Monday, June 1, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner Distances Self from Bruce Gender

Every once in awhile, someone asks my earliest Olympic memory.

The answer: Bruce Jenner.

Bruce is in the news today, not to mention breaking records via Twitter, for a new identity: Caitlyn Jenner.

But before writing about these headlines, a bit more on the Bruce background.

Vivid images of the Montreal Games decathlon champion on the family's Zenith screen also compete for 'first TV show memory' status in a field dominated by "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" segments, each viewed during the summer when I turned four in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond.

It was 1976, a year when watching anything but PBS children's programming and Saturday morning cartoons was verboten. As a treat, my sister and I did occasionally get to stay up through the opening credits to "The Rockford Files" since the show starred James Garner, a fellow Oklahoman.

Though I'm not certain the broadcast and competition timing (in an age pre-dating taped-delay), I do think the name Bruce Jenner stood out not only because of his gold medal feats, but also because we got to see his achievement on ABC's live broadcast of the decathlon competition during the day.

Those hot summer afternoons, my sister and I also enjoyed playing in the backyard swimming pool (one of those plastic kiddie pools purchased at TG&Y) donning our homemade bathing suits -- my mom, a seamstress, purchased fabric that closely matched the Team USA swim trunks and made us our own Olympic gear.

We didn't eat Wheaties, but we knew that guy on the box. And we got the joke when James Belushi parodied Jenner in a faux endorsement for "Little Chocolate Donuts" on SNL.

A few years later, I was reintroduced to Bruce Jenner when he got a role on my favorite show "CHiPs."

We also saw him on several TV specials, especially during the lead-up to the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

Until the last couple of years, that was the extent of my Bruce Jenner awareness. His noticed-by-me absence from the buildup to the 1996 Atlanta Games was something I chalked up to inflated appearance fees or a perceived over-exposure during the 1980s creating a long tail into the 1990s.

I deliberately opted to tune-out his reality TV appearances and the like, and didn't give much thought or credence to the tabloid coverage of Jenner's supposed quest for gender reassignment. But the recurring references, mostly observed in the checkout line at grocery stores, did remind me of a good film and introduction to transgender issues, "Transamerica," which I watched again with my girlfriend early in 2015.

Two powerful Atlanta NPR segments on WABE-FM aired, introducing the parents of a transgender child in Georgia and the many challenges they faced. The report informed me more about the concerns of a group of people including 700,000 transgender Americans (according to the national conversation introduced in the following sentence).

Like legions of other observers, I later tuned in to The Interview with Diane Sawyer in April, with the following takeaways:

-- Here is a person who is very brave. I was drawn in and agreed with Jenner's words, "I want to know how this story ends."

-- Here is a person who made some very difficult choices while looking to make smart, informed and honest decisions moving forward.

-- Here is a person who is looking to leverage his fame and influence for the better of many; I liked Jenner's words "[Now] what I'm doing is going to do some good" because his "whole life has been getting me ready for this"

-- Here's a person who is turning fear into a positive; I really dug the reference to using "fear as fire" and "finding a champion within."

-- Best line seemed to be Jenner's acknowledgement or revelation that the reality shows on which he appeared are drivel, and his frustration that "the one TRUE thing in the family that could make a positive difference [was there for the telling] and I could not talk about it."

-- Though I am generally not a Kanye West fan, it impressed me Jenner cited West for talking the most sense about Jenner's gender identity and being himself, and the extent to which it inspired West to be a better person within their family.

-- Also liked how Jenner cited transgender youth (more specifically, suicide statistics), and that although Jenner does not seek "transgender spokesperson" status, there was inspiration to "save some lives" through the transformation about to take place publicly.

Leading up to the interview, I struggled with how to write blog posts about transsexuality and its links to the Olympics via Jenner headlines.

But then I recalled previously covering the topic with Olympic ties.

Jenner's interview inspired conversations with several friends and family members, and it hit me the appearance with Sawyer worked, at least with this writer, for part of its intended purpose to inspire conversation. Each chat on the topic now seems to get easier, and here's hoping that healthy discussion will become the norm as more people gain an understanding of transgendered people.

With today's announcement introducing Caitlyn Jenner, I was excited to see teaser video for the Vanity Fair cover story hitting newsstands on June 9. Annie Leibovitz's involvement brought back my own experience working with the acclaimed photographer.

Many questions remain, with some answers anticipated next week but more to be resolved months or years from now.

As a public relations professional, I am dying to know who Jenner's publicist(s) may be (one mastermind, or an army?). The talking points they are writing are like gold, and Jenner seems to be sticking these points like an Olympic gymnast nailing the dismount.

As an Olympic fan, I wonder how Caitlyn will discuss the Munich and Montreal experiences of a two-time Olympian. And how will the U.S. Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee reflect Caitlyn vs. Bruce in the Olympic record (at least as of June 1, 2015, the IOC still lists "Bruce" on their site while Wikipedia users already updated Jenner's page). My take on this, for now, is that Jenner's female personal preference, or name preference, should be considered, but the gender-specific results should remain male with at least a reference to "Bruce" (if only as a footnote). By letting the record show the 1976 details, that may invite conversation of choices made later in Jenner's life or what she struggled with as a champion living with a secret.

As a man learning about transgender issues, I wonder when and if Jenner will be approved for the surgeries that will change her sex organs (this is not a given, and since the Sawyer interview I suspected one or more psychologists who specialize in gender reassignment deemed Jenner's "coming out" interview and private conversations with family and friends as part of the lengthy list of mandatory requirements for surgery approval, a topic touched on in "Transamerica").

Wait, should that last line include the word womandatory?

No matter the answers, it may be inspiring to see where this Jenner story ends. And the world will not only have the uplifting Olympian accomplishments featured in "Ten for Gold" to celebrate, but also the story of her remarkable life making a difference for many.

Images via VanityFair.com, CorbisImages.com, Mirror.UK.com, Yahoo!

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