Man or Woman, Bruce Jenner Is a Human Being
The latest 'InTouch' magazine cover is transphobia, pure and simple.
Artwork by Sam Taylor
This article first appeared on VICE UK
People need to back the fuck up and leave Bruce Jenner alone. Go to any newsstand across America right now and you'll be able to buy a copy of InTouch magazine with Bruce on its cover, photoshopped to look like a woman. I say photoshop—it looks more like it was done in MS Paint. They've basically taken his head and superimposed it onto Stephanie Beecham, who used to be in Dynasty. I mean, how fucking rude? They could have at least chosen Joan Collins.
Kris Jenner is "outraged," if you believe the gossip all this gossip has generated. A "source" that's "close to the family" told TMZ that Kris "has contempt for the magazine jumping to conclusions and then altering the image to fit its story." It's a pretty extraordinary thing for a magazine to do—even for a shitty tabloid, to a reality TV star—but it's the culmination of a wider media harassment against Bruce based on nothing more than the way he looks. Look, everyone! Long hair! Pink nails! What a pansy! What a freak!
This harassment has been going on for years now. It's so offensive that it's hard to imagine it happening to pretty much any other person in the public eye, but the fact that Bruce is part of a family that thrives on gossip and publicity means we've allowed it to go way too far. It's the awful, "Well, he agreed to appear on a huge reality show, so he asked for this," argument. He might court publicity, but he certainly didn't court—or deserve—this.
This isn't your usual celebrity gossip. This isn't a tabloid commenting on a publicity-hungry celebrity's weight in a mutually beneficial, unspoken arrangement that helps said celebrity sell more weight-loss books when the time comes. This isn't plain old whispers about who's fucking who—the sort of thing that folks like the Kardashian Klan actually might not mind you whispering about.
No. This is pure bullying. It is looking at someone else, seeing that they are different and then pointing at them and laughing. It's transphobia, on the cover of a gossip magazine that sells nearly 400,000 copies a week.
Look, I get it. Gender incongruence can be funny. I laughed along when people said Bieber looked like a lesbian. He did—a really cute lesbian called Justine. Ha ha. Good one. And yes, lots of men do look rather ridiculous when they dress up as women for fun—which seems to be all the frikkin' time here in the UK. Seriously, it's a national pastime.
So, if seeing someone who doesn't quite meet your gender expectations is really scary, confusing or hilarious for you, don't worry. I won't judge you. After all, what could be funnier than a man wearing pink nail varnish? Something like that could keep an intelligent human being laughing for days.
But – and sorry to put you on a downer here—I can't help thinking about Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who took her own life just a fortnight ago. Do you have any idea how fucking depressing it is looking for people like yourself in public life when you are trans? And seeing the constant barrage of bullshit they have to put up with? The stupid questions, the jokes about their appearance, the relentless, merciless need to point and laugh?
Some people are outraged by the cover, but they're outraged in the wrong way if you ask me. You know it shouldn't actually be offensive for a man to be made to look like a woman. The idea that femininity is humiliating is pretty offensive to women, to be quite honest. And feminine men. So don't be mad because InTouch "humiliated" Bruce by making him look like a woman. Be mad because they completely and utterly trounced his right to self-determination.
If Bruce Jenner is a woman inside, she will be frightened, hurting and tired, frankly, of a lifetime spent trying to please other people's gender expectations.
How could someone as masculine as Bruce be a woman inside, though? That's the question many people are asking. Bruce is a sports hero. An Olympian. He's the patriarch to a huge brood. He wrote a book called Bruce Jenner: Finding the Champion Within back in the 70s. But what if that champion is a woman?
I don't want to join in the is-he-or-isn't-he game, but what if he is, in fact, planning on transitioning? Yes, there are signs he may—not least those reports that he has undergone surgery to remove his Adam's apple. But until Bruce makes a public statement that's a little more emphatic than pink nails, that's really none of our business.
There was a time when tabloids obsessed over who was and wasn't gay. It still happens, of course, but it's not quite as crazed as it once was. Take the Daily Mail's coverage of Kirsten Stewart's New Year's break. It implies she's a lesbian, but christ, does anyone really care anymore?
Trans people are awesome, but we're also a pretty vulnerable bunch. And guess when we are at our most vulnerable? During that fucking horrendous period right before, during and just after you take the decision to transition from one gender to another. This is also the time that you are more likely to a) experience huge relationship difficulties, b) get dumped by your family and c) have a load of shit thrown at you at work. LOL.
If you're a regular person this may well also be the moment that a pack of journalists start pestering you, but that's nothing compared to the pressure someone who is already in the public eye will feel. Look at Christine Penner, for fuck's sake.
If Bruce is a woman inside, she will be frightened, hurting, and tired, frankly, of a lifetime spent trying to please other people's gender expectations. If the gossip press wants to make money out of Bruce's identity, I suggest that, on a purely cynical level, it backs off and waits to see how he chooses to identify. In his own time.
If anything happens to Bruce, if he is trans and became, one day, another name on the already outrageously high number of trans people who take their own lives, every media outlet that has harassed him over the last few years will have blood on its hands.
A suicide might sell magazines for a few weeks, but you can't keep reporting on someone's nail colour, week-in-week-out, if they're dead.
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