Saturday, April 25, 2015

So about that whole Jenner thing

note added 5/2/15: a few days after posting this, I wrote an op-ed for the The Guardian (US edition) about the Bruce Jenner-Diane Sawyer interview.

I had no intentions of writing this. Celebrities come out as trans once every year or two or three. For me, it's like a comet, or perhaps Mercury retrograde. It always keeps happening. I've lived through numerous permutations of this before. For me, this is history repeating itself, albeit somewhat differently each time.

I haven't even watched Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer yet. I DVR'd it. On purpose. It is a buffer. The media often screws things up, so I wanted to hear about how it went before watching it. So I could prepare myself, just in case. Because it's hard to watch a newly out trans person answer a barrage of intrusive questions about their gender and identity, when you've personally been a newly out trans person who had to endure a very similar (albeit not publicly broadcasted) barrage of similar questions regarding your own gender and identity.

To be completely honest, I didn’t even want to watch it. Why would I? Coming out isn’t supposed to be a spectacle. Coming out is when one person tells another person, “Hey, you know that assumption that you’ve always had about me? Well, sorry, you were wrong. And by ‘sorry,’ I am not implying that it was my fault. I mean, it was your assumption after all. . .” (Although admittedly, it hardly ever goes like that in real life.)

But at the same time, I felt like I *had* to watch it. The Jenner interview, that is. Because I am kinda sorta professionally trans these days. I know that sounds awesome: “professionally trans!” As if someone somewhere is paying me a salary for, like, putting on a new estrogen patch on my abdomen every few days. In reality, what I mean is that I occasionally give talks about gender, sexuality, feminism, and queer and trans activism. So I know that someone somewhere is going to ask me about the Jenner interview. Given this, I am going to need to watch it at some point—probably on Monday, while I am cleaning my apartment.

While it was actually airing on Friday prime-time, do you know what I was doing? I was going through all of my Sheila Jeffreys notes. Seriously! Because apparently this is what trans authors do: We try to figure out the exact book and page number wherein Jeffreys says the most horrific transphobic thing imaginable, because we are working on the Notes section of our next trans activism-themed book, while the rest of the nation is enjoying the latest Diane Sawyer interview of the latest newly outed trans celebrity.

I enjoy writing. But I do not particularly enjoy working on the reference sections of my books. So unsurprisingly, I took short breaks to peruse my Twitter feed. And also unsurprisingly, a lot of the tweets were about the Jenner interview.

And I had *all the feelings*. Not about the interview per se (which I haven’t yet seen). But about people’s reactions to it:

  •  Immediate intense negative reaction to pronoun use (male/masculine, which the broadcast claimed Jenner approved).
  • Many positive reactions to what Jenner had to say about herself and her story.*
  • I laughed at @ParkerMolloy’s tweet: “I also coped with my gender dysphoria by competing in the Olympic decathlon.”
  • I remember watching Jenner on TV in 1976 (when I was eight). It was the first Olympics I was old enough to remember. Jenner was the star of those Olympics (in the US, at least). I wasn’t even trans-aware yet. If I only knew then. Just wow.
  •  Lots of tweets from trans people who felt like this interview doesn’t help trans people at all. Some of the smartest were from Red Durkin (@RedIsDead), for instance: “Much as regular burns keep forests healthy, it's important, from time 2 time, 4 a celebrity transition 2 set back Media Rules 4 trans people”
  • At the same time, it did seemingly impact a lot of people, both cis and trans. Someone close to me apologized tonight for her initial reluctance and ignorance when I first came out over a decade ago because she was so moved by the interview.

People seem to want to portray the Jenner interview as wholly good or bad. Perhaps we should view it as the mixed bag that it is: one that each and every individual person will likely react to differently.

Trans people often get defined by trans celebrities, for better or worse. And sadly, there have been several who have fallen into the “worse” bin. But we’ve been really fortunate over the last few years, where (arguably) the three biggest trans celebrities turned out to be awesome and righteous trans activists: Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Laura Jane Grace.

I remember having similar mixed feelings when Grace came out a few years ago. It turns out that she has used her status as “trans celebrity” to create lots of positive change for trans people. She (like Mock and Cox) has been an excellent ambassador for trans communities.

I really really really hope that the same ends up being true for Jenner as well.

[note: If you appreciate this essay and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]

*note: some have expressed concern about my referring to Jenner as "her" here, so allow me to clarify: While masculine pronouns were used in the interview, this tweet seems to indicate that this was a temporary usage specific to this coming out interview. Also, in the interview (from what I have read about it), Jenner explicitly self-identifies as a woman and on occasion used the pronoun "her" self-referentially. Given this, it seems that my use of feminine pronouns here is likely to be gender-affirming rather than gender-invalidating. If I receive any information to the contrary, I will be happy to fix my mistake.


  1. Rachelle AnnechinoApril 25, 2015 at 1:52 PM

    Sounds tiring :(

    Sending positive energy (omg, I really am a Californian now)

  2. Looking forward to reading more on Jeffreys. I'm really glad she's being called out on her hateful views.