Celebrities

Hero or Media Hound: Bruce Jenner Dashing to Finish Line

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The photograph above was taken at the 1994 Love Ride in Glendale, CA. I was covering the event for the LA Times, Regina Paris took the photo, and Bruce Jenner, his arm lovingly around his wife Kris, was giddily telling us they were trying to have a baby.

That struck me as odd–although in later years, when “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” considered anything they did as potential news, it didn’t seem so extraordinary.

Now I can’t help but wonder if that private information was shared because making babies is what “normal married people” do. And Jenner was trying to keep the All-American hero image going, all the while knowing that the public perception of him did not match the person he believed himself to be.

As nearly 17 million people saw in Diane Sawyer’s recent 20/20 segment with Jenner, most held a lofty opinion of the onetime “greatest athlete in the world,” and he hates to disappoint.

He said that he took hormones for five years in the 1980s, which is not long after he crushed the competition in the 1976 Olympics in all his handsome, perfectly chiseled glory. He stopped because he didn’t want to hurt his four (at the time) kids. As we got to see on the ABC program, his kids all stepped up during his announcement to support their father, whom they seem to agree is a pretty great Dad.

That is exactly why, no matter what people think about his attention-grabbing tendencies, this revelation does have the potential to make a difference in the way society thinks about transgender people.
The show did a good job of explaining what he meant to his family, his school, and the American people in general as an Olympic champion. It gave him a platform, as someone people care about and respect, to explain that he always thought he should have been born a girl, and how he started cross-dressing as a kid.

This, by the way, confirms to all the fans, late-night hosts and snickering paparazzi who’ve been speculating over his changing appearance in recent months, that he is transitioning into a woman.
He insisted that he is not gay, not attracted to men, and believed his sex life with his wives was pretty good.

That alone gives viewers something to ponder for awhile.

Jenner doesn’t know what the future will bring, but he does seem comfortable with his decision. And he has what appears to be a great support system of family, from his 89-year-old mom to his sister and children.

For those who’ve never known anyone who’s transgender or never paid attention to the “T” in LGBT, know that up until a few years ago, transgenders caused a lot of controversy in the gay community. Some wanted to exclude them completely because they gave the gay and lesbian movement a “bad image.” Others just thought they were “different” and didn’t belong in the movement.

There are all kinds of reports about bullying and suicides and torment among children and young people who go through the kind of gender identity issues that Jenner said he went through all his life. He, however, had the ability to channel it into athletic achievement that ultimately made him an American hero.

If that results in ordinary people stopping to consider what it means to be transgender before they just react with disgust or hatred or disinterest, then he just may have the ability, as he so boldly proclaimed, to change the world.

E! Television will document Bruce Jenner’s transition in an eight-part show in July.

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and is currently producing a documentary for her own company, Saving Grace Films.

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