That Transjenner moment

(Re:  the title

I swear, I couldn’t help myself.  We all know someone was going to use it.  I just thought I’d avoid the rush.

It’s a play on the CNN story from yesterday, America’s transgender moment.)

The LA Times put the following byte under their lead photo:

Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer will be so widely watched Friday night it could prove a tipping point, further normalizing Americans’ perceptions of the nation’s transgender population.

Or, you know, not.  It could also be a huge disaster for us public-relations-wise.

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Reuters is calling it a history-making moment as the reality TV patriarch becomes the most high-profile American to come out as transgender.

But the ramifications go beyond Jenner, an American celebrity who’s spent decades in the public eye. For an estimated 700,000 transgender Americans, the interview is a milestone in how TV and the media continue to consider transgender people and issues.

Time says it could be a “watershed moment” for us…and says preemptively that ABC is “doing us a service.”

For readers of tabloids or gossip blogs, the non-revelations of the Jenner promos are being read as tantalizing teasers: If Jenner comes out as transgender, those viewers brought in by ABC’s say-nothing approach will be exposed to the personal story of what could be the most famous transgender person in recent history.

How are transgender advocates viewing this “moment in our history”?

I can only share my own feelings…and what I see others saying.

I expect Diane Sawyer to do a good job with the subject.  I hope Jenner comes off as at least literate on transgender issues.  I pray that it doesn’t send the message that transgender people are freak shows.

In Touch included Jenner’s “sex change rumors” in a list of “celebrity scandals of 2014” that included Donald Sterling’s racist rant and the Bill Cosby rape allegations.

Such coverage is harmful in a truly profound way.

–Parker Molloy

Molloy, 28, said the Jenner gossip feels like a throwback to her youth when her only exposure to transgender people in the media was on programs like “The Maury Show,” where guests would be outed and audience members asked to guess if they were men or women.

Hailey Branson-Potts, LA Times

Many in the transgender community fear all the attention is distracting their efforts to focus the public conversation on the hardships they face.

There are many transgender people, myself included, who have chosen to speak out about our issues.  But the media generally doesn’t even try to hear our voices.

I feel sometimes that we’re at war within our society because transgender people are getting killed, and people don’t understand that it is happening.

–Bambi Salcedo, Trans-Latin@ Coalition

So the media picks Jenner to speak for us?

Most people go around the world assuming people will respect their gender identity  For transgender people, we never know how the world will respond to us.  We’re prepared for people to not understand us.

–Drian Juarez, Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Transgender Economic Empowerment Project

Much of the hostility toward transgender people, Juarez said, comes from people who think the transgender person is trying to “fool them.” But trans people’s appearances, she said, aren’t a costume – or a joke.

I’m sure we all wish Jenner well.  But we could do without the spectacle that is sure to follow.

The things written about Bruce Jenner are turning the idea of transgender identity into spectacle. Something to be gawked at and shocked by. Hasn’t the transgender movement come further than this?

[T]he way the media is portraying the story suggests that Bruce is definitely transitioning to female, and that we should all have our jaws on the floor.  But this suggestion is quite damaging to the transgender community. The fact remains that most people in America do not personally know someone who is transgender. The only reference they have is what they see in the media.  Labeling Bruce Jenner’s gender transformation as one of the “biggest celebrity scandals of 2014” is not going to frame the story of transgender identity in a positive light.

I’m curious to see what Bruce Jenner will say in his interview with Diane Sawyer. I hope his message is one that can help spread awareness about transgender identity and the constant uphill battle faced by the community.

Molly Fosco, Huff Post

We are at a social inflection point on transgender issues.  Civil rights for minorities come in fits and starts. We’re on an upswing now.

–Riki Wilchins, a former transgender activist and author of three books on queer theory, who believes all the attention could have a positive impact

I believe that the more people who know transgender people, the more they will understand, accept and support us.  That happens only if they acknowledge our humanity, and not treat us like tabloid fodder.

–Hayden Mora, Human Rights Campaign

Surely Bruse Jenner would never become tabloid fodder!!!???

We are definitely in a critical moment for the trans movement.  Over the last year we have … seen an increase in visibility that was unimaginable even just a few years ago.  At the same time it is clear that visibility is not enough.

–Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center

Transgender people are still subject to profound discrimination and violence. Greater acceptance is really needed, and long overdue.


Gender-rights activists, noting that Jenner hasn’t yet explained his private life, are reluctant to speculate.

Some fear the media firestorm around Jenner, fueled by his ties to the camera-loving Kardashian clan, trivializes what is a wrenching personal journey for many people.


You want to wish Bruce the best.  But at the same time, you wish it wasn’t being played out for reality-TV entertainment.  Yes, it’s great that we’re educating people.  But we’re talking about a civil rights issue that keeps getting recast as entertainment.


Amy Stone, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, fears Jenner could provoke those who already are averse to gay or transgender people.

Such people “tend to use these moments to frighten the general public, relying on fears about trans women in bathrooms or locker rooms,” said Stone, author of numerous books about queer politics and culture. “Usually these moments tap into pre-existing panics about gender or sexuality, not necessarily spawning new ones.”

1 comment

    • Robyn on April 24, 2015 at 23:10

    But I imagine I will spend too much of the time cringing.

    I’ll try to add comments as the spectacle unfolds (Recall that I live in the Pacific time zone).

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