Bruce Jenner has been very, very famous twice in his life, both times in a zeitgeist-epitomizing manner. First as a Cold War-era athlete, the patriotic defeater of communist Russia in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics; and again, starting in 2007, as the patriarch of reality TV’s most visible family at a time when fame for fame’s sake defined the highest echelon of celebrity. He may now become famous again, this time in the arena of civil rights.
Last night, nearly 17 million Americans watched Bruce Jenner explain that he is and always has been a transgender woman. This number, which will only grow as secondary media and social media continue to discuss the interview, is important, especially considering that, according to a GLAAD poll, only 8 percent of Americans report actually knowing someone who is transgender. Few have the stomach to deny rights to their friends; familiarity breeds acceptance.
“For all intents and purposes, I am a woman,” Jenner told Diane Sawyer. They both seemed aware that they were speaking to a wide audience that would be uneducated on the matter at hand, a fraught subject prone to highly offensive linguistic gawking. For the most part, they threaded that needle well. Perhaps a little too much time was spent on questions of anatomy; certainly Sawyer’s inability to grasp the difference between gender and sexual preference felt unseemly. But given the broadness of the viewership, the ignorance may have been feigned, intentional and planned.
Of course there was plenty of tabloid gossip to keep the audience tuned in. It turns out none other than Kanye West explained to Kim Kardashian how easy it was to accept her father, saying to her (according to Jenner), “I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world—and I am—I can have the most beautiful little daughter in world—I have that—but I’m nothing if I can’t be me. If I can’t be true to myself, they don’t mean anything.”
Kim’s advice to her dad now? “Girl, you gotta rock it baby. You gotta look good. If you’re doing this thing, I’m helping you. You’re representing the family. You gotta look really good.”
Jenner revealed that all of his wives have, to one degree or another, known what he was going through. Linda Thompson and Chrystie Crownover both sent supportive quotes to 20/20’s producers. Kris, on the other hand, pointedly gave no comment. “If she would have been really good with it and understanding, we’d probably still be together,” he told Sawyer. “I loved Kris,” he said at another point. “I had a wonderful life with her. I learned a lot from her. That’s what you like in a relationship, to be able to learn. I thought we had a pretty good sex life. Later on as I heard maybe we didn’t . . . But I thought it was pretty good.”
Earlier in the interview, Sawyer asked if this all might be a publicity stunt for Keeping Up with the Kardashians—a pretty obviously unlikely suggestion, though Jenner acknowledged rather poignantly the context of the question. “I had the story,” he said. “We had done 425 episodes, I think, over almost eight years now. And the entire run I kept thinking to myself, Oh, my God, this whole thing, the one real true story in the family was the one I was hiding and nobody knew about it. The one thing that could really make a difference in people’s lives was right here in my soul and I could not tell that story.”
An ambition to change people’s lives by publicizing his own was a recurring theme. It was a motivating factor in his very decision to go through with his transition, he said, and to do it publicly. He remembered sitting in church, wondering how God looked at him, and suddenly everything became clear: it was a “feeling, kind of a revelation, that maybe this is my cause in life, this is why God put me on this earth.”
Many will wonder whether these are simply words, or if he will back them up with actions, take concrete steps to truly advance transgender rights. “I would like to work with this community to get this message out,” he said, admitting also, “They know a lot more than I know . . . I am not a spokesman for the community.”
Asked by Sawyer if he had been pleased when Obama brought up trans rights in his State of the Union speech this year (and became the first American president to publicly use the word “transgender”), Jenner reluctantly acknowledged thanks, looking around with an awkward smile before making clear he was a Republican. The somewhat loaded reason he gave: “I believe in the Constitution.”
The truth is, a civil rights movement, or any political movement in this country, gains real ground only when both parties support it. The Republican party will eventually support gay rights fully, and then, a bit later, transgender rights. Can Jenner help make this happen? Sawyer asked him directly whether he would take the issue to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Would he ask them to champion transgender rights? Jenner’s response was nonchalant—a sort of, “Sure, why not?”—but it was a yes.
He should be held to that. And then, so should she.
The post Will Bruce Jenner Champion Transgender Rights? appeared first on Vogue.
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