Ok, I know I’m not the only one that cried while watching the Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer, right? By the time I had the chance to sit down and watch it, the interview had already broken the internet so I wasn’t necessarily shocked to hear Bruce Jenner say he was a woman. While my jaw did actually drop in some parts, what I was not expecting was the flood of compassion I felt for someone I had never really given much thought to before. And what stayed with me was something beyond that.
From the very beginning of the interview, when he took that long pause knowing that it was going to be difficult, I instantly got nervous for him. There he was, facing a moment that he had probably been dreading and looking forward to at the same time. After being in the public eye most of his adult life, Bruce Jenner was finally going to allow us to see who he truly was. For more than an hour I was glued to the TV and not because of curiosity (which admittedly was the reason I watched it in the first place) but because the interview was provoking many aha moments.
The biggest AHA moment was the realization of just how damaging society’s divisions are.
With race, if you aren’t part of the “minority” then you don’t have to think about race. It’s called white privilege and something I know very intimately because I don't have it. But I do have another kind of privilege that I had not truly acknowledged until I saw this interview, the privilege transgender communities know too well. If your relationship to your gender is one of the two that society (aka you, me, our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, etc.) has deemed “natural”, then you have the privilege of not having to think about this every day of your life. Also, like many, I have often put gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender in the same category out of naivety without really stopping to think that sexual desire and gender are two different things.
Mother nature is obviously showing us that there is so much more variety and the only reason this is confusing and upsetting to some people is that we believed for so long that there were only two ways to be in the world: a feminine heterosexual woman or a masculine heterosexual man.
Bruce admitted that throughout his life he would look at other men and women and think how lucky they were to feel comfortable in their own skin, and there he was in the middle, not knowing which way to go. It made me wonder how much of that confusion comes from our society’s (again, not some group of people “out there” but made up by ALL OF US) confining definition of man and woman. I wonder if we stressed humanity above gender and acknowledged that we come in all varieties, if a man with a feminine soul could live and feel accepted in the body he was born into? In no way am I informed enough to comment on whether it's a good idea to have surgery to change your gender (because I have NO idea), but it did make me think about how simplified we think about gender and how people like Bruce break all those categories.
Instead of making people fit into society, why don't we allow society to conform to people?
Thousands of transgender people face discrimination, violence, murder and suicide for not fitting into the way we think people should be in the world - another thing I knew but did not really sink in until I heard it on the interview. Jenner had contemplated suicide himself when he thought the paparazzi had found out his secret, so it was extremely powerful to hear the message from Bruce’s mom saying “I never thought I could be more proud of Bruce when he reached his goal in 1976, but I'm more proud of him now. It takes a lot of courage to do what he's doing” (btw, major tear-jerker moment for me). I couldn’t agree more. Now, more than ever, he is that champ on that Wheaties box.
Vulnerability takes courage and that's the only way to let people connect to who you truly are.
While our “secrets” and what we hide from others may not be Diane Sawyer (or Oprah) interview worthy, it's a reminder that whatever you're scared of as far as other people’s reactions does not compare to the isolation that comes from living life not letting people see who you truly are. And the more authentic we can be with each other, the more connected we'll feel. Thank you Bruce, for being a brave soul not only for the transgender community, but for all of us that have been inspired by your vulnerability. I truly hope that you will be okay, Bruce.
Side note: I know some were skeptical about his intentions with this interview but I think it’s because it’s more comfortable for us to believe that someone wants attention than it is to believe that we don’t truly know people unless they allow us to know them. Plus the media, paparazzi and all of us consuming it, had no problem invading his privacy before he was ready to tell us but then when he tells us, it’s for the money and the fame? Think about it.