glare of the public spotlight), I can only imagine how terrifying the coming out process must be.
But, as with any nice moment of personal growth that everyone should celebrate like decent human beings, somebody had to go be a giant douche about it. Caitlyn Jenner was recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYs, where she gave a beautiful speech about acceptance and self-love. So, naturally, raging asshat D.L. Hughley felt compelled to make hateful comments about Caitlyn’s appearance – you know, the classy thing to do. Aside from stating that Jenner did not deserve the award because Arthur Ashe “fought AIDS with dignity and honor, and Caitlyn Jenner put on a dress. I don’t think it’s the same thing,” Hughley also took it upon himself to compare Jenner to Mrs. Doubtfire.
For somebody who’s really concerned with false courage being celebrated, Hughley seems to demonstrate a complete lack of it in his own actions. So, in an effort to help clear up some confusion, I’ve provided a quick guide to help D.L. Hughley sort through what is, and what is not, courage.
Poppin’ Molly’s Handy Guide to the Complexities of Courage and Gender
* Particularly helpful for douchey comedians who are looking for a little attention
Trans women are not men in dresses
Fun fact – what you wear does not define your gender. If it did, I would vacillate between a 1950s male greaser and Kathleen Hanna circa 1994 (which is actually how I choose to identify, though that has little to do with gender and more to do with the total bad ass factor of Kathleen Hanna).
Trans women are just that, women. Caitlyn Jenner is not a man in a dress, just as trans men are not tom boys. Whether she chooses to wear a dress, pants, skirt or fucking nothing at all, Caitlyn Jenner is still a woman because, well, she’s a fucking woman.
D.L. Hughley seems like a man of average height. He should have no trouble climbing such a small curb. Make the effort.
Ranking women is not complimentary
D.L. Hughley seems convinced that the greatest injustice is that people have called Caitlyn Jenner beautiful while calling Serena Williams unattractive. In the same interview with TMZ he stated, “This week we had the media telling us that Caitlyn Jenner was beautiful and that Serena Williams looked like a man. That was a little weird to me. The man looks like a woman and the woman looks like a man? That’s ridiculous. I think Serena is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on a tennis court and Bruce Jenner looks like every P.E. teacher I’ve ever had.”
So you think Serena Williams is beautiful. That’s all fine and dandy. I agree that it’s pretty disgusting that people have been calling her unattractive and masculine merely because she is athletic. (Much in the same way that I think it’s gross that you referred to her as a “thing” rather than a person.) Frankly, it doesn’t fucking matter what you (or anyone) thinks of her looks, but you think she’s pretty and that’s a nice thing to think. Great.
You know you could’ve said that without tearing down Caitlyn Jenner by intentionally misgendering and deadnaming her, right? There’s this magical thing about compliments – you can just give them without having to hurl insults at someone else in order to validate them.
Ranking women is inherently misogynistic, and any point you were trying to make regarding Serena Williams is invalidated because of your transphobic comments regarding Caitlyn Jenner.
It takes courage to bring “trivial” issues to light
D.L. Hughley doesn’t think Caitlyn’s experiences are anything compared to Arthur Ashe’s experiences fighting AIDS – something that is truly courageous in his mind. And he’s not exactly wrong – devoting ones life to fighting AIDS is pretty courageous. But much like Hughley thinks coming out as transgender isn’t deserving of the courage label, not everyone was always on board with fighting this deadly disease.
It seems pretty easy to forget that AIDS was very much considered the death sentence designated to promiscuous gay men as a punishment for living sinful lives. Or the fact that hospital wards were filled with patients who were suffering with few doctors who were willing to care for them because the stigma was so huge. Or the fact that many, many victims of the AIDS epidemic died alone because their families abandoned them after being diagnosed.
The decision to band together and fight this disease wasn’t an act of collective conscious. It took years of aggressive activism to work towards proper treatment of patients, both on medical and social fronts. And it wasn’t something everyone thought needed to be prioritized.
The same things are happening when it comes to issues of transgender health and safety. Trans women (specifically trans women of color) suffer greatly increased incidences of violence, up to and including murder. Transgender healthcare is a huge issue, both physical and mental health. Discrimination endangers peoples lives and threatens their ability to provide for themselves. Having public figures come out, whether it be as transgender or as allies, brings attention to these issues and helps to further the progress of social movements.
All social movements are considered trivial when they first start. They are considered useless, and their prime movers and shakers are considered uppity loudmouths who just want to shake things up. This only difference here is that, in this case, Hughley is on the wrong side of history.
Courage has a lot of different meanings and interpretations. An arachnophobe touching a spider without panicking is courageous. A trans woman deciding to transition to a body that more properly fits her gender identity – let alone doing in the public eye – is courageous. Everyone who speaks up for those who are oppressed is courageous.
But you know what’s not courageous? Some douchebag spewing transphobic and mysoginistic hate speech in order to sound provocative.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.