Making of Role Models for a Minority Group
An Irresponsible Way to Market a Cause
By: Naimul Khan
Bruce Jenner, famous track Olympian, has recently made the news. Tracking a lot of media attention, it is rumored that he is transitioning to become a woman. Though the news remains speculation, with no official word coming from Jenner himself, his daughter Kylie Jenner recently came out in support of her father. All this mixed in with news that Jenner will be starring in a reality TV show on E! about his transition, leads us to believe that the tabloid speculations are true. Nonetheless, whether Jenner is transgender remains insignificant when compared to the profound influence it will have on American popular culture. Hopefully, it can change American public opinion.
Throughout the last several years, we have seen how popular culture can influence popular opinion. Same-sex marriage, for example, as a result of popular culture and media attention, has become legal in most of the United States, so much so, it would be safe to say that we have gay rights here in the United States. However, this privilege (which should be a natural right) comes on the backs of the millions who voted in favor and worked in order to push the equality agenda. Some of these individuals made their intentions explicitly clear, rallying for public support. Others, on the contrary, were pushed to move the cause. The idea that these individuals were “pushed” to fight for gay rights, however, does not mean they were forced to do so by some third party, but naturally took on the responsibility by coming out.
Coming out, in general, is probably one of the most powerful tools any minority community has in helping gain equal rights. Whether gay, or Black, or Muslim; by saying “this is who I am”, a powerful effect is made. First off, you take away any sense of shame these groups might have riddling its image. Gays coming out as gay really says, “I am okay with this and I am not ashamed”, heck, that’s why we call it pride. Which brings us to the second impact of coming out, we celebrate who we are. In a way, our celebration in the form of Gay Pride, or Latin Pride, or any other kind of pride, exclaims that as a minority group, we are not different as humans and we share diversity amongst us. These effects of celebrating and coming out, therefore, makes every individual who comes out an advocate. She becomes a voice of exposure. She normalizes who she is. She makes her differences seem minute.
Still, despite the minuteness, there is one group of people who get an overbearing amount of responsibility when they come out. Celebrities, semi-celebrities, or really anyone with any following, wear the heavy burden of having to represent a whole class of minorities. Whether it is Bruce Jenner with the trans* community, or Michael Sam with the athletic gay community; these individuals become the face of their minority group. These individuals, as a result, must give up some of their rights, like their right to privacy. Though some will argue that by coming out publicly, these celebrities bring the pressure on to themselves; would it be possible to have it any other way? Would it be possible for Bruce Jenner to one day appear as Belinda Jenner without media attention? Could Michael Sam have hidden the existence of his boyfriend his entire NFL career and even thereafter before he became entangled in a gay-scandal? Hiding the sexuality is not possible, but the pressure and scrutiny in being a role model is no easy solution. This is a lose-lose situation.
However, the scrutiny is not limited to just celebrities. Even down to the community level where an individual comes out to family, or friends, or her entire town, pressure is put on her to represent her community, while existing community stereotypes are imposed onto her. The idea that HIV and AIDS, for example, is a gay disease promotes a skewed image of what the community is and those that are a part of it. This issue, like many, is not solely limited to the LGBTQIA community. Black individuals must live with stereotypes imposed onto them through the media and education systems throughout the nation. As a result of institutionalized racism, British imperialism, and the acts of a few individuals; before even meeting a black man, others who are less acquainted with the community, will make judgements on her character. In this country, it can even get you killed.
The strokes of a few broken brushes, also, can taint the whole image of a community. For example, the fundamental and uneducated association between homosexuality and pedophilia is one that still exists worldwide. Though there remains no causation between the two very distinct groups, this inaccurate idea has seeped into the grains of historical American thought and even lives engrained in the minds of some today. So when a person, celebrity or not, comes out, she runs risk of presenting her group inaccurately to those outside her group. Many may take her actions and words as emblematic of the entire group. Obviously, this is a problem.
So what is the solution to this situation? Is the problem with the idea of “coming out” itself? No, the issue is not with coming out. One way or another, others will have to know if individuals are LGBTQIA-identifying. Non-exposure is worse than exposure. What needs to be fixed is mainstream reaction to issues like sexuality and gender fluidity. When rumors of Bruce Jenner being transgender arose, many news tabloids fed it to the public masked as scandalous gossip. This has profound negative implications, in that it insinuates that being trans* is scandalous and something to be made fun of. The issue at hand is ignored for entertainment purposes.
What needs to change is how the conversation over gender, sexuality, race, and topics like these are discussed. No, it will not take a day, month, or year to correct; but like the process of evolution, the system needs to evolve into one where coming out is not a big deal and sexuality, race, or the color of one’s eyes, are not character defining. The only way to get this change across is not just by changing how tabloids report, but also how we educate the youth in schools, and how we normalize communities through the media.
So as Bruce Jenner gives up his private life by hosting this reality TV show about his transition, I tip my hat to him, because in the end of the day, no matter how unimagined, his show will help the cause and make the “T” in “LGBT” a non-issue.