The Corner

Culture

Who Won Bruce Jenner’s OIympic Medals?

Bruce Jenner at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. (AFP/Getty)

With the transition of Bruce Jenner to “Caitlyn,” the Washington Post asks an obvious question:

Did Bruce Jenner or Caitlyn Jenner win those Olympic gold medals and appear on those TV shows? And if Caitlyn Jenner did, must history be rewritten? Is every source that refers to “Bruce Jenner, record-breaking athlete” — or “Bruce Jenner, guest star on ‘Silver Spoons’” — now in need of a correction?

The hive mind at Wikipedia has made its decision: “As a result of winning the Olympic decathlon, Jenner was a national hero. She was the 1976 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Jenner was also the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1976.”

For those who may not be familiar with the Bruce Jenner saga (are there any such persons left?), how “she” won the “Male Athlete of the Year” award raises questions.

GLAAD addresses the challenge this way:

DO avoid male pronouns and Caitlyn’s prior name, even when referring to events in her past. For example, “Prior to her transition, Caitlyn Jenner won the gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the Summer Olympics held in Montreal in 1976.”

But GLAAD also defines “gender identity,” which is the thing at issue here, as “one’s own internal, deeply held sense of being male or female.” That presents a problem.

As a practical matter, discrete individuals have little stake in Jenner’s “internal, deeply held sense” of being male or female or a parakeet. One can maintain that he is not a woman, just as one can maintain that none of the patients at Ypsilanti were actually the Christ, and a reasonable, well-adjusted society would be able to treat Jenner kindly and respectfully without also demanding that everyone in said society assent to Jenner’s own self-interpretation.

But the attempt to revise Jenner’s past is just that: a demand not that we indulge Jenner’s confusion out of charity, but that we adopt it as our own. You, too, must accept that Jenner is, in truth, a woman.

But the past, being common property, is not GLAAD’s to rewrite — particularly given the Left’s logical inconsistency about what has just taken place. The argument for adjusting the historical record to reflect Jenner’s present sensibilities is (at least in part) that “Bruce” was really “Caitlyn” all along; “Caitlyn” did win the medals, we just didn’t know it then. Yet GLAAD and others liken pronoun changes to name changes: Nobody calls Jay Z “Shawn Corey Carter,” ergo, they should not call Caitlyn “Bruce.” But what “courage” has Jenner demonstrated if his transition is not precisely that he got rid of the person Bruce for the person Caitlyn? He has not simply adopted a new name, a new identifier, but a new “identity.” Both the identifier and the thing it identifies have changed.

The latter explanation, as it happens, makes the case for not changing the record, while the former is belied by a well-known phenomenon: that of transgender persons reverting to their original gender identity. Presumably if Caitlyn Jenner should opt to become “Bruce” again, those Wikipedia pronouns will go back to the originals.

When it comes to matters of history, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner the present-day person is irrelevant. At issue are logic and language — whether our words and the propositions we make of them are to be intelligible, or are to depend upon private, changeable definitions. Saying that a “woman” won a man’s event may salve the psyche of the “woman” in question. But a sane society will reject the temptation to adopt that troubled psyche’s beliefs as its own.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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