ABC's 20/20 did a Diane Sawyer special where Sawyer has a sit-down with Bruce Jenner, the Olympic athlete who became a reality TV star. Jenner was a gold medal-winning sports icon in the 1970's. Now, Jenner is known more as being the husband of Kris Jenner and the father to the Kardashians, a family of mostly sisters who are reality TV celebrities. What makes this special interesting or relevant is Jenner's confirmation and his public admission of being transgendered. Jenner was born a male but he wants to transition to female.
As an interview, Jenner is compelling. He's engaging. He's charming. He's smart. He's funny. He has great, screen presence. Despite being 65 years-old, he's still good-looking and just has a great personality, so watching him is entertaining.
Aside from that, Sawyer provides good information that defines or helps to define what it means to be transgendered. There's also some brief reporting on the disproportionate violence against transgendered people, including murder and even suicide. There was also the revelation that Jenner is a Republican and the funny moment where he believed he could get Republicans to go along with transgender issues. It's funny because it seems unlikely.
Unfortunately, this interview like with a lot of interviews or explorations of the transgender experience doesn't answer a fundamental question. Jenner says, "God gave him the soul of a female." Yet, no one asks what a female is. Jenner says, "I am a woman." Yet again, no one asks what a woman is. What is the definition of that? No one asks what it means to be female or a woman beyond the superficial. The answer might seem obvious, but if people not born with female body parts can claim to be female, then seriously what is it to be female? I need specifics.
The whole conversation revolves around Jenner, even as a little boy, talking about how he used to cross-dress, or wear what is traditionally women's clothing. It's rather confusing because the point is made that many men cross-dress who aren't transgendered. A man who is a cross-dresser still wants to be a "man" but simply likes what is traditionally women's clothes. A man who is transgendered doesn't want to be a man. He wants to be a woman permanently.
Jenner does hint at the end that he is going to have surgery to change his body to female. He said he's already had a nose job and had permanent hair removal from his face and chest, but further surgery would most likely include altering his genitalia. Yet, other famous transgendered people are briefly shown. Some of which have chosen not to have genitalia surgery because some have said it's not necessary.
Going back to Jenner's initial statement, he says, "God gave him the soul of a female." I would like a more detailed break-down of what the soul of a female is. Since the Women's Liberation movement or the Gay Rights movement and now this transgendered movement, the real statement is that there is no such thing as a soul of a female. Beyond physical body parts, there is no such thing as gender.
Sawyer shows clips of Jenner's performance at the Olympics and makes it seem like playing sports and being physical and aggressive is what it means to be a man. She then shows Jenner talking about doing his nails and picking out dresses as if that's what it means to be a woman. Yes, women have historically been excluded from the Olympic games, but women are good athletes and as is pointed out, men can wear dresses and still be men.
Jenner cross-dressed, meaning he wore dresses and somehow that made him different. Yet, in Scotland, men wear kilts, which are dresses. Men in Japan sometimes wear kimonos, which are wraps or look like dresses. Men in Arab or Muslim countries wear kaftans. Men in Ancient Greece wore togas and men in India or Pakistan can wear sarongs, which again are wraps or look like dresses. If Jenner were born and raised in Scotland and grew up wearing dresses, people would just call them kilts and nothing would be weird, so would he not be transgendered then?
I don't want to diminish or dismiss Jenner's experience, or any transgendered person's experience. I am a person who is in general against any kind of plastic surgery that isn't reparative. I am a person that feels that a person can dress up in whatever clothes they like. I just don't think those clothes should be included in the definition of gender because gender, if it's even real, shouldn't include something so superficial as fashion or what games or sports you like to play. Gay and lesbian people have proven that by shattering gender stereotypes on both sides.
Three Stars out of Five. Not Rated but for general audiences. Running Time: 2 hrs. Aired April 24. Available on Hulu.