A Good Start, But Still Just a Start
It was with some trepidation that I turned on the local NBC affiliate to watch the Bruce Jenner interview on 20/20 with Diane Sawyer.
Shaping my attitude were a number of similar interviews of high profile trans people by media stars – Katie Couric and Piers Morgan are the freshest in my memory but this has been a road badly traveled before and I had low expectations for this newest attempt. Given Jenner’s connection to the celebrity-seeking Kardashian clan added to my apprehension.
I will quickly admit I was relatively pleased with the program: Sawyer earns applause for leading the interview but not strangling its authenticity. Jenner rates an ovation for being honest and open about this journey and willing to address the issues Sawyer posed – even the ones that were challenging. The answers were not always as complete or articulate as might be hoped for but there were answers.
The weak spots were the explanations of who we are as trans people – who makes up this beautiful, complex world of gender non-conforming people.
For what my opinion is worth, I rate the two hours as well spent and see the interview as a wonderful start to a much broader conversation across this nation.
Yes, a good start but still just a start.
The complexity of trans lives is too much for a two-hour program to capture more than just a glimpse of what it is to be trans – whether a trans woman (like Jenner) or a trans man, a gender queer or gender non-conforming individual.
And once we begin unpeeling this trans onion (I am drawn to this metaphor because an onion adds zest to wherever it touches, can be sweet and tasty yet still capable of producing tears) we uncover the myriad of identities that make up our gender variant lives: transsexual; crossdresser; transgenderist; androgynous; two-spirit; intersex: and the litany of pre-op, post-op and non-op. The list goes on.
In the Jenner/Sawyer interview we heard the open, heart-felt revelations of how challenging it is to be a women-identified trans person who is white, wealthy, old, established and. a celebrity. That is the Jenner story.
It’s important that we hear that story and talk about it.
That narrative, however, will differ significantly from a story by a black trans woman living in poverty — because of discrimination and racism. Or if she is employed there is no job security and she lacks health care for gender related medical treatment. She even experiences problems finding a medical professional willing to treat her even in an emergency.
It’s important that we hear that story, too, and talk about it.
Or, the young person who doesn’t want to be labeled with any gender marker, believing that personal freedom lies in breaking the ties of gender binaries but, as a result, is bullied relentlessly because of behavior and appearance – for things like wanting people to use non-gendered pronouns like “they and their” as a descriptor and for adopting clothing choices that don’t fall into the traditional styles that mark someone as girl or boy.
That story is also important for us to hear and talk about.
And the violence that is brought down upon trans people simply for being who they truly are – the murders and assaults that tarnish our nation – especially for people of color and black trans women in particular. Then there is the violence that is often hidden by society’s unwillingness to talk about suicide and especially the outrageous 41% rate of suicide attempts by trans and gender non-conforming persons who feel they have no other options in their lives.
We need to hear that story and talk about it.
Before the show started on Friday evening, I had asked my Facebook connections who were going to watch the interview to comment..
The response came from a wonderful mixture of queer and straight, trans and cisgender, young and old individuals. The comments were overwhelmingly supportive – even while some had issues with parts of the conversation. But the biggest part of the comments centered around the need to know more – “I want to know more – continue…” was a response that seemed to capture the need for more – more conversations, more informational resources, more stories, more, more, more.
Let me cite just one of my responders as a wrap-up to this commentary: “What a rare occurrence of celebrity and media coalescing for positive change in the world. So many valuable ripples can come out of this…. a milestone in evolution.”
Yes, a good start but still just a start.
By Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force