For decades we knew this person as Bruce Jenner, as a man, an Olympian, the guy on the Wheaties box, the man who married into the Kardashian clan and became a reality TV celebrity. Now we also know Jenner is a woman, and that his transition began 30 years ago.
The interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer started with Jenner explaining having "always been confused with my gender identity, since I was this big." Jenner imagines God creating "a smart kid" with "all these qualities." But, "wait a second, got to give him something to deal with. Let's give him the soul of a female."
Sawyer asked, "Are you a woman?"
"For all intents and purposes," said Jenner, "I'm a woman."
Jenner, who Sawyer said prefers male pronouns at this time, even though he also referred to himself as "Bruce" and "her," said his transition actually began 30 years ago.
Sawyer's interview was the culmination of more than a year of rumor, speculation, mockery and tabloid sensationalism. Some of that is due to the nature of Jenner’s participation in Keeping Up With The Kardashians on E!, and being a part of a family that lives in the public eye, open to nearly 24/7 scrutiiny by paparazzi. But it's also a reflection of the state of society when it comes to acceptance of trans people and understanding of gender identity.
Although the supermarket tabloids didn’t start hounding Jenner about his femme presentation until 2014, the first hints that there might be an issue came in October 2013, with the news that Jenner had split from Kris Jenner, his wife of 22 years, the previous year, and that the two had kept it quiet.
As Jenner’s features became visibly more feminine, Hollywood’s online gossip reporters started to dig. Radar Online reported in December 2014 that his first wife, Chrystie Scott, revealed Jenner was cross-dressing — a fact which Jenner confirmed in the interview.
"Were you fair to these women you married?" Sawyer asked.
"No, I was not as fair as I should have been," Jenner says.
"Do you look back and say, I apologize for that?"
"Yeah, and I have apologized to everyone. Everybody. I’ve apologized for my entire life."
In December 2013, Radar Online quoted Jenner’s son Brody as saying his father was doing “better than ever” following his split with Kardashian and “ has been ‘growing his hair out.’"
Within a month, the full court press was on, as the paparazzi started snapping pics and posting headlines about Jenner sporting not just longer hair, but longer nails, and other feminized features, with the likes of TMZ going so far as to speculate about his breasts. Then came reports in the National Enquirer that he had undergone a “laryngeal shave” procedure at a clinic in Beverly Hills to soften the appearance of his Adam’s apple, and appeared with his throat bandaged. Transgender activists watched all of this with horror as their identity was repeatedly sensationalized.
The rumor mill went into overdrive when InTouchWeekly took a photograph of a British actress and photoshopped it to make a picture of Jenner look as he might as a woman, and claimed in its pages that Jenner was coming out in The Advocate magazine. It was all a hoax that was denounced as transphobic.
Through it all, Jenner remained mum, as late night comics and TMZ mocked him relentlessly. Jimmy Kimmel and his team put together a mock Facebook “looking back at your year” movie that featured Jenner’s changing look from “When You Were A Man” to “Our Weird Aunt Bess.” Kevin Hart managed to mention Jenner during the Justin Bieber Roast on Comedy Central. Jamie Foxx was called out for being transphobic when he joked about Jenner at the iHeart Radio Awards, saying “He’s doing a his-and-her duet all by himself,” and “Look I’m just busting your balls, while I still can.”
Even TV counselor Doctor Phil got in on the merciless ribbing just this week, telling Kimmel, “It would be boring to talk to me about that. First off, I would just say, ‘Look, if it’s what you want to do, do it. What the hell does it matter what anybody else thinks?’ That’d be the first 30 seconds,” McGraw continued. “I guess we’d spend the next hour and 59 minutes saying, ‘You’re almost 80. What’s the point?'”
Jenner's extended family is an important part of his story. He recalls the moment he first told his sister, Pam, only to wait 30 years until they talked about it again. Then he remembers coming out to his mother, assuring her, "Mom, you didn’t cause this. It’s just the way I am, the way I was born."
Jenner is 65, a father to six children from three marriages and stepfather to four children including Kim Kardashian. The 1976 gold medal winner also has seven grandchildren. And Jenner tells Sawyer they are what’s most important to him.
“Those are the only ones I’m concerned with. I can’t let myself hurt them.”
Thursday, talk show host Wendy Williams took aim at Jenner for doing precisely that, calling Jenner a “fame whore” who should be focusing on his children. “Bruce has bigger fish to fry than turning into Belinda,” Williams said to applause, taking a jab at a widely reported rumored female name Jenner has taken on.
“I’m all for and very happy for anyone that lives their own truth, including Bruce transitioning,” Williams said on Thursday’s show. “But [Jenner] should have thought about [transitioning] before having all the kids. You got kids to explain to,” said Williams.
Jenner brushed off the suggestion the coming out interview is all a publicity stunt by promising to turn this moment into a chance to help others. "What I am doing is going to do some good," Jenner promised, "we’re gonna make a difference in the world."
Even before the interview ended, activist groups such as GLAAD were already praising the example set to the world and the potential impact it will have on its own.
"Today, millions of people learned that someone they know is transgender," said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. "By sharing this story, Bruce Jenner has shined a light on what it means to be transgender and live authentically in the face of unimaginable public scrutiny. Though Jenner's journey is one that is deeply personal, it is also one that will impact and inspire countless people around the world."
Lucas Grindley contributed to this report.
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