Update: As I type this, I am watching the second hour of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner. And all I can think is: figures. Figures Nicolas Kristof was right, he usually is. Though I still hold that Kristof couldn’t have KNOWN he was right when he wrote his piece in the NY Times about Bruce Jenner, turns out, he was right about something important: Bruce Jenner is courageous. Bruce Jenner is deserving of our respect — if not his privacy (a reality show about his transition pretty much deprives him of that by choice, anyway.) . If his interview, and then his reality show chronicling his transition helps even one transgender person have the courage to be him or her self, makes one person feel less alone, then Bruce Jenner is everything he was when he won the decathlon in 1976: Strong, formidable, a true American Hero. It’s just that this time, he also happens to be a woman.
The original piece:
In today’s NY Times, Nicolas Kristof, a columnist whom I greatly admire, wrote a piece that I cannot respect: he argues that Bruce Jenner‘s very public transformational journey makes him a hero deserving of our respect. I think not.
Before I go any further, let me get this out of the way right up top: I think all people — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or socioeconomic status deserve to live lives free from discrimination or prejudice, and believe to be treated with respect.I just don’t think that’s the same as being deserving of respect. I believe that all (law-abiding) people are entitled to equal rights both legally and morally. (There are exceptions, convicted felons, for example, cannot vote – they’ve lost that right, among others.) I believe that some minority groups – including but not limited to the LGBTQ community, are deserving of special protection of their rights, because their rights are more often violated because of fear, prejudice, or downright stupidity.
What I don’t believe, is that rights and respect go hand in hand. What I don’t believe is simply being transgender means you are deserving of respect.
Rights are for all. Respect must be earned.
There are so many things wrong with Nicholas Kristof’s piece, Bruce Jenner’s Courage, I barely know where to begin.
First, as of his writing, no one – least of all Jenner himself – has officially confirmed that Jenner is transitioning from Male to Female. That the Times – that Kristof, of all people – would jump on the hearsay bandwagon is disturbing at best, and seriously shoddy, opportunistic journalism at worst.
Second, Kristof pretty much disqualifies himself from having a truly considered opinion about Jenner by admitting at the top of piece that he hasn’t “thought much about (Jenner) in years,” and implying that he believes that Jenner is suddenly back in the news. Of course, Jenner has been in the spotlight for years – through his participation in the reality series Keeping up the the Kardashians.
Third, Kristof assumes that Jenner is “documenting” his transformation (which again, has yet to be confirmed by anyone who will be named) to benefit others, and shed a light on the difficulties of the transgender community. That would be nice, were it true — and maybe it is. But since Jenner has yet to say a word about it, and since the series will air on E! – hardly the arbiter of serious, meaningful journalism that contributes to the greater good, I have my doubts.
Fourth, Kristof assumes that “given the violence and discrimination that transgender people endure,” Jenner must only be transitioning (did I mention he hasn’t yet confirmed this?) for the most “profound of motivations: to be authentic” to his inner self.
Oh, I don’t doubt his motivation for transitioning, if he is, in fact, doing so, I doubt only his motivation for sharing it with millions of people on TV. Kristof could be right. Jenner may suddenly want to help others, after years of peddling the worst, lowest common denominator television imaginable. Or maybe, having divorced himself (literally) from the Kardashian family, and thus the show, Jenner just needed another outlet to keep his celebrity alive.
Bruce Jenner was once deserving of our respect. The winner of the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics, he exemplified strength, athleticism, and good old American superiority. His accomplishment, his dedication to getting more kids active, was admirable.
His latest round of celebrity, however, has less to recommend it. Jenner has been a willing participant in a reality series depicting the overblown, over made up, incredibly insipid lives of his adoptive family, his wife, and kids. He has deliberately put his private life on display for fame and profit. Why, now that he (maybe) is undergoing a gender transformation – a transformation he is ready to share with a wide TV audience, is he suddenly deserving of delicacy and respect?
People – regular, non-celebrity people – who choose to transition genders, or who live their lives a-gender, or between genders – these people struggle mightily against prejudice. These people soldier on when (legally!) denied jobs, or housing. They stay true to themselves and many speak out against the discrimination. They are deserving of our respect and admiration.
Bruce Jenner? Not so much.
Bruce Jenner relinquished his right to privacy as a married man by participating in Keeping up with the Kardashians, and he’s relinquished his right to our respect by making what for most is a very personal, painful, private transformation, into a for-profit media spectacle. I desperately hope he’ll use his not-insubstantial platform to draw attention to the plight of ALL people who are discriminated against. I hope he’ll use some of the money he makes by exploiting his own experience to help those who don’t have the means to transition.
But I’m not hopeful.
Kristof is. He seems to think that’s Jenner’s altruistic plan. He thinks Jenner is a hero. I hope he’s right. But my guess is, Jenner’s no hero. He’s just a desperate, self-centered jerk who just so happens (maybe) to be undergoing a gender transformation.
I feel sorry for him, a little. But respectful? Not until he earns it.