The Importance Of Bruce Jenner’s Very Public Transition

The Keeping Up With the Kardashians star has been filmed for months by E! reality cameras for an upcoming docuseries on Jenner’s coming out.

Bruce Jenner and Kim Kardashian Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Bruce Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist turned reality star, will soon discuss what the gossip press and gawkers have been wondering of late: Yes, Jenner is planning to sit down for an interview to come out as transgender and discuss transitioning. BuzzFeed News has confirmed that Diane Sawyer of ABC News was in the final stages of negotiating the interview as of last week.

Jenner’s coming out will be timed with the announcement of a docuseries that has been following Jenner and the extended Kardashian-Jenner family, BuzzFeed News has also confirmed. The upcoming reality series will air on E!, the NBC Universal cable channel that has broadcast the lives of this famous family since 2007. That E!’s corporate sibling NBC News seemingly will not be landing the Jenner sitdown has caused internal consternation in the news division, as its booking war with ABC News continues to cause strife. NBC’s only hope is that with the Kardashian-Jenners, anything can happen. A spokesperson for ABC News had no comment.

Jenner’s changing appearance has confounded the tabloids, the paparazzi, and even some Kardashian-Jenners themselves in the past several years, showing how far behind we are in being able to discuss trans issues and gender fluidity with understanding or nuance, let alone the right vocabulary. Executives and publicists at NBC Universal are treating the Jenner project — internally and with the mainstream press — with secrecy, shrouding it in silence as if it’s the transgender twist in The Crying Game. To those who have been horrified by Jenner being maliciously mocked, the company’s actions are foreboding. Over the years, E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians and its offshoots have showcased the ups and downs of the family, including Kim Kardashian’s divorce and Lamar Odom’s drug addiction. Even so, the shows have clearly been staged, and have shown no sign that a story such as Jenner’s could avoid exploitative, tee-hee trappings.

When asked by BuzzFeed News about the reports of a Jenner show, which escalated last week, a spokesperson for E! responded, “We are not commenting.” Jenner’s agent also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In the absence of factual information furnished to the mainstream press, NBCU has continued to allow the story of Jenner’s transition — which is, after all, in part a visual one fed by the paparazzi — to be told by the usual narrators of the Kardashians’ doings: the gossip press. The family is known for their porous relationships with the outlets that cover each scandalous development in their lives, and even Jenner’s life-changing trajectory has proven to be no different. Last week, those outlets’ stories included, People’s “Bruce Jenner Is ‘Transitioning into a Woman,’ Source Confirms to PEOPLE” on Friday; “Finally the Truth!” is the current cover of Us; “Bruce Jenner Decision to Become a Woman Made More Than a Year Ago,” was one of several TMZ headlines in recent days; and RadarOnline blared, “Bruce Jenner To Address TRANSformation In ‘Major Sit-Down Interview’ & E! Docuseries.”

And so Jenner’s story has continued to be a lurid spectacle. The former track star, who turned 65 in October, now has long hair and is sometimes photographed with manicured hands, on top of past plastic surgeries. The combination, as well as Jenner’s reticence on the subject, has created different strains of public projection. There has been both leave-Jenner-alone sympathy and, from segments of the LGBT community, please-join-us inclusion. But the evolution has also made Jenner an object of cruel ridicule — earlier this month, for instance, In Touch Weekly controversially photoshopped a picture of Jenner as a woman.

Us Weekly

In Touch



Various tabloid magazine covers that have attempted to cover Jenner’s transition.

Jenner’s story won’t be the first to address transgender issues on television — fictional trans characters have appeared on TV in both troubling and groundbreaking ways. As trans civil rights and awareness have crescendoed in recent years, pop culture representation of trans people has also begun to increase. In particular, Sophia, played by Laverne Cox, who is trans, is one of Orange Is the New Black’s beloved characters. And Amazon’s series Transparent, in which Jeffrey Tambor’s character begins to transition, won two Golden Globe awards in January. There will also be trans-centric reality offerings soon to start airing on ABC Family and Discovery Life.

But however many times we have seen transgender stories play out in movies and on television, Jenner — who became an international star for astounding athletic feats in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal — would by far be the most high-profile story of transitioning that audiences have seen. And, after seeing the ups and downs of the Kardashian-Jenner family’s lives — and their ever-growing fame — chronicled on E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians for nearly eight years, it could also feel the most personal.

Jenner married Kris Kardashian in 1991. She’d had four children — Kim, Kourtney, Rob, and Khloe — with Robert Kardashian, the Los Angeles attorney who became famous as part of O.J. Simpson’s defense team. Jenner also had four children, from two previous marriages (including Brody, who became known to viewers as a star of MTV’s The Hills). After Jenner and Kardashian married (and she changed her named to Kris Jenner), they had two more children, Kendall and Kylie. Bruce and Kris Jenner are in the process of divorcing, having announced a separation in 2013.

Jenner, who on Keeping Up With the Kardashians has seemed alternately checked out and like the voice of reason, was grilled on an episode a year ago about having a ponytail. “You can take the man out of Malibu,” Jenner said, “But you can’t take Malibu out of the man.” That’s been as deep as it’s gotten on Keeping Up.

This family has chosen to live life in public, with everything that entails. And apparently, that includes going with Jenner into actual reality.

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