Two days after Vanity Fair premiered the cover image of its July issue, led by a feature story in which Caitlyn Jenner — the U.S. Olympian and reality television star formerly known as Bruce Jenner — speaks publicly for the first time since completing her gender transition, and one day before the start of the 2015 NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith re-posted an Instagram photo also shared by rapper Snoop Dogg referring to Jenner as "that science project."
In the photo, which Smith has since deleted, Smith reproduced Snoop's still-live image lamenting a relative lack of media coverage for rapper Akon's efforts to launch a widescale solar energy project aiming to expand access to electricity to some of the estimated 600 million people in Africa who lack it.
"Shout out to Akon !" the image reads. "He is about to supply 600 million africans with solar power. Im really upset that this isnt major news but that science project bruce jenner is #Society"
Smith reposted the image with his own caption: "Hmmm... what's more important?"
Reasonable people can disagree as to the news value of different stories, and why certain topics garner more media coverage and consumer attention than others. Suggesting that one story's importance renders another meaningless, though, or that there's not enough space in folks' lives for more than one story at a time, is pretty ridiculous.
Jenner — a 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon who, through her third marriage, became part of a family, the Kardashians, that has become one of the most recognizable groups of celebrities in the world — told Buzz Bissinger, "If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.” Suggesting that there's no news value to that seems myopic, at a minimum. For the many transgender youth and adults who have struggled with both affirming their own gender identity and the obstacles that they face along the way, and those of us who don't know very much about what facing those challenges and obstacles might be like, the story of a public figure publicly and openly electing to live fully as a transgender woman seems to have quite a lot of meaning and value.
"Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn and I have now have," trans person and "Orange is the New Black" actress Laverne Cox wrote after Vanity Fair released Jenner's cover. "It is those trans folks we must continue to lift up, get them access to healthcare, jobs, housing, safe streets, safe schools and homes for our young people. We must lift up the stories of those most at risk, statistically trans people of color who are poor and working class."
Moreover, obviously, referring to another person as a "science project" is distasteful and dehumanizing, a clear step beyond referring to Jenner by no-longer-preferred names and pronouns. Even if you're not a bad and shortsighted person, that's a bad and shortsighted look, one that's going to engender the sort of negative responses nobody ever likes, and that you probably don't want to be dealing with the day before the start of the biggest playoff series of your life. Which, of course, is why Smith deleted it; it just would've been better if he'd thought it through beforehand and elected not to post it in the first place.
Caitlyn Jenner will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPY Awards on July 15.
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