A few weeks ago, InTouch Weekly became the subject of some much-deserved contempt for its cover depicting Kardashian patriarch Bruce Jenner photoshopped into women’s clothing and makeup. As Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder put it, the tabloid went “full transphobic,” with a cruel story to match the garish and false cover image. The cover was an unsurprising, but still crude and depressing, example of mainstream American culture’s approach to trans people.
But not all tabloids are created equal, and it’s worth comparing the nasty InTouch cover with this week’s issue of Us Weekly, which also features Jenner on the cover. This time, it’s a flattering image of an unretouched—or at least un-made-up—Jenner in a suit. The headline leads with the words “Bruce’s Brave Announcement.” And the story inside is commendable for its sensitivity and subtlety. (Naturally I bought the magazine to monitor its treatment of the LGBTQ community, and not because of the smaller coverline “Bachelorette Honeymoon: ALL THE PHOTOS.”)
It’s tough to talk about Bruce Jenner right now, because he has not made any public comments on his changing appearance, so the noblest thing to do would be to ignore it. On the other hand, the former Olympian and his sprawling family have made careers out of turning gossip into gold, and speculation is the lifeblood of that industry. And real evidence is mounting that 65-year-old Jenner has, at the very least, a complicated relationship with gender: He has been photographed in public with glossy red fingernails, diamond earrings, and with long feminine hair, and about a year ago he underwent surgery to pare down his Adam’s apple.
Us Weekly’s cover story, written by senior writer Eric Andersson, handles all this with remarkably empathetic aplomb. The “news” in the story is that Jenner has taped a sit-down interview about this transition from male to female, and will be the star of his own E! docuseries “featuring the Jenner family talking about Bruce ‘coming out.’” Those claims are attributed to “one insider” and “a Jenner source,” respectively. But it’s worth noting that Us Weekly, and Andersson in particular, have historically had a close relationship with the Kardashians, frequently featuring exclusive interviews and breaking news about the family that does turn out to be true.
But the Us Weekly story does something more than break news about Jenner’s future plans: It treats him with dignity. It starts by normalizing the issue by setting Jenner’s preparations to go public in the context of his family’s frankness about a wide variety of personal issues. It reports that he has the “full blessing” of all 10 of his children and step-children, who “find comfort in seeing Bruce be himself.” It suggests that his public transition will be helpful for viewers grappling through similar issues. And it concludes by quoting another anonymous “family source”: “He wants to live this way before it is too late.”
Tabloid magazines are not exactly known for being beacons of progressive social values. They tend to prefer shame over acceptance, and norm-reinforcement over openness. But with Us Weekly’s admirable story appearing so soon after In Touch’s ugly mockery, it feels like times are changing.