Note: Bruce Jenner is currently choosing to be referred to as Bruce and with male pronouns. Until he says otherwise, we will address him accordingly.
Sunday night's episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the first in a two-part special called "About Bruce," was oddly titled, because it wasn't about Bruce, not really. Sure, we got a few new glimpses into his transition and the hero he has always been, and we'll get to those. But more than anything else, the episode was about grief.
And the show was upfront about that. A few screens of text ran at the beginning of the episode, two of which read, "Families of trans people often feel like they need to grieve the loss of the person that they thought they knew. 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."
Even though Bruce's announcement is new, that grief isn't: The girls (Rob is conspicuously and inexplicably absent) have been living with uncertainty and hurt to varying degrees for a long time. Kendall tells stories about finding makeup in her father's things when she was little and keeping it a secret, since she thought it was evidence of an affair. Kim talks about walking into Bruce while he was dressed as a woman and the strain of having to hide that from Kris and from her other siblings. It's odd to realize Kim has been keeping this a secret for the entirety of KUWTK's run, although I guess that pales in comparison to the fact that Bruce has been keeping this a secret since he was 7.
It's brave of the girls to share those stories, and it should go without saying that it's incredibly brave of Bruce to dive back into the pain and confusion being transgender has caused throughout his life, and to let his choices be held up to public scrutiny — and the scrutiny of his own children. At one point, it's revealed that Bruce told every single one of his kids, individually and one-on-one, that he was choosing to live as a woman, which is even more remarkable when you consider the fact that he has 10 children, and six of them are Kardashians or Jenners. Diane Sawyer was probably a conversational cakewalk in comparison.
But while Bruce is being immensely courageous, it takes courage for the girls to explore their grief on national television too. It would have been easy for KUWTK to air a 10-minute, "We love our dad no matter what!" package and be done with it, but what they've done instead is commit to sharing the reality of the process, without any of the contrivances the show typically leans on. It's complicated and sometimes heartbreaking — like Kendall hiding in the kitchen at her dad's house, crying over how sad and scared she gets when people talk about "Bruce being gone" soon.
But raw grief isn't always a good look. Bruce's daughters are reacting to a situation that isn't theirs, but that's still deeply complicated and emotional for each of them — and when you're in the thick of a situation like that, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it's not about you. In particular, Khloé (whose relationship with Bruce is notoriously close and complicated) seems angry throughout the episode, accusing Bruce of "lying" when she realizes she doesn't have all the information about his surgeries and plans, not realizing that it's an adjustment for Bruce to not keep these things secret. Hers is an understandable reaction, but it's not a particularly gracious one.
That's the bravery of it: The Kardashian/Jenners seem to realise that showing the world what being the family of a person undergoing gender transition looks like is more important than how it makes the family look. In particular, I was really gratified that the show chose to include flashbacks to scenes from past episodes in which Bruce was pressured to cut or change his hair. Those scenes felt hurtful when they originally aired, even without the context of Bruce's transition, and I'm glad those moments weren't swept under the rug, even though they're decidedly unflattering to the girls.
emotional hour of TV. Khloé buys Bruce a pair of spiky heels that match hers and suggests a "Bitch stole my look!" spread. Kim checks out Bruce's pedicure and pronounces his feet "way more feminine than I'd ever imagined." Kourtney asks what Bruce's "casual style" is like, and jokingly suggests that it's probably denim-on-denim. (It's actually jeans and a "great sweater.")
There's lots more ground for Bruce and company to cover, both in the second part of the episode (which airs tonight) and in Bruce's forthcoming E! series, but toward the end of last night's episode, Bruce said, almost like he was asking a question, "I have a big stage that I'm on — and maybe with that stage, I can do something." You don't need to keep watching to know there's no "maybe" about it.