Diane Sawyer's interview with Bruce Jenner Friday night was a historic moment for transgender visibility and awareness -- and activists applauded. International Business Times asked Mara Keisling, a transgender rights activist and founding executive director of the DC-based National Center for Transgender Equality, what Jenner's coming out as transgender means for the community.
"I first want to focus on what it means for Bruce," said Keisling. "I was so impressed by his honesty, strength and courage. We’re still using 'Bruce' and 'he,' which is a slightly different construction than we would use," said Keisling. "But even with that strength, courage, personal resources and celebrity -- it's going to be hard to recalibrate your place in life when you’ve been a 6 feet 2 inch tall, fit person. You're going to be different from any kind of woman in America."
Keisling added that Jenner will also need to adjust to how he deals with strangers, and how he handles his personal safety. "I have no idea what it’s like to have celebrity," said Keisling. "I don’t know if it helps to expose or shelter the person --probably both."
Regarding the etiquette of pronouns and how to refer to a person who is transitioning to another gender, Keisling explained that Jenner's preference is to still be called "he" and "Bruce," rather than "she" or "they" or a different pronoun. (Genderqueer performer Justin Vivian Bond, for example, prefers "v" as a pronoun.)
"Jenner is making it a little harder -- not intentionally," said Keisling. "The rule is: Respect people’s preferences. Jenner isn’t ready to say what their name is and maybe is trying one out. It’s such a hard thing, but it is a little confusing for people. What we want is for people to just believe in the person. Jenner asked for an extension."
In terms of the significance of Jenner's coming out for the transgender community, Keisling said there were two major things.
"Last night was an amazing public educational moment. People are talking not just because of the Jenner or Kardashian [connection], but the graceful, integrity-filled way he did it. He helped America understand trans people. They're celebrities, regular people in your synagogue and mosque, in your school -- they're even Republicans."
Keisling was referring to the moment when it was revealed that Jenner is a Republican.
"The second major thing about last night: All over America, maybe the world, there were trans people watching. Trans people who are emerging or who have emerged. I guarantee you some child, teen or senior [who] is transgender who is terrified was watching." Keisling said Jenner's visibility would be a comfort.
Regarding how ABC and Diane Sawyer handled the sensitive and oft-misunderstood topic of being transgender, Keisling said, "I thought ABC did a spectacular job. And although Diane Sawyer focused a little bit too much on the sexual orientation aspect, overall I was very impressed. And we welcome Bruce Jenner into our family."
During the interview, even Jenner seemed thrown by the question of who he was going to date, and if he was gay. Jenner will be a lesbian, says Keisling, if after transitioning to female, Jenner is still attracted to women.
Jenner also received kudos for his decision from other sources.
"The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) applauds Jenner's bravery in coming out publicly as transgender," executive director Michael Silverman said in a press release. "Jenner's fame as a champion athlete and television star guarantees that this story will be heard around the world. We hope that Jenner inspires others to find the courage to be open about who they are. And we hope that Jenner’s message of authenticity and openness will shine a light on the unique challenges that transgender people face and help further equality. We support every transgender person’s right to come out at a time that is right for them, and wish Jenner every happiness moving forward in the world authentically.”