• Reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner. (AAP) (Starmax)Source: Starmax
Caitlyn Jenner does not profess to be perfect. She, like the rest of us, is on a journey to understand LGBTI issues, writes Conrad Liveris.
Conrad Liveris

16 Dec 2015 - 9:21 AM  UPDATED 16 Dec 2015 - 9:21 AM

It can be easy to dismiss role modelling and inspiration as something the simple among us need.

I, myself, can be fairly brash and straight-forward with a strong understanding of who I am, but my sexuality has caused me to question some aspects of my life.

I was a teenager when I came out and I knew no other LGBTI person. I searched for those who had similar interests to me, but came up stumps trying to find confident and open gay men in public or professional life.

It took me about two years to find someone I actually connected with and could see as someone worth following. He is making his mark in public life and is someone who has guided me during fraught times where the professional and the personal have mixed.

And while the former David Jones CEO Paul Zahra has been open about his sexuality, as has Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, there remains a dearth of LGBTI people who have plotted a path - especially open lesbian women.

Recommended Reading
Comment: Gay shame and "acceptable" LGBTI heroes
Tim Cook and Caitlyn Jenner may be inspirational figures for some, but others will find their role model status deeply isolating, writes Helen Razer.

It is always easy to criticise, rather than understand what is going on. Caitlyn Jenner does not profess to be perfect. She, like the rest of us, is on a journey to understand LGBTI issues. This is something that has long been called for in public realms - a real exploration of the LGBTI life and times - but has not been achieved.

The LGBTI experience relies heavily on stories, sharing and seeking common ground. We look to each other in times of aspiration and when we need a good kick in the right direction. Ours is a story that relies on continual knowledge.

Jenner consistently notes that she is learning and figuring out this whole sexuality business, and so is the rest of society. In an op-ed this week apologising for her comments in a TIME interview about trans people and authenticity, she said:

"This week, a lot of attention was brought to my comments in my TIME interview. I think I caused a lot of hurt with this comment, and I'm truly sorry. What I was trying to say is that our world really is still a binary one, and that people who look 'visibly transgender' sometimes can struggle for acceptance and may be treated poorly by others. And while this may be true, it's also something that needs to change."

Recommended Reading
More gay CEOs need to come out: Zahra
Former David Jones boss Paul Zahra says he knows of many people in his CEO circle who are gay but who choose not to come out.

Understanding that LGBTI issues are part of a process and an evolution of social knowledge, we can bring others along with us. I don’t want to shock anyone, but there are people who do believe Caitlyn Jenner looks a man in a dress. That is a reality we can all begin to confront, and she is right to highlight it. 

It is from these bases that we can grow. Some will continue to profess that this is all a bit too basic, throwing their hands up in the air and telling us that we should have a stronger character. That is all well and good but does not consider the experience of LGBTI people. 

While we have plotted courses on our own volition, we have looked to each other. Don’t tell me that role models aren’t important - because we are living it at the moment. And the next generation needs it.

Conrad Liveris is an advocate, adviser and researcher on the politics and economics of diversity.