Olympic champion took a brave step that could mean progress for all transgender people

Leslie McMurraySo, Bruce Jenner was on TV. No big deal, right? People are probably tired of seeing Jenner and the Kardashian clan on the tube.

But Friday, April 24, was different.

For months now, there has been speculation in the media about whether Bruce Jenner was dealing with gender issues. Jenner was spotted with nail polish, or longer hair, or whatever. I believe if someone is transgender, and they want you to know, they will tell you. Until then, it’s frankly no concern of yours, even if that person has a reality TV show.

They still deserve to have a private life and to live it with dignity.

On Friday night, Bruce Jenner said the words that many had been been dreading. It was indeed a shock when he admitted, on national TV to Diane Sawyer and the nearly 17 million Americans watching — Bruce Jenner is…a Republican!

O.k., Bruce also came out as transgender.

I will admit I was worried. I feared a media circus, a freak show. But what I saw was different. It was balanced, thorough, emotional and real. I saw many of the feelings expressed that I had as a kid — the loneliness and fear.

I’ve seen some criticism of Jenner because, for now, he is sticking with male pronouns. Living life as a woman will soon change that, but he gets to decide when.

I’ve seen articles that insist on using feminine pronouns when referring to Jenner under the guise of respect. But if we are going to expect people to ask our preferred pronouns, then we are obligated to respect the response of trans people when they tell us, even if we disagree with their choice.

Some were critical of his insistence that he is heterosexual yet attracted to women. It can take some time for one to wrap their head around suddenly being a double member of the LGBT community.

In the end, Jenner’s transition is Jenner’s alone. Mine was different, but it was mine. This is an intensely personal and difficult journey, and each of us approaches it differently and does the best we can.

There is no roadmap or “one size fits all.” Jenner faced what all of us faced — nagging and endless gender dysphoria. He is doing what he needs to do to make it stop. For some, hormones are enough. For others, it takes surgery.

Fame and notoriety should not deprive him of the ability to make the choices he sees fit.

Jenner and ABC did a lot of things right. For one, Jenner mentioned the ridiculously high suicide rate in the trans community. Jenner also rightly pointed out the obscenely high murder rate among trans women of color. And ABC used video to show an attack on a trans woman who was using the women’s restroom, perfectly illustrating who is really in danger in public restrooms.

The addition of respected members of the trans community as well as doctors and therapists all contributed to a depiction of transgender people as not mentally ill, but as humans dealing with a medical issue of biological origin that is 100 percent treatable.

Making all of this possible was ABC dedicating a precious two full hours of network airtime to a subject that  has been so misunderstood. It’s not something that can be handled with sound bites. I know.

I was a guest on a radio station morning show on a news/talk station in California. They had maybe three minutes to discuss the issue. I understand that, but one can’t even begin to scratch the surface of such a complex topic in three minutes. Hell, I can hardly say hello in that time.

That’s how it’s been for too long. There might be a story relating to the subject, and we are reduced to a 15-to-20-second sound bite, if that.

What made me feel differently about this is the large audience. An estimated 17 million people tuned in. That’s the largest non-sports audience on a Friday in about 12 years.

That’s a huge number of people learning about something most people have never heard of. Only 8 percent of people even know someone who is transgender. Now, they know Jenner.

He readily admitted that he’s not the spokesperson for the community. Oddly, no one really is. Every story is different, yet we all share so much in common.

If I could have a wish, it would be that the takeaway from this is that we aren’t scary people. We aren’t a threat to anyone.

Gender transition is a very difficult and very private thing to experience. That’s what made me admire Bruce Jenner on that Friday night even more than I did when he won the Olympic decathlon in Montreal: He stepped into the spotlight and cried as he courageously said those words that can’t be unsaid, And I cried right along with him.

Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.