From the moment Bruce Jenner answered Diane Sawyer and told her he considers himself a woman, I was amazed at the courage it must have taken to sit down and do the interview. He said his soul is much more woman than man. I remember watching him win the decathlon and thinking how incredibly handsome he was long before coming out. Coming out as gay was difficult but I can’t even imagine the process leading to come out to the world as transgender.
Jenner has lived in the spotlight since winning his Olympic medal in 1976. He said his first two wives knew about his issues and he married his third, Kris Kardashian, in 1991. During the entire Kardashian reality show Jenner said, “His story was the only one that really mattered and was the one he was hiding.” Sawyer handled the interview in a respectful way and those watching were educated on what it means to be born with the body of one gender and know you are really the opposite gender.
We recently saw Jacob, a 5-year-old, on the Today show with his mom describing how they dealt with his being born a girl yet knowing he was meant to be a boy. What a change for society. In his interview, Jenner told us he knew about himself many years ago and even started hormone treatment once before; but times were different and now at 65 he was ready to tell his family and the world and begin to live his life as he felt God intended him to be. Things are very different from when Christine Jorgensen became the first transgender woman most Americans had heard of in 1951.
Like many, it has taken me time to understand what it means for a person to be transgender and the difference between gender identity and sexual identity. My personal experience with someone coming out as transgender was with a friend who I first knew as an incredibly handsome young man. When she first told me about herself she came to my home and changed from her suit and tie into a skirt and blouse and we went out for dinner. I admired her courage in becoming who she was and hadn’t seen her in a number of years when she called recently and asked to meet for a drink. She has transitioned into a beautiful and confident woman.
Jenner gave people still learning about what it means to be transgender some additional insights by answering all sorts of questions including whether he is gay. His response saying he always liked women and was not gay left some confused as he intends to live life as a woman. But I think he was trying to say his sexuality hasn’t changed even if his gender has.
Today the LGBT community is making incredible strides in gaining acceptance. In June it is anticipated the Supreme Court will recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry — another step toward full civil and human rights for gays and lesbians. For the transgender community there have also been great strides but further to go for full acceptance and understanding. Shows like “Transparent” recognized with an Emmy for its star Jeffrey Tambor who plays a transgender woman and “Orange is the New Black” with its transgender star Laverne Cox, are making a difference. But there has been no wider audience learning what it means to be transgender than the nearly 17 million who watched the Jenner interview.
The discussion centered on his claiming his rightful gender but Sawyer asked a political question leading Jenner to say he was a Republican. You could imagine the gasp from the home audience when he was asked by Sawyer if he would feel comfortable going to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asking for their support. Jenner replied he would and expected them to support him. My immediate thought was to hope the disappointment won’t be too great.
Jenner said he hopes his forthcoming reality show will be an education for people and make it easier for others to transition. Jenner made clear he isn’t a spokesperson for the transgender community as he is just learning about himself. One can wish for Jenner, doing this in such a public way, he will find inner peace and comfort as he transitions to what he says is where his soul and brain have always been.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT and Democratic Party activist. He’s a regular contributor to the Blade.