Former Olympian Tells of His Struggles with a “Female Soul”
Bruce Jenner is a recognizable figure to millions of Americans, whether he is known for winning the gold medal in the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, or for his marriage to businesswoman Kris Jenner and his role on the ubiquitous E! reality television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Over the past few months, whispers and chatter have been building regarding Bruce Jenner’s gender identity, and finally he put all of the questions to rest on Friday in a two-hour special episode of 20/20 hosted by Diane Sawyer. The special, watched by 17 million Americans, was the most-watched episode of 20/20 in the past 15 years. It was also the most Tweeted Friday episode of any television show in Twitter’s history, according to Nielsen.
In the special, Bruce Jenner sat down with Sawyer and discussed the inner turmoil he has lived with all of his life, and how he couldn’t live another day without publicly stating his story, including the chapter that is yet to come. This was the last interview Bruce Jenner gave as a man, and when he speaks to the press again, it will be as a woman. For the time being, however, he has expressed acceptance with the media using male pronouns and his male name until he chooses a time to fully unveil his life as a female — including a new name.
As Bruce Jenner started off the interview, he cried briefly, telling Sawyer that he had been waiting for this day for a long time. He then explained how he told his children about his struggles with gender identity: when God created him, He created him smart, strong and determined, but to give him something to deal with throughout his life, He gave him the soul and the brain of a woman. When Sawyer confronted him with photos from his legendary decathlon performance in 1976, he pointed to one photograph, one where he threw the javelin for a record-breaking length, and said, “This is me. That is her.” One of the most important things he wanted to say to America is that females can “kick butt,” as he had at the Olympics.
Parts of the interview brought Sawyer and Jenner to Tarrytown, New York, Bruce Jenner’s hometown. Upon arriving in Tarrytown, he revealed the story of the first time he tried on female clothing; he couldn’t remember whether it was his mother’s or his sister’s, but he vividly remembers returning the clothing to the exact same spot in the closet so he would not be found out. He remembered feeling all alone, growing up in a time when such issues were hardly ever — if ever — discussed in an understanding and positive manner.
During that time, he fought off his conflicting feelings regarding his true gender by excelling in sports and showing off his brawn. He was MVP in basketball and football in high school and was a track star in college. Competing in the Olympics in 1972 and placing tenth inspired him to train day and night for the next four years in hopes of winning the gold in 1976. During those years, he became the world’s greatest athlete, at the expense of much of his mental well-being.
The first person he told about his gender issues was his first wife, Chrystie, who was by his side as he trained for the gold. Their marriage fell apart due to infidelity, but Chrystie has been supportive of Bruce, including now as he starts his new journey as the person he was always meant to be. He went on to marry his second wife, Linda. His relationship with Linda, while initially full of sparks, quickly deteriorated, this time due to his gender issues. However, Linda has since gone on record supporting Bruce and his decision to transition to female.
After his second divorce, he becomes more emboldened in his quest to live his truth. He starts taking estrogen, undergoes electrolysis and plastic surgery, and tells another person about his struggle: his older sister, Pam. Pam is overwhelmed with emotion, and eventually grows to support him, but they don’t speak of the issue for over two decades.
Then, his life turns around — for the better and for the worse — when he meets Kris Kardashian. A strong businesswoman, she re-energizes his brand and helps make him more financially secure. The trade-off for him is stopping his hormone treatment and downplaying a lot of the issues he had inside. For the majority of their marriage, he doesn’t speak as openly as he perhaps should regarding his gender identity, and his problems only intensify when she successfully negotiates their family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which debuts in 2007.
“I loved Kris. I learned a lot from her,” Bruce Jenner said in the interview, elaborating by saying that a fulfilling relationship is one where you can learn from the other participant. They tried dealing with his issues — at this point never fully articulated — on their own. “You don’t just take two aspirin and get plenty of sleep and call it a day. It doesn’t work like that,” he said.
He felt himself fade into the background as the Kardashians’ star power and empire grew. After over 400 episodes of the show, he remarked to Diane Sawyer that “I had the story…the one real true story in the family was the one I was hiding and nobody knew about it. The one thing that could really make a difference in peoples’ lives was right here in my soul and I could not tell that story.” It was the realization that he may die tomorrow, having only lived his life as someone else, that was the catalyst for him to make such a major and courageous decision as this one.
“Kris is a good woman…she’s a good person. Honestly, if she would have been really good with it and understanding, we’d probably still be together,” he said.
