Bruce Jenner became one of the highest-profile transgender celebrities in the world on Friday when he revealed details of his transition in a “20/20” special edition with ABC Reporter Diane Sawyer. The interview delved into Jenner’s past and detailed his journey to present day.
“Are you a woman?” Sawyer asked in the interview.
“Yes,” Jenner responded. “For all intents and purposes, I am a woman.”
Over the past few months, Jenner became a hot topic on gossip websites and tabloid magazines for growing his hair out, wearing makeup, manicuring his nails and apparently shaving down his Adam’s apple.
To clarify, yes, I am saying he; for the time being, Jenner wishes to go by Bruce and prefers male pronouns.
His interview with Sawyer was the first time Jenner openly commented on the speculation surrounding his gender.
I struggle with calling Jenner’s journey a good thing, because it was clear from his interview special that he has been at the lowest of lows due to issues with his gender identity—but it is a good thing.
He has opened so many doors for transgender people and has offered all of us a teachable moment about their lives, which is something so few of us struggle to grasp or respect.
The Williams Institute at UCLA estimated in 2011 that nearly 700,000 individuals in the U.S. identified as transgender. Violence against transgender individuals is among the highest against any group in the country, and the suicide rate of transgender teens are over twice the national average. A lot of these facts and figures come from a broad misunderstanding of trans people.
Misunderstanding about transgender individuals is a historical issue. In the past, people have been jailed or even killed for wearing clothes which were classified as belonging to the opposite gender (whether they identified as the opposite sex or were just crossdressing). And those who are transgender have been misdiagnosed as having mental illnesses.
But even today, there is a stereotype that being transgender is just a “phase,” especially when young children show signs of gender dysphoria, a biological and mental disassociation with the sex a person was assigned at birth.
Bruce Jenner has shown the world so many things we need to know about trans lives: that each individual has his or her own journey; that the term “transgender” is not some blanket term; that we must respect trans individuals’ wishes to be called by their preferred pronouns; that struggling with gender identity is never a desperate plea for fame or attention; that we shouldn’t ever focus on the physical aspects of transitioning and, most importantly, that we should embrace people like Jenner for how brave they are in their journeys.
Day by day, the world becomes more accepting of LGBT individuals, but I feel as though the average LGBT ally often forgets about the T, because it is the farthest removed from society’s realm of understanding. Jenner’s journey should have given us a wake up call, that we need to take more steps to support transgender individuals—and I think it did.
The response to Jenner’s transition was so positive and uplifting—it was almost unexpectedly optimistic. Sure, we could focus on the negative attention from tabloids, or D-list gossip reporters like Wendy Williams, who have brought negative attention to Jenner with transphobic comments. But the more we focus on those negatives, the more the negatives will win.
For now, let’s just focus on the positive, and call this story a win for LGBT individuals and their allies everywhere. We should all be proud of Bruce.