Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 38 / 21 September 2017
 

Mixed reaction
to Jenner interview

NEWS


Bruce Jenner during the ABC interview last week. Photo: Courtesy ABC
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There was mixed reaction from trans community leaders to former Olympian Bruce Jenner's announcement that he is a woman and undergoing a gender transition.

Jenner's news, made during a two-hour prime time interview with veteran journalist Diane Sawyer on ABC's 20/20 , showed him as humorous, somewhat nervous, and candid in his realization that "for all intents and purposes I am a woman."

Much of the interview was conducted at Jenner's Malibu home.

Jenner explained his transition this way: He feels he was created by God who said, "Hey, let's give him the soul of a female and let's see how he deals with that."

"So, here I am," Jenner said, choking up. "Stuck – and I hate the word – a girl stuck in a guy's body. I hate that terminology. I'm me. I'm a person and this is who I am ... My brain is much more female than it is male. It's hard for people to understand that, but that's what my soul is."

Jenner, 65, who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics, is known by millions for his participation in the hit reality series Keeping Up With the Kardashians. He did not state a new name during the interview, which was seen by an estimated 16.9 million viewers April 24. Sawyer also said during the program that for now, Jenner has not indicated that a new pronoun be used.

That fact rankled some who watched the show.

Veronika Fimbres, of San Francisco, who is a transgender woman, said that she was "uncomfortable" with Jenner's continued use of male pronouns.

"He is holding onto his straight male white privilege, which he seems reluctant to acquiesce," Fimbres said. "I can only hope that his good intentions have a good outcome."

Pastor Megan Rohrer, the transgender leader of Grace Lutheran Church in the Sunset district, had no issue with Jenner's continued use of male pronouns. But Rohrer, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, acknowledged that pronoun usage could be a slippery slope.

"It's a gray space," Rohrer told the Bay Area Reporter. "Jenner wanted he/him to be used in the ABC interview, so you could ethically go with that. GLAAD guidelines say that you use the pronouns expressed by the person."

Sawyer's interview touched on many topics. Jenner spoke of his relationships with his family – his four biological children with two ex-wives, and his two biological children and four stepchildren with ex-wife Kris Jenner. Neither his former wives nor his children with Kris Jenner nor the Kardashian children appeared on camera. His four eldest children did appear on camera and voiced support for Jenner.

He recalled his struggles with gender dysphoria during his childhood in Tarrytown, New York.

Jenner also stated that he had begun undergoing hormone therapy as early as the 1980s with the intention of transitioning. But he stopped. "I lost my nerve," he told Sawyer.

Jenner drew a distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Sexuality was totally different than what my issues were," Jenner said. "And I always felt heterosexual." He also added he had never been with a man. "I am not gay ... as far as I know, I am heterosexual."

Sawyer brought up the issue again later in the program, asking if Jenner would consider himself a lesbian after transitioning if he dated women. He did not agree, finally describing himself as "asexual – for now."

Throughout the program, educational bullet points were shown, such as one explaining, "Sexual identity is who you go to sleep with. Gender identity is who you go to sleep as."

During the interview Jenner acknowledged being a Republican and said he hoped to present transgender issues to party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) and House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio). He said that he's "not a fan" of President Barack Obama, but gave him credit for saying the word "transgender" during the State of the Union address in January.

Fimbres wondered if the Republican leadership would accept Jenner. Log Cabin Republicans, a lobbying group for LGBT conservatives, did issue a statement after the interview welcoming Jenner into the fold.

The program did point out the high level of violence directed against transgender people, particularly transwomen of color. Jenner also made it clear that he does not consider himself a spokesman for the transgender community.

Fimbres was happy that the show acknowledged the violence that transgender people face. But she was displeased with what she called Jenner's "dissing" of Obama.

"Bruce Jenner is not the face or spokesmodel of trans folks to me," Fimbres said. "He still needs more counseling and guidance as he continues on his journey."

In the immediate aftermath of the interview, many LGBT people took to social media, describing Jenner as a "courageous hero." But not all saw him that way.

"Anyone who chose to go through the journey of gender transition is courageous and strong," Cecilia Chung, a transgender woman and longtime community leader, wrote on Facebook April 25. "Jenner is no exception. To go through this private transformation in front of the camera is going to add multiple layers of complexities and inherent risks."

Chung also wrote that she thought Jenner had the best intentions, but that she has no faith in the mainstream media. "Let's hope for the best for Jenner's upcoming documentary series and for the media to respect his journey," she wrote.

Chung was referring to Jenner's upcoming reality show that will air this summer.

Rohrer said overall, the Jenner interview was a "sign of progress."

"When people are given the freedom to make their own choices about their bodies, faith, and politics our world is a better place," Rohrer said. "There were days when all trans people had to answer medical questions the same way or they wouldn't get approved."

Added Rohrer, "The fact that Jenner's story and imagined future is different from mine and other trans people is a sign of progress."






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