clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Should 'Sports Illustrated' have mentioned Caitlyn Jenner's former name on its cover?

New, 5 comments

People at 'Sports Illustrated' decided to fill their article on Caitlyn Jenner's Olympic success with references to her former name and almost a dozen photographs of her pre-transition. Is their disclaimer for their editorial choices enough?

Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of the July 4-11 issue of 'Sports Illustrated.'
Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of the July 4-11 issue of 'Sports Illustrated.'
Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated last week released a multiplatform look at Caitlyn Jenner's incredible success in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in the men's decathlon. Her gold medal catapulted her fame into the stratosphere, where it waxed and waned for the last four decades.

The writer and editors of the piece made the choice to include copious mentions of Jenner's previous name and use male pronouns. Sports Illustrated put a big disclaimer in the piece about why Caitlyn's former name and gender were both used extensively throughout the piece:

A word here about pronouns and first names, about which the transgender community is understandably sensitive. Last spring, in the wake of Jenner's announcing her transition, GLAAD (formerly an acronym for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation but now simply the organization's title, representative of a broader mission that includes transgender people) issued a series of guidelines, including one that Jenner be referred to as Caitlyn or she or her, even in reference to the events of 1976. Most transgender people choose to leave their pretransition life—and name—far behind. Jenner, however, often talks about [her former name]. "Caitlyn doesn't mind," says Nick Adams, director of programs, transgender media for GLAAD, and a transgender male. "She has this world of fame in her past. The fact that it doesn't grate on her like it does most trans people is unique." With Jenner's approval, in this story, the historical figure who won the gold medal in 1976 is referred to as ... with male pronouns. The woman who lives now as Caitlyn is referenced with female pronouns.

Jenner is certainly not like other trans people who have little or no fame or recognition before they transition. To refer to Laverne Cox by anything other than Laverne Cox and with female pronouns would be a big problem. But of course Jenner was well-known before Caitlyn was, so there is some thought and sensitivity that should go into that dynamic.

To put her former name right on the cover? And in the sub-heading? And include almost a dozen photographs of her pre-transition? For me, the disclaimer doesn't quite give SI justification for all of that. Whether Jenner understands it or not, countless trans people see the treatment of her former name and gender and cringe. With suicide rates as high as they are among trans people, this all seems incredibly excessive.

I do understand the dilemma of how to refer to Jenner when she was an Olympian. SI could have easily gone the other way and put a disclaimer that they were using her current name and gender pronouns throughout, using editorial devices to change pronouns in quotes. Readers would have understood perfectly what they were saying.