Trans activists weigh in on celebrity athlete’s coming out

David Webb  |  Contributing Writer

Reality television star and Olympic icon Bruce Jenner seemed a little out of touch with reality when he told America he identified as female during a recent ABC network interview, according to a few transgender activists who watched the show or followed media reports about it.

Stephanie Mott, founder of Transgender Faith Tour and president of Topeka – Capital City Now, said she thought more emphasis should be placed on Jenner’s “place of privilege” in society and how that contrasts with the dilemmas faced by ordinary transgender people.

“Black trans women are being murdered with horrifying frequency,” Mott said. “People were saying how Jenner’s interview was the bravest thing they have ever seen, and I just thought that most transgender people live daily lives of courage that Jenner could never understand.”

Mott said she missed the interview because of other obligations, but her colleagues told her the highly-promoted interview went better than many had feared it would. Media reports about transgender issues often create confusion, she said.

“The visibility is good,” Mott said. “The circus is bad. The media gets it all wrong because they don’t know how to talk about transgender. It is all very frustrating to me.”

Peculiarly, Jenner, who is now in his mid 60s, told interviewer Diane Sawyer he wanted to continue to be known as “Bruce” and not to be identified by female pronouns for now. He brushed aside questions about how transitioning to a woman would affect his sexual orientation, calling it a discussion of “apples and oranges,” although he noted that he still desired women sexually.

Jenner said he first realized he was female instead of male when he was eight years old, even though he pursued a macho athletic career path through school and beyond. He said over the years he had on occasion dressed as a woman and went out into society unrecognized.

Tabloid publications have hounded Jenner in recent years, noting how his appearance became more feminine as he underwent plastic surgeries, grew his painted fingernails long and was captured wearing a dress by a photographer using a telephoto lens.

Dallas’ Pam Curry, a longtime LGBT activist, said she watched a recording of the interview after it aired live, and she noted how atypical Jenner’s experience coming out as transgender appeared to be, compared to ordinary transgender people. He received support from his ex-wives, his biological children, his stepchildren and his Hollywood superstar friends.

“Her coming out went completely and totally opposite of mine,” Curry said of Jenner. “It took nearly eight years for my son and 12 years for one of my four sisters to accept me.”

Still, Curry said she could relate to much of what Jenner said. “As a later transitioner myself, at 36, I most definitely related to much of what she went through,” Curry said. “Years of pain and suffering keeping a secret and not wanting to harm family — I see her actually where I was about 16 years ago, except she has money.”

Curry said one of Jenner’s comments particularly confused her. The reality star, who has been married three times and fathered several children, said he took hormones for five years, stopped the treatment and had more kids with a new wife.

“He must have been taking plant estrogen,” Curry said. “I remember after only three months my secretions turning clear. After approximately six months you are permanently sterile.”

On a more positive note, former Dallas Transgender Alliance President Tylana Marie Coop, who now lives in Illinois, expressed hope Jenner would help improve the fate of all transgender people.

“I thought it was pretty good,” Coop said of the interview. “I like the fact that there were educational parts and other trans people with different backgrounds in the mix. He is in a unique position with his fame to make a big difference through the sharing of his journey.”

It remains to be seen where Jenner’s journey takes him, but many people expect to see the transition happen on a television reality show. Jenner, who experienced financial problems in the past, rebounded with the success of the Kardashian family reality show.

After the interview aired, Jenner said he was considering legal action against the photographer who took the photos of him in a dress and published them in the New York Daily News and CNN. Jenner said the photographer invaded his privacy by taking the photos of him at his Malibu home from a mile away.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 1, 2015.