Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Few Brief Thoughts on Bruce Jenner

First of all, a disclaimer... I don't watch reality television, and I can't remember the last time that I actually opened up a tabloid and read it. Here's what I know about Bruce Jenner: I know that he's an Olympic hero from the 1970s. I know that he's ON a popular reality show. I know that a lot of people are speculating about whether or not he is actually a trans woman. That's it.

Guess what? That's probably about all most people know about him, too. The speculation flying around about his gender identity has made the mask slip for a LOT of people (including Transparent creator Jill Solloway). The ridicule heaped upon him has revealed the transphobia and/or trans-ignorance rampant in the media, and it will only get worse if/when he comes out as a trans woman.

(Sidebar: I will refer to Mr. Jenner with male pronouns in this post, because absent any other information coming directly from him, it's irresponsible to assume that he would prefer any pronouns than the ones he's been using over his entire public life.)

The first hugely problematic thing we are seeing are the widespread assumptions about  Jenner's identity. Conclusions are being jumped to, and now "sources" are saying that he indeed intends to transition. All of this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of, and lack of respect for, transgender people. There is no more deeply personal decision than the decision to transition, and EVERY trans person deserves to choose the time, manner and place of their "coming out." Outing a trans person without their explicit permission is disrespectful and dehumanizing, even if they are the star of a cheesy reality program. Until the moment Jenner himself declares that he is transitioning, whatever path he is on is manifestly NO ONE ELSE'S business.

Let's say for a moment that Jenner is trans, and is in the process of transitioning. The problems with how that is being portrayed in the media are almost too numerous to disentangle. First, there will be wall-to-wall misgendering. Many people will surely continue to address Jenner with male pronouns. Second, there is the problematically common phraseology that he is "becoming a woman." Nope. A trans woman doesn't "become a woman" when they transition. They always were women. In our cases, we have to overcome the gender identities that were coercively assigned to us before we can start living authentically. Some people are able to start living authentically as children or adolescents. For others, their journey to authenticity can be much more lengthy and circuitous. Both approaches are valid, and they have as much right to womanhood as any cis women does.

Weirdly, I almost welcome the crude, vile jokes that will start to rain down if/when Jenner comes out. Why? Because they will let us know EXACTLY what the purveyors think about trans women. The fact that Jenner is 65, or the fact that he's had his face splashed on tabloid covers for years, doesn't make it OK to turn his transition (if it indeed is happening) into a joke. If Jenner is trans, he's undoubtedly endured DECADES of mental anguish, perhaps all the way back to childhood. The decision to transition is a terrifying one, because despite the progress that has been made in recent years, our society is openly hostile to transgender people. No one can (or should) blame Jenner (or any trans person) for hesitating to transition, or criticize the manner they choose to go about it (or how they come out).

In my own case, it took me until I was 30 to just come out to myself. After that, I came out to friends and family at age 33, only to freak out and scramble back into the closet again until I was 37. The prospect of losing EVERYTHING was a tangible one, and it was absolutely pants-shittingly horrifying. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to be in the public eye, carrying around what I did for years as a private citizen: The knowledge that this fundamental thing about you as a person could blow up your life if the wrong people found about about it.

If Jenner does come out, I think it's important to remember a couple of basic principles...

First: It's never too late to live authentically. Just because someone waits until their 60s to transition, it doesn't make them any "less trans" than those of us who transitioned earlier in life, or any less of a woman than cis girls are.

Second: Jenner would be under no obligation to transition in a particular way. His journey is his own, and no one else has the right to be judgmental about his decisions, including people in the trans community.

The bottom line right now is that no one really knows what Jenner is going through, and we should all back the fuck off. If he comes out as trans, I'll support him. If he doesn't, I'll continue to respect his privacy and treat him with the basic humanity everyone deserves. More to come on this, obviously.

What do y'all think?

1 comment:

  1. I've seen different shots of Jenner with a variety of stories, but considering the sources, I didn't give it much thought. If it's true, then good for Jenner. (Avoiding pronouns to avoid messing them up.)