IT WAS A media moment unlike any other—except, perhaps, the one five weeks earlier, on April 24, when 1976 Olympic gold medal decathlete Bruce Jenner announced to ABC's Diane Sawyer (and nearly 17 million other Americans), "I am a woman." But that must-see, appointment-TV moment was only the overture. The curtain came up for real on June 1 when Vanity Fair magazine released its July issue with a breathtaking cover: Jenner, 65, thick brown hair tumbling over bare shoulders, wearing little besides a white satin corset. The headline was just three words: CALL ME CAITLYN. When Jenner joined Twitter, she topped one million followers in just four hours, the fastest accumulation in the site's history.
This is an article from the Dec. 28, 2015 issue
Still, it wasn't clear if the unprecedented media metrics reflected progress or prurience. What was undeniable: One of the most iconic and celebrated male athletes of the second half of the 20th century had, as a woman, suddenly embodied the zeitgeist of the second decade of the 21st. "Caitlyn coming out as a woman is such a big moment," says Christina Kahrl, a national baseball writer and editor for ESPN.com who is an out transgender woman. "That forces people collectively to understand transness.... Sports gives us this opportunity to talk about something we'd never talk about ordinarily."
Just days after Caitlyn Jenner's magazine debut, 35-year-old Chris Mosier, a transgender man competing in the sprint duathlon in his age group, became the first known out trans athlete to qualify for a U.S. national team—the team that matched his gender identity rather than the gender he was assigned at birth. "It's groundbreaking," Kahrl says. "Fundamentally it gets into how much of our expectation about [physical] advantages are just automatic gender assumptions. And Chris automatically challenged that with his ability." Mosier, however, will be unable to compete at the 2016 world championships unless the rules of the International Olympic Committee, which currently require any transgender athlete to have made a full surgical transition, are changed. "These policies are just completely out of touch with reality," says Mosier, who in November created the GO! Athletes mentorship program, which works with LBGTQ athletes. "I feel like I shouldn't have to change my body for the IOC."
Nonetheless, Mosier and Kahrl believe sports, and specifically transgender athletes, can play a leading role in changing public attitudes. "There's been a big shift in understanding," Mosier says. "With Caitlyn coming out, no one can now say they don't know someone who is transgender."
Amy Ellis Nutt is the author of Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family.
THE YEAR IN HOT TAKES
"The game is too complex? I've never bought into that, 'Baseball's just too complex.' Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has not been known in my lifetime as having world-class academic abilities."
—Colin Cowherd, then of ESPN