“To Caitlyn Jenner” by Suzanne Langlois

Suzanne Langlois


Welcome to the club where the first thing anybody notices
about you is where you fall on the continuum of pretty.
Congratulations, you appear to have landed
on the right side of the sorting line
that stretches from beautiful to invisible.
I wonder if you will miss being known
for what you are good at
and not just what you look like—
for what your body can do,
not just what it can wear.
Right now, it seems the magazine covers
all want us to know how you look in a corset.
They’ve lost interest in how fast you can run,
unless it’s how fast you can run in heels.

I realize I am probably creating a false dichotomy
by delineating these different kinds of fame.
Probably, these are both ways of not being known,
of being reduced to a single aspect of ourselves.
Probably, we are all devalued by these shorthand identities—
these heroic epithets that one day become epitaphs.
Here lies Bruce Jenner, American Olympic goldmedalist,
former track and field athlete, husband, father.
Here stands Caitlyn Jenner, LGBT activist,
television personality, transgender woman, mother.

I want to say I would prefer be known for who I am,
rather than for what I looked like or what I did,
but even as I say it, I realize how slippery the word known is.
And isn’t that part of the problem,
the limits of our language—
how we use the same word to mean famous
as we do to mean understood.
And isn’t that the tragedy,
the ways we are misunderstood
as our insides and outsides try to hammer out
some kind of agreement about who we are,
and our language stumbles, trying to catch up
with all of the things we can be.
Maybe that’s how you ran so fast;
you were trying to catch up with the person
you knew you could be.

Caitlyn, I am sorry for my cynicism, and for complaining
that now that you are out as a woman,
the magazine headlines are all about your appearance.
When I actually read the article behind the headlines,
I learned that in your first public appearance as a woman
you will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
It turns out, there is a medal for who you are.
And I’m sure people will talk about how stunning you look
as you sweep across the stage to stand at a different kind of podium,
but you know, it’s true, you are stunning.
Isn’t it funny, how we use the same word
to mean beautiful as we do to mean amazing.

Poets Respond
June 7, 2015

[download audio]


Suzanne Langlois: “This piece is my response to the picture of Caitlyn Jenner on cover of Vanity Fair which seemed to take up the entire internet on Wednesday. I thought the poem was going to rail about how unfair it is that media focuses so heavily on a woman’s appearance. I remember seeing Bruce Jenner’s picture on a Wheaties box as a kid, and when I looked it up yesterday, I found three Wheaties boxes, each one depicting the athlete frozen in an active and triumphant moment. Yet Caitlyn is shown lounging on a couch in her underwear. And yeah, this does make me foam at the mouth a bit. But as I wrote it, the poem insisted on also being about the shift that seems to be happening; how we are slowly expanding the types of accomplishments and qualities we publicly celebrate in people of all genders.”

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