After months of speculation, this past week Bruce Jenner made the brave public statement that he is transgender. In a sit down with Diane Sawyer, he recounted the events that led him to this important decision. His interview has opened up the much-needed dialogue about the transgender community.
The Marriam-Webster definition of transgender is “of or relating to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or clearly female”. They essentially suffer from gender dysphoria, as they believe that the body they were born in does not correlate with the way they feel. It is important to note that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different concepts. An idiom explains it perfectly: Sexual orientation is who you go to bed WITH, gender is who you go to bed AS.
Throughout the interview, Bruce does not reveal what pronoun he would prefer to be called, so for the purpose of this post I will refer to Bruce as “he”. In his interview, Bruce speaks about always knowing that his outwards appearance did not match with how he felt. He describes himself as having “the soul of a female”. As a child, he wore his sister’s clothing in secret, not understanding why but knowing that it made him feel good. In the 80s, Bruce began his transition and endured the process for 5 years, but lost his nerve. He married his third wife, Kris Jenner, the Kardashian matriarch and together they created the Kardashian empire we know today. But then something changed. He decided that he no longer wanted to live a lie. He also hopes that what he is doing will do some good in the world.
The concept of transgender challenges the notion that gender is something that is fixed and assigned at birth. Society is structured in a dichotomous way that marginalizes those that do not strictly adhere to heteronormative ideals. We have such set ideas of how men and women are supposed to act, so we tend to react negatively to those that do not fit inside our neat binary. The LGBTI community has polarized society because the way many people have been brought up has taught them that anything straying from heteronormativity is wrong and therefore punishable. This results in those who identify as different believing that they have to live a lie in order to keep everyone else happy and to fit in. This has dismal effects. The levels of transgender suicide attempts in the US are rising, with 41% of transgender or gender non-conforming identifiers having attempted suicide. I think it is fair to say that there is still lots to do on the transgender front.
Bruce’s brave announcement is important because has inspired many others to tell their story. We have come so far in society, thanks to the brave people willing to stand up and challenge the status quo. There is larger representation of marginalized groups today, with transgender people becoming more represented. Take the new Amazon show, Transparent. The show stars Jeffrey Tambor, playing a transgender man as he transitions into a woman and the difficulties he faces. Or Laverne Cox’s character, Sophia, on the hit Netflix show Orange Is The New Black. Cox has even created a show on mTV called The T Word, about transgender youth. When Glee’s Alex Newell, who plays cross-dresser Unique, sings “I Know Where I’ve Been” from the musical Hairspray, to recently transitioned Coach Beiste, it literally brought tears to my eyes. These representations are important, because we need to foster an attitude of tolerance and acceptance. It is important to change legislation and to ensure the systematic acceptance of LGBTI community, but I believe that society really needs to change in order to make the world a better place.