Follow the Leader: Our Obsession with Celebrities

Well, it’s time to get topical again.  Prepare yourselves.

You’ve probably heard about the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner story in the last couple of days.  For those not in the know, Bruce Jenner, former Olympic athelete, recently revealed that he never felt comfortable in his gender.  Rather, he always felt like a she.  This week, Vanity Fair released their new magazine cover featuring Bruce’s new identity as Caitlyn.  Praise supporting her decision has come from all over.

I have absolutely no issue with this.  If she wants to be a woman, so be it.  In the end, it’s her choice and not mine.  I also am not bothered that much by the news coverage of the story.  It’s an important issue that should be discussed to show the younger generations that there is nothing wrong with them if they feel misplaced in their genders.  I do, however, have an issue with the fact that it seemed to take a celebrity’s personal story to really draw attention to the issue, but more on that in a moment.

Bruce Jenner had what is known as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), otherwise known as Gender Dysphoria.  The definition of GID is pretty simple.  It refers to a condition in people who feel discontent with their assigned sex or gender.  So examples would be a boy who feels more like a girl, and a girl who feels more like a boy.  GID has led to a serious discussion on the social nature of gender and whether or not it is a biological construct, a social construct, or perhaps both.  It has birthed a movement of people who see gender as an inclusive spectrum rather than a codified set of two types.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about today.  The idea of gender identity is a hugely complex issue that is influenced by so many different factors that I feel my opinion on the matter would be an inadequate exploration of the situation.  Rather, I want to talk about Caitlyn/Bruce’s addition to the movement.  From everything I heard about Jenner’s interview and subsequent sex change, it seems like all she ever wanted was a personal change in her life.  Jenner never stood on top of the world proclaiming that gender is a spectrum or anything like that.  All Jenner ever said was that she always felt like she was a woman, not a man.  I just find myself frustrated that it seemed to take the inclusion of a celebrity’s personal story for people to truly shine a spotlight on the matter.

The idea of a gender spectrum is really nothing new.  Transgender people have existed for a long time, but until fairly recently they were commonly viewed as freaks and made fun of.  But then when Jenner opened up about her constant struggle with GID, suddenly everyone became an expert on the situation.  Everyone was praising her and telling her how brave she was for sharing her struggle with the world.  But the thing is, no one would care if it wasn’t Bruce Jenner detailing the struggle with his gender identity.  No one wouldn’t have cared if it wasn’t Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair revealing herself to the world.  The only reason this story is such a big deal is because Jenner is a celebrity and associated with the Kardashian family.  It wasn’t until a celebrity came out and said “I’m not comfortable with the sex I was assigned at birth” that so many people jumped on the congratulatory bandwagon.  There are so many stories of similar struggles that were met with disdain and disgust rather than approval.  It seems to me like some are taking advantage of the situation, like being “socially conscious” has become the cool thing to do rather than the right thing to do.

It may sound cynical, but I can’t help but feel irritated by the whole thing.  It shouldn’t take someone with star power to make an issue relevant to people.  There are probably people all around us that are dealing with these issues every single day, and sometimes all they really want is a friend to say “it’s okay, you’re not a freak of nature”.  But no, it’s only when a celebrity who honestly only seems to care in a personal sense comes out on the issue that everyone is suddenly an advocate of progressiveness.  There’s a quote from the Welcome to Night Vale podcast that I feel is appropriate to this situation, a quote that itself is a paraphrasing of a German playwright:

“Sad is not the land that has no hero.  Sad is the land that needs a hero.”

We should all be able to stand up and say “hey, these people are different, and that’s okay.”  But often, so many of us remain silent on these social issues, leaving it to the vocal extremists to drive the discussion.  And it’s hard sometimes, because as much as we would like to participate, a lot of us have busy lives with financial burdens and concerns.  We don’t often have time to give to these social issues, even if we’d very much like to.  I know I’m guilty of this as well.  But we have to find some way of making our voices heard, of striving for change, because if we don’t we allow that change to be made for us instead of by us.  We all have a voice.  We just need to find a way to use it.


Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.




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