It looks like Bruce Jenner is going to sit down with Diane Sawyer and reveal something the tabloids have been speculating for years: that he’s transitioning from a man to a woman.
In the court of public opinion (prying, often disrespectful public opinion) Bruce Jenner is already a transgender woman, even though he’s never publicly defined himself in those terms, and this interview with Sawyer might be his chance to do so. But the past few years have been an exercise in wrongness when it comes to how we talk about Jenner's life, and this interview seems like it's a from-the-outside-in approach to confessing—first we’ll come up with wild speculation about what we think you’re doing, and then you’ll finally offer up a confession to confirm which idea was right all along.
But isn’t this the way these things should be done? When the person is ready?
It’s still great that we may finally get a chance to hear Bruce define himself—maybe, since he could sit down with Sawyer and just talk about his favorite chili recipe for all we know—I just feel bad that he has to. What’s strange to me is the archaic, black-and-white approach we seem to take with the idea of gender fluidity. The “fluid” part points to a spectrum that encompasses lots of different paths to gendered (or non-gendered) expression, but we’re still socially stuck on “Is he a man or a woman?” as if those are the only two options that can exist. As Kat Callahan expertly points out, it’s not like transitioning comes with a roadmap, and it looks different for everyone. Jenner seems to have discussed it with his mother, who told Radar Online that she was proud of him. “Right now I am more proud of him for what he’s allowing himself to do. I am more proud of him now than when he stood on that podium and put the gold medal around his neck. He deserves all the respect.”
But a base level of respect is exactly what’s been missing from most conversations about Jenner as he’s splattered on the cover of tabloids and called bizarre and shocking. He's a celebrity in a family full of celebrities; I understand why people want to know more about the ways Jenner has altered his appearance in recent years, but naively assumed there would be more respect floated to a person obviously going through something. I just hate feeling like we've bullied someone into disclosing something ultra personal. It’s possible he was pushed into this public confession by our mass insensitivity, and it’s possible the timing just coincides with his desire to open up. He might be filming his transition for a series on E!, which for some would make it okay to continue being insensitive, but that TV series might not exist, and hasn't even aired yet if it does. Also, with a TV series, he’d be telling his own story using language and sensitivity that the media hasn’t been able to use when talking about him.
We’re so cavalier about outing people, so cavalier about how we discuss the interior lives of other people. If Jenner has something to say, it's great that he can find the right platform to say it; after all the wrong ways we've talked about Bruce Jenner, the right way finally emerges. I just wish it didn't feel so dire.
Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.