The interview is over and the dust has settled, a tad -- maybe now everyone can have a tiny bit of perspective.
The transgender and gender nonconforming community (though we are hardly a single, homogenous group), respects Bruce's coming out. We recognize that he revealed himself to everyday America and is trying, as best he can, to control his narrative and to provide a learning opportunity. We have nothing but sympathy for his lifelong shame and dysphoria (the profound unease with one's body suffered by many transgender and gender nonconforming individuals), and wish him the easiest transition possible.
He has been portrayed as the long-awaited hero who will assume the mantle of leadership, and maybe Bruce does seem like a trailblazer to outsiders. The interview was probably the first exposure to our issues for many in the general public. Diane Sawyer offered a compassionate and comprehensive glimpse into Jenner's experience; in doing so, she attempted to address some of the most common questions outsiders have. Ultimately the interview showed that transgender people are, beneath the stereotypes, people. And it might even have changed some minds.
Meanwhile, mainstream media pundits offer stories of how Jenner is someone behind which my community is eager to unite.
Those journalists get it wrong.
The situation is far more complicated. I have spoken with peers, clients, and many others about Jenner. My New York City-centric sample may be biased, but I think we have a very different interpretation of the current moment.
Bruce stands on the shoulders of those before. His acceptance is only possible because of the courage of those who resisted at Stonewall, and the countless others who have rebelled against intolerance while simply attempting to be the people they felt themselves to be. They are our heroes and heroines.
Also, Bruce is not Ellen. In 1997, the LGBT community was desperate for a role model and eagerly anticipated her announcement; there was a palpable electricity. We loved her, and everyone felt kinship immediately.
But we awaited the Jenner interview with dread. Though the result was somewhat better than expected, now we are at best ambivalent. It offered an older narrative of transgender identity, one no longer as representative as it once was: someone with money, transitioning male-to-female, Caucasian, aware from very young and having suffered lasting shame, who cycled through several interrupted beginnings, feeling they were truly the "other" gender due to a body/brain mismatch and needing transition to become their authentic self. (Nevermind that no evidence has yet been found for the biological links suggested in the interview.) Someone who seems to identify and wants to present in gender-typical ways. It is a narrative heard 40 years ago from Renée Richards, and 20 before that from Christine Jorgensen. To us he seems dated; we now have increasingly nuanced and expansive expressions of gender both inside and outside the gender binary.
Few identify with Jenner, least of all the youth who know him only as the humiliated reality television grandfather. Those in our 30s, 40s, and 50s barely recall the Wheaties box. Trans* men and genderqueer people, populations of color, and those of less means felt ignored in the ABC story and offended by Jenner's wealth and white privilege. Jenner's story does resonate for some, but not the majority. We doubt that Jenner's story will assist us with our current struggles: housing and employment discrimination, poor access to healthcare, bullying and suicide, a legal system often hostile to even our basic needs, as well as the multiple oppressions, microaggressions, and traumas we face every day.
What's more, the connection to the Kardashian circus and the upcoming reality show make us more than a little uncomfortable. We fear additional spectacle and fetishization that we categorically do not need. We wonder if transgender people are simply the latest media sensation.
There have been no celebrations, feelings of joy, or sighs of relief. We're all just glad it's over.
Outsiders do not see it, but we have a very strong community with conferences that draw thousands of people as well as online and offline forums where tens of thousands more can dialogue. We are police officers, construction workers, teachers, authors, therapists, doctors, taxi drivers, professionals, parents, spouses, even soldiers... people who walk with pride.
Our pioneers are not the Bruce Jenner and Chaz Bono celebrities, but many whose names the public will find less familiar: Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Jenny Boylan, Aidan Key, Leslie Feinberg, Jamison Green, Sylvia Rivera, Tiq Milan, Gabriel Foster, Dru Levasseur, Justus Eisfeld, S. Bear Bergman, Susan Stryker, Paisley Currah, Kate Bornstein, and more... as well as the innumerable unsung others whose daily work it is to confront the issues we face, the thought leaders writing books, blogs, and articles, those lecturing at conferences, medical schools, and international organizations, and the still more working with governments. They are the ones we look to for guidance.
We are not lost and hoping for rescue.
We are not victims in need of a savior.
We are empowered individuals entitled to our rights and demanding our place within the public sphere.
We're happy to have Jenner as one of us, but please don't anoint him without our permission.