While he is arguably most famous for being Kim Kardashian’s stepfather, Bruce Jenner has been a fixture of popular culture ever since he won an Olympic gold medal for the decathlon in 1976. Recently, Jenner has been making headlines for his evolving, increasingly feminine appearance, which has fueled speculation that he is slowly transitioning into a woman. Various news sources have supposedly confirmed this rumor, citing “a source close to the family.” Whether or not Jenner is in fact transgender is not an issue, but the harmful, sloppy ways in which the media is reporting on it is.
The media’s fascination with the Kardashian-Jenner family is hardly anything new. Most family members have found themselves the target of an ugly tabloid story at some point. This is all part of the deal for people who make their living in the public eye via a reality show. In Jenner’s case, however, the media has crossed the line many times over.
InTouch Magazine recently landed in hot water over a cover featuring a photo of Bruce Jenner above the headline, “My Life As a Woman.” The picture of Jenner had been crudely photoshopped so that it appears he is wearing makeup and women’s clothing. The magazine was rightfully denounced as tone-deaf and transphobic, especially in the wake of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn’s tragic suicide that rattled the LGBTQ community. The cover is tantamount to schoolyard bullying, treating Jenner and his appearance as a joke. It is yet another example of mainstream society not giving transgender people the respect and privacy they deserve.
Ultimately, the only person who knows if there is any truth to these rumors is Jenner himself. Maybe he is transitioning, or maybe he is just radically switching up his look. Barring any comment from him, the media reports are unethical and cruel. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, “Knowing a transgender person’s status is personal information and it is up to them to share it.” Any sort of outing can have negative consequences, even in a theoretically accepting world. The organization also emphasizes patience, explaining that people experience the gender transition process in different ways and at different speeds, each with their own unique journey.
Whether or not you are a fan of Jenner’s reality TV persona, his gender identity should not have an effect on his reputation. The media should take this opportunity to set a precedent of understanding rather than inappropriately speculate on this sensitive topic. People, even celebrities, have a right to keep their personal lives personal, and it is not up to the general public to define their identities.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 3 print edition. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected]