The Bruce Jenner interview that followed Shark Tank on ABC tonight was, quite simply, a must-watch. He explained what he has known for most of his life, and what has been rumored, joked about, and used as an insult in recent years: “I am a woman.”
Here are my unformed thoughts after watching the two-hour special, which was not at all padded, but engaging from start to finish.
- I have not watched all episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but this seemed to me to be more raw and true than the E! series. And Bruce Jenner basically said the same thing about the show’s 10 seasons and 400+ episodes:
“The entire run, I kept thinking to myself, this whole thing–the one real true story in the family was the one I was hiding and nobody knew about it. The one thing that could really make a difference in people’s lives was right here in my soul, and I could not tell that story.”
- Bruce Jenner will have a documentary series on E! that debuts July 26 that “will tell Bruce’s intimate story and will join him as he seeks out his ‘new normal.'” The series will be produced by Bunim-Murray Productions, which also produces Keeping up with the Kardashians. Interestingly, the new show won’t have Ryan Seacrest as an executive producer (he created KUWTK).
- Seacrest is, however, producing ABC Family’s Becoming Us, which debuts June 8 and follows a family as a father transitions. Its trailer debuted during the special. It seemed okay, though the tone wasn’t quite clear.
- In its press release, E! noted that “at this time, Bruce Jenner is choosing to not live publicly in the media as a woman and will be referred to as Bruce Jenner and with male pronouns in this announcement.” That was also true of the ABC special, on which Bruce Jenner did not appear as the person he and Diane Sawyer kept referring to as “her.” Jenner defined himself “asexual for now” and said surgery and other decisions are in the future.
- After just two minutes, anyone who still thought this was some kind of crass publicity stunt was delusional. Diane Sawyer asked explicitly, and Bruce laughed it off, both acknowledging that the show certainly is capable of that, but also pointing out the absurdity of using his transition as a stunt:
“Oh no, we would never do that, Diane! Are you telling me I’m gonna go through a complete gender change, okay, and go through everything you need to do that for the show. Sorry, Diane. It ain’t happening, okay. Yeah, we’re doing this for publicity–yeah right. Oh my God Diane do you have any idea what I’ve been going through all my life and they’re going to say I’m doing this for publicity for a show.”
Diane Sawyer said “there’s a shameless selling of everything today,” and Bruce replied:
“And I get that. But what I’m doing is going to do some good, and we’re going to change the world. I really firmly believe that. … If the whole Kardashian show and reality television gave me that foothold into that world to be able to go out there and really do something good, I’m all for it. I’ve got no problem with that. Understand?”
- While the four Jenner kids appeared on the special, the Kardashians did not. Kris tweeted that “no one asked me to comment.” Kylie tweeted that “this isn’t about me. I’m so proud of you, Dad. You are so brave. My beautiful Hero.”
- Bruce said Khloe, despite being the “most fun, open minded” Kardashian has actually “had the toughest time with it” because she’s experienced “a lot of losses in her life.” Most surprising, besides Bruce’s admission that he’s a Republican, was that Kim told him that Kanye West helped her understand what Bruce is going through. Now, “Kimberly, by far [is] the most accepting and the easiest to talk to about it.”
- At one point, Bruce referred to himself as Keeping Up With the Kardashians‘ “punching bag.”
- Speaking of: The special did an excellent job of highlighting the cruelty that’s been hurled his way in the media over the past few years. From SNL to Conan O’Brien, awful tabloids to even worse paparazzi. He’s been mocked, taunted, and followed. As a celebrity who’s sought out a national audience, both on E! and tonight, the attention he’s been given certainly makes sense. The cruelty does not.
- The special also did a good job of making this not just about Bruce Jenner, but contextualized it. There were videos of transgender women being beaten up in public, and statistics about murders. There were idiot talking heads on Fox News saying ignorant things, and interviews with people who have transitioned.
- Diane Sawyer is not my favorite television journalist because of her style of interviewing and feigning igorance, which was really on display here, as she seemed unnecessarily baffled. I absolutely understand that many, many people don’t understand sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression. They’re complicated and confusing! But she acted like she was a kindergartner who was being asked to decipher research in particle physics, not a journalist who should ask questions that help her and/or her audience understand.
- For clear explanations, see GLAAD’s Transgender 101 and, for simple definitions, its media reference guide. Also see PFLAG’s list of resources.
- Ultimately, the entire interview was a great reminder of just how powerful it is for someone to tell their story on television. It was not only humanizing–especially for someone who’s been turned into a one-note joke in public–but also simultaneously captivating and informative.