Every Friday I cover all things culture on my new MSNBC series, So POPular! The weekly show is my attempt at using art and movies, books and celebrities, as a lens to discuss where we are politically and culturally. So POPular! challenges our ideas on what’s considered political and worthy of analysis.
I end every show with an editorial on one pressing and personal cultural topic. This week’s editorial centers on Olympian and reality star Bruce Jenner who was featured on a heavily-retouched cover of In Touch Weekly. Watch the segment and read the transcript below.
At Sunday’s Golden Globes, the Amazon series “Transparent” won big – walking away with two trophies – for best comedy series and best comedic actor for Jeffrey Tambor. While accepting his Golden Globe for playing Maura Pfefferman – a 70 year old transgender woman – Tambor said, “This is much bigger than me.” The actor then dedicated his award to “the transgender community. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for your courage. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for your patience. And thank you for letting us be part of the change.”
The groundbreaking series is the first show with a trans main character to win a Golden Globe, widening visibility and acceptance for the transgender community. This cultural victory was met this week with a shockingly insensitive, sensational and inaccurate In Touch Weekly magazine cover featuring a heavily photoshopped Bruce Jenner who is illustrated to look as if he’s wearing makeup. Jenner’s head is even digitally placed on a woman’s body, specifically Dynasty star Stephanie Beacham’s body.
The headline reads: “Bruce’s Story: My Life As a Woman.” Let’s be clear: This is not Jenner’s story. Jenner has not stepped forward as a woman or uttered a word about being transgender.
What is true is that the story is pure speculation, the kind of tabloid gossip I’m guilty of laughing at while getting a pedicure. This cover is the latest in a long line of public speculation regarding the Olympian’s gender identity, which has been under the media’s glare since 2009 when The Family Guy made Jenner’s gender and genitals a punchline:
Stewie: Ugh! Look there’s Brody Jenner. God what a douchebag! I can’t believe that came out of Bruce Jenner’s Vagina.
Brian the dog: Bruce Jenner is a man.
Stewie: No, Brian. That’s what the press would have you believe but he’s not. Bruce Jenner is a woman, an elegant, beautiful Dutch woman.
Oh Stewie! The Jenner gender speculation is a modern-day freak show. It spreads the misconception that being trans is laughable. By publishing this cover, In Touch Weekly tells its 400,000 readers that it is acceptable to assume someone’s gender, scrutinize their body, and publicly shame them in the process.
It’s this destructive thinking that pushes trans people deeper into isolation, it’s this thinking that leads many to justify the disproportionate violence trans women of color face, it’s this thinking that convinces a 17 year-old girl that her only option for peace is to jump in front of a truck.
Wearing pink nail polish and getting a blow out does not make someone trans. Retouching a photograph will not make someone a woman. And nothing is wrong – absolutely nothing is wrong or laughable — about being trans. What’s wrong is a magazine aiming to humiliate someone by labeling them a transgender woman as if being trans and being a woman is an insult.
Here’s a headline: “Bruce Jenner Is Whoever Bruce Jenner Says He Is.”
Watch all clips, conversations and interviews from “So POPular!” anytime at MSNBC.com/sopopular. New episodes every Friday at 11am ET!