And so it is done. The much anticipated (and much hyped) Jenner interview – watched, so they say, by at least 17 million so the hype worked I guess – aired Friday night and the internet exploded. I tried to look in on what Twitter was having to say and there were literally hundreds of new tweets with the words “Bruce Jenner” every minute in the hours following the broadcast. Since I wrote in this space on the subject almost three months ago, it seemed appropriate to re-visit the subject now.
Before I proceed, let me explain that Jenner asked Diane Sawyer to continue using male pronouns and “Bruce” which is “his” choice to make, but he said “I am a woman” too and I find it uncomfortable to do so, so in this post I’ll make every effort to avoid having to choose between those considerations.
I mentioned in that previous post that Jenner’s transition seemed to be provoking yet another round of infighting among the trans community, and there has indeed been some of that. Some among us seem hell-bent on questioning motives and undermining any potential credibility. I think that it’s a sign of becoming to insular, and too competitive. We fall prey to trying to pour everyone’s transition through our own experience model. But Jenner’s transition doesn’t have to be like anyone else’s and the story s/he tells need only by the one s/he experienced.
We may grumble amongst ourselves that too many will see this as another crazy item from the crazy people on the crazy TV show, but the coming out provided an opportunity for media outlets to reconnect Jenner to the Olympic glory that first provided fame, and then connect that athlete to the woman who’s now beginning to emerge. Others seem jealous that Jenner is well positioned to have a smooth, positive transition without the rejection, and potential financial ruin most of us face – that he doesn’t get the struggles of the common (wo)man. But s/he’s not the first about whom that might be said. Point is, there’s a dozen different ways you can play the “smartest girl in the room” and point out what’s wrong here but that’s a completely misguided obsession.
What to many fail to grasp is that it’s not about how WE see it but rather about how those who are ill-informed about transness will see it. Admittedly, that’s not going to be perfect (I think the pronoun thing was a regrettable choice, for example – at a minimum I’d have brought them current in the last segment) as it is not with anyone newly out. Only those who are veterans at the “highly visible” game are going to be highly skilled at framing the trans phenomena for the non-trans observer. Think people like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, or Christina Karhl (who wrote an excellent article about Jenner’s coming out here). Jenner WILL make missteps, all of us do in the early going, s/he just happens to be under the lights when it happens. When it happens, the pressure is on us as a community to stop with the under-the-bus maneuver and be supportive.
Like it or not, Jenner is now a part of the high-profile trans community, instantly a first rank trans-celeb and one more likely to be known to the Average Joe than Lana Wachowski or Laura Jane Grace or even Chaz Bono. Visibility moves the conversation and we just took a quantum leap in visibility. In the wake of this, carpping about the details or flaunting your skepticism comes off as nothing so much as bitterness. It’s probably a bad thing for our culture that we are obsessed with celebrity, but we ARE and in the context of that culture, Jenner is a game changer and we ought to do all we can to make the ensuing conversation positive and productive, not another instance of infighting.
Jenner’s past, both the transcendent athlete and the sometimes puzzling second act as a reality show fifth wheel, serve to magnify the impact of the story yet to come – the prologue is supposed to make you want to read the story and for many, that’s the emotional moment they find themselves in – let’s not ruin it.
Photo by: ehpien