Bruce Jenner is a former Olympic athlete, gold-medalist track hero, American icon, reality TV celebrity, and most recently gossip rag cover star due to rumors that he* is transgender and in the process of transitioning from male to female. Questions of Jenner’s possible transition first began after his split from Kardashian matriarch, Kris Jenner, was televised on the family’s hit show “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” The gossip mill began churning and paparazzi have since photographed Jenner with painted nails, longer hair, donning diamond stud earrings and a neck bandage rumored to be covering a plastic surgery procedure to reduce the appearance of his Adam’s apple. While Jenner has not officially or publicly confirmed these rumors, various “insiders” and “sources close to the family” have supposedly come forward to validate that his transition is indeed happening, causing a storm of negative press for Jenner and his family, as well as providing overwhelming evidence that when it comes to transgender rights, society talks a big game but has a long way to go toward true acceptance.
Between Laverne Cox’s breakout performance in “Orange Is The New Black,” the Golden Globe win for Amazon’s show “Transparent,” Aydian Dowling—a transgender man—leading the race in the online competition to be on the cover of Men’s Fitness, and Clean & Clear booking 14-year-old Jazz Jennings—the first ever transgender spokesgirl—to represent their line of skincare products, it’s easy to say that trans people have been fully accepted in our society. However it seems that the increased acceptance of trans people and overall awareness of the need for trans rights is more pertinent to those who have already completed their transition, at least publicly so, and even that has a very long way to go.
Trans individuals are not granted basic human rights when it comes to everything from health care to government issued IDs, not to mention an overall lack of social acceptance. Many states require full gender reassignment surgery before granting a transgender person a federal or state ID and birth records that state the correct, self-identified gender. Those states that do not require surgery, “require you to jump through a complicated set of hoops to correct your ID if you are even allowed to make changes to it at all,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Transition-related health care is viewed by many health care plans as “cosmetic” or “experimental,” meaning necessary care is often not covered by insurance or even offered at certain health centers. Trans people are discriminated against when it comes to getting a job, renting or buying a home, participating in public activities and are not even allowed to use the bathroom that matches their self-identified gender. All of these dangers pose a serious threat to the physical, mental and emotional well being of a transgender person and are exactly why we need trans role models in the media for our generation and those to come.
Society seems to be welcoming transgender celebrities as of late, and thank God for that. Though it begs the question, is the media more accepting of fully transitioned people because of some misguided notion that the transition process never happened? A sort of “out of sight, out of mind” mentality to the transition process? Can society more easily accept someone like Laverne Cox posing nude for Allure because those less inclined to truly appreciate the trans journey can just pretend she’s always been physically and publicly female? If that is true, what would it mean to have someone like Jenner, a true, “all-man” representative of the American athlete possibly transition into living as female? In January 2015, In Touch published a tasteless cover featuring a highly Photoshopped, overly rouged, lipsticked, plucked and airbrushed image of Jenner beneath a bold title, “Bruce’s Story: My Life As A Woman,” a joke of a photo displaying no respect or understanding of what gender identity really means. Various publications have reacted with similarly ignorant statements, describing Bruce’s alleged transition as “a double life,” “shocking,” “an outrage,” and “a bombshell” among others, overtly conveying that the process of gender transition is something more of a spectacle than a personal choice and journey.
Amidst the public outcry, surprise, confusion and tabloid coverage, the idea of Bruce Jenner as transgender has been utter online troll fodder. Just in the last week, Jenner has called police on paparazzi who are stalking his home and supposedly “stationed on a nearby hillside using a telescopic lens” to take photos of him in the hopes of catching him in the act of “being a her.” While it is illegal for paparazzi to use lenses of this kind to invade someone’s home, the photos that allegedly display Bruce in a floor length black and white dress have since been sold to gossip publications and posted online with reckless abandon. The only reactions to be found seem to be those of purely shock and awe, the type someone might expect more from an audience viewing a sideshow attraction than a society witnessing a person coming into their own.
Diane Sawyer will air an exclusive two hour interview with Bruce Jenner tonight at 9 p.m.w EST on ABC. Dubbed “Bruce Jenner: The Interview,” will this be the night that Bruce tells the world that he is transgender? “My whole life has been getting me ready for this,” Jenner says in promos. Signs seem to point that we are in for big news regardless, but given all the work that still needs to be done to ensure equal rights for the trans community, it’s important that we realize what a true impact a public transition by someone like Bruce Jenner could have. For a former American hero, whose fame was gained while identifying as a man, to successfully transition to female in front of the eyes of the world would be an immense game changer. Should the rumors of a Jenner transition docu-series on E! be true, and even a portion of the Kardashians’ two million viewers tune in to learn a little bit about what transition is actually like, we might make some positive and much needed steps forward.
While some worry the series is more for attention than true depiction of trans life, I think stories of trans individuals, regardless of fame, fortune or reputation, should be told no matter what. Only through awareness, education, information and compassion can we come together to have a greater appreciation for our brothers, sisters and those in between. Nick Adams of GLAAD, a gay rights activist group stated it best in an interview with The New York Times, “Five years from now, I hope people will look back and be embarrassed by the circus-like atmosphere being created around the simple idea that someone might be transgender.” Tonight could be the night that helps us release the stigma of Jenner being transgender and just appreciate him for finally being able to be true to his, or her, self.
*Pronoun choice is a very personal one for any individual struggling with gender identity. For the purpose of this article, Bruce Jenner is referred to as “he,” due to the fact that as of the publish date there had been no public profession of preferred pronoun and Jenner had yet to self-identify as transgender.