Last weekend, the media was buzzing after reality-television personality and Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner publicly came out as a transgender woman in an April 24 interview with Diane Sawyer on “20/20.”
I wasn’t surprised by Jenner’s announcement. For the last several months, tabloids, magazines and media that clutter the grocery store’s shelves in the checkout aisle were speculating about Jenner’s private life, specifically his divorce from wife Kris Jenner and his change of appearance in the public, but the interview allowed the public to hear it from the man himself.
During the interview, Jenner told Sawyer that identified himself as a female, explaining that his brain is “more female than male” and revealed that he had been wrestling with issues of gender identity since he was a child.
Some folks had different reactions to Jenner’s announcement. Most shared their love and support for the Olympic athlete. Others were not so positive. Then you had the people in the middle, who don’t quite understand Jenner’s issue.
While transgender issues — like those of race and sexual orientation — have always been around and a hot button topic, it has become more prominent with the work of advocates and the media. Television programs like “Orange is the New Black,” which features the transgender character Sophia Burset — portrayed by Laverne Cox, who is a transgender woman in real life — and “Transparent,” where Jeffrey Tambor plays a college professor who opens up about being a woman, have played a small role helping our society understand the dilemma that a transgender person faces. Jenner said he hopes his celebrity status and work on television can also raise awareness about transgender issues.
Aside from Jenner, there are many people who are confused about their gender identity and do not share this with their loved ones because they are afraid of the consequences.
I think acceptance begins with understanding. I’m not homosexual but when I was entering my teens, my parents told me on numerous occasions that if I was gay, they would still love me. I didn’t realize what their words meant at the time, but over the years I’ve learned how fortunate I am to have that acceptance and love because not every person who comes out to their family and friends has that love and support. For those who do come out to their family and find acceptance, it’s as if a burden has been lifted off their shoulders.
My folks also taught me to accept others who are different than I am, no matter their race or lifestyle choice because they might have walked a more difficult path than I have. Again, this took a while for me to comprehend, but only because I didn’t understand what their words meant. I still don’t — and never will — fully understand the hardships members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community have gone through, but I’ve always made it a point to treat everyone the way that I want to be treated.
But acceptance and understanding kind of go both ways. Advocates for the LGBT community are great at promoting awareness and tolerance, but some groups get upset with people who don’t know the right acronyms and the appropriate pronouns. Although the LGBT has gained acceptance in most parts of the country, not everyone is up to speed on the proper terms and it may require some patience and educating on the parts of advocates if the average folks refer to their transgender friend by the wrong pronoun.
One thing I’ve learned from shooting photos at drag shows and interviewing performers is that you should ask to see what pronouns they prefer when they are in public. In the interview, Jenner said he identifies himself as a woman but is still comfortable with people referring to him as a male, until he fully reveals his female persona to the world.
Of course, if you meet someone who is transgender, you could just ask what their name is and start a conversation from there.