Is Bruce Jenner Fervor Good For Trans Community? Robert Siegel speaks with freelance journalist Parker Molloy about the notion of celebrity spokespeople and what it means (or doesn't) for trans individuals.
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Is Bruce Jenner Fervor Good For Trans Community?

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Is Bruce Jenner Fervor Good For Trans Community?

Is Bruce Jenner Fervor Good For Trans Community?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The story of Bruce Jenner has migrated to the front pages of major newspapers. Jenner won the gold medal in the Olympic decathlon in 1976. That accomplishment informally earns one the title of world's greatest athlete, and it earned him entry into an elite circle of athlete celebrities. His face was on the Wheaties box. Later, he became a cable TV reality show star as the stepfather of Kim Kardashian.

Well, now Jenner has been photographed and described as a person in transition from male to female. He has made no such acknowledgment, but he's reported to have had surgery to reduce his Adam's apple, and he's generally appeared more feminine. If indeed Bruce Jenner is in the midst of changing gender, it is an unprecedented event, to the extent that it's a public event. Parker Molloy wrote about this recently for Slate. She's a freelance journalist. She's also a transgender woman.

Welcome to the program.

PARKER MOLLOY: Hey.

SIEGEL: You've expressed disapproval of the public attention that Bruce Jenner has received. Why?

MOLLOY: For the most part, this just kind of comes down to the fact that, you know, as you said in your introduction there, as of right now, Bruce Jenner has not actually said anything. Up until very recently it was all very, you know, unnamed sources or just people making observations.

SIEGEL: He is a very public figure. I mean, to be in a reality show on cable, it's not just being public, it's being almost exhibitionist. Could we reasonably expect him to go through a very personal transition and keep it private?

MOLLOY: In reporting this as though it's fact or as though it's something gossip-worthy treats being transgender as something to be ashamed of. And that, I think, is where the issue lies. There was someone who commented saying, hey, Bruce Jenner is on TV, you know, so it's fair game to ridicule him for this. And that right there kind of highlights the problem. It's that you would ridicule someone for being transgender.

SIEGEL: But it wouldn't only be ridicule. I mean, I've been having flashbacks to Rock Hudson's death of AIDS and the public's understanding that this all-American movie star male hunk was in fact gay. It had a huge impact on public views of gays and HIV. I mean, could - is it possible that Bruce Jenner could prove to be that kind of opinion-changing figure for transgender people?

MOLLOY: If it turns out that Bruce Jenner is transgender and comes forward and ends up, as has been suggested, you know, filming some sort of reality series, that could help inform a lot of people because, you know, as of right now, only 8 percent of Americans say they actually know a transgender person. So most of what they're going to get is from the media.

SIEGEL: If indeed there is a trail being blazed here, it's changing in public. It's not going away and hiding and getting out of sight for a long time.

MOLLOY: Right. Well, exactly. And I think that it's a lot less exciting than many people would think. For the most part, it's just, OK I'm living my life, and now I'm being a little more open about who I am. You know, even if it turns out that Bruce Jenner is transgender, you know, we don't know exactly what that's going to mean moving forward as far as, you know, surgeries or appearance or anything like that. I mean, you know, for instance, I'm a transgender woman and I have extremely short hair. It's dyed blue. I wear jeans and a T-shirt. You know, I'm not your stereotypical super-feminine woman. And a lot of trans women aren't. And, you know, some are. So it's kind of one of those things where, just like there's a wide variety of cisgender and non-trans women, there's a wide variety of trans women.

SIEGEL: Parker Molloy, thanks for talking with us about this.

MOLLOY: Thank you so very much for having me on.

SIEGEL: Parker Molloy, a journalist, also a transgender woman, has written for Slate about Bruce Jenner.

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