In the minor news this week is the continuing drama of Caitlyn Jenner, whose “docu-series” is currently showing on E!. The second episode of the series was shown this past Sunday and featured, among other things, Jenner’s more conservative, Republican views, especially as they clashed headlong into the views and opinions of her new transgender friends.
In a follow up to the show, Jenny Boylan, a college professor and transgender activist who appears on the show, declared that Jenner can be just as conservative as she wishes to be, but that the transgender community is concerned about how well she will fare as the community’s most visible spokesperson. Boylan further shared with the world the following: “my best friend on the Colby faculty is probably its most conservative member.”
When I read this, I couldn’t help but gasp a little. In that statement, Boylan is talking about my husband, Joseph. Joe is indeed a conservative, and is certainly among a small group of conservative faculty members at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. In reading Jenny’s comment, I felt kind of exposed and vulnerable. Would some random media person show up on our door step, desperate to meet not only this “conservative” friend of a transgender activist, but a conservative who has actually been “outted” as a conservative and still manages to maintain employment at a liberal New England college?
Joe and I have been friends with Jenny Boylan, and her wife Deedie, for many years, since even before we knew of Jenny. Jenny and Deedie are among our closest, dearest friends. What an interesting foursome we make. Three women and one man. Two college professors, one social worker, one clergyperson. One goes to church some of the time, two all of the time, and one never. One activist, one loving spouse, two supportive, married friends. Two sets of parents to wonderful children (who are smart, interesting, and talented, of course). Sounds like the basis of a crazy sitcom script that gets dumped in the trash for being completely unbelievable.
Yet, there it is.
When I think about our friendship, I am aware that ours is not a typical group, in several different ways. And, that’s a shame. It seems common now and “normal” to be friendly only with those who share one’s own beliefs and opinions. This happens in so many aspects of our lives. Groups of friends and even congregations tend to be places where there is a strong current of shared attitude and opinion.
There is much to be gained, however, by gathering and seeking friendships with people of differing views and life experiences. There’s something to be said for learning about other points of view as well as having one’s own opinions tested.
It’s not always easy to maintain such friendships. There are times when lines are crossed, when something unintentionally hurtful is said or done. But, we learn from those experiences as well. Under it all, is a deep well of the important things that we do have in common, in our shared values—respect, the significance of the family, a good sense of humor, love of life (with good eating and drinking, of course), and the desire to make this world a better place than we found it.
In I Am Cait, it is clear that Caitlyn Jenner has much to learn about her new community, and about those who have walked this journey, more anonymously and more dangerously. The question will be whether or not this “docu-series” can not only help people learn about the range of experiences of those who are transgender, but can also help open up new paths of conversation and openness to the wondrous variety of life, transgender and otherwise. As we are already discovering, the transgender “community” is not a monolith. Nor should it be. In that range of experience and expression, there should be respect, an openness to articulate why and how one believes what one believes, and a desire to listen to and learn from others.
Caitlyn Jenner has been encouraged to get out of the “bubble” of her own making, to listen and learn from others, to share of herself and her experience, to deepen her understanding, and to grow as a person. That’s good advice for everyone.