Listening to the interview of Bruce Jenner by Diane Sawyer, I was struck by how simultaneously pained and relieved seemed the Olympic hero.
He was pained trying to express something deepest about himself before a national audience, wanting to be taken seriously, not wanting to be viewed as some kind of oddity.
He specifically countered the most commonly made remark regarding trans-people: They’re a boy in a girl’s body — a girl in a boy’s body. Bruce Jenner rejected that imagery. He wanted so badly to embrace his entire self, rather than further the feeling of being split between who he thinks himself to be vs. the way others may view him.
At the same time he felt pained to put all of these feelings into words, he also seemed to be relieved. He was finally being able to say what he had been harboring in his heart for all but the most recent of his 65 years.
There is something liberating about finally after so many years being able to jettison a drag on one’s psyche. Lance Armstrong’s close friend Tyler Hamilton said he felt relieved finally to be able to talk truthfully about the doping that he and other cyclists had engaged in. Former Senator Bob Kerrey felt likewise relieved to talk frankly about accidentally participating in a massacre of women and children in Vietnam (he and others fired into some huts, not knowing there were mothers and children hiding). He said he felt a burden lifted, finally being able to come clean about this embarrassment of his past, and how he always felt hypocritical about being praised as a winner of the Medal of Honor.
Bruce Jenner felt that kind of aloneness, even though his isolation was not because of hiding something wrong that he had engaged in. His “wrong” was simply finding himself contending against social norms.
How long he knew this about himself! For all of his growing up, he never told anybody.
This aspect of his life was part of the education for many of us about the “T” part of LGBT. Along with other news stories lately about kids as young as 3 years old wanting to be the opposite of their birth gender, Bruce Jenner said he knew before kindergarten. He would sneak into his mother’s or sister’s room and try on their clothing.
What a lonely existence he must have had.
I remember a famed preacher, the Rev. Dr. Bruce Thielemann, talking about the isolation that each person feels in one way or another. Bruce himself experienced much loneliness — he never married, felt self-conscious because of his enormous weight. Knowing his own feelings of isolation, he remarked that every person needs at least one close friend. And he defined a “close friend” as someone that you can tell absolutely everything to.
The close friend plays the important role of a “mirror.” When you vent to that person, s/he mirrors back to you acceptance, encouragement, compassion…You get to see yourself in a more loving way rather than feeling only one’s oddness.
What a lonely existence it must have been for Bruce Jenner as a kid, not to know that kind of acceptance of himself.
I remember talking to a divorced woman one time who said that when she and her husband split, “I felt that I was the only divorced woman in America.”
She knew that wasn’t the case. But it felt like that — the aloneness.
I find it encouraging that the individuals who have been closest to Bruce Jenner — his adult children, his ex-wives — have been totally supportive as he has risked revealing his deepest self to them,
What I find encouraging about it is something I have found to be true again & again. Relationships break down dogma. Whatever religious doctrine people may think Bruce Jenner is breaking, the persons who are closest to him have become his “mirror.” Those closest relationships may be few in number; but they do their important work. Relationships save.
Those relationships will help him fulfill a life-long desire — simply to be the real Bruce Jenner.
When we think about it, what this 65-year-old is doing is to experience after so many years the ultimate freedom that may occur only openly in a free society. She is experiencing the freedom to be one’s self.