“For all intents and purposes, I am a woman,” Bruce Jenner told Diane Sawyer on Friday night.
The former Olympic superstar athlete turned “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” reality star sat down with ABC in an emotional interview, during which — as expected, given reports that have been circulating for many months — Jenner came out as transgender.
The two-hour special, which went back and forth between Jenner’s interview and facts about issues facing the transgender community, got to the news right away: “I’ve always been very confused with my gender identity,” Jenner told Sawyer, who sat down with Jenner at his Malibu home.
Jenner said he explained his transition this way to his kids: He feels he was created by God who said, “Hey, let’s give him the soul of a female and let’s see how he deals with that.”
“So, here I am. Stuck — and I hate the word — a girl stuck in a guy’s body. I hate that terminology,” Jenner said, getting choked up. “I’m me. I’m a person and this is who I am… My brain is much more female than it is male. It’s hard for people to understand that, but that’s what my soul is.”
Sawyer said that this is the last interview that the star will do as “Bruce,” and after will emerge as the person Jenner calls “her.” (However, for the purposes of the interview, Jenner told Sawyer to use the familiar “he” and “him” pronouns.)
“People look at me differently,” Jenner said. “They see me as this macho male. But my heart and my soul and everything that I do in life, it is part of me. That female side is part of me.”
Why come out now? “I just can’t pull the curtain anymore, okay?” Jenner explained. “I built a nice little life. Again, Bruce lives a lie. She is not a lie. I can’t do it anymore.”
He also shot down the idea that this is a ploy for ratings — for both “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and for his own reality show, which airs this summer — and that he genuinely wants to educate people.
“What I’m doing is going to do some good. And we’re going to change the world. I really firmly believe that,” Jenner said. “We’re going to make a difference in the world with what we’re doing. If the whole Kardashian show and reality TV gave me a foothold into that world, to be able to go out there and do something good, I’m all for it.”
Jenner’s younger years
The special showed Jenner’s heroics at the 1976 Olympics, when he crushed his competitors to win the gold medal in the grueling decathlon. Sawyer also traveled with Jenner back to his hometown in suburban New York, where he first struggled with his identity before age 10. He recalls wearing his sister’s dress and mother’s scarves: “I didn’t know why I was doing it, except it just made me feel good,” he told Sawyer.
Still, Jenner said, it was extraordinarily difficult to feel like the gender of his body was different than the gender that he felt. And since it was the 1960s, there wasn’t really anyone he could ask.
Sawyer noted he must have been a lonely little boy. “I’m still a lonely big boy,” Jenner said, starting to get emotional once again as he described how he’s naturally not a very outgoing person and tends to spend a lot of time alone.
He recalls looking at both men and women who felt comfortable in their own skin, and thinking that they were so lucky to wake up and be themselves: “Wouldn’t that be a nice way to go through life?” Jenner asked.
This is where Sawyer also delved into the issue of sexuality, trying to clarify for viewers: What happens when a man identifies as a woman but is still attracted to women?
“Sexuality was totally different than what my issues were,” Jenner said. “And I always felt heterosexual.” He also added he had never been with a man. “I am not gay… as far as I know, I am heterosexual.”
Jenner acknowledged that it can be confusing for some people to understand that sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. “Let’s go with ‘asexual’ for now,” he said. “I’m going to learn a lot in the next year.”
Next, the special looked at Jenner’s first two marriages with Chrystie Crownover and Linda Thompson. Crownover, a minister’s daughter whom he married in the early 1970s, was the first person to know that he was questioning his gender identity.
“I didn’t go into it back then,” Jenner explained, saying he told her that he was into “a little cross-dressing… it’s fine, we’ll work all this stuff out.”
They stayed married as Jenner dominated in the Olympics; he and Crownover later split after he fell for Linda Thompson, a former girlfriend of Elvis. Jenner wound up telling Thompson the truth about his gender confusion as well, telling her “it’s not something you can overcome, fix or pray away.”
Jenner admits he wasn’t very fair to his previous wives, but he was fighting depression and trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, after he divorced Thompson in 1986, he decided to stop running away from what he truly felt. He visited a doctor and started taking female hormones to physically transition into a woman.
Jenner took the hormones for almost five years, and also underwent electrolysis to get rid of his beard and chest hair. At that point, he told his older sister Pam, who also appeared in the special. She recalled when her brother told her “he always felt he should have been a girl.”
