Commentary

What We Learned From The Bruce Jenner Interview

So Bruce Jenner is a man who likes to wear dresses. And he enjoys occasional get-togethers in his home with other men who like the same thing.

These are two things we learned from Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jenner that aired Friday night on ABC.

We also learned that sometimes, Bruce ventures out into the world dressed as a woman. According to Sawyer, he did exactly that after they finished one of their interview sessions. In a voiceover heard during the show, Sawyer reported that the two went out to dinner after they were done, and Jenner was dressed as a woman -- something he did not allow to be filmed for the show.

We didn’t really learn anything about this post-interview dinner -- such as where it took place, for example, or whether the sight of Diane Sawyer, a very recognizable celebrity, having dinner with a “woman” who some may have guessed was Bruce Jenner in drag (are we still allowed to use the word “drag”?) caused any kind of a stir or at least discernible murmuring, gawking or surreptitious picture-taking by other restaurant patrons.

We who watched the special -- all 16.86 million of us, according to Nielsen (a huge number for a Friday-night show these days) – did not get to see what Bruce looked like in his women’s wear, although we were teased several times with the possibility that we would get a glimpse of Bruce in a dress if we stayed tuned. The teaser copy was misleading.

However, we will eventually get to see this, since Jenner seems determined to remain in the public eye during this transformative period. Portions of the interview revealed that he is going ahead with his own reality series on E! in the coming months that will chronicle his transformation to female. And he seemed to promise Sawyer that he would sit for another interview with her after his transformation, perhaps in a year.

What else did we learn on the show? Among other things, various members of Jenner’s family have known about his “secret” for quite some time -- most notably his wife, Kris, who has known the longest. Stepdaughter Kim Kardashian has known for a while (and she has been supportive, Bruce said). His two daughters with Kris, teens Kylie and Kendall Jenner, have known about it too.

We also learned that of all the members of Jenner’s extended family, stepdaughter Khloe Kardashian is perhaps the least accepting of Jenner’s “lifestyle choice.” Bruce mentioned this but gave no details about it, leaving viewers to wonder about the current state of their relationship.

These items -- especially the revelations about Kris and Kim -- struck me as big news for the millions who avidly follow the Kardashian clan. I even predicted -- wrongly, it turned out -- that these Kardashian items would be the lead items on the list of news tidbits that would be reported the next morning in the New York tabloids. Instead, the papers went with headlines that reproduced an isolated quote from the interview: “I am a woman.” 

Somewhere around the midpoint of the show, I began to feel uncomfortable, but not about this man’s apparent identification as a woman (well, maybe a little), his desire to wear women’s clothing and to transform, at least hormonally, into a person of the opposite sex. Bruce Jenner is free to do whatever he wants with his life, particularly since this is the United States of America, where such freedom is implied (and should be assumed).

My discomfort stemmed more from the show’s voyeuristic aspects -- as if I was being given an opportunity to linger too long outside someone’s open window to peer inside. Never mind that the owner of the house had thrown open the shades and allowed me to do so. It still felt like too much information about a matter that some might say is better handled privately, within the family sphere.

Of course, these Kardashian-Jenners are not an ordinary family. They live public lives, which makes it difficult to deal with anything privately.

Most striking to me was the positive coverage of the interview and the angle adopted almost unanimously in the news media that Jenner’s coming out represented a watershed moment in civil rights. Personally, I’m never comfortable with anointing individuals as “symbols” of anything -- as if Bruce Jenner had morphed into the Rosa Parks of transgender rights. On the other hand, Rosa Parks herself became one of these symbols, and that was never bad for anyone except segregationists. 

And certainly, if Jenner’s open discussion of his gender-identification struggle prevents a confused teenager somewhere from committing suicide, then that’s a benefit that’s not to be taken lightly.

4 comments about "What We Learned From The Bruce Jenner Interview ".
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  1. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, April 27, 2015 at 3:16 p.m.

    Strangely, the thing I found most interesting was that this issue was the driving force behind his competitiveness. I saw it right away in the interview. This man threw himself into atheletics in an effort to hide from his gender identification demons, and in so doing became one of the top athelets of his generation. That was fascinating. And while I have a hard time wrapping my head around transgender surgery and all its implications, I find the subject is one of a tremendously sensitive nature. It was heartening to see the positive responses in social media, as well as the assaults on those (who shall go nameless — Wendy Williams) who callously spoke out against him. We, as a society, are becoming less parochial every day. And that gives me hope for the future.

  2. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media, April 27, 2015 at 3:24 p.m.

    Less patriarcial? What we need are more mens rights in this country today, not less. Half the kids in this country grow up without a dad and courts punish men for being fathers.

  3. Sean Rogers from Republic Media/Gannett, April 27, 2015 at 6 p.m.

    That's "parochial" - not "patriarchal." Jonathan's point was that our views are becoming less narrow as a society.

  4. Donna Jannine from Zimmerman/Edelson, Inc., April 28, 2015 at 4:14 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Adam. I watched the entire program and felt it was quite refreshing to have someone be virtually transparent about such a private issue. What you mention as points being "learned from the #BruceJennerABC interview," are worth noting, though I tend to think if anyone felt discomfort from "from the show’s voyeuristic aspects," they, and you, could have easily stopped watching by a click of the remote.  ;-)

    My take-away from the interview was that this man, this athletic champion, struggled with such a deep rooted personal conflict his enitre life. And yet, he did not turn to drugs, did not turn to being an alcoholic, did not beat his wives or girlfriends or children or alienate his family in any way.

    In fact, it seems he excelled in virtually all he set out to do. There is no one, not even days after the airing, who can say a truly unkind word about his character.  He is #StillAChampion in every way. And kudos to him to lift the veil and let us peek in on what seems to have been a lifetime of internal struggle for him. Kudos to him for being a great role model and wonderful example to his children and society to be true to yourself in the end.  THESE are the profound lessons I am hoping more people learned from his interview with #DianeSawyer.

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