Cover model Caitlyn Jenner reflects on her athletic career, winning gold at the Summer Olympics 40 years ago, and role of recent reality TV star and transgender icon in the summer issue of Sports Illustrated. The story allows Jenner to tell her own story, while also highlighting the positive impact of transgender visibility in the media, pointing out that her story helps transgender people and their families battle intolerance and isolation.
Nearly 40 years after her last cover appearance on Sports Illustrated, the magazine again featured Caitlyn Jenner in multi-platform profile in its July 4-11 edition. The profile largely focuses on Jenner’s reflections about her journey both before and after winning the decathlon gold medal at the 1976 summer Olympics. In addition to elevating Jenner’s voice, the story spotlights the positive impact of Jenner’s media presence on transgender people, who “battle not only intolerance but also suicidal thoughts, depression and poverty at staggering rates and who are just gaining a foothold in society.”
The piece contrasts with sensationalist, irresponsible reporting that has often accompanied stories about Jenner and the transgender community. In May, The Washington Post and CBS both parroted the shoddy, unsubstantiated report of a discredited celebrity biographer, who claimed that Jenner might “de-transition.” Sports Illustrated’s profile of Jenner proves that even high-profile celebrity news can educate readers about transgender people and the importance of transgender visibility.
From the July 4-11 edition of Sports Illustrated:
If there is no medal, Caitlyn Jenner almost certainly does not become the most famous transgender person in history. She does not become a towering (literally, 6' 4" in heels) public figure who both unifies and polarizes (even within the trans community) while spurring discussion of gender issues in ways that no one else has. She has used her celebrity—earnestly, sometimes naively, on a steep learning curve, with millions watching—to help the 700,000 trans men, women and children in America who battle not only intolerance but also suicidal thoughts, depression and poverty at staggering rates and who are just gaining a foothold in society. “I feel like, now, nobody can say they don’t know a transgender person, because she is that famous,” says Chris Mosier, 35, a transgender male triathlete who represented the U.S. at the world sprint duathlon (cycling and running) championships last month in Spain. “She has brought about this awareness among people who are attuned to pop culture and media. Challenges that trans people face have really come to light since she’s come out.
If there is no medal, she does not affect the lives of thousands of families trying to find their way in a trans world that many scarcely knew existed. Says Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, adolescent medicine specialist in the care of gender nonconforming children and transgender youth at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, “For parents who are scared or nervous about having a child come out as transgender, it suddenly feels like they’re not the only one, because they remember Caitlyn from the Olympics, and this is real. And for the kids, if they know Caitlyn at all, it’s from the Kardashians, but for them, their life is impacted by their parents’ being more open to their journey. It’s a lot easier for them if they have affirming and supportive parents.”