In the 1970s, Bruce Jenner was a symbol of American masculinity as an Olympic champion. Nearly 40 years later, in an extraordinary television interview seen by 16.9 million viewers, Jenner told the world that he identifies as a woman and has felt gender confusion since he was a little boy growing up in the New York suburbs.
Jenner, a reality TV star and stepfather to Kim Kardashian, let his hair down — literally loosening a ponytail and letting his hair flow past his shoulders — in a symbolic moment at the start of his two-hour interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that was televised Friday. “Yes, for all intents and purposes, I am a woman.”
“My brain is more female than it is male,” said Jenner, who won gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics.
He said his stepdaughter Kim has been a big supporter, urged on by her husband, rapper Kanye West.
Kim Kardashian said on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday that she and her family support Jenner 100 percent as he goes through gender transition, even though family members are still adjusting to that news in what she called “a daily process.”
She congratulated him for his ability to be his “true self.” She said she is happy that he is living his life the way he wants to live it.
“It’s not something that you or I could fully understand, but I don’t even think we have to,” she said.
Jenner said he hopes that speaking publicly about the gender issues would do some good in the world and vigorously denied that the interview was some sort of publicity stunt to promote the Kardashian reality TV show.
For the transgender community, Friday’s interview was a moment as significant as comedian and TV host Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out as a lesbian was for gays nearly 20 years ago. DeGeneres tweeted support to Jenner, saying the former Olympian was “saving lives and opening minds.”
“My whole life has been getting me ready for this,” said Jenner, 65, known to a younger generation as the patriarch of television’s omnipresent Kardashian clan. “It’s not just the last few years as they’ve been treating me as a joke.”
The interview was filmed in February in Los Angeles and New York, before a fatal car accident in which Jenner was involved.
Jenner said he self-identifies as “her,” not a specific name. But he told Sawyer he felt comfortable using the pronouns “he” and “him,” a designation that is an important issue for many in the transgender community, which believes that transgender people should be referred to by the pronouns with which they choose to identify.
Jenner said he began gender reassignment therapy in the 1980s — taking hormones, having surgery to make his nose smaller and having hair removed from his face and chest — but gave it up. As Jenner got older, he realized that if he got sick and faced death without facing up to this issue, “I’d be so mad that I didn’t explore that side of my life.”
As a young boy, Jenner felt an urge to try on his mother’s and sister’s dresses.
“I didn’t know why I was doing it,” he said. “It just made me feel good.”
Jenner said he has never been sexually attracted to men, and he wanted to make clear to viewers that gender identity and sexuality were separate things.
“I am not gay,” he said. “I am, as far as I know, heterosexual. I’ve always been with a woman, raising kids.”
Jenner said he has not decided whether he will undergo sexual reassignment surgery.
“These are all things that are out there in the future for me to explore,” he said. “There’s no rush for that. And I would do it so quietly that nobody in the world would know.”
Jenner’s four oldest children appeared on the interview special to support their father, but not the two girls he had with Kris Kardashian.
He said he told his first two wives about the gender confusion, and it was a factor in the breakup of his second marriage. Jenner’s first two wives offered messages of support; ABC said Kris Kardashian’s publicist called to specifically say his third wife would have no comment. But Kardashian tweeted that no one had asked for comment and, after the interview aired, tweeted: “Not only was I able to call him my husband for 25 years and father of my children, I am now able to call him my hero.”
Jenner told Sawyer that Kris was having a difficult time with it, and that if she better understood it, the couple would probably still be together.
Jenner’s 89-year-old mother also was interviewed, saying she was more proud of Bruce than when he stood as an Olympic decathlon champion in Montreal in 1976.
The E! Entertainment network announced that Jenner would be part of a documentary series about the transition that would begin airing on July 26.
Hollywood offered support. “Tonight” host Jimmy Fallon, echoing Neil Armstrong when the astronaut took his first steps on the moon, tweeted: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Story by the Associated Press with information from the Hollywood Reporter.