What we can learn from Bruce Jenner’s coming out and where we’re headed as a society regarding our transgender friends and family.
At sixty-five years old, Bruce Jenner might be doing for the transgender movement what years of political posturing and movements couldn’t quickly accomplish for women, minorities, workers, and the LGBQ community during the initial years between inception and accepted societal acclamation. He – still a he during Diane Sawyer’s interview Friday night on 20/20 and soon to be identified at his request as a she after living as a transitioning woman for the next year – is helping win over the media, parts of society, and hopefully the GOP (and mainstream churches, is that too much to ask?) to a worldview that accepts transgender people without reservation. As a national celebrity, Christian, Republican, and former accomplished and world-acclaimed athlete (and not to mention senior citizen), Bruce Jenner just became the greatest figure for the movement and at the same time probably one of its most polarizing figures. Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner on Friday night was the perfect marriage of a historic and cultural moment for years to come.
Here’s what we should be taking away from this watershed moment.
1. Hopefully Jenner will make good on his idea to take the pleas of the Transgender Community to Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner.
As transgender issues come to the forefront of society including the military, marriage, public policy, and health care coverage, all politicians and lobbyists will need persuasion toward the defense of the transgender community concerning children, teens, and adults, including military personnel and prisoners. The national discussion on same-sex marriage has just become commonplace in America, only after two national elections where it was at the forefront of debate. Only recently have we seen a shift in cultural attitudes towards same-sex marriage, and it took forty years or so to get to that point. And already – in what seems like less than a few years of media attention including film, television, and documentary, we’re seeing major magazines carrying lead stories regarding trans-youth as well as a whole week of NBC coverage on the stories of transgendered children of differing ages.
2. Sexuality is who you go to bed with, while Gender is who you go to bed as.
While even this proverb guides a discussion on gender and sexuality issues, Jenner’s interview touched on the fact that he was and is not gay and was (and is) very much attracted to women, although, at sixty-five he considers himself “asexual” although very hesitant to think about fully transitioning into having, as Khloe Kardashian encouraged him to embrace, a “vajayjay.” Maybe Jenner was being cute with Sawyer. It’s taken years for Americans to understand that we feel platonic, romantic, and sexual attraction from a very young age which eventual puts us somewhere on the straight/gay spectrum. Even Jenner seemed like he was still wrapping his head around being a woman but not being attracted to men. This will take time for mainstream moderate American society to process, but perhaps much younger viewers are already getting it. Judging from comic Amy Schumer’s recent “Amy Goes Deep” segment on her show wherein she interviews self-proclaimed transsexual pornography actress Bailey Jay (who is “married to a straight man”), Ms. Jay explains her life as a transsexual very clearly, and that’s that – in a two minute interview on a comedy show we get more clarity than two hours of Jenner and Sawyer hemming and hawing about certain issues. But it’s not always that easy, and not every sexual or gender identification can be summed up in a short segment. Younger audiences may just get the whole transgender and transsexual identity crisis (or lack thereof) because, well, they’re younger and without the years of traditional society heaped upon their frontal lobes the way the baby boomers had it.
3. A world-class athlete, celebrity, Christian, and Republican man just told Diane Sawyer, “I am a woman.”
Wow. What does a post-WASP American society do with that? What does the scientific community do with that? What do the politicos do with that? Is gender now whatever we want to call it or is it a fixed thing? Even for the most progressive heterosexual liberals, this is cause for discussion and research. As a straight male, husband, father of three, and high school teacher, I’m extremely interested in learning about humans, the brain, and identity. Jenner claims he has a female brain, but scientifically, apart from the fact that male brains have the Y chromosome and female brains don’t, there isn’t much difference that we know of. So is it all nurture? Is it all chemical? These are some of the questions science will have to answer, and until then we have overwhelming testimonies of those who have felt, since their first feelings, that they were identified as the wrong gender.
4. No matter how much fame and fortune you have, if you don’t feel whole as a person, then you don’t feel whole as a person.
Bruce Jenner is the one percent of the top one percent of the world: he has worldwide fame and accomplishment, popularity, riches, has had three marriages and has fathered ten children. What else is there to life? What potential has he not filled? The answer is that there, all along, in his own brain, he needed something else, and that something else has been the acceptance, of himself and by himself, of that as a woman, pure and simple. For him he needs to feel and be as the “her” Jenner has always felt to be. This is far beyond the “abomination” verses in the Levitical law that Jenner and most religious Americans will cite, in that, at the end of the day, this is a real identity issue and needs to be treated as one for all people.
5. “We’re going to change the world,” Jenner told Sawyer, “I really firmly believe that we’re going to make a difference in the world.”
For the sake of LGBTQ youth throughout the world, it would be wonderful if the Kardashians and Jenners really did change the world for the better, starting with the West and allowing their influence to carry over to other worldly markets, especially in countries that pride themselves on suppressing any type of homosexual or effeminate behavior among men. The West’s biggest influence is often our media and media perception. In the States, there are less than a million self-identified transgendered individuals that we know of, according to the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. Yet the attempted suicide rate of these Americans is up to 45% in this one niche category. Public perception is changing, and for the better, starting with television and film, including Glee, which featured the largest choir of transgender youth ever assembled on t.v. and shows like Orange Is The New Black and Transparent. Also it’s reported that “15,000 transgender people serve in the active duty military and the reserves,” often in secret and sometimes with the knowledge of their commander or peers.
6. Jenner is a person, dad, and grandpa, and always will be.
The biggest takeaway for me from the television special was that Jenner is not only is receiving unconditional love from his children on film and online, but that they’ve been referring to his coming out as a feat comparable to his 1976 olympic accolades. I’ve written about letting my kids choose their path when it comes to gender identification and the most heartwarming part of Jenner’s story is that it appears that his children really do love him and are judgment free of his metamorphosis. His story as a father and grandfather is not just a producer-driven script but a real narrative that won’t change when he fully transforms after the next year. This will hopefully be inspirational to millions and truly have that next watershed moment in American history and culture that drives away fear and encourages men and women to embrace their true potential and self, regardless of convention.
Photo: Getty Images
Read more from Jeremy McKeen on his Bergamot Ink column (posted every week on The Good Men Project):