Bruce Jenner is transgender, and it’s a big deal
On Friday, April 24, after months of gossip, speculation and some rude and unkind jokes, Bruce Jenner came out as transgender in an interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News. It’s a big deal.
Note: the interview’s audience was told Jenner prefers to use male pronouns until he begins presenting as female in public. I’ll respect that here.
Bruce Jenner is not the first famous transgender American; there’s a small crowd of them now. But he’s the most well-known by far, especially within that small club who transitioned after they were already famous. Apart from Jenner, I can only name three: Alexis Arquette, Lana Wachowski and Chaz Bono.
It’s silly even to call them “famous” compared to Jenner. I’d bet everyone who reads this will have to Google at least one of those names. Bruce Jenner has been in the public eye for several decades, and is better recognized than anyone else I’ll name in this column, including Diane Sawyer. He’s known as an Olympic gold medalist, businessman and TV star. That’s why his journey has garnered such intense scrutiny.
Many LGBT people, especially in the transgender community, are enraged by the attention, and hurry to observe how easy his transition has been.
It’s true; Jenner has every advantage one could hope for. He’s white, wealthy, surrounded by supportive family (even his exwives have been spirited cheerleaders), and lives in the most progressive state in the nation. His transition has been smooth sailing.
He won’t have trouble paying for transitionrelated medical or surgical needs. He won’t get hassled by a judge when he goes to complete his name change. The TSA will never stop him for humiliating body cavity checks if he flies while his ID doesn’t match his appearance. If his children were minors, their other relatives wouldn’t try to revoke his custody.
It’s doubtful he’s at high risk for suicide. He has no reason to fear violence at the hands of violent, transphobic thugs.
He won’t lose his job. In fact, he’s getting a new job, if the reports about his reality show deal are true.
All those horrors have happened, and continue to happen, with discouraging frequency to transgender people—especially those who are women, impoverished or nonwhite minorities—or all three. After the interview aired, while Lady Gaga and other luminaries tweeted praise to Jenner for his “bravery” Ashley Diamond, a black transgender woman, continued to languish in the Georgia men’s prison system, where she has been mocked and misgendered by other inmates and guards, denied hormone therapy, and repeatedly raped. In the unlikely event Jenner faces prison for the fatal accident he caused in February, it’s certain his straits will never be so dire as Ms. Diamond’s. The two may as well live in different universes.
Life’s not as bad for all of us as it is for Ms. Diamond, but it’s bad enough for enough of us that calling Jenner “brave” is like praising my cat for her hard work in curling up on a cushion and sleeping all day. It’s not right we’re so taken with Jenner when so many others are forgotten, maligned or thrown away to die.
And yet, that’s exactly why Bruce matters so much. Yes, of course the public should care more about transgender people who aren’t white or famous or rich. But they don’t. That’s human nature. We empathize more with people we see as being like us. For the white, middle-class majority, that’s someone like Jenner. Because he’s like them, they can’t dismiss his transition as some bizarre otherness, something only “those people” do. He’s bringing gender dysphoria into the suburban house next door.
The male image of Bruce Jenner is in their heads. Soon that will be joined by the female image. They’ll be forced to reconcile one with the other, and to comprehend that all the things they appreciated about the previous version are still there in the update.
Everyone goes through this process when a friend or relative comes out as transgender. Now, through Bruce, anyone who hasn’t had that experience will have it. And when they realize it’s okay for Jenner to be transgender, they’ll realize it’s okay for everyone else.