What I Learned From Bruce Jenner

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Yesterday I attended a viewing party for Bruce Jenner’s ABC interview, which in reality was nothing more than an excuse to play drinking games at the expense of Jenner, Sawyer, and the perceived ridiculousness of the entire thing. At first I chuckled at some of the drinking rules, such as “drink every time Diane nods and smiles” or “drink every time there’s a family photo montage.” I thought at the very least I’d be able to get shit faced off of free booze thanks to Diane Sawyer.

The chuckling stopped when I arrived at the party and found people wearing either blue or pink. When I asked my friend why people were wearing those colors, she said the color you wore indicated what gender you thought Bruce would end up being. Bruce’s gender identity had turned into a party game. The moment I learned this I felt my stomach churn. I realized that the viewing was ultimately more for mockery than it was for enlightenment. And while I do enjoy the occasional crude joke, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at this. To me this wasn’t even a joke, it was flagrant trans phobia. And as a proud member of the LGBT community, who is fully aware of how often the “T” is excluded, I felt like I was bullying my own people.

I tried to keep my opinions to myself as we watched the interview, as I didn’t know any of the guests well. I made sure only to chime in when someone stated something that was entirely false or asked a legitimate question that I was afraid one of the other bitches would answer incorrectly. And as the special went on, I felt less angry and more sympathetic. I realized that the people were actually very supportive of Jenner and that they simply weren’t equipped with the knowledge to understand what it meant to be trans. They didn’t get that whether or not Jenner should consider himself a lesbian now was irrelevant and uncalled for. They didn’t get why it didn’t matter if Jenner got gender reassignment surgery. And it was a strange scenario for me, being surrounded by people who were both supporting and unintentionally condemning someone for living outside of their rigid ideas of gender. If anything it enlightened me to the fact that just because I’m an educated ally doesn’t mean that everyone else is. I realized that I’ve been privileged enough to be educated and that not everyone has had that opportunity.

Anyways, before the special aired, I felt completely indifferent to the whole thing. I thought that regardless of whether or not Jenner was trans that the media spectacle behind the interview would do more harm than good. I thought that it only reinforced the idea that “transgender” is abnormal and therefore bad. And worst of all, I thought it was a cheap publicity stunt on Jenner’s part to create a buzz for his upcoming reality series-which would be yet another heinous Kardashian spinoff.

I am ecstatic to say, however, that the interview completely changed my views on Jenner and this sort of media attention. The interview immediately addressed the question at hand rather than drawing it out for suspense. Jenner was completely candid and eloquent in his speech, breaking our hearts with his tales of suffering while simultaneously impressing us with how much thought he had behind his words. And by having such a public sit down, millions of people were allowed to witness what life is like as a trans person. People were introduced to an unfamiliar concept by someone they’ve come to know so well, which I think is great. Viewers learned the difference between sexuality and gender, they learned about the inner and outer turmoil trans people face, and most importantly- they learned that trans people are no different than anyone else. It was like a PSA without being preachy, a lesson without being patronizing, and an in depth look into the life of someone we’ve known for so long but truly never known at all.

Now I’m not entirely sure why but as a society we often fail to show compassion for others. People get butt hurt over having to use the word “they” to describe a singular person, without failing to realize that every fucking major poet has done that before. They project their own views and insecurities onto people they perceive to be different and make those people’s lives a living hell for no good reason. But at the end of the day, I believe that compassion is a muscle that we must exercise. I think we are all capable of being kind and that how kind we are is truly dependent on our own efforts. If we don’t understand something we should make a conscious effort to learn more. We all come with our own unique set of baggage so we mustn’t spend our time trying to weigh others down even more. But to put it more simply-we need to accept that we have no right to tell other people how to live their lives and that our way of living isn’t necessarily better than how someone else chooses to live.

As the interview came to an end, I was pleasantly surprised to see how invested all of the people around me had become in it. I chuckled as I watched them cheer for Bruce as Bruce set the record straight. I chuckled even harder when they would groan as Diane asked a dumb question, which to be fair- I’m sure she asked it because viewers wanted to know and not because she was that ignorant. But what was even better was seeing people intently watch Bruce without saying a word. There were no jokes or quips about Bruce’s plastic surgery or upcoming name change. The people around me simply sat and gave Bruce the opportunity to share their story. And it reminds me of that quote, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” There are so many beautiful stories out there that are waiting to be heard. And yes, those stories may be different or unusual to us, but that doesn’t mean they are bad or unworthy of our time. In fact, I’d argue that they’re even more worthy of our time than the others. And if we just shut up for a second and listen, perhaps we’ll walk away knowing a whole lot more than we did before.

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