'I Am a Woman': Bruce Jenner Comes Out as Trans In a Landmark Television Moment
Diane Sawyer's interview with Bruce Jenner about his transition into a woman might be as influential as Ellen DeGeneres coming out 18 years ago.
Bruce Jenner will be doing no more interviews. From this point forward, he will be "her."
"I am a woman." The Olympian and erstwhile member of the Kardashian reality TV empire, definitively ended months—decades, even—of speculation, confirming to Diane Sawyer Friday night in a televised interview that he is transgender.
"Yes, for all intents and purposes, I am a woman," he said. (Pronouns are an important, and complicated, issue in the transgender community. Jenner told Sawyer to continue using the familiar "he" and "him" pronouns.) "I identify as female," he continued. "That's hard for Bruce Jenner to say. Why? I don't want to disappoint people."
Jenner was likely referring to his private circle with that statement, speaking about years of internal torture, wondering how his loved ones would react to him coming out as the person he's always known he is—which is not a woman stuck in the body of a man. "I'm me," he said. "I'm not stuck in anybody's body."
He also very well could've been talking about the millions of us who have turned Jenner's interview into a veritable coming out Super Bowl. The intense media spotlight has, in the days leading up to Friday's telecast, soured the presumed nobility of Jenner's interview.
There were the concerns that it's created a circus out of gender identity. The incessant promotion of the interview fueled speculation that the whole affair was shameless promotion for a just-announced E! docuseries—premiering July 26—that would follow Jenner's transition. (Whiffs of the Kardashian effect.) And there was the disbelief that Diane Sawyer and ABC could possibly, in what was sure to be two bloated and superficial hours, delve into the essential, complex, and sensitive issues of what it means to be trans with any sort of responsibility or enlightenment.
How wrong we all were.
"We're going to change the world," Jenner told Sawyer, something that by the end of the two hours rang gloriously true. "What I'm doing is going to do some good. And we're going to change the world."
In truth, Jenner's conversation with Sawyer was a landmark moment in the LGBT movement. It's early yet, but it could possibly be as monumental for the community, in terms of pop culture, education, and normalization, as Ellen DeGeneres' coming out of the closet was in 1997.
This was the telling of a story that matters.
Sawyer and ABC rose to the occasion, charging into the imperative to treat the subject with encyclopedic breadth and care, all with accessible presentation and unexpected ambition. Jenner rose to the importance of the occasion as well, speaking candidly, eloquently, humorously, and concisely—ways that articulated the impossible to understand process he's going through in a manner that made it all digestible and even inspirational.
As Sawyer pointed out at one point in the interview, only eight percent of people in the U.S. know a transgender person. It's not because there are that few. It's because they've been in the shadows, unsure and at times unable to deal with how they will be treated by an uninformed public about their identity. The telecast delved into the nuances of gender and sexual identity, debunked the nature vs. nurture myths, and provided the essential Cliff's Notes of one of the most hot-button and confusing, for many, social issues of our time.
It was a groundbreaking television moment. Go figure: from this point forward, no one can say the Kardashian-Jenner clan did not change America.
It all began emotionally, and the tears never really ended. "I look at it this way," Jenner said, looking more fresh-faced and natural than he's appeared in years. "Bruce: always telling a lie. He's lived a lie his whole life about who he is. And I can't do that any longer. So I'm going to take the ponytail out."
When the hair came down and "her" came out, Jenner and Sawyer plunged into their compelling master class of what it means to be transgender, told through the experience of an American icon's own transition.
Jenner said he first started becoming aware of the female soul inside his body when he was 8-years-old, though he didn't understand what it meant when he was trying on his mother and sister's dresses. "It just made me feel good."
Giving her credit where it's due, Sawyer never let Jenner off the hook. She asked all of the questions that America may have for him.
"The sexuality was always different from what my gender was," he said. "Sexual desire and gender are two separate things."
Any LGBT activist cheered their screens at this point, keenly aware for how educational a moment that is. But Sawyer persisted, demanding the clarifying explanation her viewers needed to be truly knowledgeable and able to understand this. "It's the confusion inside this…are you a lesbian?" she asked. "I am not gay. As far as I know I am heterosexual," he said.
There's a spectrum of human sexuality and sexual identity. This was a lesson on that. It's probably too much to digest initially. But it's a start, and an excellent one.
There were more revelations.
He began transitioning 30 years ago, when he took hormones for five years. His wives knew, to various extents, about his cross-dressing, if not his gender identity. Kris Jenner knew he liked to wear women's clothing. "She didn't say much. 'OK, you gonna change now?'" Jenner laughed. As for their sex life? "I loved Kris, I learned a lot from her," he said. "I thought we had a pretty good sex life."
He talked about coming out to the Kardashian-Jenner children. The four eldest Jenners appeared in support of their dad. "It finally makes sense," Brody Jenner said he thought when his father came out to him.
Jenner said Khloe Kardashian has had the hardest time coming to terms with his transition. "Khloe's had the toughest time with it. Because she's had a lot of losses in her life," he said. It took Kanye West to give Kim Kardashian clarity on accepting him. Now she wants to help pick out his clothes.
As for the big question, about the "vajayjay," as he puts it, Jenner hasn't made up his mind if he will have gender reassignment surgery.
This was a fabulous interview. The response on Twitter by those who were skeptical that it could achieve any sort of education milestone happily tweeted their mistake. Nobody expected this to be as deep or have the breadth and detail that it did.
Still, hate, bigotry, ignorance, confusion, and the bile of compassionless humanity is all going to surface. It's inevitable, and it's happening already. This is a good thing.
It will surface, and it will be confronted. And it will start conversations and will create the imperative for education and debate and, in the end, it will lead to progress, understanding, and acceptance. It's going to be a despicable, frustrating, and contentious process, and it will be one that, in many circles of America and the world, will be fruitless—those people remaining unmoved on their feelings on this social issue. But it's a process that is necessary. That will happen. And will be good.
Who can say whether such a sensitive interview will inspire more sensitivity in a media used to crassly covering the Kardashian family and not equipped to handle the caution it requires to report on a transition like this. Or if they will stop doing the invasive stalking and hunting of Jenner at every stage of this process that, as he said, at one point led him to contemplate suicide when news of his tracheal shaving surgery leaked.
And who can say whether it's the best thing for the trans community that a person best known for being a ridiculed tertiary member of a reality TV dynasty has now become the most visible person of a community that sees itself as the subject of unjust ignorance, violence, and real danger.
"I'm not a spokesperson for this community." Given our insistence on making all LGBT celebrities spokespeople, whether they're willing or want to, I wonder if this will stand.
Asked what he hopes this interview will accomplish—an interview that inspired viewing parties, live-tweeting, and a water cooler phenomenon across the country—Jenner said that he hoped it will cause people to "have an open mind and open hearts."
We'll see. We'll see.