06/08/2015 12:46 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2016

Caitlyn Jenner Is a Person -- Not a Label


Caitlyn Jenner is more than a label in the culture wars; the complexity of her choice shines a light on the labels we affix to others and ourselves. Her choice would not be mine, but I celebrate and admire her. It is an invitation to live beyond the cheap grace of labeling others.

Mark Twain observed that "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why." This truth is central to the life journey of most of us. We are each born for a reason and a purpose. Many of us run from the "why" we are born because of labels that we allow to limit our lives.

To be sure, labels exist for good reason. They keep us organized but they are rarely benign. We may use them to shine a light on something good or admirable about someone. All too often labels are code language for demeaning others -- rich, poor, Muslim, Christian, Jew or immigrant to name a few. At best code labels diminish you or another human being and fracture trust; at worst they give permission for emotional, psychological or physical violence against an individual or group. Labels limit our humanity and that of others.

For many, Caitlyn Jenner has upset the unexamined labels and assumptions of what it means to be a man or a woman. Many of us celebrate her choice and admire her courage; we are grateful for the spotlight she shines on the rights, struggles and lives of transgender people. Others feel anxiety or fear that their gender labels are now scrambled. Still others express ridicule, venom or hate toward her and her choice.

Caitlyn Jenner's choice may or may not be the epiphany of discovering why she was born. The decades-long struggle that the celebrated Bruce Jenner had with his gender identity caused him to live a squatter's life in the fear that others would challenge his manhood. His courage has given way to new authenticity about who she really is.

What we do know is that authenticity about who we are is central to fully inhabiting our own lives. The research of Brene Brown at the University of Houston reveals that the fear of being authentic can only be overcome by being vulnerable. Vulnerability usually begins with a small trusted group of people. Caitlyn Jenner is an example of someone who has overcome fear in order to be authentic with vulnerability.

Her six children have permission from her to keep calling her "Dad" as they have done for their entire lives. Caitlyn has encouraged this as part of adjusting to the change. It's the response of a generous person who knows only too well that grappling with labels, identity and gender is a process. Her vulnerability comes with the courage to give people space to reexamine what it means to be a man or a woman.

We are each labeled by others and by ourselves. Beyond the labels is the search for authenticity as a person. None of is a label -- we are each human beings. Caitlyn Jenner is not a label. She is a person seeking authenticity. We honor her by reexamining labels and discovering our shared humanity.