Even in age of reality TV, public gender transitions still uncommon

Story highlights

  • Bruce Jenner is the subject of gender-transitioning rumors
  • Very few high-profile people have gone through the process

(CNN)Talk about gender transitioning may be swirling around Bruce Jenner, but the 1976 Olympic gold medalist has kept quiet.

Who can blame him?
Though the mainstream is increasingly aware of the various ways some people are modifying their gender presentations -- even in our Instagrammed, reality-show age -- it remains rare for people to do their transitioning in public. It's even more uncommon for someone already in the public eye to go through the process.
    Bruce Jenner: 'A new kind of champion'
    Bruce Jenner: 'A new kind of champion'

      JUST WATCHED

      Bruce Jenner: 'A new kind of champion'

    MUST WATCH

    Bruce Jenner: 'A new kind of champion' 03:22
    If the rumors are true, Jenner may become an exception. His mother, Esther, recently spoke to The Associated Press about hobbies he intends to continue enjoying; "family sources" and "an insider" have spoken to TMZ and People magazine, respectively, providing droplets of gossip about Jenner.
    That part is no surprise. Jenner's ex-wife, Kris, is the matriarch of the Kardashian clan -- no strangers to growing up and showing off in public.
    However, while Esther Jenner and Kris' daughter Kim Kardashian have both publicly offered strong support for Bruce Jenner, neither has used the words "transgender" or "transitioning" with the media.
    CNN's repeated attempts to get comment from Jenner, his agents and his mother have gone unanswered. E!, which runs "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" and is reportedly working on a documentary with Jenner, has told CNN "we're still not commenting."
    And Jenner himself has said nothing publicly. Even the decathlon winner's website, brucejenner.com, consists of a cover page with a generic photo of runners at the starting line, a reference to him as "the world's greatest athlete" (as Olympic decathlon winners are sometimes called) and a small note that content is "coming soon." He reportedly does have an interview with Diane Sawyer in the works.
    There are a handful of relatively well-known people who have transitioned. They have also remained private during the process.
    Here are a few examples.
    Renee Richards appears at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
    Renee Richards
    As Richard Raskind, Richards was a successful eye surgeon and, in her younger days, a highly regarded amateur tennis player. Her transition was carried out in private but became very public when she was outed by a San Diego TV reporter after a mid-'70s tennis tournament, which prompted the U.S. Tennis Association to ban her from the U.S. Open.
    As Michael Weinreb wrote in a 2011 Grantland profile, "Until that moment, she had no intention of playing in the U.S. Open. Until that moment, Richards, already a well-respected eye surgeon, insists she had never really dreamed of a professional tennis career."
    Richards won the right to play in the Open -- she lost the 1977 doubles final -- and became a sought-after coach, most notably with Martina Navratilova. A documentary about her life, "Renee," premiered in 2011.
    Lana Wachowski attends a premiere in 2013.
    Lana Wachowski
    The older of the Wachowski siblings, creators of the "Matrix" trilogy and the newly released "Jupiter Ascending," began modifying her gender presentation in the early 2000s.
    During Wachowski's transformation, friends and representatives publicly denied that the process was underway. As late as 2007, when the Wachowskis were making "Speed Racer," columnist Roger Friedman quoted producer Joel Silver as saying, "It's all untrue." The insular Wachowskis had a no-press clause in their studio contract, so the chatter was not confirmed by the pair themselves.
    Wachowski came out as transgender in public in 2012. The pair was the subject of a major New Yorker profile in September 2012.
    "My biggest fears were all about losing my family. Once they accepted me, everything else has been a piece of cake," Lana Wachowski told the magazine. "I know that many people are dying to know if I have a surgically constructed vagina or not, but I prefer to keep this information between my wife and me."
    Chaz Bono arrives at ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" 300th Episode Celebration in 2013.
    Chaz Bono
    The child of Sonny and Cher came out as a lesbian in 1995. In 2008, he began his gender transition, a process that was noted by his publicist in 2009.
    Bono's transition was the subject of a film, "Becoming Chaz," in 2011.
    Since then, Bono is probably best known for competing on "Dancing with the Stars." He stays active in the entertainment business, promoting his weight loss on "The Doctors" and appearing in the forthcoming film "Dirty."
    Alexis Arquette appears at an event in 2014.
    Alexis Arquette
    One of the acting Arquettes -- sibling of Rosanna, Patricia and David -- had roles in such films as "The Wedding Singer" and "Pulp Fiction" before transitioning in the early 2000s.
    The experience was the subject of a 2007 film, "Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother."
    Since then, Arquette has appeared in the TV series "Californication" and the films "Here & Now," "Getting Back to Zero" and "Blended."
    Arquette has said she wants the focus to be on her art, not her body.
    "When people ask me about my privates, I say: 'Unless you want to have sex with me, there's no point asking me. Unless you want to discriminate against me, I don't know why it would be an issue,' " she told Out's Michael Musto in January. "Why would you treat someone differently? You're gonna hold the door for me just because I have a vagina? It's nice to hold the door for everyone."