By: Devin Riggs, Regular Contributor
NOTE: At the time of this posting Jenner has not requested to be known by a new name or female pronouns, so this article uses male pronouns.
The other day when I sat down to watch Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner, I did not do it because I knew him as the “world’s greatest athlete,” the hero of the 1976 Olympic games (he won gold in the decathlon), and not because I knew him as the Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s reality TV star. I didn’t really know him as either of those people. I watched because I knew this was a moment in the grand scheme of life that could impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are struggling with gender identity. I wanted to see how they handled the conversation. I wanted to learn, to better educate myself on what it means to be transgender.
I learned a lot about Bruce Jenner in the interview. I admire his courage and strength and also his vulnerability. I admire the love he has for his children and the struggles he went through to protect them. I am in awe of the small complexities of such a person who I’ve never met and how this one moment of bravery impacted so many.
This is not the only story though. Bruce Jenner’s experience is one of hundreds of thousands. We cannot lump all transgender people into one cookie cutter frame and call it good. Bruce has privileges from growing up as a white male that many others don’t. With his success as an athlete and a reality star, Jenner has the financial stability to pay for his treatments and potential surgeries (at this moment he has not decided if he wants sexual reassignment surgery).
But “the reality of many transgender people involves high levels of discrimination, harassment and violence, as well as major hurdles accessing employment, housing and healthcare. Many transgender people live in poverty, rejected by family and society. Transgender people are far more likely to be the target of hate violence than lesbian, gay, or bisexual people, and police are far more likely to emphasize transgender victims’ arrest records to diminish and miscast the lives of those killed.” –HRC.org
Sexuality is not connected with gender identification. In order to better understand being transgender, we need to change the way we think about sex and gender. Our sexual preferences are completely separate from our gender as well as our biological sex. All of these identities have their own spectrum and are fluid. They are independent of each other.
Pronouns are important. While Bruce is personally waiting to unveil his new self, which in the interview he calls “her,” many transgendered people claim new pronouns much earlier in their transition. It is important to use their preferred pronouns and chosen names, because that is who they truly are. If you are unsure, ask politely.
We still need to spread awareness. Jenner’s interview is a step in the right direction for how we talk about transgender issues, especially in the media. We still have a long way to go though. We need to keep having the conversation, investing in the lives and voices that have been silenced for too long. This is the beginning and we can do a lot of good in shedding more and more light on the subject.
The most important thing is to listen and learn as much as you can. As Bruce says, “have an open mind and an open heart.” Transitioning is difficult and very personal. Cis-gender people cannot make assumptions or truly empathize with what a transgender person goes through. It’s about him/her/ze/hir/them and their journey to embracing their true self. We can be allies and be supportive, and that means educating ourselves. Listen to the stories and experiences. Be respectful of their requests. And remember that being transgender is not the only thing about them. They are complete people with dreams, goals, desires, and hobbies. Transgender is not the only thing about them that is important.
Thank you Bruce Jenner for sharing your story, for joining the conversation, and most importantly for embracing your true self so that others may do the same.
If you are transgender and need someone to talk to please call, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
Let's talk! In what ways can you support someone or yourself embracing their gender identity? How can we further spread awareness about gender identity and spread the love? Share it with us here!
Devin has a degree in education with a focus in English. She is working to publish her first collection of poetry while also learning the art of patience. Her passions include Doctor Who, penguins, hats and scarves, potatoes, dancing, photography, and making people happy. She believes in the healing powers of music, spending time in the great outdoors, and a good night sleep.
image via people.com