The Good and the Bad of the Bruce Jenner interview

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article used the pronoun “she” but we have changed it to reflect GLAAD’s statement on discussing Bruce Jenner’s journey.

Bruce Jenner is effectively destabilizing so many of the identity categories inside and beyond the queer community. I think this is very shouty and important work. In one breath, I’m able to imagine Bruce leading the dykes with bikes section of the pride parade as a soft butch, revving his motorcycle. In another moment, I’m invited to picture him dining in an elegant evening dress, or femme-ing it up for his “girl parties.” Bruce Jenner is the kind of ass-kicking person you want on your softball team and someone who will talk the perfect amount of shit while sitting next to you in a mani/pedi chair. Overall, Bruce Jenner just seems like an awesome person. If two out of three of your ex-wives still have nice things to say about you, you’re doing better than most people.

bruce

The interview started with Kleenex in Bruce’s hand and a few tears before the questions even began. A lot of my friends seemed to have overly emotional reactions to this interview, and I’m happy to report that I didn’t cry. It could be the testosterone that I’m on, or it could be the fact that there were many parts of the story that seemed far out of reach to me. And they should! I’m not an affluent 65-year-old person who has had multiple careers, families, and decades of their life spent under the spotlight.

In many ways, the interview was exactly what I’d expected and I think that speaks to the authenticity of Bruce. He wasn’t putting on a show. He was opening our eyes not only to his story, but also to the fact that the world needs to shift. We need to make room and listen and learn from our own and other complex identities. I felt great pride and admiration that I was witnessing a person letting his hair down, while leaving his legs open, and telling it like it is. To him. In his words. The ways I could relate to Bruce—so deeply—were in these seemingly incongruent and very human moments.

The moments where I might have cried, if I was more talented at crying:

When Bruce detailed his experience of loneliness and feeling like he didn’t fit in. When he spoke about watching other men find comfort in their gender identities, I could relate, from the other side of the binary. When Bruce said he’d spent his whole life dressing as a man, I felt a sense of kinship. I recalled the once-a-year, office Christmas party ritual of wedging myself into a little black dress, always feeling like I was in drag.

One of the hardest parts for me to hear was that, over the course of his lifetime, Bruce had dropped hints about this inner-struggle to his loved ones. I pictured him in those fleeting moments, finding the courage to show a glimpse of his true self and then pulling over the curtain again. This reminded me of the importance of allies. We need to encourage allies to ask questions respectfully and to return to difficult conversations so that we can practice speaking about our silenced selves, the parts of us that exist in a fearfully abstract state in the beginning.

The conversation around suicide was another key point that I think many people can relate to. Indeed, violence and suicide cannot and should not be the only stories we tell of our community, but they are very real and important details to stress. We need to talk about how many jobs we’ve been denied, how many times we’ve been abused in the bathrooms, and how many times we’ve been verbally/sexually/physically/and emotionally assaulted. But we also need to speak of triumphs. We need to demand that our children receive acceptance-based educations that do more than teach tolerance, but put self-love and appreciation for others at the top of the priority list. We need to pressure our governments to make laws that will save us so that trans kids on the verge of suicide can imagine a different ending.

The line that resonated the most with me, the piece I will remember when I think of Bruce’s interview, is when he said that he’s only saying goodbye to other peoples’ perceptions of him, not who he is. While gender identity is extremely important, it is only one part of so many qualities and experiences that mesh together and make up our essences. I like to believe that many of those qualities exist in a messy place beyond clear labels and codes.

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I don’t think we’d be doing any justice to ourselves or the community or Bruce, though, if we didn’t mention a few WTF moments with last Friday night’s interview and its context. 

  1. When Bruce said he’s asexual “for now,” it seemed a little too whimsical. I’m not here to tell Bruce what he is, but asexuality is another very complex identity that is often under/misrepresented. It’s like when people say they’re vegetarians but they eat chicken. If you plan on eating chicken (and enjoying the act of eating chicken) in the near future, you’re probably not a vegetarian. You’re a meatless Monday enthusiast. Perhaps (and only perhaps) Jenner might consider saying he is choosing celibacy for some time while he figures out what he wants
  2. Why did it take Diane Sawyer for-effing-ever to say the word lesbian?! I was on the edge of my seat, screaming: “JUST SAY IT. SAY LESBIAN. LESSSS. LEZZZ. BBBEEEE. INNNNNNN. LESSSBIAN.”
  3. After they make the decision to come out, many trans people can’t get gender confirming surgeries as quickly as Jenner, so there are obvious class privilege undertones to the interview. Also, it could be my own sensitivities as a DFAB trans person, but we seemed largely underrepresented in the 20/20 special (and in media more broadly).
  4. When Diane Sawyer said: “Do you dream as a woman?” I wasn’t sure what in the actual fuck she was talking about. Was she asking if Bruce sees himself as a woman in dreams? Or was she suggesting that all “women” have “women-like” dreams? I lived as a woman for almost 30 years and I can’t say that I spent many REM moments pining over stereotypically gendered items or scenarios. I could be wrong. Maybe some women have some seriously deep sleep dramas involving Sephora shopping sprees? This question confused me.
  5. Deuteronomy. Can we just have one queer party without Deuteronomy showing up? I liked how the doctor handled it, exclaiming that the only thing that the Deuteronomy passage made clear was that trans people have obviously existed since at least the time of the bible (but actually forever).
  6. When Diane Sawyer told Brandon that he couldn’t only have a supportive reaction to his father coming out as trans. My response: Why the heck not?! I hope we live to see the day where a person can have only supportive reactions to gender expressions and identities of any variation.

I think Bruce achieved and will continue to achieve his goal. What we saw in the interview was a person sharing their story and doing (more than) “some good.” This interview should remind us that there are many trans stories. We were invited to see the side of a person who loved their children so much they were willing to put their life on pause. We saw a sensitive and thoughtful individual, a person who cherishes privacy, an unabashed Republican, and a complex human who is finding his way through (or to) an identity and inviting us to do the same.

A.R. Jardine recently came out as trans and wrote a great piece for us about how to be a trans ally.

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