By now you've probably already watched Diane Sawyer's interview with Bruce Jenner, or at least heard the snippets that mattered: that the Kardashian step-dad is now living as a woman, he's a Christian Republican, and, most shocking of all, all the stuff he was doing to his face for the last 30 years made sense all along. Also, Diane Sawyer is still smoking hot.
This lady is 69 years old. Coincidence?
With one sentence, "For all intents and purposes, I am a woman," a person who spent the last few years of his life as an object of vicious ridicule flipped the script. I say "he" because as of this writing Bruce is fine with male pronouns. He also hasn't announced his new name, so I'm assembling a list of ideas including Athletica, Wheatie, Kruce, and Jen, so everyone sounds like they're stuttering when they say his whole name.
During the interview Bruce and Diane patiently walked the audience through the reasons a straight, 65-year-old grandfather and former world-class athlete wanted to change his gender. The funny thing is that this should have been an educational moment for Baby Boomers, not everyone else. The rest of us should already have a good handle on what it means to be a transgender person in 2015, right?
Not even close.
This girl represents America after taking a pop quiz about transgender studies.
A lot of us are still in the kindergarten portion of our transgender education, not because we're bad or dumb or sheltered, but because the kindergarten portion was only recently standardized and disseminated and we are easily distracted. For example, the previous sentence almost had the word "semen" in it, and I'm not even making a joke about it even though I want to. Baby steps.
For our kids, on the other hand, the Bruce Jenner interview will be a nonstory, a weird moment when a human felt compelled to explain himself to a world that shouldn't require an explanation because this stuff is BASIC. One day, the Bruce Jenner interview will read like a gay person coming out and then explaining what the word "gay" means. Or a black man explaining how he, a black man, could possibly be president of the United States. These are conversations that won't happen among adults in the future. Yes, Bruce Jenner is brave, but only because we are ignorant as dirt and it took a 65-year-old reality-show star to break down the basics of something that will be a part of everyday life for our kids. Here's why:
#4. We're Already On The Tail End Of A Cultural Shift
Among Bruce's confessions during his interview was the fact that he's always felt comfortable in women's clothing. I don't blame him, because pants suck and I haven't worn a pair since the mid-'90s. But Bruce Jenner grew up in a world where there was nothing more hilarious and/or horrifying than seeing a man in a dress. If you see a man wearing a dress, you better run because he's about to kill you ...
Or grab some popcorn and enjoy the entertainment from the fundamentally gut-busting concept of a man wearing lady clothes. When the American Film Institute listed the funniest movies of all time in 2000, guess who was at No. 1 and No. 2? Some Like It Hot and Tootsie, two movies that built their entire premises around men passing as women. HILARIOUS!
Only psychopaths laughed during Tootsie.
Speaking of psychopaths: One year after Brandon Teena was raped and murdered by his former friends when they found out he was assigned the female gender at birth, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came out. You remember the plot of that movie, right? Jim Carrey finds out that he kissed a transgender person, so he cleanses himself by throwing up, plunging his mouth with a toilet plunger, setting his clothes on fire, and sobbing hopelessly in the shower while Boy George's song "The Crying Game" plays in the background. Then the transgender ignorance really starts. See if you can make it through this scene without cringing:
The transgender character is publicly stripped, and the whole room vomits when the bulge in her underwear is found, all for laughs. Fast-forward 10 years to 2004, and the universally beloved show Arrested Development pulls their own transphobic gag. Maeby convinces her mother to wear a trendy shirt from the Shemale brand. It's funny because Maeby pronounces it "Shuh-MALL-ay" and her mom has no idea she's advertising herself as a transgender person. Get it? It's funny to be a transgender woman in 2004? Ha! My side is still hurting from the laughter. Also, remember the butt of the joke is a lesbian in real life, so that sucked.
Oh man, put that shirt away before I pee my pants.
And the thing is, I did laugh during those scenes. Now they feel grotesque, like when a white person wears blackface or a woman does man work. How did the transgender community turn public sentiment and awareness around so quickly?
#3. We've Been Taught How To Get The Words Right
You guys know that "tranny" is a bad word, right? Not bad like the F-word but bad like the N-word. It's hate speech. But I'm sure you already knew that.
The first time I found out "tranny" was an unacceptable slur was around 2011 when a fellow comedy writer tweeted something along the lines of "It's never OK to use the word 'tranny.'" I. Had. No. Idea. By this point I'd already been writing and editing full-time for several years, and there was no telling how many hurtful, offensive jokes and captions I'd inserted into Cracked articles. I was clueless because my comedy was informed by other comedy writers who were just as insulated as I was (see Arrested Development.)
And it didn't help that even as late as 2008, openly and expressively gay Project Runway contestant Christian Siriano made "tranny" one of his catchphrases. As in "this is a hot tranny mess." GLAAD called him out on the word, and he apologized, but it was a little too late. Dummies like me get our gay slang from Bravo, not GLAAD. In fact, SNL thought Siriano's schtick was so funny that they made a whole sketch out of it:
So other than the fact that you rarely see Ed Hardy shirts anymore, what's changed between 2008 and today? I think the answer is that, in addition to fighting for bare-bone basic human rights, the transgender community has made language education a big part of its focus. Language education as in, "No more he/she/it jokes, you lazy piece of trash hack writers." Pronouns are powerful, and it's important to get them right: A person who calls herself a woman is a she, a person who calls himself a man is a he, a person who checks private parts for verification of gender is called a sex offender.
Fast-forward to early 2015, when the Internet lost its FLIPPING MIND because transgender teen Leelah Alcorn's ignorant-ass parents wouldn't accept her as a girl, even after her suicide. Two ignorant-ass parents, as ignorant-ass as they were, got death threats for not getting their dead child's pronouns right. Can you imagine having to go into hiding because you're getting death threats while processing your child's suicide? Me neither. It's like the old Irish blessing says, "May you never be an ignorant-ass parent who loses a child, no matter how ignorant-ass you are."
The point of bringing up Leelah's parents is that you and I weren't much brighter than them about 10 years ago, so let's not hate on the haters. And the reason we're so smart now is because we've been aggressively educated by the people who have the highest stakes in the conversation. So good job for getting mad at Leelah Alcorn's parents, everyone. Bad job for forgetting that you laughed at the "shemale" Arrested Development joke only 10 years ago.
Hey, speaking of comedy ...