In the show, Bruce moves out of the house into a smaller one nearby, but what was not revealed at the time was that he was able to have some semblance of privacy, allowing himself to dress and live semi-openly as a woman. However, when the tabloids were told about his plans to shave down his Adam’s apple, he feared that it was the end game for him, and he told Diane Sawyer that he understood the emotions that may drive others to suicide Fortunately, he did not go that route, remarking in the interview, “I want to know how this story ends.”
His children were very supportive when he told them of his struggles and his upcoming journey. One of the biggest fears he had in his life was disappointing and alienating the people he loved most.
The oldest four of his six biological children were also interviewed by Diane Sawyer, and they discussed how they dealt with their father’s news.
“You could tell it was very difficult for him,” his son Brandon, who was the first to find out, said.
“I just held his hand and told him how proud of him I was, and how inspired I was,” his daughter Cassandra said.
“All the traits I loved about Bruce, she still has,” his son Brody said with a smile.
While the Kardashian stepchildren did not participate in the interview, nor did his youngest two children, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, the duo did give a statement: “We love our dad very much. He has the biggest heart and all we want is for him to be happy. If he’s happy, we’re happy.”
He discussed the support he’s received from his stepchildren. Kim, who was the first of the stepchildren to know, was unsure how to proceed with such a sensitive topic. “I just thought it was one of these subjects that I couldn’t talk about,” Bruce said Kim told her. He later said Kim went on to have a breakthrough, aided by her husband Kanye West, and ended up giving him an unforgettable piece of advice: “Girl, you gotta rock it, baby!”
The interview was interspersed with advice from various physicians on what it means to be transgender, the importance of using correct pronouns when referring to or talking to someone who is transgender, and the importance of dealing with gender identity issues with a doctor as soon as possible. If untreated and undiagnosed, people who deal with gender dysphoria are much more likely to attempt suicide: 45% of untreated transgender men and women will attempt suicide before they turn 25.
The interview also showcased various representations of transgender life from throughout the decades. From Christine Jorgensen, a former soldier who was the first known American to get sex reassignment surgery, to Renee Richards, who fought and won the right to play professional tennis as a woman, to contemporary inspirations like Geena Rocero, Laverne Cox, and Diego Miguel Sanchez, transgender people have been able to live more openly today, but there are still quite a few people in the United States who do not know any transgender people, do not understand the concept of gender dysphoria, and may be unaware of transgender people’s struggles to live lives free of discrimination and violence. ABC News has put together a primer on transgender life which can be accessed by going to abc.go.com/health, so people can become more educated on transgender issues.
Perhaps the most moving show of support for Bruce Jenner on his upcoming journey came from his mother, Esther, an 89-year-old conservative Christian. She taped a segment for the interview, in which she said, “I was very proud of you when you stood on that podium in Montreal. I never thought I could be more proud of you, but I’m learning I can be…I want you to be happy, and I love you.”
“I’m saying goodbye to people’s perceptions of me and who I am. I’m not saying goodbye to me. This has always been me,” he said when asked if he feels he is bidding farewell to anything. He asks people to “be open-minded…Have an open mind and an open heart. I’m not this bad person. I’m just doing what I have to do.”
Reactions from the public, his own family, and from fellow celebrities have been overwhelmingly positive. His third ex-wife, Kris Jenner, after refusing comment on the interview, Tweeted “Not only was I able to call him my husband for 25 years and father of my children, I am now able to call him my hero.”
Lady Gaga Tweeted her support, saying, “We have the chance to write this moment in history together. Let’s empower people like Bruce all over the world by being loving and not mean.” Ellen DeGeneres wrote, “Bruce Jenner is a beautiful, brave human being. Sending him lots of love. He’s saving lives and opening minds tonight.” Florida native Ariana Grande wrote, “Bruce Jenner is beautiful. We all need to commit to making this world a more loving, supportive, SAFE, non-judgmental place to be ourselves.” Fellow athlete Billie Jean King said, “#BruceJenner we learn from you to be courageous, funny and to be our authentic self. With love and go for it!”
Diane Sawyer noted at the end of the two-hour interview that they made plans to sit down once more, one year from now, which may very well be the first time Bruce Jenner speaks to the media as the woman he always felt he was — and we all hope the events of the next year will help him on his journey to finally be himself — no, herself — and be at peace.
If you’d like to follow Bruce Jenner on social media, you can do so by pressing “Like” on his Facebook page, and by following him on Twitter @IAmBruceJenner.