When an Olympic hero says he's actually a woman

Vikram Johri
Vikram JohriJun 03, 2015 | 12:16

When an Olympic hero says he's actually a woman

There is a moment at the beginning of the Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner when the Olympic gold medal winner takes off the band that holds his ponytail together and reveals a shock of silken, straight hair. Coupled with his soft features, an outcome of the hormones he has been taking, the visual gives us some idea of how Jenner would look when he reaches the end of the new journey he has embarked upon. Jenner takes off the band moments after he and Sawyer have sat down to discuss what has been speculated for some time in the American media. Yes, Jenner tells Sawyer, he is a woman.


Even in 2015, reports of transgender teen suicides and heedless violence directed at the transgender community routinely hit headlines in the West. Against this background, for someone of Jenner's stature and pop currency (he is patriarch via marriage to the Kardashian sisters) to come out publicly as transgender and explain his story to the millions tuned into the interview is a massive boost to the transgender narrative.

Over the course of the two-hour interview, Jenner discusses practically every aspect of his life - his three marriages, his Olympic glory, his large brood of children and grandchildren. But conjoining all the disparate strands of his life is the central secret that was revealed on Sawyer's show. At 65, Jenner has finally decided to transition to a woman, a process that will take about a year to manifest the physical results. That, however, would only be the beginning. It could be years before Jenner finally feels at home in his new identity.

Jenner revealed on the interview that he had always seen himself as a girl, even back when he was a kid. He remembers putting on his mother's dress when she was out and folding it neatly and putting it back in the closet for fear she would find out. He was a star athlete at school and college, so sports was a natural career choice. Besides, sport allowed him to deflect questions about his gender identity that had grown more persistent with time. As a star decathlon player, Jenner could tell himself he was as macho as the next man.


While it is common to put members of the LGBT community under one umbrella, Jenner's interview reveals how complex sexuality is. When Sawyer asked him about his sexual attraction, he was categorical that he had always been attracted to women. "Does that make you a lesbian?" she said. He said he was in no position to answer that question since sexual attraction was only one aspect of gender identity and he would have to live and breathe as a woman to know which way he turned. For now, he said, he was going to call himself asexual.

Jenner spoke openly about his struggles and why it has taken him so long to make the decision. He divulged how normal, everyday life brought him to the verge of breakdown. Speaking about his love for golf, he said: "I play golf by myself. I am not a social person. When I would see men playing golf, I would marvel at how perfectly in their skin they were. Likewise for women, while for me, being a man was such a struggle".

In a somewhat perfect coincidence, Jenner's revelation mirrors that of Morton, the protagonist of last year's wildly successful Transparent. Like Jenner, Morton gathers the courage to transition after a lifetime of trying to fit in and like Jenner, his greatest fear is the reaction of his children. In a tender scene on the show, Morton dresses up as Maura and waits for her son to arrive home so that she can give him the news. When Josh finally makes it, he looks through the house but can't find his father. Suddenly Maura reappears but as Morton, the hitherto flowing hair tied into a safe ponytail. The talk, Maura has decided, will have to wait for another day.


Jenner's coming out has followed a similar back-and-forth. In the '80s, he took hormone therapy for five years during which his appearance began to change. But when the time came to go the distance, he lost his nerve and called off the whole thing. Until now, that is. For the purposes of the Sawyer interview, Jenner preferred that he be addressed as "he", while also disclosing that this would be his last interview as a man. E! is making a documentary on his physical transformation which will be aired later this year. Maura comes out to his daughter Sarah on Transparent at an unplanned moment, when she is dressed in women's clothes. Sarah, who the show will reveal to be the most supportive among Maura's children, asks her dad if this is how he is going to dress up from now on. "I have been dressing up my whole life," Maura tells her daughter. "This is me."

At the end of the interview, Sawyer asks Jenner if he is going to miss the Bruce Jenner everyone knows. "I am saying goodbye to people's perception of me," Jenner replies. "I am not saying goodbye to me, because this has always been me."

Last updated: June 03, 2015 | 12:16
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