Bruce Jenner, Olympic gold medalist, former reality TV show star, former husband to a Kardashian, and father of many children and step-children from his three marriages, at the age of 65 is the new poster “girl” for gender change. The changes in Jenner’s appearance make it obvious that he is under the influence of female hormones.
In the next few days, Jenner is expected to appear in a Diane Sawyer interview to discuss his reasoning for undergoing gender change. Jenner’s close relatives, his mother and his children, say they didn’t see any signs of a gender change coming, but they support his decision because he seems so happy.
The media are swirling around Jenner with their never-ending snapshots, rumors, and innuendo. The piranha are circling, turning a man’s most difficult time of life into a salacious spectacle. The media relentlessly study his every move, every action and behavior, and document it for worldwide consumption. They will not stop until they take the last morsel of dignity from this Olympian. I worry that the full national display will end up pushing Jenner from heights of euphoria to depths of depression or worse.
There is no question that Jenner is a willing participant—he and his journey are being filmed as the subject of a reality series. How can anyone go through such a stressful and psychologically emotional time in full view of the media? How can someone experiment with his identity in such a public way? What if he eventually changes his mind?
Take It from Someone Who Understands
I am worried about Jenner because his current journey is the mirror image of mine 30 years ago. I know the journey, the pitfalls, the highs and the lows of changing genders. I look at the pictures of Bruce Jenner plastered on the Internet and it’s like I’m witnessing a movie of my own life from 30 years ago, with Bruce playing the leading role.
I had a successful career and had been married for 17 years, with two of the most amazing and wonderful kids any dad could ever have. Like Jenner, I had recently gone through a divorce and my executive position in the automotive industry looked to be in jeopardy. Divorce is stressful enough. Add in the downward spiral of a man’s career, and it is toxic to the psyche.
I secretly underwent the full regimen of cross-gender hormones, which caused female changes to my appearance. Then the next step: the gut-wrenching but exciting process of going out as a female with close friends for dancing and drinking in red pumps, bright red lipstick, and long hair.
My gender-change surgery was performed by the most well-known “sex change” surgeon in the world at the time. The California Superior Court accepted my petition to change my birth certificate from male to female. I lived for eight years as a female, Laura Jensen, and worked for the federal government at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the U.S. Postal service in San Francisco.
I was accepted as Laura, earned a good income, and was even passable as a female. Just like Jenner’s, my friends and family, for the most part, supported my new female gender.
Gender Changes Can Conceal Underlying Problems
I’m concerned for Jenner. He’s a bright, likable guy who has enjoyed success far beyond what most of us will ever dream. Jenner appeared to function as a normal adult, but stressful life events like his divorce and the loss of the long-running reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” could be the cause of his crisis of identity. Bruce’s desire to be a woman could be the result of the adult onset of a disorder in his psyche triggered by traumatic events. There are so many unknowns when someone seeks a change of gender. I’m not judging. I’ve been there and back myself.
After my surgical gender change failed to relieve my distress, I was diagnosed with a dissociative disorder that had been there all along. My desire to be a female was a symptom of something else. Surgery and transition, while it made me happy at first, did not treat the dissociative disorder. In fact, surgery compounded my difficulties and made it harder to recover.
I restored my male identity but it required that I be properly diagnosed. As the underlying disorder was appropriately treated, my desire to change genders faded away like a mist in the bright light of day. One of the hardest things was to admit to myself, my family, and my friends that the whole surgical change had been unnecessary. I had been so adamant beforehand that I needed it.
Jenner has the added complexity of being a celebrity in the glare of the media spotlight. We see so many examples of celebrities who can’t cope and end up pushed to their deaths, like Michael Jackson and the misuse of propofol, Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, and now perhaps even Whitney’s only daughter and the excessive use of drugs. Trying to cope with personal problems while living in a public fishbowl certainly intensifies stress.
Enter stage-right Diane Sawyer and the “Mahogany Row” suits of the entertainment industry looking for the titillating story. I wonder if they care about Jenner or only the allure of ratings. Do they see the bridge could be out down the road and it might not end well?
For the past decade, I have received emails from highly successful career people, some with very high incomes, who underwent gender-change surgery only to regret it years later. Several were on the brink of suicide, and they weren’t celebrities.
Jenner will be publically sharing an intimate journey with which I am very familiar. I’m concerned that the media feeding frenzy could push him to the edge.