I recently watched Bruce Jenner tell his story to Diane Sawyer in a 20/20 exclusive interview on ABC News. Early in the interview, Bruce literally let his hair down, pulling his ponytail free in a symbolic gesture. The thin faced, now more visibly feminine former athlete and Olympian admitted, “For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman.”
He went on to discuss his internal struggle to stifle the “female side” of himself, and to live the life that people expected of him. Jenner talked about his “female soul” and the woman that he always felt was within him, lurking beneath his brawny male exterior.
“That female side is part of me. That’s who I am,” he said. He described the way he explained to his children that God, while in the creation process weaving him into existence, decided he would give Bruce many great attributes. He’d make him smart and determined, but because “Everybody has stuff in their life that they have to deal with,” God also gave him the burden of a male body and the soul of a female.
After saying that he hated the “girl stuck in a guy’s body” descriptor, Bruce said something so elementary, “I’m me. I’m a person and this is who I am.”
Later in the interview, Bruce talked of his childhood and clandestine trips to his mother’s closet where he was compelled to try on her dresses. According to the show’s statistics, an estimated 700,000 transgender Americans live among us, and this was the label Bruce was given.
Transgender — just one of many classifications the show addressed. I watched as a screen went up behind Bruce and Diane, and a cluster of words appeared, more labels, sexual identity terms such as straight, gay, and bisexual. At one point, Diane asked Bruce if he thought he was gay…or a lesbian? Reaching for some stamp to mark that man with, she wanted to clear up the confusion — in her own mind and in the minds of so many viewers (mine, too, I confess). This was the part that sucked. I found it disturbing and so incredibly sad.
Over the years, my views on gay/transgender/bisexual/cross dressing and all issues of that sort have evolved. My yoga practice has helped me become more mindful, to acknowledge life as a journey, and to be more open to the world as it is and not merely as I comprehend it. For now, I don’t claim to know how anybody should deal with the struggles they have. As Bruce so aptly stated, “Everyone has stuff in their life they have to deal with.”
My stuff is different from his, and yours. I am different from him, and you. We are all different. I think that’s the point here.
So why do we need to “Clear up the confusion?” It’s nice to have boxes to check and terms to toss out, to be able to identify people — but only so we can understand them better. Never so we can judge them. Or hate them…because hate is a personal poison, and one I refuse to ingest. What happens when people don’t want to be branded, to be stamped with words that might carry stigma? They hide. They live, as Bruce did, in a secret world of shame, where their veiled souls suffocate for lack of acknowledgement. Perhaps it’s too much to ever hope for approval. But in my non-conservative, non-liberal opinion (you won’t nail me to one side), no one should ever be denied acceptance.
I’ll leave you with these last wrenching words from Bruce…
“I don’t want to disappoint people.”
Did you watch the interview? What are your thoughts?