The Courage of Bruce Jenner

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner
publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”

brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who
conducted a primetime interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night.
(Jenner indicated
he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the
two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender
dysphoria and personal identity, how it shaped his past and current
relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about
his true gender identity.

The show went to impressive lengths to
explain unfamiliar concepts of gender and sexuality to its audience,
although it didn’t always go smoothly. Sawyer’s questions occasionally
came off as awkward and tone-deaf, mirroring a broader lack of
understanding by many Americans about the difficulties that trans people

But Sawyer’s empathy also shone when explaining concepts like
gender identity and transitioning to her audience—a rare experience on
primetime American television. It was a powerful signal of how much
progress the LGBT movement has made over the past twenty years, even
though the T in that acronym still lags behind the other three letters
in both social acceptance and legal protections, and in how much
progress remains to be made.

While the trans community’s presence
may be relatively new for the American social consciousness, Jenner
himself isn’t. At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, he brought home
the gold medal in the decathlon for the United States, setting a world
record and becoming a national icon overnight. A new generation of
Americans knows Jenner from his presence in the Kardashian
reality-television empire, thanks to his 1991 marriage to Kris Jenner,
the mother of Kim Kardashian, and her sisters Khloe and Kourtney (Bruce
and Kris Jenner announced they were divorcing last year). The irony of
Jenner’s highly public life and deeply private struggle wasn’t lost on
him. “The one real, true story in the family was the one I was hiding
that nobody knew about,” he told Sawyer. “The one thing that could
really make a difference in people’s lives was right here in my soul,
and I could not tell that story.”

The show’s emotional peak came
when Jenner discussed his struggle hiding his true gender identity from
his family and the public. During the interview, Jenner said that his
lowest point came during a visit to a doctor’s office last year while he
sought a tracheal shave, a form of cosmetic surgery in male-to-female
transitions. The paparazzi had been alerted to his visit and ambushed
him outside the facility. After the invasion of his privacy and
subsequent media speculation, Jenner told Sawyer that he considered
committing suicide.

Jenner’s announcement also comes at a time of
increasing visibility for the trans community. Laverne Cox, a trans
actress of color who poignantly depicted the struggles of trans inmates
on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, made the cover
of TIME magazine last May. The caption read, “America’s next
civil-rights frontier.” As Sawyer noted in the show, many states lack
anti-discrimination laws to protect trans rights.

legislation, including a proposed bill in California that would fine trans people for using the “wrong” bathroom, is also common.

many ways, Jenner’s experience as a trans person is atypical. He told
Sawyer that he didn’t begin to transition until after the family’s TV
success allowed him the money to afford it. In addition to financial
security, Jenner also has a loving family and a supportive social
circle. Some of his children joined him during the interview, while the
rest gave statements or tweets in support of him.

Many others are
not so fortunate. Trans men and women often face the risk of ostracism,
harassment, and worse for simply existing. Many lack legal protections in the workplace and elsewhere. Although the trans community is a small fraction of the population, some estimates suggest there is at least one trans homicide a week in America. Trans people of color and from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially at risk. A 2014 survey found that nearly 40 percent
of trans people have attempted suicide at least once. In December,
Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old girl whose parents tried to convince her to
reject her gender identity, killed herself by walking into traffic. In
response, President Obama invoked transgender rights during the State of
the Union in January and called for a national ban on conversion
therapy last month.

A two-hour special with Diane Sawyer won’t
erase transphobia or violence overnight. But it has informed millions of
Americans regarding a subject about which they might have previously
known very little. Now perhaps the most famous openly trans person in
the country, Bruce Jenner’s courage may have helped advance a national
conversation that is long overdue.


Kofi Oppong Kyekyeku

I am a Ghanaian Broadcast Journalist/Writer who has an interest in General News, Sports, Entertainment, Health, Lifestyle and many more.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button