When a trans person begins living their life authentically, their whole family transitions with them. For transgender people and their loved ones, this is a common reality, but it's still often left unsaid in media narratives about transition.
But this reality has found new expression — and surprising nuance — in this week's Keeping Up with the Kardashians: About Bruce two-part special.
Aired Sunday and Monday on E!, the episodes focused on the reactions of Bruce Jenner's ex-wife Kris Jenner, along with stepdaughters Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe Kardashian, and daughters Kendall and Kylie Jenner, to Bruce's gender transition, which he announced last month in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. How the Kardashian clan responds to Jenner's transition will also be the subject of an eight-part E! documentary this summer.
In his role as America's most watched trans woman, 65-year-old Jenner (who uses male pronouns) took a moment to open the episode with a nod to the larger issues his individual family illuminates.
"Families of trans people often feel they need to grieve the loss of the person that they know," Jenner explained. "My family's feelings are included here in the hope that other families will know that they are not alone and to show that families move on from this grief."
As Jenner implies, the family's adjustment most often goes through its predictably famous cycle: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance. Sometimes the steps toggle back and forth; human emotion is far from orderly. That range of emotions was presented poignantly by the Kardashian-Jenner clan in About Bruce, with a continual underlying message of love and support — rather than the all-too-common focus on the initial flashpoints of rejection and denial without follow-up.
While various websites have released lists of the juiciest "bombshell" revelations from the special — such as that Jenner "stole" clothes from Kim, or that Kendall once found him dressed in women's clothing when she was 4 — the show's real takeaway, as Jenner intimated, is the exploration of complex emotions that find unique reverberations throughout many families.
Particularly teachable moments, some captured in the videos below, include Kim Kardashian West's empathy. "I think Bruce is afraid to let us down," she explains of her sisters being upset at other people knowing more about Jenner's transition before them. "We want to understand his struggle. We want to learn about it, relate to it in some way," she explained. "I think what hurts us [is] when we hear something is changing and happening and we don't know about it. We want to be in the loop."
Jenner admits that over the years he's kept his children in the dark about being trans because it was difficult to express, saying, "You can never do this right. There's no right way to do this." He later explains to his daughters in the second episode that, "Sometimes because of my love for you and my feelings for you, I don't want to hurt you, and so I apologize for not being as honest as I should be."
About Bruce shows the family trying to keep the lines of communication open, committing to moving past former hurts to re-affirm their love and pride in each other.
Jenner's ex-wife Kris, who has appeared to have an emotionally trying time accepting her former spouse's transition, shows that feelings of confusion or betrayal can coexist with love.
"You shut me out a long time ago. You were angry, which made me angry," Kris explains to Jenner in the second episode. "I just miss Bruce. And that's going to take me a minute to mourn that relationship."
When Jenner then asks, "Is there anything I can do now to make it better for you?" Kris responds, "Just live the happiest life you can live. That's all I care about. And that you can find the peace you've been looking for for so long."
Perhaps most healing of all, Jenner and his daughters find plenty of chances for humor — as when Kim warns Jenner not to poach their makeup crews in the final video below — the quintessential way to show "we're with you, not against you." See the videos on the following pages.