A Lot of Us Are Still Learning About Transgender Topics, But We'll Get There

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2013 file photo, former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner arrives at the Annual Charity Day hosted by Can
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2013 file photo, former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner arrives at the Annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners, in New York. ABC says the former Olympic champion and patriarch of the Kardashian television clan will give a two-hour interview to Diane Sawyer airing on Friday, April 24. (Photo by Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP, File)

It's always been a subject I've had a difficult time getting my head around, and I know I'm not the only one. We've got a long way to go in learning to accept those wanting to change their gender or who identify with another gender (transgender) -- but thanks to one of my childhood idols, we're now a lot closer than we were.

Growing up watching Bruce Jenner as an Olympic hero, watching him become dubbed the "Greatest Athlete in the World," and buying his boxes of Wheaties, I can't say I ever envisioned this. But when he told Diane Sawyer that he's a woman and has always had the soul of a woman, the idea of someone being transgender became something we had to accept.

As a kid, the neighborhood group and I would have our own Olympics and have track and field events just like Bruce to determine who was the best athlete in our neighborhood. I finished third by the way, done in by the long-distance running.

Growing up in the middle of small town America in Illinois, Bruce's story is not a subject I've ever had to deal with.

I had one brother come out as gay around 1980 when I was still a teenager, and I remember how difficult it was for society and me to get around that issue back then. I've a long time ago since had another brother and a sister come out to create an interesting family dynamic of three siblings who are straight and three who are gay.

But while accepting gay siblings, relatives who are gay, or co-workers who are gay has come a long way for Americans to be more accepting, that doesn't translate necessarily to our understanding of any of the current gender topics in the news.

I know what was the case for myself when I moved to California in the late 1990s and saw things I never did growing up in a small town. Covering a regional transportation board for a community newspaper of the Los Angeles Times was the first time I confronted any gender-related topics or even thought about them.

When you see members of the public who attend the meeting on a regular basis, you think nothing of it. But when one time, you see one of the regulars, a man, wearing a dress, wig and makeup... I have to admit I didn't know how to react.

Everybody else in the room spoke to him and didn't bat an eye because they know him well.

I didn't say anything. I didn't know if I was supposed to ignore or make some compliment. So silence served me best.

It was a learning experience for me, and it's nothing I apologize for because it takes some of us time to grasp new subjects like this one. I was confused and curious at the same time. I wanted to understand. And now I want to understand Bruce's story, too.

I have to admit that gender identity has always been somewhat of a mysterious topic for me, but it's just a matter of giving more of us older American men time. Maybe, if I had grown up in California, it's something I would have grasped much sooner by getting to know more people different from myself.

Well, the Bruce Jenner interview shed some light on what's he's going through and the decision he has made for a gender change. As others follow, I think more and more people will become more sympathetic and understanding. I hope we become a model for how to treat fellow Americans regarding all gender-related matters.

I applaud Bruce Jenner for coming forward and talking about what he's going through and giving the rest of us some insight and ability to empathize.

That will go a long way to making sure people are treated with dignity.

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