25 April 2015

The Interview: Bruce Jenner

If you’re a trans person, your friends, family , co-workers and other acquaintances are probably talking to you about last night’s Big Event:  Diane Sawyer interviewing Bruce Jenner.

Some have said that Jenner’s “coming out” is a “tipping point” for public awareness and,  possibly, acceptance of transgender people.  For one thing, very few people who were as famous in their own right have publicly transitioned.  (Although he’s gained something of a reputation as an LGBT rights activist, Chaz Bono is known mainly for having famous parents.)  For another, everyone knew Jenner as the rugged and handsome (at least when he was young) Olympic gold-medal winner and actor.  And, as the twice-married media star revealed to Sawyer,  as a male he was never attracted to other males and now considers herself “asexual”.

In other words, the interview should help people to understand, as Jenner said, that gender identity is separate from sexual orientation—or, for that matter, proscribed gender roles.   Although most people thought Chastity Bono was a cute kid, most didn’t think of her as a “girly” girl.  When she “came out” as a lesbian, she fit the image of a “butch”, albeit a more glamorous version.  Thus, it didn’t challenge many people’s notions about trans people when Chastity announced she was going to become a man named Chaz.

That is not to say that Chaz’s public transition was not courageous.  In its own way, it might have been even more daring than Jenner’s because, even though only five years have passed since Sonny and  Cher’s daughter became their son, public awareness—and, I’d say, acceptance—of trans people has grown by leaps and bounds.  I’d say that we’re experiencing something like what gay men (and, to a lesser extent, lesbians) experienced during the years just after the Stonewall Rebellion. 

To be sure, there was still a lot of ignorance and hate that too often ended up in rejection and violence—as there is now.   But by the time the AIDS epidemic broke out, almost everyone in the Western world knew that he or she had a family member, friend, co-worker or other acquaintance who was gay.   As a result, people realized that being gay wasn’t a “choice” or a sign of depravity and much of the stigma around it faded.  To be sure, there are still folks showing up at funerals of murdered gay people with signs that say “God Hates Fags”, just as there are still people who say that we—trans people—aren’t human beings.  But such people are becoming the minority and, I hope, with people like Jenner going public, their numbers will shrink further. 

Who knows?  Perhaps in the not-too-distant future,  some celebrity will cause less consternation by saying, “For all intents and purposes, I am a woman” than for saying that she is a Republican! ;-)


Corey K said...

Judging by comments on the online Book Of Face,
there is much more consternation about the Republican aspect, with all the usual dehumanization
and "othering" following. Irony shouldn't be that hard.

Justine Valinotti said...

Corey--I'm going to respond to your comment with a post.

I love how you refer to the beast as "The Book of Face."