After months of teasing, tabloid intrusions, a fatal car crash and a trans community holding its breath, America’s hero, who, in Sawyer’s words, “embodied the muscle and glory of America,” had come home, and said, simply, “I am a woman.”
Most remarkably, Jenner, who still wants to be called Bruce and “he” at this stage of the transition, a transition that has progressed in fits and starts for 30 years, was humble and respectful to the trans community. Admitting his ignorance and stating, “I am not a spokesperson for the community,” nevertheless he was proud and hopeful that his courage, recognized by all of his children and his mother, his sister and his exes, would bring about change. Considering that fewer than 10 percent of Americans knew a trans person before Friday night, that change is very likely. The vast reach of this program, on television and social media, globally as well as nationally, makes this the most public of all gender transitions. His refusal to be personally dragged into tabloid style journalism comes as a relief to many who feared the worst.
Jenner’s story is one I could have written for myself, one familiar to me from my friends and colleagues. It’s a story of the trans movement of the past half century, but most importantly, can now be seen as just the beginning of the story. The discussion about trans children, highlighted by the very common, now classical tale of most adult trans women having been confused about their gender as children, laid a marker for the next generation. Drs. Norman Spack and Jo Olson spoke eloquently about their work with children, and to ABC News’ credit, they only promoted one opponent of transition, Dr. Stephen Levine. His words were relatively benign and lost in the overwhelming positivity of the representatives from the trans community, from Professor Jenny Boylan to model Geena Rocero and political and corporate activist Diego Sanchez.
The role of the Kardashians was minimized, as Jenner made clear he was a Jenner, not a Kardashian. Yet the Kardashians, like Jenner’s children, were also highly supportive of their stepfather. Very significantly, while the program followed the traditional structure of a trans coming-out story, with the visit to the childhood home, replete with decades of family photo albums, Jenner made it very clear he would stay away from the salacious. He stated that, “filming and shooting [surgery] would be degrading.” So we weren’t, and can hope not to be, subjected to the usual shots pre and post-operatively, and maybe even spared the makeup lessons and getting dressed. After all, how exciting is watching all that? This is real progress in the evolution of telling trans stories.
Notably Jenner emphasized that his brain was always more female than male, that while he never felt “trapped in the wrong body” it was a situation that he knew was a fact of his life, and that the lonely, introverted child who rarely socialized has never really disappeared. As Dr. Spack said very simply about all trans persons, “If they were wonderful people before, they’ll be wonderful people after.” Transition just makes you authentic; it doesn’t change your personality or character.
Like most trans women of his generation, he tried to prove his masculine gender to himself, but in spite of being hailed as the greatest male athlete of 1976, he felt defeated by his failure to be himself. If that won’t give pause to the proponents of reparative therapy for trans kids, nothing will. It’s fitting that Jenner’s story has arrived so soon after the statement from the White House in opposition to conversion therapy for gay and trans kids. There must be some very unhappy Republicans listening to this religious person speak so clearly and humbly.
Oh, wait, it gets worse – Jenner is also a Republican! Not a surprise, as wealth and privilege do have a habit of causing people to prioritize their personal assets over societal needs. Jenner isn’t the first Republican public transitioner, either, as Susan Stanton had him beat by almost a decade. While he said he’s willing to meet with Sen. Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, I have a feeling he will learn quickly just who his friends really are. He unassumingly recognized that much of the trans community fares far worse than he because of his class and racial status, and I don’t expect the Republican Party to embrace him. But if Ted Cruz would love his daughters if they were gay, I suppose anything is possible.
This program was an example to America of responsible journalism, free from titillation and the usual intrusive questions. It should also be an example to those Republican legislators who have introduced a slew of anti-trans (and anti-gay) legislation this year, particularly targeting children in school. There is hope that after seeing this broadcast their shame will cause them to reconsider and back down like some of their colleagues have already done.
And as for Nikolai Avilov, 1976 decathlon bronze medalist from the defunct Soviet Union – “yes, you former commie bastard, you did lose to a woman.”