By Kaci Yoder
Editor’s note: As of press time, it remains unclear which pronouns Bruce Jenner would prefer to be used for the time being. DIG has chosen to use the gender-neutral “they” for now to avoid misgendering Jenner until a statement of clarification is released.
On a couch across from Diane Sawyer, baby boomer and conservative republican Bruce Jenner reminisced over victorious photos from the 1976 Olympics. It was the year Jenner won gold in the decathlon, earning the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” and a spot on the shiny front of the Wheaties box.
For years, Jenner stood as a symbol of all-American masculinity, virility, determination, and gumption—a golden boy who proved America’s ability to the world.
“That is me,” Jenner said of the iconic images from 1976. “That is her.”
And with that, Bruce Jenner changed what it means to be a symbol of the American dream.
After months of speculation, paparazzi photos, and tasteless jokes, Jenner came out as a trans woman on national television to a world ready to jump on the news. Responses have been mixed; while many have shown Jenner support, others consider it a disappointing (or disgusting) lapse in judgment from a former hero.
If Jenner once represented the most commonly digestible definition of the American dream, coming out has moved them quickly to the other end of the spectrum, where transgender folks are one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups in the country.
But what exactly about Jenner’s life doesn’t fit our most idealistic picture of American values? An underdog who overcame the odds to find their true place in this life. A big, loving family built on acceptance despite all differences. An effort to challenge injustice where it lives and make life better for our fellow Americans. A fight for individual rights.
Bruce Jenner embodies what it means to be all-American more completely—and more radically—now than ever before.
Jenner may be wealthy and white, as well as more right-leaning than most trans people fighting for their identity in America, but Jenner is something else: a chance for unprecedented visibility and open discussion of trans issues in our country. How often do millions of people actually hear about violence towards trans women of color as Jenner brought up in the interview? How often are wealthy, white men made to hear about gender identity from someone they consider a peer?
And isn’t this the heart of America? Wasn’t this country built on standing up for what you believe and taking advantage of the freedom to live your life in truth and happiness? Surely even the most conservative of us can agree on that.
As Bruce Jenner stepped from the Olympic podium and the closet into a new life, we’re forced to meditate on what this means in the history of America.
Moving forward, may this be a turning point in our willingness to discuss gender and sexuality openly in America. Let’s hope the courage of Jenner’s truth opens our eyes to communities and struggles beyond our own. Let this challenge to the definition of “all-American” be only the beginning of rebuilding the idea into something greater, something broader, something more inclusive of every shade of the human experience in America.
Keep challenging, people. The American dream is a transgender modern athletic legend, just like the American dream is a single mother making it work or a blended family supporting one another to success. The American dream is supposed to be for everyone, so let’s make that definition more than the most narrow.
And if you’ve been moved by Jenner’s story, use the opportunity to learn more about life for transgender people and what you can do to better understand and support them—or possibly even what to do if you’re transgender yourself. And please, let’s be better than jokes at their expense.
Bruce Jenner stand at the beginning of a transitional period of their life, and America does as well. If our golden years hero can take that step, we can too. Just as they did as they stood on top of the world in 1976, Jenner has inspired us to be better.