Bruce Jenner is rumored to be planning a major reveal via the media about his gender. The tabloids, the mainstream media, and countless Internet bloggers, commentators, and trolls, all have swooped in to speculate on Jenner’s life and whether he’s transgender (author’s note: I will use the pronoun “he” for now, because he hasn’t come out publicly as a woman – if that’s the case, then I will edit my post to correctly gender Jenner). It’s understandable that people are curious: after all, aside from his fame as an Olympic gold medalist, Jenner’s main claim to notoriety is being a reality TV personality. For years, he allowed cameras to track the movements of him and his family in exchange for (what I hope is) a large sum of money.
But does his reality TV celebrity mean that he doesn’t deserve privacy, respect, and some dignity?
To many it doesn’t. To many, Jenner forfeited privacy when he allowed his life to become fodder for reality TV. Because we became privy to so much in his life as well as his families, an announcing of being transgender seems only part of the package: we give him fame and fortune, and in return, he must give us details about his private life.
I don’t know if Bruce Jenner is transgender – and frankly, I don’t care. What I do care about, though, are the thousands of trans kids and adults who have to listen to all the awful crap that’s slung around in light of these rumors. In a world that’s already hostile to trans folks, does it need to be made worse by the Jerry Springer-like tone the media adopts when reporting on Jenner? Why do the anonymous Internet trolls, hidden and protected from responsibility and culpability, feel it necessary to denigrate Jenner and the trans community? Why does the mainstream media join the tabloid press in creating a mini-media circus that sensationalizes an issue that means so much to so many people?
A couple weeks ago, Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey (Cabaret) came out publicly as a gay man. Instead of congratulating the guy, many in the LGBT community unleashed mean, waspish remarks of “glass closet doors” and rhetorical questions of “and the news is?” Whether those who speculated on Grey’s sexuality were right or wrong, the important thing wasn’t that someone can crow “I knew it!” but that Grey himself felt it was time to share. And the snide, mean, snarky comments that met with his announcement creates a toxic environment for others who may be coming out.
Ultimately, Bruce Jenner has to live the life he wants to live – as a woman or as a man, and he doesn’t owe us an explanation. In fact, he doesn’t owe us anything. But we do owe him something. We owe him respect.