ABC News has confirmed that their former anchor Diane Sawyer’s interview with Olympic medalist and Keeping Up With the Kardashians personality Bruce Jenner is to air April 24. Whatever direction the interview goes, it’ll mark the definitive end of a certain type of conversation about Jenner—and potentially spark another.
For years now, the chatter that has swirled around the new interview subject has taken many tones—suspicious, cruel, supportive, genuinely curious—but has relied on visual evidence and the parsing of Kardashian family member quotes to support the notion that Jenner is transitioning from male to female. It’s been frustrating to witness certain figures in the realms of media and comedy treat Jenner with callous nastiness, and more frustrating still that those who are most inclined to speak sympathetically about transgender issues are also, often, those least inclined to speak as though Jenner were definitively trans. Because he hasn’t yet said, in public, whether recent aesthetic changes add up to an actual transition, most people inclined to treat the issue with good faith have been fairly limited in their ability to speak on the matter.
It could well be that the Sawyer interview will not result in a coming-out, but instead two hours of the subject simply clarifying that various changes are personal choices divorced from any other aspect of Jenner’s life. (Solely considering the framing of the broadcast—two full hours!—that seems unlikely, but it’s worth considering.) If that’s the case, though, it will be the most substantively Jenner has ever spoken on the matter, and will allow viewers and the tabloid-consuming audience at large to turn the page on the conversation. And if Jenner does indeed come out as transgender, it will put a stop to the sort of speculation that has kept many potential Jenner defenders silent, because they haven’t been able to speak as though they had knowledge of the situation.
As a member of the extended Kardashian family (Jenner acts as stepfather to tabloid magnet Kim, having married her mother Kris), Jenner is the quintessential easy target for mockery. If it weren’t a perceived transition that got people’s attention, it’d simply be an affiliation with a group that are shorthand for celebrity vacuity.
But Jenner is also a figure with legitimate pop-culture importance, a Wheaties-box hero for an entire generation who could, potentially, represent the most public transition in history, humanizing the issue for people who still don’t understand. That is, Jenner could do this, if he is indeed transgender. The difficulty of even talking about what the interview might do is precisely why whatever clarity it provides will be so important.