Two recent op-eds in the New York Times provide an interesting juxtaposition of dissonant perceptions of heroism and psychological health. Bruce Jenner's recent announcement that he is undergoing surgical and hormonal treatment to "transition" into a female (and document that in a docu-series), we are told, is the courageous act of a true "role model," while decorated Iraq war veteran Chris Kyle's behavior is "insane" "by virtually any standard."
In her Feb 5 op-ed on Clint Eastwood’s massive hit American Sniper, Gail Collins highlights the final scene of the film, which she argues reveals just how “insane” Kyle had become:
There’s been less conversation about the final scene in the movie, which shows the hero walking through his family home, where the kids are romping. He’s carrying a handgun, which he points at his wife Taya, playfully telling her to “drop them drawers.” Taya says she can see he’s finally getting over his war traumas and back to his old fun-loving self.
This is, by virtually any standard, insane behavior. Mike Huckabee, a big “American Sniper” fan, recently published a book called “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” which is so wildly opposed to any weapon regulation that Huckabee opens his chapter on modern education by complaining that public schools are anti-gun. Yet he also presents a list of universally accepted gun safety rules, many of which boil down to don’t point it at anybody as a joke.
Meanwhile, in an article titled “Bruce Jenner’s Courage,” NYT op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof praises the heroic, worthy of imitation actions of Jenner, who suffers from what psychologists call "gender dysphoria," for announcing that he is “transitioning” from a biological male to a female:
When I was a growing up, yearning with my pals to be a track star, one of our heroes was Bruce Jenner. He won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in the decathlon, and he adorned our Wheaties boxes. We all wanted to be Bruce Jenner.
I haven’t thought much about him in years. But Jenner is in the news again, widely reported to be preparing to come out as a transgender woman.
At first, there were snickers, but, lately, the tone has been respectful. And news reports say Jenner is planning to chronicle the transition in a program for E! television channel and in an interview with Diane Sawyer for ABC News. All this, and comments by family members, suggest that Jenner is willing to be a role model and help educate the world on transgender issues.
Arguing that announcing this is “probably harder than the training for the Olympic decathlon” due to the “astonishing rate” of hate crimes transgender people face, Kristof goes on to present statistics on discrimination against transgenders and recent policies intended to protect them. While he stresses the group’s tragically high suicide rates, Kristof does not note the high degree of uncertainty in the medical field about effectiveness and soundness of performing the operation, nor the many transgenders who come to regret undergoing the irreversible operation.
"There is a huge uncertainty over whether changing someone's sex is a good or a bad thing,” said Chris Hyde, director of the University of Birmingham’s Arif research facility. “While no doubt great care is taken to ensure that appropriate patients undergo gender reassignment, there's still a large number of people who have the surgery but remain traumatised—often to the point of committing suicide."
As The Guardian reports, Arif's study found that there's "no conclusive evidence" that sex changes are effective in curbing severe depression and high suicide rates among transgenders:
There is no conclusive evidence that sex change operations improve the lives of transsexuals, with many people remaining severely distressed and even suicidal after the operation, according to a medical review conducted exclusively for Guardian Weekend tomorrow.
The review of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals by the University of Birmingham's aggressive research intelligence facility (Arif) found no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.
Support and compassion for those who suffer gender dysphoria like Jenner are undoubtedly essential, but to hold up Jenner’s decision to undertake a potentially traumatic and irreversible procedure about which the medical field has profound misgivings as worthy of emulation is another thing.