I, like most of America, watched the Diane Sawyer 20/20 interview with Bruce Jenner, who has confirmed that he is going through a sexual reassignment process. I had many thoughts running through my head as I watched him tell his story. Here’s what I thought, in bulleted form.
• It’s very brave of Bruce to tell his story in this public manner. Now, there’s valid criticism for her actually coming out like this, which I’ll get to, but for the mainstream viewers, many of whom who don’t know someone who’s transgender, the interview provided an in-depth and close-up look at the struggles a transgender person have to deal with. It was very illuminating on that front, and on that front, I think it was a very positive learning experience for most who watched.
Bruce said he wants to do good with his interview and public platform, and I believe he does. He also showed he’s very aware of the steep statistics outlining the rates of suicides and crimes against transgender men and women, especially trans people of color. So, I assume he wants to do the best he can with the platform he’s got.
• In the interview, Bruce said that he identifies as a heterosexual woman, but he’s still attracted to women. I’m glad that Sawyer explained the difference between gender and sexuality to those who didn’t know the distinction. I think on that and many other points, Sawyer did a fantastic job of portraying the delicacy and seriousness of transgender issues. But as a person who does know the difference between gender and sexuality, I’m still confused as to how Bruce says he’s a heterosexual woman but is also attracted to women.
I’m a woman who identifies with her gender and I’m heterosexual. I might think a woman’s attractive, but I’m not attracted to them in a sexual way. So what does Bruce mean that he’s a heterosexual woman who is attracted to women? I’m not trying to be snarky here; is he, as The Talk‘s Aisha Tyler asserted, holding something back from us that he doesn’t want to reveal just yet? I guess we’ll see when that reality show comes. Speaking of it:
• I thought Bruce said he wasn’t filming anything concerning his transition, yet we have a reality show coming out. And, according to the press release from E!, the show is going to be during his transition time. At first blush, his “not filming” statement seems a little disingenuous, which plays into the very real fears many transgender people have about Jenner’s public transitioning.
Fusion’s Kay Landay Barrett argues in his piece, “What trans people of color fear after the Bruce Jenner media circus,” that the very public way Jenner is going about his transition might make the non-transgender cis community see the transition as a “freakshow.” Not to mention the fact that he’s associated with the most public of families, the Kardashians.
The painful reality is that our gender identity is under speculation, suspicion, doubt, and policing. But the current curiosity surrounding Jenner’s interview in the non-trans community creates a magical fantasy based on a very wealthy, able-bodied, American, and white experience that isn’t the case for many of us who struggle for survival and justice as transgender people of color. The emphasis on Jenner’s announcement focuses on a limited portrayal of transgender lives; there isn’t one exceptional experience, but a plethora of pathways to be trans.
Of course, we haven’t seen the reality show yet, but my question is if the show will concern itself heavily on the transformation in an Extreme Makeover way, which isn’t the way a show like this would need to go. And, as stated in the quote, Jenner’s ability to be able to publicly (and safely) go about his transition is indicative of the privileged position he has in our society.
Bruce said himself that he’s able to get the best medical care he can get. This will help his transition be one of relative ease, unlike the transgender person who may not be able to afford it and, fearing ridicule from doctors and family members, go to untrained “doctors” to get surgery on the cheap. For too many, the ease of transition Jenner is able to have isn’t a shared experience.
However, does that mean that Jenner isn’t a role model? No. He’s very much a role model to be able to tell his story and to show that life can be everything a person wants it to be. But, I think it should be acknowledged that Jenner’s story isn’t every transgender person’s story. But, if his story paves the way for better health, legal, and social care for America’s transgender citizens, then that’s great.
• Jenner’s weirdness at actually acknowledging that President Obama’s advancing transgender rights and protections is…interesting.
Jenner is right in saying that a person can be a Democrat or a Republican and still not understand transgender issues, since the common assumption that liberals understand and welcome everyone is definitely not true. But Jenner’s seeming lack of understanding at just how monumental it was for Obama to address said issues, including signing an executive order extending workplace protections and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder saying the Department of Justice will include transgender people under the protection of sex discrimination, reveals just how privileged he is.
I’m not saying he doesn’t understand how these moves are important, but what I am saying is that his money and relative amount of power will keep some mouths shut when it comes to discrimination against him. Not every mouth, certainly, but he won’t have to deal with half of the stuff regular people do.
So overall, what did I think? I liked it. I liked that he has a supportive family. I was surprised that Kim was the one who was the most understanding Kardashian (thanks to Kanye) and that Khloe wasn’t, although Jenner’s reasoning as to why that is—that she’s lost many important men in her life—makes a lot of sense. I do admire Jenner’s courage to make the change after so many years of confusion, fear, and worry. I only wish him the best and I do hope that his next journey in life does positively impact a lot of people, as he hopes it will.
What did you think of the interview? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
EDIT: Corrected to change a pronoun used to address Barrett
Screencap of Bruce Jenner from the 20/20 interview