What Bruce Jenner has done that you may not know about
This post was written before Jenner announced that her name is Caitlyn and that she prefers female pronouns.
When I was 8 years old, I watched Bruce Jenner run through the streets of Nevada carrying the Olympic torch shortly before the 1984 Olympic Games. Over 30 years later, I am once again in awe of him but for vastly different reasons.
Nearly a month ago, Jenner went on ABC’s 20/20 and discussed his upcoming gender transition with Diane Sawyer. As a licensed counselor who works with transgender individuals, I was anxious about the interview as I was afraid it could do a disservice to an already alienated community. I was thrilled to be wrong.
Over 16 million people watched the lengthy interview that was informative, hopeful, and respectful. Not only did they watch, apparently many people paid close attention. In the weeks since the interview aired, I have met transgender clients in my office who were encouraged by Jenner’s story. They have explicitly said that the interview gave them an opening to talk with friends and family about their gender identity and this led to progress in these relationships. I even met one young man who’d been hiding his gender identity issues from his family for over two years. Following the airing of the show with Jenner, this person’s father asked him if he was transgender like the former Olympian. As a result, my client’s secret was out and he says he is tremendously relieved.
While Jenner lives a life of financial privilege that many people don’t, the experience he shared is similar to that of many transgender people: depression, frustration, fear, and anxiety with the potential for hope, joy, and confidence. He put a name and a face to a reality to which many people had previously been naïve or ignorant.
We can ask what motivation Jenner has for going through sexual transition in such a public way. It may be fame or money. If it is, I don’t think that matters. I see the awareness he is bringing to the general public about being transgender to be positive. His willingness to let us all glimpse into his very personal process is helping create progress for people who were otherwise feeling stuck.
Jenner reportedly has a reality show coming out this summer that will document his sex transition journey. I am hopeful that it will be positive too; even if I have little confidence in the reality show format in general. But whatever happens with his pending legal troubles* or the upcoming reality show, I remain in awe of what he has already done for people I care about.
*Bruce Jenner is accused of wrongful death in a car crash that left one person dead.
(The photo is property of ABC.)