Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist and sportswriter Wally Hall would like to say his recent column, "Bruce is Her Name, Greediness Is His Game," is about the money-grabbing moves of an athlete 40 years away from his days of glory.
Hall is much too out of touch to comment on this issue. Bruce Jenner, who is still going by Bruce and has not indicated a change of pronoun, is still very much relevant in today's culture, mainly due to his reality star status from "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" and related projects. Jenner is 65, well beyond the age when the majority of athletes retire, and his career path is not uncommon to those looking beyond their athletic days. There are numerous prominent athletes who have moved onto high-profile non-sports related ventures from hosting talk shows, to pitching products in commercials, to running for political office. Bruce Jenner earned significant money from being part of a reality program; what is the difference?
But Jenner came out as a transgender woman, and the stereotype of a transgender woman and the stereotype of an Olympic athlete could not be further apart. But Bruce Jenner is not a stereotype — he is a human being. Jenner shared with ABC's Diane Sawyer and an international audience a very personal story, the same sort of story that puts other transgender people at risk of losing the support of family, friends, their employer and their faith communities when they share it. Even with his celebrity and financial status, Jenner can face discrimination for something so important to his identity: who he is as a person.
In a state like Arkansas, where transgender people lack legal protections in housing, employment, education and health care, stories like Jenner's allow for people to see the humanity and dignity of transgender people. The interview allowed for many late-night conversations that Friday night among families, probably including some about their loved ones coming out as transgender. Jenner's story provided common ground and experience to hopefully keep a family from being ripped apart by fear and lack of empathy. There are people who would prefer transgender people be invisible — in fact, a majority of Americans do not know a transgender person — but thousands of people in this state likely tuned in to see someone who they have watched for years share something intimate about himself. More people know now a transgender person because of Bruce Jenner.
Just because Bruce Jenner is transgender doesn't mean he should disappear from television. Before they come out, transgender people often find extraordinary ways to cope and live with what they are feeling inside to survive; some transgender women had very masculine jobs, joined the military and started loving families like Jenner did. Now at 65, Jenner should be able to still pursue his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as much as anyone else in this country. I know in my heart and my soul I am a transgender woman and proud to be one; being transgender shouldn't have to determine what I end up creating out of my life.
Hall's column had everything to do with Bruce Jenner's gender identity and his pretending otherwise is just an attempt to make the real Bruce Jenner invisible again.
Andrea Zekis is executive director of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition.