Bruce Jenner's Struggles With Gender Reveal How Much We Have To Learn

by Jill H

He* endured whistles and catcalls from paparazzi asking him about his gender transition.

He was followed to a secret doctor's appointment for a tracheal shave, and remained silent as numerous articles raised questions about his gender.

He was even the subject of jokes on late night television. But on April 24, Bruce Jenner took control of the flood of media coverage.

When Jenner sat down with ABC News' Diane Sawyer Friday night, he took his hair out of its ponytail, shook it loose, and said to Diane,

For all intents and purposes, I am a woman.

This was the first time he spoke so frankly about something the media have hungrily debated.

It looks like his candor will be eye-opening for millions of Americans, only 8 percent of whom say they know someone who is transgender. 

A lifetime of confusion

Jenner's interview last night was filled with revealing and deeply meaningful moments, as well as a refreshing level of honesty.

In his conversation with Sawyer, he confessed he has "always been confused with [his] gender identity."

He describes his childhood as riddled with confusing circumstances, in which he felt as though God made him a boy with the "soul of a female."

Throughout the interview, Jenner recounted his most joyful and public moments as an Olympic athlete, including breaking a world record in the decathlon in 1976.

He shared the pain behind these moments, looking at his photo from his record-breaking win, saying he was "a confused person at that time" who felt "big-time fear."

Jenner has been a hero and an icon of athleticism and masculinity. Moving forward, he wants to, in his own words, "start again."

He told the millions watching this will be his last television interview as Bruce. He will reemerge as a woman. "I just can't pull the curtain any longer," he confessed.

Too many misunderstandings

It may be shocking for some to see an athletic icon who once sported large muscles and a chiseled, masculine jawline showing Diane Sawyer his dresses, saying he will be building a "glam room" in his new home.

But it's only shocking because it's a fairly new subject to many of us.

There are numerous misunderstandings in our society, as indicated by brutality toward transgender people. Among these misunderstandings is the idea individuals somehow choose to be transgender.

Jenner's story tells us in no uncertain terms he was born this way. He explains how he would put on dresses from his sister's closet and wrap his short hair in one of his mother's scarves, at only 8 years old.

He didn't know why he was doing it, but "it just made [him] feel good," he explained.

This was a rare moment of happiness for Bruce, who subsequently endured decades of depression and "intense daily feelings of frustration."

There's also an idea gender and sexuality are somehow intertwined. Jenner dispels this myth the moment Sawyer asks him if he is "a lesbian."

He shakes his head and says, "It's two different things here: gender and sexuality," which is a concept reiterated by experts on the subject.

Perhaps most importantly, Jenner's interview illustrates men and women can come out as transgender without undergoing ridicule from everyone around them.

Much of Jenner's family is incorporated into the interview, and almost all of them make comments indicating their love and support.

Although his most famous stepchild, Kim Kardashian, is not featured, Bruce says she has been the most supportive of all.

He explains Kim experienced a turning point when Kanye West, her husband, explained Bruce's situation to her. West said:

I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world. And I am. I can have the most beautiful daughter in the world. And I do. But that means nothing if I can't be who I am.

With renewed understanding of Bruce's struggles with his own identity, Kim was able to fully embrace Jenner's transition.

The "transgender tipping point"

A May 2014 issue of Time Magazine proclaimed a "transgender tipping point" -- a headline that is truly prescient of the year to come, for Jenner and countless others.

People are starting to talk more; Sawyer's report raised valuable questions, and meaningful answers, for all of the Americans watching.

It's also telling that Bruce's interview elicited conversation around gender transition before it even aired.

On Facebook, people have been sharing videos of transgender children throughout the week leading up to the interview.

At the same time, NBC News devoted an entire section of its website to the "ongoing" story of transgender kids.

The theme throughout these videos is parents helped their children to lead easier, happier lives by recognizing they were physically one gender, but identified as another.

The children's struggles are echoed by Jenner in his interview.

When he was growing up, transition was a much more foreign concept. Now, slowly, more parents are recognizing and attending to the needs of their transgender children.

With greater understanding of the issue, parents have likely saved their children a lifetime of emotional and physical challenges -- the kinds of challenges Bruce experienced his entire life.

An astounding number of transgender people, 41 percent, have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

This is nine times the national average, and points to the pain of "gender nonconforming people who had suffered discrimination or violence, such as being physically or sexually assaulted at school or work."

This information comes from a study conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA School of Law, which also provides shocking information that many transgender individuals are turned away by doctors as a result of their identities.

In his interview, Bruce says he wants to help "save lives." And if it wasn't his immediate intention, he may have done so long before the interview ever even aired.

Paving the way for a brighter, more encouraging future

Bruce may inspire further conversation on the subject as time goes on, as arguably the highest profile celebrity to publicize his transition.

But before Bruce, there were others who were open about their transitions.

Laverne Cox, best known for her work on Netflix's "Orange is The New Black" and Chaz Bono, the son of Sonny Bono and Cher, are both well-known transgender celebrities.

The beautiful model Jenna Talacklova gained attention when she was disqualified from the 2012 Miss Universe competition for being transgender.

The list goes on, and points to a willingness among high profile individuals to be frank about their transition.

What's different is, none of these individuals sat down to conduct a long and candid interview with a reporter, ultimately revealing more about transgender issues than many of us have ever heard before.

Fortunately, as celebrities grow more open to discussing their transitions, other industries could become more accepting.

In an upcoming issue of Vogue, Andreja Pejic, a fully transitioned woman, will be featured in a truly beautiful and groundbreaking spread.

This could signal a more fluid interpretation of beauty, and a willingness in the fashion industry to accept greater diversity among its models.

But Vogue's much-hyped fashion spread, like Jenner's interview, reminds us this kind of societal acceptance (which still has a long way to go) has been a long time coming.

Websites, news stations and fashion magazines have only recently been open to featuring transgender individuals and covering transgender stories.

They still haven't stopped mocking the subject. It's a sure sign we really haven't been saying much about gender transition and, in turn, learning about it.

Rooting for Bruce

There's also more to come from Bruce. He said he would be open to speaking with conservatives like Mitch McConnell about transgender rights.

He urged Diane Sawyer to speak with him again in a year, when he will have transitioned.

As for Bruce himself? Right now, he's just eager to celebrate the small victories, like being able to wear nail polish until it chips off.

He seems happiest during the interview when he is talking about "Her," the person he allows himself to be when the cameras are off and he's around people he trusts.

A docu-series filmed by the E! television network will catalogue Jenner's transition in eight one-hour episodes debuting later this summer. It will follow Jenner's transition and his relationships.

As we continue to talk about his interview, and transgender individuals like him, it becomes more likely people like Bruce won't have to hide from cameras and people at all.

So let's keep asking questions and keep talking until Jenner's next interview, when we finally see him, and hopefully other transgender people, comfortable and confident in their own skin. And when we do, let's meet them with compassion.

*Editor's Note: As part of his television interview last night, Bruce Jenner requested (via Diane Sawyer) he would still like to be identified as "he." Until he requests otherwise, Elite Daily will continue to refer to Jenner using male pronouns. 

Citations: 2014 Transgender Violence Statistics Sobering Thus Far (The Huffington Post), 9 questions about gender identity and being transgender you were too embarrassed to ask (Vox), The Transgender Tipping Point (Time), Transgender Kids (NBC News), Transgender study looks at exceptionally high suicide attempt rate (Los Angeles Times), Bruce Jenner sex change Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono and other transgender celebrities (International Business Times), From bearded women to sex swap actresses As Andreja Pejic becomes the first transgender Vogue model the taboo busting figures changing fashion revealed (Daily Mail)