For the first time in, well, ever, I actually care about Bruce Jenner. Reality shows have never interested me and while I enjoy sports—especially the Olympics—I’m not fanatical about them.
I couldn’t tell you who won what in last year’s Sochi Winter Olympics, much less the Summer Olympics of 2012. And if it wasn’t for Google, I wouldn’t know to write this sentence explaining that Jenner won a 1976 Gold Medal in the decathlon.
But suddenly, Bruce Jenner is getting attention for something important. Something more important than television fame or a dusty Gold Medal with a date from three decades ago stamped on it. Jenner could be the next real face of Transgender America.
The is-he-isn’t-he patchwork of reporting on Jenner’s decision to transition is shoddy, at best. But an investigation following a recent, fatal car accident involving Jenner revealed that he is taking hormones, which would support the transition assumptions.
But he hasn’t said anything concrete yet. So until I read for sure there is a plan in the works for his transition, I will refer to Jenner with masculine pronouns.
Jenner, and the media so ready to pounce on his story, has a very real opportunity to educate the country in a way that can improve the lives of so many. If Jenner is transgender, he has the opportunity to share his story, reveal his struggles and hopefully change a few thousand minds.
The media also has the chance to use his fame for a good cause rather than simply for ratings and heightened magazine sales.
As reality stars, people like Jenner lose a lot of the privacy so many of us take for granted. But at the same time, those same stars have a captivated audience just waiting to hear from them. And if it’s handled right, the opportunity can be life changing.
I am pleased that ABC’s Diane Sawyer was the reporter who landed the first, official interview with the Olympian. She has been a longtime advocate of LGBTs and will no doubt treat his story with the dignity and respect it deserves when it airs in May.
The little bit I know of Jenner has me convinced that he is considering transitioning. But even if he isn’t, he can use his celebrity status to put a spotlight on a portion of our community that has only just started to step out from behind the shadow of gays and lesbians.
It’s true that gender identity is very different than sexual orientation. But that doesn’t mean the “LGB” can’t stand in support of the “T.” We can’t forget that while advances are made every day, so are discriminatory decisions.
Take, for example, the actions of Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami). He introduced a bill that would require jail time for transgender individuals using bathroom facilities. Artiles, it seems, still believes that gender is about genitalia and genitalia only. He can argue all he wants that it’s about preventing anti-trans crimes. But the wording of the bill just doesn’t support that point of view.
If passed, this bill would have the power to override any local nondiscrimination ordinances that includes gender identity and expression protections. It’s a step backward and a potential black eye for Florida, which is finally, slowly, on the right path to full equality for LGBTs.
But back to Jenner.
As I listen to conversations about him and read stories “breaking” the news of his transition, I’m amazed by the number of comments directed at his physical appearance. Jenner was an incredibly handsome athlete back in the 1970s (thank you, Google) and at 65 his looks have definitely changed.
But if he is transitioning, a drastic change in appearance is expected, right? You don’t go from Mark Walberg to Angelina Jolie within a matter of days—or even weeks.
Jenner’s popularity is at an all-time high these days, but he may lose a lot of that popularity if he comes out as transgender. And that is a shame.
But losing popularity doesn’t mean one necessarily loses influence. Who will forget the male athlete who transitioned into a woman? Very few.
And I, for one, am happy to jump on board the Bruce Jenner bandwagon.