Bruce Jenner won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, making him one of the greatest athletes in the world. I was 2 years old. I never knew Bruce Jenner the athlete, I never knew Bruce Jenner of "Wheaties" box fame. My experience with Bruce Jenner has been through mainstream media over the past decade. The Bruce Jenner I know is of Kardahsian fame, as the put upon male counterpart to that matriarch.
A year ago, Bruce and his wife publicly announced their separation after 22 years of marriage. In the past six months, Bruce has been a constant target of public fodder. His hair is getting longer, his nails are painted, his Adams Apple looks smoother, is he wearing a sports bra?
Last week, my tween son, who understands more about the world than I did in 1985 when I was 11, asked me what the "T" meant in LGBT. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual. What's the T?" Transgender was new territory.
I explained that for some people, the gender of their body doesn't match the gender in their mind. Their physical body does not match how they feel inside. I reminded him how his hair drives him nuts every morning, and for him, this part of his physicality is annoying. I then asked him how he thinks it must feel to look in the mirror and despise your body. Your entire body. I told him to close his eyes and imagine when he opened them, that while he felt the same inside, when he looked in the mirror he would see a female body. He cringed. He got it.
Not only did he get it, he also then began to explore what happens to people who are already older when they decide to face this. What happens to their lives, their mates, their sexual identity? He showed considerably maturity during our discussion. When I brought kids into the equation and how they can be bullied, depressed and suicidal, all for something they were born with and can't control, compassion was added to the mix.
Laverne Cox is a great and relevant example and someone we discussed. After which he asked about Bruce Jenner, saying he had seen some of the provocative/nasty headlines. I told him that people are guessing as to what's going on, but he has not said anything publicly just yet. The athlete in my son opened his eyes wide at the magnitude of Bruce possibly coming out publicly as transgender. At how much courage that would take, how much that could help kids and older men and women with this issue. How hard for a male athlete known around the world for his physical accomplishments to publicly state he is a woman.
Friday night, when Bruce sat down with Diane Sawyer, I invited my son to watch the interview. I saw a very brave person own his truth and look with tears in his eyes at the insensitive and very public spectacle that is his transition. He spoke of hoping that he would help do some good by coming out.
Change is scary and the best way to ease fear is to offer a real person behind the headline. A caring, breathing, feeling person behind the salacious gossip brings humanity to the issue, humanity to the discomfort. Bruce Jenner and his extended family have an enormous fan base and it's very likely that some could be experiencing what he is. Some could gain real strength from his public documentation.
Thanks to Bruce Jenner, a lot more people might "get it" too.