That’s when he met Kris Kardashian, someone whom Jenner said changed his life. In what may be a surprise to some, Jenner says he was very upfront with Kris about taking hormones and that he liked to wear women’s clothes. “I kind of downplayed it,” Jenner said. When Kris would see him wearing a dress, she would do the same, basically asking, “Okay, are you gonna change now?”
“I probably was not as good as saying ‘This is deep in my soul,'” Jenner acknowledged. “This is not something you just walk away from.”
Though Sawyer probed about whether Jenner — very much the sidekick on the E! reality show — felt like he was cast as the punching bag for his wife and daughters, Jenner stopped from saying anything negative. (Kris was the only one of his wives that didn’t comment for the special, but she fired off a nasty tweet at her doubters, claiming she was never contacted by ABC.)
“I loved Kris. I had a wonderful life with her,” Jenner said. “I learned a lot from her.”
He also laughed at the irony that in 425 episodes exploring every “real” bit of his family’s life, “I had the story,” he laughed.
“The entire run I kept thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God.’ This whole thing, the one real, true story in the family was the one I was hiding and nobody knew it,” he said. “The one thing that could really make a difference in people’s lives was right in my soul and I could not tell the story.”
When did Jenner decide to officially transition? When he realized that he was in his 60s and didn’t want to die after only living as one person: “I’d be so mad at myself if I didn’t explore that side of me,” he said. He and Kris divorced soon after.
That’s when the greater public started seeing photos of Jenner with longer hair and manicured nails, thanks to some very invasive paparazzi. Jenner took it all in stride, but he hit bottom when news leaked of his appointment to get a tracheal shave. He said he briefly contemplated suicide when stories hit the Internet.
But eventually, he said, the thoughts subsided: “I mean, I want to know how this story ends,” he said.
The kids and the Kardashians:
“How do I do this? How do I do this and not hurt my children?” Jenner wondered out loud. He has four stepkids (Kim, Kourtney, Khloe and Rob Kardashian) along with six biological children: Burt and Casssandra with Crownover; Brandon and Brody with Thompson; and Kylie and Kendall with Kris.
Burt, Cassandra, Brandon and Brody appeared together on the special; Jenner said he shared the news with Brandon first.
Cassandra said that when Jenner told her the news, she asked what she should call him.
“I’m dad, you can call me dad,” Jenner said. “I will always be your dad.”
None of the Kardashians appeared during the interview, though Jenner was very candid about their experiences with his confusion. He said that one time, Kim caught him wearing a dress. Jenner tried to explain to her (“I’m so tired of lying to everybody”) but she never really brought up the subject again. A different time, Kendall set up a webcam when she thought Kylie was stealing her clothes; when the girls turned on the computer to check the security footage, they saw an image of Jenner trying on a dress, because their’s was the only room that had a full-length mirror.
Recently, Jenner sat down all his kids (for a conversation that will reportedly air on the season finale of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” on May 31) and told them he was transitioning and would identify as a woman.
Jenner said everyone cried — and that of all the kids, Khloe (who has suffered a great deal of loss, from her father to divorce with Lamar Odom) took it the hardest. Kourtney worried about how her kids would take the news, but Jenner noted that kids are very adaptive. And Kim had a breakthrough with the news when her husband Kanye West told her that a person could have everything in the world but “I’m nothing if I can’t be me.” Afterwards, Jenner said Kim “has by far been the most accepting and easiest to talk about it with.”
One of Kim’s exact quotes? “Girl, you gotta rock it, baby. You gotta look good.”
Jenner said that at one time, he was sure he would have sexual reassignment surgery. Now? Nothing is certain. He’s been on female hormones for about a year and a half, but hasn’t made up his mind about the medical procedure. But when and if he does, he said, it will be so quiet that no one will know.
As for concerns that the Kardashian “circus” will derail transgender community progress in particular, Jenner said he doesn’t think that will happen. “I would like to work with this community,” he said.
Jenner also added that while he gave President Obama credit for being the first president to say the word “transgender,” he happens to be a Republican, and he would be more than happy to work with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner on the cause.
“Maybe this is why God put me on this earth,” Jenner said. “To deal with this issue.”
The special wrapped up as Jenner showed Sawyer his closet filled with dresses, and said that he looks forward to being open about his decision. “If this is the only problem I have in life, I’ve got it made,” Jenner said, noting he has his health and his family. “If it’s only this, I’ll be okay.”
Jenner concluded, “I’m saying goodbye to people’s perception of me and who I am. I’m not saying goodbye to me. Because this has always been me.”