February 11, 2015 at 9:59 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Trans advocates divided over impact of Bruce Jenner transition
Bruce Jenner, gay news, Washington Blade

Bruce Jenner (Photo by jla0379; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Transgender rights supporters remain divided over whether the speculation around former Olympian and reality TV star Bruce Jenner’s reported transition from a man to a woman will have a positive impact on the trans community.

Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, told the Washington Blade the story is a “teachable moment” regardless of “what happens to Bruce Jenner.” She said the attention Jenner receives because he is a member of the Kardashian family could prove beneficial.

“That’s the huge advantage of this story if it plays out well and it’s that an entire segment of the population who’ve probably never heard of trans people is going to be exposed vis-à-vis the Kardashians,” said Beyer. “These are people who have never been exposed and now simply because of all this talk and in particularly in this vacuum of four or five months before Jenner actually comes out and says it will be seeing in the media. They will be paying attention.”

Jenner’s mother confirms son’s transition to AP

Beyer spoke with the Blade a few weeks after InTouch Weekly published on the cover of its Jan. 26 issue a picture of Jenner’s face superimposed onto an image of “Dynasty” actress Stephanie Beacham under the headline “Bruce’s story: My life as a woman.”

Kim Kardashian during a Jan. 27 interview with Entertainment Tonight referenced her stepfather’s “journey” without going into specifics. Reports emerged a few days later that indicated Jenner will document his “journey” on an E! reality show and that he will discuss his transition during an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in May.

Jenner’s mother, Esther Jenner, told the Associated Press during a nearly hour-long telephone interview from her Idaho home that her son has indeed begun to transition from a man into a woman.

“It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s doing,” said Esther Jenner.

Some trans advocates with whom the Blade has spoken said the attention surrounding Jenner’s reported transition has come at the expense of other issues. Perhaps most notable of these is the five trans women of color who have been reported killed in the U.S. since the beginning of the year.

“The media’s obsession with Bruce Jenner’s ‘transition’ is basic at best; a distraction from the real issues at hand,” said Lourdes Ashley Hunter, co-founder of the Trans Women of Color Collective. “What would be newsworthy is if the media would focus on the issues that are pressing in the trans community like the five trans and gender non-conforming people of color who have been murdered in the first six weeks of the year or the 12 trans women of color who were murdered in six months last year.”

Zoey Tur, a trans woman who was named an Inside Edition special correspondent earlier this month, noted to the Blade last week during an interview that 42 percent of trans people have attempted suicide. The reporter who was known as Chopper Bob before her transition stressed she feels Jenner has “become a national joke because she’s not stood up and told her narrative.”

“This is a brain anomaly,” Tur told the Blade. “This is nothing to be embarrassed about. Stand up. We need our leaders. We need the world’s greatest athlete on our team.”

Trudylynne O’Brien, a trans advocate in Norfolk, Va., told the Blade that Jenner is a “very fortunate person” who “has the finances to be able to afford to do anything that she wants.”

“Her notoriety and financial abilities are destroying her as a transgender person,” said O’Brien, who, like Tur, used female pronouns to describe Jenner. “It is destroying her by over-popularizing, bringing it out too much, making her not a good focal point for the LGBT community to look at it.”

Jenner first gained notoriety nearly four decades ago when he won a gold medal in the men’s decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

The frenzy surrounding Jenner’s reported transition came to a head on Saturday when the former Olympian’s sport utility vehicle was involved in a multi-car accident on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., that left a woman dead.

Reports indicate that up to five paparazzi were chasing Jenner’s SUV in the moments before the accident.

“This is what scares the hell out of me,” Beyer told the Blade. “You can transition in public in general and survive, but under these circumstances he’s getting the publicity he asked for. He’s part of that Kardashian family and that’s what scares me because it can spiral out of control.”

Elizabeth Anne Jenkins, board president of Louisiana Trans Advocates, a statewide advocacy group, conceded she would be “curious enough” to buy a magazine with Jenner’s picture if she “wasn’t well aware of transgenderism.”

“As a woman myself I would be dying to know how his family was handling the situation,” said Jenkins.

Elizabeth Anne Jenkins, New Orleans, Louisiana, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade

Elizabeth Anne Jenkins, board president of Louisiana Trans Advocates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Beyer made a similar point, noting customers at a nail salon she visited shortly after the first trans character in a soap opera appeared on “All My Children” in 2006 were “addicted” to the program.

“This is your fictional family,” she said. “If there’s a trans person there you go, ‘oh, well, what about that’ and that’s how you learn. I see that opportunity here with the Kardashians.”

O’Brien was far less confident that Jenner’s public transition would have any significant impact on trans people who live in Hampton Roads.

“Something like this is just negative publicity towards another transgender person, which I don’t honestly think makes a damn bit of difference on how I’m treated here in Norfolk, Va.,” O’Brien told the Blade.

Only Jenner ‘can tell Bruce Jenner’s truth’

All of the advocates with whom the Blade spoke for this story said Jenner should have the opportunity to come out on his own terms, regardless of the impact on the broader trans community.

“Only Bruce Jenner can tell Bruce Jenner’s truth,” said Hunter.

“It is our hope as the collective trans advocates throughout the country await the emergence of yet another well-known person as having suffered his entire life this struggle of gender identity will be handled in a dignified and respectful way,” added Jenkins.

Wendy Iriepa Díaz, a trans woman from Cuba who now lives in Miami with her husband, agreed.

“I respect, before anything, the decision of each person,” Iriepa told the Blade on Monday.

“The case of Bruce is one of the many examples of transsexual people who have always known it, but they have been forced to live a repressed life and adopted behavior both as a man and a woman as the case may be because of their social commitments and because of their circumstances,” she added.

Beyer told the Blade she hopes the Kardashians treat Jenner with compassion as they continue to come to terms with his reported transition.

“I can only hope they’re humane enough to elevate Jenner in the process and not drag him down to the least common denominator for laughs or for kicks,” said Beyer. “I hope his dignity and their respect for their parent will elevate him.”

Lourdes Ashley Hunter, gay news, Washington Blade

Lourdes Ashley Hunter last month spoke at a D.C. rally in support of a trans teenager who took her own life on an Ohio interstate in December. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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