A Transgender Perspective on the Bruce Jenner Interview
25 April 2015
by Michelle Evans
Overall, I believe that Jenner's interview by Diane Sawyer on ABC was a positive one for the transgender community, and for the general public to learn something about what it means to be trans. However, as a transgender female, that does not mean I agree with everything Jenner said. Let me first delineate the items I take issue with.
Early in the interview Jenner speaks of being "gender confused." This is a term that is often used against trans people by advocates for "conversion therapy," or those that believe we are mentally ill and need psychiatric help to "cure" us. The point is we are not confused, however we may be conflicted. What I mean is that with all the push back against trans people we often have to think very carefully about telling our friends, family, and the rest of the world, that we are who we are. As pointed out in the interview, trans people are murdered just for being themselves, at a rate of approximately one every three days. Coming out is a big decision. Look how Jenner was treated by the media before revealing herself to Sawyer, and read a few comments at the end of pretty much any article about trans issues to see exactly what I mean.
Jenner also made a comment with concern to her sexual orientation that seemed out of place. When asked if she was gay, Jenner replied that of course that wasn't the case because she likes women, so she is heterosexual. I have to put that down to naivety on her part about this issue. The simple fact is that if she is indeed a woman (which I have no doubt on her statement to that effect), and she is attracted to women, then yes, she is a gay woman, or lesbian.
I ran into this same circumstance with my own mother when I came out to her. One of the first things she said to me was "Can't you just be gay?" She said that because of the idea she had of me coming to visit her, dressed from my new wardrobe. Her neighbors knew she had a son, so what would they say when her "son" pulled up and got out of the car wearing women's clothing? My mother never wanted to be confronted with the problem of having to explain to anyone what the reality was in my case. And the irony of it is that I am gay since I, like Jenner, am only attracted to women. I have been with my beautiful wife, Cherie, for more than 33 years.
The last difficulty I had was when Jenner spoke about politics, and how she has remained a staunch conservative. Diane Sawyer asked her about reactions from Mitch McConnell or John Boehner, and Jenner said she would love to sit down and discuss trans issues with them both—and that she firmly believed they would be happy to do so. All I can think here is that she has not paid much attention to the politics of the Republican party over the last years. The GOP won't even allow the gay Republican group, the Log Cabin Republicans, to have a seat at their table. Why would Jenner think they would suddenly embrace her and any other transgender person any time soon? Republicans all across the country are doing their utmost right now to prevent trans people from even using their correct restroom, let alone what is being done to prevent us from having equality in employment and housing, or any other aspect of life as a citizen of the United States.
Jenner coming out as transgender is hopefully going to be a turning point for the discussion of trans issues in the media. Jenner herself spoke of how she is now "excited to do some real good in the world." Trans people have done a lot of good, even if it is only to shed light on the stereotypes that too often follow us. She was classified as the "World's Greatest Athlete." That has not changed. Her accomplishments are hers, as are the accomplishments of all trans members of society—whether other people choose to acknowledge them or not.
During my personal coming out process I often ran into people that somehow thought my previous self was now dead. My mother told me at one time that she was having a difficult time with my transition because she had to grieve for her son, that somehow I had suddenly died and she had to say goodbye to who I was. Diane Sawyer brought up this idea as well, and I believe that Jenner's response was superb when she said, "I'm saying goodbye to people's perceptions of me, and who I am. I'm not saying goodbye to me, because this has always been me." The eloquence and truth in that comment cannot be overstated.
As a coda to watching the interview, my stepmother Celee, said to me, "It is amazing how quickly things have changed for trans people in the last decade. Can you imagine an interview like this airing ten years ago?" Interestingly, ten years ago I was also interviewed by Diane Sawyer on my personal experience with being transgender. Of course I am not famous like Bruce Jenner, and even though the interview was scheduled to air, it got pulled at the last minute and went back into the ABC News archives. At the time, I had not come out to more than a handful of people, so in the end, it is probably much better that I did not finish coming out to the world on national television. My transition and acceptance was much better handled on a more personal level.
Ms. Evans is a speaker on transgender issues for educational institutions and law enforcement agencies, and is also the author of the non-trans-related book, "The X-15 Rocket Plane, Flying the First Wings Into Space." University of Nebraska Press, 2013.