Google “Bruce Jenner” today. Go on. What do you notice?
The news, of course, is that Bruce Jenner has agreed to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer to discuss his assumed transition from male to female. I say assumed, because while the media has been rife with speculation, Jenner himself has yet to speak publicly (or herself, if Jenner prefers that pronoun; again, I do not know yet, so please forgive me for continuing to use “himself” until Jenner speaks publicly and lets his preference be known).
Some might say that Jenner’s (alleged) transition is of course subject to public scrutiny because he is a public figure, and in many ways, I agree. He has, in full mental capacity, agreed to be the subject of a reality television show and will star in a docuseries. He has opened his life to consumption, more so than a former Olympic athlete might otherwise. But, but, but – does that mean he is fair game for the type of bullying and ridicule that leads so many transgender people to commit suicide? I don’t think so, but apparently I’m in the public minority.
Go back to your Google search and look at the headlines. The best are sensationalistic (Bruce Jenner’s Mom CONFIRMS His Transition Plans! Find Out What She Had To Say About Her ‘Gifted’ Son HERE!). The middle are mocking: his “journey.” His “transformation.” The worst, of course, are those that automatically assume transgenderism is something unnatural and worthy of the utmost ridicule. These call him “strange” and worse.
“The trans movement has a face that could take it more mainstream than ever – and it is the face of a Kardashian,” bemoans Kevin Fallon at The Daily Beast. “Not only that, it is a face that we have cruelly belittled and joked about for over a decade now. A movement that has already struggled to be covered with nuance and care in the more legit corners of the mediasphere is now heading to the tabloids. Bruce Jenner is in the midst of what is probably the most human moment of his life. I fear that we’re going to treat him as part of an exhibit at a zoo…. We will demand that he talks about it. And because of that he will now be a mouthpiece for the trans movement, whether or not he wants to be, and whether or not he should be.”
What will this do to our next generation of young trans people? Will they see Jenner as a role model, or someone to be scorned? Will they be able to separate the “common” mocking of Jenner-as-Kardashian from the mocking of Jenner-as-transitioning? Look at the comments to the first article I linked to, above. Think about a young trans person excitedly reading this article to learn when Jenner’s Diane Sawyer interview will be. Then think about him or her reading the comments. Some of the more innocuous call him an abomination, a fruit cake, sad, sick, disgusting, a freak… I could go on.
By contrast, check out these comments from a Laverne Cox Gawker article. I hope Jenner is able to turn the conversation the way the inestimable Ms. Cox did. I sincerely hope, for the sake of young trans people, he is able to speak eloquently and honestly about his very public transformation. Bruce Jenner, as odd as it feels for me to say this considering the Kardashians, our young people are counting on you. Please don’t let them down.