Bruce Jenner is allegedly -- which is to say based on gossip, insinuation and photos -- transitioning to be female. The Associated Press published suggestive highlights from an interview with Jenner's mom (a Kardashian twice removed?). RadarOnline.com previously spoke with her and reported that she had "confirmed the news." Word has it that Diane Sawyer will sit down with Jenner. Nicholas Kristof celebrated him in a column. And the New York Times declared, "The Bruce Jenner Story Goes From Gossip to News" -- thereby making it so.
The Kardashian family is perhaps our nation's greatest practitioner and symbol of overexposure. Jenner is unique in the television clan for having earned his fame by actually doing something in the pre-reality-show era. (Though, Kendall Jenner's modeling career is no joke.) He broke a world record and won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. You may have seen him on a Wheaties box.
Suspicious minds might conclude that the current interest in Jenner results from one more in a seemingly endless series of Kardashian publicity stunts (with an E! docuseries also allegedly in the works). Alternatively, the spotlight on Jenner might be a case of unfairly outing someone (Jenner has thus far remained silent about his status).
Worse, this could be bad for the trans movement. From the New York Times:
A handful of transgender advocates also expressed concern that in a year when the trans movement appears to be gaining steam -- with a Golden Globe going to the television show “Transparent” and a Time Magazine cover being bestowed on the transgender actress Laverne Cox -- the spectacle surrounding Mr. Jenner could prove to be a setback.
Unless, of course, this is very good for the trans movement. Not necessarily good because Jenner seems "willing to be a role model and help educate the world on transgender issues," as Kristof put it -- though perhaps that will happen. But good because grappling with all of this so openly will help educate the public. It already has. Americans are questioning to what extent only Jenner can tell his story. We're curious about how to refer to him -- her? -- and whether either of those pronouns is appropriate.
In a March 2013 survey, the Pew Research Center asked American adults who favored same-sex marriage whether they had always supported it or had changed their minds. Twenty-eight percent of supporters acknowledged that their views had evolved. What spurred the change? Almost one third said that having gay or lesbian friends, family or acquaintances contributed. The same personal effect has influenced at least one member of Congress. Personal knowledge turns out to be a pretty good education in itself.
A whole lot of Americans feel as if they know Jenner. He and his family have long lived in a fishbowl. Last year, almost 6 million viewers watched the two-part season nine finale of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."
On gay rights, personal exposure is a proven catalyst for social change. We're about to find out what overexposure can do for trans rights.
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