What If This Bruce Jenner Interview Is Just A Ratings Ploy, Not About Being Trans?

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Let me start with a confession: I have seen every single episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and its 5 spin-offs (that's 114 episodes, in case you're wondering how much of my life I've spent thinking about these people versus learning a new language or how to paint a bowl of fruit or undertaking some other worthy pursuit). I have also on numerous occasions defended various members of the Kardashian clan, usually Khloe.

Why the debate? Because the prevailing notion is that they're famous for no reason (it's true that they don't have talent in the traditional sense, but they're able to create a heightened version of their family life for television that has kept people interested since 2007 and that's something). Another major criticism is that they will do anything for more publicity and fame (I concede this point).

Over the years, there's been a lot of family drama, to say the least. Everything from standard sibling bickering to 72 days marriages to serious drug addictions. No matter what kind of craziness goes on, Bruce Jenner is on the sidelines, offering advice that no one heeds. He pretty much stays out of the way and, in recent years, has appeared to disdain his now ex-wife, Kris, and the things she and her children hold dear: looks, fame, name brands, money.

So it was a bit shocking when buzz started to circulate around Jenner for once. Because he prefers his hair long and appears to have an affinity for plastic surgery, rumors began to swirl that he was transitioning. Those two characteristics aren't enough to make assumptions regarding gender identity, yet here we are.

The family has not publicly commented on Bruce allegedly being trans, but, earlier this year, Kim had this to say, when asked about her stepfather: "I think everyone goes through things in life, and I think that story and what Bruce is going through, I think he'll share whenever the time is right. I feel like that's his journey to talk about."


So, either she means what she says about his supposed transition not being her story to tell...or — and I really hope it isn't this or — she is teasing around the issue, using terminology that could be applied to a transition, but actually is about something mundane like his transition from being married for 24 years to being single in his 60s.

All our questions will be answered when the much-hyped interview with Diane Sawyer airs on April 24, 2015. The promos tease: "The  Journey, The Decisions, The Future." And Jenner is quoted as saying: "My whole life has been getting me ready for this." Again, words that could be about being trans, but are not specific enough to get anyone in trouble if this all turns out to be a ratings ploy. It's not their fault we assumed they were talking about being trans, right? No one ever said anything explicitly about that.

That level of manipulation seems extreme, even for the Kardashians, but what if they truly go there, in order to get some buzz and to assure that Bruce, who is no longer tied as tightly to the Kardashian empire, still gets a check? Using the very serious topic of trans people owning their truth and enduring everything that comes with that, in order to stay on magazine covers and keep people talking would be wildly insensitive, to say the least.

It seems outlandish to think they would take the risk of pissing off so many people, but I worry nonetheless because I've seen this kind of thing play out with them before. A few years ago, there were rumors that Khloe had a different father than the rest of her siblings. This was allowed to play out in the magazines and on the show for months. Could O.J. Simpson be her father? Or maybe this random hairstylist? What should have been a private matter was used as a dramatic arc for TV, only to ultimately be laughed off, because it probably was never true to begin with, manufactured, sold to the media, and acted out for the cameras, until the next storyline was cooked up.  No harm, no foul, cause it was not about their real lives, but about the versions of themselves they play for us.

Last year, when Beyoncé and Jay Z came to town with their On The Run tour and pretended to hate each other, only to be all over each other immediately after the tour ended, I wrote a piece asking if the divorce rumors were all just a marketing scheme:

"Maybe they feel fine messing with our conception of them because, at the end of the day, we don’t know them; it’s all fiction. Maybe they are just playing characters in a modern day opera, putting on the show they know we want to see...Would it be that surprising if they were savvy enough to create a narrative that would keep us interested, keep us buying $300 tickets, while they laugh all the way to the bank?"

Perhaps the only truly surprising thing isn't how far celebrities will go to keep our interest and stay rich, but the fact that we expect anything else from them.