“Let’s do this.” With that, former Olympiad and Kardashian paterfamilias Bruce Jenner answered a question that many had been asking recently: Is he a transgender woman? The answer is unequivocally yes: “For all intents and purposes, I am a woman,” Jenner said. “My heart and soul and everything I do in life, it is part of me, that female side…is who I am.” In an emotional interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20, Jenner revealed his lifelong struggle with his gender identity, being a transgender woman and what’s next. (In the interview, Jenner expressed preference to be referred to by his given name and male pronouns; we’ll continue to do so during coverage of the interview, in deference to those wishes.) “I’m gonna learn a lot in the next year,” Jenner remarked. Here’s what we learned from the interview.
This is the last interview Bruce Jenner plans to give as “Bruce Jenner.”
Jenner has been transitioning now for about 18 months (though he reveals he took hormones for five years in the 1980s, more on that below). “This is me,” Jenner explained. “This is who I am. I look at it this way: Bruce has lived a lie his whole life about who he is. And I can’t do that anymore.” Jenner did not reveal a new name during the interview, only referring to his true identity as “her.” But his transition will be the subject of an eight-part series on E!, premiering in July; eventually, Jenner will reveal his true identity in public, finally living as her. “I look at women all the time, thinking, ‘Oh my God, how lucky are they, that they can wake up in the morning and be themselves?'” Soon, Jenner will be able to do the same.
No, this is not a publicity move.
As questions about Jenner’s transition grew more intense, so too did skepticism over whether or not this was some kind of stunt intended to promote the Kardashian clan. But Jenner quickly shut that down. “Are you telling me I’m going to go through a complete gender change, and go through everything you need to do that, for the show? Sorry, Diane, it ain’t happening.” But Jenner did acknowledge that being part of one of the most famous reality-TV families in the world has given him a platform. “If the whole Kardashian show. . .gave me that foothold into that world, to be able to go out there and be able to do something good, I’m all for it. I’ve got no problem with that.”
Jenner has struggled with his gender identity since he was a small child.
The first time Jenner knew that he might actually identify as a woman was when he was very young: He would wear his mother’s dresses and leave his parents’ house in Tarrytown, New York, covering his head with a scarf, to see what life was like as a woman. “I marked the closet so when I put [the dress] back, I would put everything back in the exact same spot so I wouldn’t get caught,” he explained. “I didn’t know why I was doing it, besides it just made me feel good.”
The “World’s Greatest Athlete” didn’t relish his Olympic victory.
Jenner’s fame skyrocketed after winning the gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Olympics, setting a new world record in the process. But training for the Olympics had allowed Jenner to focus on something other than his gender identity (“I didn’t have to deal with me”), and when he finally won, he felt something other than happiness. “I was so sad,” he explained. “Not only was that part of my life over, I had so many issues to deal with.”
Jenner originally started transitioning more than 30 years ago.
After battling depression for a period in the Eighties, Jenner decided to begin the process of transitioning, working with doctors and taking female hormones for a period of about five years. But eventually, Jenner decided to stop, worried about his children and the public’s reaction. He would later give motivational speeches, but feel anger with himself afterward. “I would walk off the stage and I would feel like a liar,” Jenner explained. “I’d say, you’ve just got no guts.” (He’d also go change into a dress and walk around the streets as a woman to relieve pressure.)
Jenner is prepared for questions about his sexuality, but refuses to be stymied by them.
Sawyer repeatedly questioned whether Jenner’s transition, and his identity as heterosexual (and marriages to women), made him a lesbian — but Jenner refused to bite. “You’re going back to the sex thing, and it’s apples and oranges,” he said, somewhat exasperatedly. “There’s two different things here: Sexuality is who you’re personally attracted to, who turns you on, male or female. Gender identity is how to do with who you are as a person, and your soul, and who you identify with inside.”
Jenner’s family is supportive, if somewhat apprehensive.
Jenner’s 10 children — six children with his three wives, as well as his four stepkids — have all expressed support for his life as a transgender woman. Sawyer interviewed his four eldest children, who discussed how Jenner revealed his identity and professing their love for their father. During the interview, the Kardashian kids posted platitudes on social media: Kendall and Kylie, Jenner’s two youngest children, both called their father a “hero,” while Kim Kardashian posted an Instagram selfie with her stepdad, saying, “Love is the courage to live the truest, best version of yourself.” Of course, it hasn’t been totally smooth sailing: Kris Jenner allegedly refused to comment for the program (a claim she refuted on Twitter), and Bruce Jenner admitted his transition had been hard for his kids, especially Khloe Kardashian, at first.
Kim Kardashian is the most supportive of Jenner’s stepkids — thanks to Kanye West.
Of Kardashian kids, Jenner says that Kim has become “the most accepting and the easiest to talk to about it.” And it’s thanks to her equally famous husband, Kanye West. “[Kim and Kanye] were talking about it,” explained Jenner, “and he said to Kim, ‘I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am. I can have the most beautiful little daughter in the world, and I have that. But I’m nothing if I can’t be me.”
Network TV can be sensitive to trans issues.
Most of the two-hour interview focused on Jenner’s story and life as a transgender woman, but 20/20 also offered viewers a sort of primer on trans issues, including clips from prominent trans activists like author Janet Mock and model Geena Rocero. The show also highlighted the difficulties — depression, violence, suicide — faced by trans men and women, especially trans women of color. Considering the comments and jokes that have been made at Jenner’s expense (Bill Maher, we’re looking at you), it was refreshing to see trans issues covered in a way that was sensitive rather than sensationalist. (Trans writer and activist Parker Molloy even tweeted, “All things considered, that was an informative program tonight.)
Jenner is a Republican.
After showing a brief clip of President Obama, Jenner responded, “He actually was the first one to say the actual word transgender, I will certainly give him credit for that. But not to get political, I’ve just never been a big fan — I’m kind of more on the conservative side.” And with that, Jenner came out as a Republican.
Jenner hopes that coming out publicly will bring about positive change.
Jenner acknowledged that while his story is garnering plenty of publicity, he’s not a spokesperson for the trans community — and expressed a desire to work with and learn from fellow trans men and women. “What I’m doing is going to do some good — we’re going to change the world,” he explained. Jenner also offered one piece of advice for people who might be confused or upset about his transition: “Have an open mind and an open heart.”