Just when you thought the Kardashian Klan couldn’t get any kookier or komplicated, they drop yet another bombshell. The irony is that amongst all of the frivolous story lines of their successful reality show over the past 10 seasons, there was a significant story that hadn’t yet been told.
And that is the very personal narrative of Bruce Jenner, the family’s patriarchal figure who in a tell all interview just days ago told Diane Sawyer of ABC that he identifies as a woman, and has so for a very long time.
In the interview Jenner revealed his lifelong struggle with his gender identity and answered the question that many had suspected for a long time: ‘Is he transitioning into a woman?’ which he answered with an unequivocal “yes.”
“For all intents and purposes, I am a woman,” Jenner said. “My heart and soul and everything I do in life, it is part of me, that female side… It is who I am.”
For a family that has worked so hard to market themselves in such calculated way you would think that this bombshell would be quite the spanner in the works. Some didn’t think so.
Columnist Brian Lowry called the announcement “another act in the Kardashian circus” while some have accused Jenner of doing it for fame (because he really needs more of it?).
These allegations are extremely offensive not only to Jenner but to all transgender people. It ignores the severity of the issues and struggles they face on a daily basis trying to be their authentic selves and to fit into society that is almost designed to exclude them. It downplays the complexities that are involved in taking the steps to actually become transgender and it offends the people who have ever been abused because of their gender on a scale of ridicule to murder.
But it also provides a snap shot of just how narrow-minded our society can be, because transgender people don’t just wake up one morning and decide to change genders; it is something they have had to deal with and come to terms with their entire lives.
Although many pockets of society accept transgender people and there is somewhat ‘tolerance’ for the transgender community, this contradicts the most basic day-to-day reality for many: no community living in America today is as openly terrorised as transgender women, especially transgender women of colour. Transgender people prepare themselves on a daily basis to endure indignities unimaginable to most of us. Why would anyone intentionally choose a path for themselves that involves belonging to a minority that suffers severe hard ship just for the sake of a headline?
The current situation for transgender people is bleak, put mildly. It is known that transgender people have significantly higher rates of suicide than any other group, with reports of up to 47 per cent having attempted suicide. Statistics also show that one in twelve transgender people in America are murdered – eleven have been murdered in the US this year alone.
There are no real figures on the number of transgender people in Australia but it is estimated there are about 5000 living in Queensland and on the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory there are about 50 transgender women known as ‘sista girls’ who make up five per cent of the communities population and who are accepted to some degree but still experience domestic violence and rape.
It’s no wonder then that so many transgender people choose not to come out at all, but for those who do it is extremely brave. And for someone who is so heavily in the media spotlight as Jenner is, to come out so openly and honestly, speaks volumes of his courage and we should applaud him for it.
Jenner who is a former Olympic champion once named as ‘the best athlete in the world’ has experienced torment personally for being transgender, which was ongoing long before his announcement. He has been ridiculed by the paparazzi trying to get a reaction out of him, he has had jokes made at his expense across all forms of media and strangers have even threatened him. Not to mention the unfathomable internal discomfort and pain he has endured, his true self being entrapped in his own flesh all these years.
There is sadness in the fact that Jenner felt he had to hide these feelings for 65 years and live his life imposing as someone else. But this says more about our society than it does about Jenner.
It paints a picture of the world we live in, which is one where people still aren’t always free to be themselves outside of the norm and where people are judged based on factors outside their control, like gender, race and sexuality. Despite how far we have come in terms of creating an egalitarian society free from prejudice and discrimination, we still have a very long way to go.
Whilst Jenner is not the first public figure to reveal they are transgender and those before him have also received intense media attention and scrutiny, I do think Jenner is the person who can bring about the most change. None before Jenner have had the mainstream reach that he has, apparent through the sheer number of people who tuned in to watch the ABC interview – 17 million – alone.
From his Olympic days in the 1970s to his role on Keeping up with the Kardashians and everything in between, his notoriety spans across at least three generations and touches various facets of society. Most people know of Jenner or are familiar with him so most people will naturally have an opinion and be forced into a discussion about gender in some way.
Already in just a few days Jenner’s announcement has opened up a dialogue and provided a stage for transgender people and the issues they face. By sharing his story, Jenner has shined a light on what it means to be transgender and to live authentically in the face of unimaginable public scrutiny.
His story, which is so honest and personal, will no doubt inspire countless people worldwide who are facing similar inner turmoil. Jenner has given the transgender community not only a voice but also someone in the public arena with whom to identify with, whether this was his intention or not.
“What I’m doing is going to do some good — we’re going to change the world,” he stated during the interview.
After American newsreader Anderson Cooper came out as gay in 2012, he said: “The tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.” And in the instance of Bruce Jenner that couldn’t be more true.