Even as state lawmakers continue to push legislation that discriminates against transgender people’s gender identities, the media is increasingly providing Americans with the opportunity to witness a diverse range of trans experiences. Bruce Jenner is speaking openly about what it’s like to transition, while Laverne Cox is reclaiming beauty standards for marginalized groups who don’t always get a positive platform.
Leading LGBT groups are celebrating the recent airing of ABC News’ interview with Bruce Jenner, the former Olympian athlete who has remained in the public eye because of familial connections to the Kardashian family, during which the 65-year-old publicly came out as transgender. Jenner represents perhaps the most high-profile celebrity who has publicly embarked on a gender transition.
“For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman,” Jenner, who used male pronouns for the purposes of the interview and did not reveal a new first name due to privacy concerns, told ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “My brain is much more female than it is male. It’s hard for people to understand that, but that’s what my soul is.”
Although the media has been speculating about Jenner’s gender identity for months, Friday’s interview was the first time that Jenner has personally addressed those rumors. For some Americans, hearing Jenner talk about his transition may be the first time they’ve encountered this type of information from a transgender individual.
“Today, millions of people learned that someone they know is transgender,” the president of GLAAD said in a statement. “Stories like Jenner’s help change the narrative about who transgender people are. Millions of Americans now have a bridge to understanding the truth behind the struggles of being transgender in 2015 America,” added the executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Jenner’s decision to come out as transgender comes on the heels of another transgender individual’s decision to publicly present herself in a new way. Laverne Cox, the Orange Is The New Black star who’s become well-known as a vocal transgender activist, posed nude in a spread for Allure this week. She had previously turned down requests to do the photo shoot, but reconsidered when she thought more about the message that those photos could send.
Cox changed her mind because she wanted to empower trans women of color, who are disproportionately subject to violence because of their gender identity and expression. “I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent,” Cox told Allure. “Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about herself might be inspiring to some other folks.”
Outside of Cox’s role on Orange Is The New Black, television has slowly been inching its way toward becoming more trans-inclusive. ABC Family is planning to release a docu-series about gender transition this summer. Amazon’s Transparent won two Golden Globes for its portrayal of a family dealing with a loved one coming out as trans. Transgender teen Jazz Jennings — who also wrote a children’s book about her gender transition — is starring in her own TLC reality show this summer.
Nudging the media toward more diversity in this area has been critically important for the trans community, which is gaining more widespread acceptance as an increasing number of Americans say they support legal protections for trans people.
“Our visibility at this particular moment in culture is helping reshape the narrative of trans women’s lives, it’s helping those who may not know a trans person get familiar with the lives and struggles of trans people, it’s helping push media gatekeepers to report on our lives with a more just and true lens,” another trans woman of color, activist and writer Janet Mock, argued in February.