When I recently wrote about Bruce Jenner I had no idea that only one day later the former Olympian would be in a real-life crisis, in the midst of a multi-vehicle chain-reaction crash on the busy Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California. The video footage of the scene showed Jenner visibly shaken and emotionally stressed, standing in the middle of all the wreckage. Jenner had been driving the car which rear-ended another car, pushing it into oncoming traffic where it was then hit head-on. The driver of that vehicle died.
In the blink of an eye there was death, injuries, and lives forever changed. Nothing could be more devastating for Jenner than knowing someone had died in this crash. Jenner isn’t alone in his grief; the victim’s family is struggling with the loss of a loved one. There is no measure for the depth of the pain this accident has caused. Everyone in each family was injured emotionally even if they were not present at the time. As I look at the pictures of Jenner standing in the street next to the wreckage, I thought how symbolic a picture it is of his life today—the torn wreckage of his marriage and family life, a new female persona painfully and slowly emerging.
Jenner could be facing charges for vehicular manslaughter, and while commencing a gender transition it was too much. Due to the psychological impact of this accident, Jenner came to a crossroad and placed his very public gender transition on hold. Real life has bumped Jenner’s transition to the sidelines because the accident took the life of a 69-year-old woman.
Switching Genders Is Complicated Even During Peaceful Times
As a former transgender, I know the difficulty of changing genders even when everything in life is running relatively smoothly. During my transition over 30 years ago, I was emotionally fragile. I swung between anxiety and great anticipation about my future, anxiety over the unknown, and anticipation of finally living free of the intense gender distress that drove me to change genders.
Jenner’s unwanted reality show that unfolded on the highway will have a very long running season inside his thought life. No one knows at this point the emotional cost to him of the nightmare he faces each day. The re-runs will be played over and over again with no way to turn them off.
Most people do not realize how complex the transgender mind is. Many transgenders suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar, personality, dissociative, schizophrenic, obsessive compulsive, and narcissism disorders, which tag along with the gender dysphoria. More than 40 percent of transgenders report having attempted suicide at some time, and depression is the major cause of suicide. And that’s without the added impact of being involved in a fatal car crash.
I’m not saying Jenner has a disorder, but accompanying disorders are often present in transgenders. A transgender during the early stages of gender transition can be depressed and filled with anxiety about transitioning. It is a difficult enough time—then the accident. No one would ever want to deal with what Jenner is facing.
If Bruce Jenner Follows Through, He May Regret It
Jenner has lived his life up to now—65 years—socially identifying with his male biological gender. Now he has paused following through with his desire to identify socially with the female gender. Gender reassignment surgery and hormones will not change his biological DNA from male to female, so the changes will be his appearance, not innate biology.
My concern is, if he follows through with his gender change he, like so many, will end up regretting it. No one can look into the crystal ball and see if his transition would be successful or not. The long-term results of gender reassignment surgery have not been studied. No test can determine who will benefit. No sound research has been published that proves a gender change will be successful. Every gender change is an experiment. No one tracks the participants over the long run—not the surgeons doing the surgery and not the psychologists providing the approval.
The media frequently repeats the mantra that regret is rare. Under scrutiny, that claim falls short. Academic researchers admit that up to 90 percent of transgenders cannot be found. That means that any reports of success are based on the 10 percent that could be found, which is hardly a basis for any conclusion about success or failure rates.
Sex-Change Regret Is Quite Common
“Several factors complicate efforts to systematically study the long-term effects of gender reassignment surgery. First, a large proportion of patients (up to 90 percent) are lost to follow up,” write Stan Monstrey, Griet De Cuypere, and Randi Ettner in chapter five of “Principles of transgender medicine and surgery” (2007).
If all transgenders are so happy with their choice, why can’t they be found afterwards? I suspect they are lost because they committed suicide, are addicted to drugs, or like me, they returned to their birth gender and quietly live out the balance of life in the gender into which they were born.
If regret is so rare, why do I hear from so many regretters? Regret is more common than many know or will admit. Gender change regret has been reported for decades. Sure, in the first few weeks after a surgical gender change, almost all transgenders will say life is wonderful. Then with the passing of time—one year, three years, eight years—post-surgical regret sets in when the expectations of the “happy life” they thought would be there for them continue to be unfulfilled. I didn’t know how useless changing genders would be in resolving my lifelong gender conflict until the change was complete. I have heard from regretters from three weeks post-op to 35 years after and everything in between. Some of their stories are recounted with their permission on my web site, sexchangeregret.com.
Jenner is experiencing a very difficult time. It could be the wake-up call to stop the madness, or it could drive him deeper into his female self. My prayer is that he will come out the other side of this horrific car accident with a new perspective on life, one that will truly help him. I pray he gets all the support and help he needs and finds the strength to make it through this mess.