As I settle in to write this, 48 hours have passed since the airing of the Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner. 17 million viewers, over 675,000 tweets and innumerable Facebook posts (including mine!) later, I feel compelled to ask the question: so what has the transgender and gender non-conforming community gained as the afterglow of this past Friday’s watershed event ever so slowly begins to fade? In a word: Plenty.
To better substantiate my claim, let me first take you back to Tuesday of last week when I found myself at the ABC News studios in Manhattan in a conference room with Diane Sawyer and her production team. We were all gathered together that evening to screen, for the first time, the program in its entirety. I was asked to serve as a consultant to the team at ABC because it was very important to them that a trans person not involved with the production itself had a chance to provide input and offer insights on the show. From the moment I met everyone, it was very apparent that Diane and her entire team had a sincere desire to make sure that the finished product was a genuine, honest and human portrayal of not only Bruce’s journey, but of the myriad issues that the transgender and gender non-conforming community face. And you know what? They hit it completely out of the park in all respects.
The point that I made that evening that thankfully was not lost on anyone in the room was the importance of not losing sight of the larger context within which Bruce’s story was being told. To be sure, the main drawing card of the show is Bruce’s story: to finally hear what he had to say – his feelings, his emotions, and his journey thus far – it provided a much needed counterpoint to the tired, overblown and all-too-intrusive tabloid coverage that we’ve had to endure of late.
But the program would have done a horrible disservice to the trans/gnc community if it did not employ the forum that the story of Bruce’s journey to embrace his authentic and true self provided. Thankfully, that was not the case at all – and that’s a very good thing.
The legacy that the show will leave behind has yet to be fully written. For one thing, Bruce’s transition is far from over. In so many ways, it is only just beginning. Months from now, when we look back on what transpired last Friday night, that fact will be quite apparent. But the immediate – and I hope lasting impact – is its ability to instantaneously create a public discourse – a conversation about not only the issues facing the trans/gnc community, but who we are as human beings – in places where perhaps it has never happened before across the country. The opportunity this presents for our community to simply tell our stories, have them be heard and, most importantly, to educate – is what the real legacy of this moment is.
As I was rushing home on Friday night from another commitment I had in New York City, I had one eye on my Facebook feed to see what people’s reaction to the interview was. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Having already seen the show I knew that it was a solid, non-sensationalistic portrayal, but that was just one trans person’s opinion, and obviously mine was just a bit biased.
What I saw amidst the repeated pinging and buzzing of my phone was one very obvious truth: people were all talking to each other about what was unfolding before them on the television screen. They were sharing their stories. They were sharing their feelings. They were teaching. Teaching everyone that we share one common desire: to be happy. The pursuit of happiness – a concept our founding fathers got a long time ago.
To see such a display of truth and authenticity left me feeling grateful – for having had the opportunity to serve as a consultant to Diane & her team, emotional – because there are so many parallels I can draw from my own journey to Bruce’s, and last and most importantly – so very proud of who I am, my history and the community I am a part of.
As a runner, I subscribe to inspirational quotes that I receive in my email each morning. They help me get out on the road on those days when I would rather do anything but that. Much to my delighted surprise, today’s edition was from another American Olympic hero, Frank Shorter, which beautifully provides inspiration for not only my newest sister, but for all of the transgender and gender non-conforming community: “Be willing to move forward and find out what happens next.”
This blog post also appears in the Huffington Post here