Why Joking About Bruce Jenner's Transition ISN'T Funny

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Bruce Jenner

Is all this gossip about Bruce Jenner's transition hurtful?

Bruce Jenner is a former Olympian, better known these days for his very public marriage to Kris Jenner. This is Bruce’s third marriage, soon to be third divorce. He is the father of six biological children, including two with Kris who is part of the very famous Kardashian clan known for their presence in gossip magazines and reality shows.

It appears that Bruce Jenner, now 65 years old, is having what Slate magazine calls a “complicated relationship with gender.” Without saying that he is transgender, they report, “He has been photographed in public with glossy red fingernails, diamond earrings and with long feminine hair, and about a year ago he underwent surgery to pare down his Adam’s apple.”

Parker Marie Molloy is a freelance journalist and media activist who writes of her frustration with how the media has handled the talk about Jenner’s news of his possible transition from male to female. The Press has been asking what she considers inappropriate questions, including things like, “Have you finished your transition?” or “Where are you in your transition?”

She wonders in her February article in Slate magazine if gender can be defined by surgery, or if it is necessary to ask whether or not someone’s transition is “finished.” The suggestion is that one’s transition is never finished, and that perhaps it's no one’s business whether what we consider a male identity or a female identity is complete depending on their hormone levels or the number of surgeries they've had.

She says, “My gender is, and always has been, my own. I am 'she,' and you don’t need to know what operations I’ve had done in order to call me that.”

On April 24th, Diane Sawyer will interview Bruce Jenner in a two-hour show, to discuss his “transition.” The world will hear directly from Bruce about his experience; he has said that it's his “goodbye” to Bruce. The episode will air on the show 20/20, and the episode will be called "Bruce Jenner: The Interview." The interview will be the first discussion of Jenner’s transition on major network television.

Some say that Jenner’s decision to come out as a transgendered person on national television and talk about his transition is a brave and daring act. Others say it's more publicityanother Kardashian stunt. Robert Silverman of The Daily Beast says Jenner is a hero. “[I]f you can’t see the difference between the faux-drama of Kim or Khloe’s latest romantic dalliances and the bravery required of Jenner to make this incredibly difficult personal journey public, knowing that he’ll be both a tabloid punch line and the subject of serious prejudice, you aren’t paying attention. This, too, is heroic.”

Jenner’s mother talked about her son’s identity. “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.”

Slate Magazine talked about the bullying that can happen when politically incorrect online gossip haunts a person’s personal life. ”[W]hen you whisper about someone’s gender identity, you’re turning their life—right down to the core of their existence—into a joke, into gossip ... Gossiping about someone’s gender identity sends a message to the thousands—or even millions—of people trying to come to terms with their self-conception: You are a freak; you are inherently scandalous.”

GLAAD, formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation says it’s not ethical to talk at all about someone’s sexual orientation. Defining someone as transgendered, transitioning, or gay is disrespectful and frankly, a civil rights issue. 

To learn more about how to talk about difficult transgender issues, and to find out how to support friends and family who are transitioning, go to GLAAD's website.

Dr. Tammy Nelson is a sex positive psychotherapist and the author of The New Monogamy and can be found at drtammynelson.com