So Bruce Jenner has come out as a trans woman, and a pretty smart and thoughtful one at that.
Like many of my fellow trans women, I was skeptical when I first heard about Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, which aired last night on ABC.
The truth is that transgender coming out stories have traditionally been so badly handled by mainstream media that trans people have made up drinking games requiring players to take a drink every time they see yet another antiquated and overused trope in one of these features. See a shot of a newly-out trans woman applying makeup in front of a mirror? Take a drink. Brushing her hair? Take another. Choosing an outfit to wear? Knock back another one.
While once not so long ago, you could drink yourself unconscious in fairly short order playing a game like this, it was pretty easy to stay sober during Bruce Jenner’s interview. That’s mainly a reflection of how quickly mainstream news media is evolving on how it covers trans people and issues.
To understand how far we’ve come, it’s also important to understand where we’ve come from. When I began making media for the trans community about 16 years ago, there was no trans-relevant media save that which we created for ourselves. We wrote and published our own community op-eds and hosted our own radio shows because no one else was interested in covering the issues and topics of interest that mattered most in our lives.
Gay and lesbian media was exactly that, focused almost exclusively on gay men and lesbian women. There was very little which could accurately be termed LGBT in scope. Mainstream media generally saw us as nothing more than human interest fodder at best, comic relief at worst. Regardless of where tiny bits of coverage of the trans community did appear, it was almost always much the same: When trans people weren’t being trivialized and sensationalized, we were being mocked and denigrated.
Compare that to what we’re seeing now, not only with Bruce Jenner, but with mainstream media news coverage of trans people and issues in general. The last two years have been nothing short of groundbreaking for the trans community culturally. Janet Mock is the bestselling author of “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, and So Much More,” as well as the host of So POPular! on MSNBC’s Shift online platform. Laverne Cox is the Emmy-nominated star of “Orange is the New Black” and appeared on the cover of Time magazine last year. Trans journalists are now being hired and given opportunities to tell our own stories as freelancers and staffers in LGBT and mainstream print media.
So much progress in such a short amount of time is a wonderful thing, but there’s still a long way to go before we can say that trans people are consistently getting the kind of fair shake from mainstream media that we deserve.
The major news networks have now all clearly demonstrated that they not only know how to cover and present trans people and our issues to their audiences, but that they can do it well – stunningly well, in fact. What trans people need now is not only great coverage of our notables, but also coverage of the topics and issues that matter most in our lives.Trans people need mainstream media to cover the ongoing effort to attain full federal and state civil rights protections for all LGBT Americans as well as they cover the battle for same-sex marriage. We need coverage on the discrimination so many trans people face on a daily basis. Most importantly, we need the networks to proactively include trans voices in their coverage and let trans people speak for ourselves, to tell our own stories in our own voices.
That’s what Jenner did so magnificently during his interview last night, and it’s what Kate Snow delivered in her excellent series on trans children this past week on NBC Nightly News.
Trans people find ourselves in a new place now, a place where we’re suddenly the hot story. More than ever, trans people need our mainstream media to eschew the temptation to sensationalize us and instead present the full breadth and depth of who trans people really are, as people and as a community.
Trans people have waited so long for this moment, and we must not let it pass.
There are no excuses anymore.
This is the way to tell our stories.
Rebecca Juro is a freelance journalist, blogger, and Internet radio host of the “Rebecca Juro Show.” Rebecca’s work has appeared in the Huffington Post, The Washington Blade, Gay City News, and The Advocate magazine. Her column “Transforming Gender” appears biweekly in the South Florida Gay News and monthly in Windy City Times.