Bruce Jen­ner is trans­gen­der, and it’s a big deal

GA Voice - - News Briefs - By VANDY BETH GLENN

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.

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