My 11-year-old son, Christopher, came home last night and told me about a discussion he had at school with his classmates. They talked about Caitlyn Jenner.
I've openly discussed this subject with my husband, Chris, and I've not filtered my words, in and outside the presence of our son. But I'll admit, I was a little surprised to learn that this topic has been on our son's radar as well.
In an attempt to get at what he knows and perceives -- to understand the opinion he is forming about transgender people specifically, and about issues of sex and gender generally -- I asked Christopher what he thinks about the Caitlyn Jenner news.
He verbalized his thoughts in this way: "It's when sometimes, you're a boy and you feel like a man, or you're a girl and you feel like a woman, but sometimes you're a boy but inside, you feel like a woman or you're a girl but you feel like a man, and you want to look like what you feel."
After hearing this, my husband and I were at once proud and humbled: proud that we are raising a boy who appeared to have no trace of judgment in his voice, and humbled by the fact that despite what we may or may not try to inculcate in him, our son will come to his own conclusions, and these conclusions will inform his opinion.
I feel only slightly negligent that I didn't bring this subject up with him sooner. I wrongly assumed he wouldn't understand; that he was too young or immature to get it. Children have a greater capacity for understanding and acceptance than we give them credit for. In his own way, Christopher is attempting to make sense of things I never had to confront when I was that age.
Which is why I am so glad that Caitlyn Jenner has been so brave.
Which is why I'm so glad ESPN is recognizing her bravery with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
I say that if an awards show can continue to promote a dialogue that needs to be had -- that has been sadly late in the making -- then let's give Caitlyn lots of other awards. It is 2015, after all, and it's about time we stop pretending that we are more accepting than we truly are. It is time we keep nurturing the conversation.
Yesterday, Bob Costas, a sportscaster I've admired for a long time, was aghast. He said ESPN's decision was an attempt to raise ESPN's viewership -- never mind that the ESPYs this year will not even be telecast on ESPN, but on ABC. And I hardly doubt that ESPN struggles with gaining an audience as approximately three out of four Americans watch ESPN on TV.
Costas went so far as to say he felt that the award should go to someone more deserving, someone who has been more recently actively involved in sport.
In fact, ESPN has had a history of giving the award to those not actively or even closely associated with sport.
In 2002, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award was given posthumously to Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick -- four passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, who lost their lives on September 11. In 2009, Nelson Mandela received the Courage Award, and to my knowledge he never played amateur or pro sports.
Via a statement, ESPN said, "Sometimes courage is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime and sometimes it is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue."
I would be hard pressed to name a more contemporary culture issue that has inspired so much discourse, which intersects so directly with sports, and is being pervasively discussed and debated in every pocket of America -- from our children's classrooms to our own homes to the pages of our daily newspapers to the screens on our television.
Arthur Ashe, for whom the ESPY Award for Courage was named, once said: "Whereas, I don't see myself as Jackie Robinson or even as Rosa Parks, neither trailblazer nor pawn of history, I do think I'm just a little bit of progress."
The greatest human athlete of our time told the world that she is transgender. It took her her entire life to harness enough strength, enough bravery, to stand up and say this. In my opinion, she's more than just a little bit of progress, and she deserves to be seen and heard. I for one can't wait to hear her acceptance speech when she gets her ESPY.
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