Kardashian patriarch ends gender speculation, begins transition; support from public strong, support from family mixed
by Hannah Benson, ’15
Diamond earrings. Pink nail polish. Chest-length hair. A disappearing Adam’s apple. Speculation about gender identity has long trailed Bruce Jenner, Olympic gold medalist and reality television star on Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
In a candid interview with Diane Sawyer that aired on April 24, Jenner revealed the truth: “For all intents and purposes, I am a woman.” At time of press, Jenner has not revealed a new name or use of gender-specific pronouns.
Since the interview, Jenner has received an outpouring of support from openly trans celebrities including Laverne Cox and outspoken LGBT allies like Lady GaGa. The Kardashians themselves have shown varying amounts of support; according to Jenner, “Kimberly has by far been the most accepting and the easiest to talk to about it” while Khloe has “had the toughest time with it.”
Jenner first began to transition in the 1980s, but stopped when he met and fell in love with third wife Kris Jenner.
When Keeping Up began to air in 2007, the Kardashian brand expanded exponentially. Kim Kardashian and husband Kanye West have a collective net worth of $213 million and were named among TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the Year. Younger daughters Kendall and Kylie Jenner recently begun the launch of their own careers (as well as a clothing line): modelling for Kendall and a famous Tumblr blog for Kylie.
After Jenner’s interview with Sawyer, Kris has tried to distance herself from him in the media. Radar Online reported April 30 that Kris has cut off all contact with her ex-husband and denied ABC’s request for comment.
However, it was recently revealed that Jenner’s interview drew an audience of 17 million, making it one of the year’s most viewed television programs. Now, a two-hour special of Keeping Up, named About Bruce, is set to air on May 17 and May 18 in two one-hour segments.
Jenner has plans of his own. He announced a documentary series about his transition set to air on E!, but production has been put on hold due to Jenner’s growing concerns about how his family will process the change.
Jenner is now, possibly, the most famous openly trans person in America. ABC and Sawyer have been widely praised for the structure of the interview, which allowed Jenner to tell his own story and define himself.
Many believe Jenner’s interview sets a new precedent for interviewing trans people. Piers Morgan drew criticism for his two-part interview with writer Janet Mock, in which he insisted Mock was “a boy until 18” and “formerly a man”.
Jenner’s interview also tackled larger issues for the trans community: high rates of suicide, laws allowing trans people to be fired for their gender identity in 32 states and an alarming amount of black trans women being murdered. Many lauded Jenner for raising awareness of the challenges the community faces.
However, some feel Jenner’s interview took a patronizing approach. At key moments, the interview paused to provide context and terminology. A few people believe the interview presented Jenner’s experience as the typical trans experience, ignoring Jenner’s privilege and the infinite number of ways trans lives can unfurl.
Though the interview was imperfect, its positive effect cannot be overlooked: Jenner has given a recognizable face to the trans community.
Image caption: Bruce Jenner, in a May 2012 file image, has been the subject of open speculation for months, and the spectacle has transgender advocates alarmed.
Image by Abaca Press