Bruce Jenner is not the face the cause of transgender equality seems to be looking for.
While the topic of transgender rights and respect has made strides in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Successes and mainstream recognition of transgender persons as a normal part of society — not some freak curiosity — has helped the plight of transgender persons.
The Amazon series “Transparent” won a Golden Globe this year. The tragic case of Leelah Alcorn has caught the attention of the White House.
And then there is Bruce Jenner. It would seem that the idea of an Olympic gold medal winner, a man once the featured face on the Wheaties box, transitioning to female would be a real boon to the image of transgender persons as equal in society. But Bruce Jenner is part of the Kardashian empire. And for many that makes his life less the material of earnest “60 Minutes” news and more a P.T. Barnum spectacle.
“When you make a spectacle out of guessing who is and isn’t transgender, it harms real transgender people just trying to go to school or work and trying to live their lives,” said Nick Adams, a spokesman for GLAAD who himself is transgender.
The idea of equal rights for gay persons is making great strides. It could be argued that this is due in part to the “normalization” of gay couples to the rest of straight society. Shows like Modern Family help the rest of society see gay couples as no different than the rest.
A show like Transparent may make real headway in doing that for transgender persons. But the gains of Transparent seem to be in danger of being undone by the circus around Bruce Jenner.
This isn’t just about opinions. There are real issues of safety and security at stake in how this issue is understood and absorbed by the public.
“I feel sometimes that we’re at war within our society because transgender people are getting killed, and people don’t understand that it is happening,” said Bamby Salcedo. Salcedo is president of the Trans-Latin@ Coalition.
Drian Juarez, a transgender woman, recently told a group at a workshop on transgender issues, “Most people go around the world assuming people will respect their gender identity. For transgender people, we never know how the world will respond to us. We’re prepared for people to not understand us.”
“I’ve been beaten up,” Juarez said. “I’ve lost jobs. This is really me. I’ve given up a lot. This is my authentic self.”
Bruce Jenner’s upcoming special with Diane Sawyer seems to be aimed more at mainstream society, as opposed to the KUKTK faithful fan base. What kind of revelations Bruce Jenner opens to the world, and how they are received, given his usual associations, remains to be seen.
“Bruce Jenner — The Interview” is set to air on Friday, April 24. It is a special edition of 20/20.