Notes on Bruce Jenner and the Trans Grapevine

When I finally began to face the reality that I might be transgender, it was in the middle of my life.

I was married; I had two kids and a big house in a suburb of Los Angeles. The Internet was my lifeline, my teacher and my confessor; before that, like so many other trans people my age have told me, I thought I was the only person who felt as I did.

Like most of my trans friends, I use social media constantly.

Trans people have urgency in our need to connect. I may be more open and honest with my trans friends in other cities than I am to my friends at school or work.

Social media is our kitchen table and our town hall. We often have loud and bitter disagreements among ourselves using our own terms and language; most of us aren't shy about expressing ourselves.

The Bruce Jenner interview was discussed at length before the night it aired.

Many of us had a sense of dread about it; it was going to go badly, and we would again end up stereotyped and demonized by ham-handed, sensationalized media. The interviewer would obsess about surgery again. We'd hear "I was always a woman inside" again for the thousandth time. Lots of us swore we wouldn't watch.

The night of the broadcast, I found myself watching as I lay on a bed with my wife of over 30 years.

I am a trans woman over 60 years old who takes female hormones, dyes her long hair and has had most of her beard laser-ed away. I worked briefly as a woman at another job, but for reasons involving an aging parent, health insurance, my pension and children, I am still legally male and my workmates know me only that way.

My story is by no means unique. Transitioning from one gender to another is often awkward, harrowing, lonely and economically disastrous. I'm not convinced that young trans people who transition in their earlier years have it much easier.

My wife and I have been through much. She's stuck with me and given me wide latitude to find ways to express myself without going crazy.

That night, as I grudgingly began watching the Jenner interview, I was surprised by Diane Sawyer's mostly deft and well-chosen questions. I was happy to see people I knew and trusted being interviewed or referenced, but frankly I was mostly impressed and moved by Bruce Jenner.

I saw an openness and vulnerability I wished I could express. I saw someone from my generation finally able to tell the truth about themselves after a life of trying to do the right thing by everyone else. This was not about genitalia, but about identity and transformation. I can't remember the moment, or what Bruce said, but I burst into tears. His story was so close to mine; I felt like he was telling the world my story for me.

My wife clasped my hand, tightly. "We have to take care of you," she said. She saw the same thing.

In the next few days, my social media feed was loaded with posts and opinions about the broadcast. To our collective amazement, consensus began to grow that it had been, on balance, a good thing for all of us. I began to think that others had seen the same thing that I saw.

There were a few outliers, as always, and one of them from the heartland typified the most common theme: "Jenner is part of the oppressor class."

There's something in some of the trans blowback I've seen about the Jenner story that reveals something deeply human. Here in the Land of Plenty, there are people who go without on a daily basis; they lack health care, nutrition and shelter. If they are trans, they often go without a kind word or a family to love them. That said, we are all products of our environment; "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" as John Steinbeck once wrote about the way Americans see themselves, when asked why socialism never took root in the U.S.A.

The idea that a celebrity living in Malibu with a gold medal from the Olympics could be living in quiet, inauthentic misery gives lie to the idea that the "rich" are always better off, and in some strange unconscious way, invalidates the suffering of those who live desperately from paycheck to paycheck, if they even have a paycheck. Wealth should be reward enough, we think, when we see the drama of the uber-rich played out on parasitic media. "Jenner's got it made; he's not suffering."

Then, a quiet little inner capitalist voice says, When I'm famous/rich/had GRS/boobs/move to California, then they'll see!

At the heart of any theory about oppression, there exists the idea of the oppressor being oppressed as well; we just often do the job for them.

I am not invalidating anyone's passion, drive or anger about social justice here; this union girl is no one's running dog. I'm asking you to remember why we fight.

What's hard to see, at the moment, is that it wasn't even about Jenner, but about thousands, or hopefully millions of people understanding at long last who we are and why we are. There's a homeless trans girl who begs near a freeway entrance near where I work; she's often in a dirty pink top, her hair is stringy and she needs a shave, but beneath all of that, she is me, as Jenner is me, as Buck Angel is me, as Janet Mock is me... etc.

An empty stomach and discouraged heart are hard to overcome. I urge my sisters and brothers who are hurting to see that, hopefully, the Jenner story is ultimately about raising you up where you stand this second, not about putting you down for what's in your purse or wallet.

The fight has just begun, but I'd love to fight along with you all shoulder to shoulder.