The reaction to Bruce Jenner is love

Bruce Jenner: 'I have the soul of a female'
Bruce Jenner: 'I have the soul of a female'

There are innumerable reactions to Bruce Jenner's announcement about being a transgender woman, but the dominant reaction is the most human one of them all: love.

"Love is the courage to live the truest, best version of yourself. Bruce is love," Jenner's step-daughter Kim Kardashian wrote online after Jenner's interview aired on ABC on Friday night.

She signed her message "I love you Bruce" with the hashtag #ProudDaughter.

Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian said they were proud, as well. And Jenner's son Brandon said on the special, "I feel like I am getting an upgraded version of my dad."

Related: Bruce Jenner: 'Yes, for all intents and purposes, I'm a woman'

Almost 17 million viewers tuned in, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings, making the special one of the highest-rated news programs of the year on any network. ABC usually draws 6 or 7 million viewers on Friday nights.

On one coast, Jenner watched with members of his famous Hollywood family, including ex-wife Kris Jenner, as Diane Sawyer said "this is the last TV interview he will do as Bruce. His dream: to reemerge as the person he calls 'her.'"

On the other coast, Sawyer and the producers of the special watched in her office and an adjacent conference room at ABC News headquarters in New York. In a sign of the interview's significance, ABC News president James Goldston was present for the premiere.

The ABC staffers were refreshing Twitter (TWTR, Tech30)and Facebook (FB, Tech30) to see the real-time reactions. And they were "overwhelmingly more positive" than expected, according to a person who was there.

The staffers were hopeful that Jenner's story would be embraced -- but also nervous. And it's easy to see why; intolerance is never far from the surface of social media.

Related commentary: Welcome Bruce Jenner

On Friday night a quick Facebook search turned up viewers who say they're "sick of hearing about this," who think Jenner should keep his gender identity to himself, and who reject the very idea of transgender living.

But those comments were mostly drowned out by a virtual embrace of Jenner and his transition. Courage and bravery were the two big words.

And there was criticism of Kim Kardashian's ex-husband Kris Humphries for tweeting during the special, "Man, I'm glad I got out when I did."

There was also widespread empathy about how Jenner kept a secret for so long -- a relatable notion for so many viewers.

"Millions of people, for the first time, may feel that someone they know is trans. And on the whole what I have heard, across the board, is love," said Jennifer Finney Boylan, an author who is transgender and who was interviewed for ABC's special.

"Like a lot of trans people, I was uncertain about it at first," Boylan added. "But Bruce Jenner's sincerity really won me over, as did the seriousness of Diane Sawyer and her team. They truly seemed to want to get the issues right."

Related: Next for Jenner: Reality show on E!

Boylan is also a consultant on E!'s forthcoming documentary series about Jenner.

Both the ABC special and the E! series are seen by activists as educational opportunities. "Stories like Jenner's help change the narrative about who transgender people are," National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling said.

The ABC special "represented the community honestly," Army Sgt. Shane Ortega, the first "out" transgender soldier in the U.S. military, told CNN's Fredricka Whitfield.

There was saturation media coverage into Saturday morning, including a 30-minute special report on E! right after ABC's special ended.

"Where to begin..." TMZ editor Harvey Levin tweeted. "The Bruce Jenner special was amazing, eye-opening ... and for me at least educational."

Levin added, "I wonder how many lives he saved last night."

On ABC's "Good Morning America," co-host Dan Harris said "it was like we were having a conversation in our living rooms that we've never had before."

Polling by the advocacy group GLAAD has indicated that 8% of Americans personally know a transgender individual.

"In a sense, we all know someone now," Harris said.

There are other transgender public figures, including the retired tennis star Renee Richards, who identified as transgender in the 1970s, and the actress Laverne Cox, best known for her role on Netflix's "Orange is the New Black."

Related: "America's transgender moment"

But some media outlets are now describing Jenner as the most famous transgender person in the world, since he has been a household name for decades.

(This story refers to Jenner as "he" and "his" because both ABC and E!, which is preparing a reality show about Jenner's life, say that Jenner has, for now, indicated a preference to be called "Bruce" by the press and as "he," with male pronouns instead of female.)

The ABC special reflects the fact that, in an increasingly digital age, television still has a tremendous convening power -- power to gather a mass audience, frame a conversation and humanize an issue.

Most of the early reviews of it were positive, even among people who were skeptical going in.

"The Bruce Jenner interview is perhaps the best done thing on trans issues I've seen in mainstream TV media," Huffington Post Gay executive editor Noah Michelson tweeted. "I'm honestly shocked and amazed."

Social Surge - What's Trending

Newsletter

CNNMoney Sponsors