With the airing of his interview with Diane Sawyer last Friday, Bruce Jenner became the most triumphant, celebrated, photographed, and interviewed transgender in the world. Jenner, a longtime transvestite, now at 65 years of age is going to explore his feminine side by transitioning to female. Along the way, he hopes to inspire others.
Jenner’s interview opened a window for millions of viewers to see the psychological deliberation of a cross-dresser. Jenner shared that the emotional stress of hiding his secret has become unbearable. His internal struggle led him to the question: Would I be happier living as a full-time transgender female or should I continue living as a transvestite?
But there is reason to be concerned for Jenner’s transition. A review of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transgenders conducted in the United Kingdom in 2004 found “no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.” Chris Hyde, the director of the research facility that conducted the review, said: “There is a huge uncertainty over whether changing someone’s sex is a good or a bad thing. While no doubt great care is taken to ensure that appropriate patients undergo gender reassignment, there’s still a large number of people who have the surgery but remain traumatized—often to the point of committing suicide.”
As a former transgender myself, I found it painful to see Jenner looking so fragile, exhibiting an uncertain nervousness throughout the interview. I see Jenner and my heart sinks with sadness; my stomach aches in pain. When Jenner said, “I want to know how this story ends, you know?” a rush of concern filled me. I know one possible outcome of the story—great pain to kids, wife, family and even to himself. I want to yell at him, “Stop! The bridge is out.”
Dear Bruce Jenner: I Felt Your Pain
I see my life 32 years ago played out in that interview. I had made comments so eerily similar when I was on the brink of transitioning. Like Jenner, my emotional gender difficulty started at a young age. At age five, I enjoyed dressing up as a girl with my grandmother. When I was about 15 years old, the amazing news of Christine Jorgensen’s transition from male to beautiful female was in the headlines and I knew right away that I wanted a sex change. I felt deep inside that transition was the only way I would finally be happy in my own skin.
Like Jenner, I “came out” to my first wife about my cross-dressing, and we acted as if it were no big deal. But it was a big deal. I started taking hormones and had some feminizing surgeries while I was married. Like Jenner, I was not a homosexual.
My life was an emotional roller coaster. I had the highs of being a successful automotive executive and a dad and the lows of going through divorce. On the one hand, I was ecstatic and excited to finally pursue what I saw as the answer to my lifetime of gender struggles: transition. On the other hand, I was deeply concerned about my relationship with my children.
At age 42, I transitioned from male to female. I was euphoric. I felt the gender change was the best thing I had ever done. Many of my friends supported and affirmed my decision. For example, Bill, my closest friend of many years, told me, “You have never looked happier. You are more at ease as a woman.”
The Gender Romance Ends
But after eight years of living as a woman, my once-successful transition turned on me. I mean the exhilaration from the early days wore off, and I found myself reflecting on my transition. I came to realize that all the changes to my appearance, dramatic and effective as they were, were only cosmetic. All the changes to my identity documents—birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card—were in name only, simply words on the paper. If I only could have remained living in my delusional gender bubble all would have been good, perhaps.
The reality that I was not a woman was just too much for me. Unexpectedly, my emotions plunged downward and overwhelmed me. All the gender specialists I consulted assured me I was a true transgender. They encouraged me to stick with my female gender, but eight years was long enough. It was over.
The shame of being so narcissistic and self-absorbed as a transgender female and knowing I had hurt the ones I loved resulted in deep depression and regret. I started to consider suicide. That’s what I mean when I say my once successful transition turned on me. I discovered much too late that gender change surgery was not a medical necessity at all. I can admit that transition was the biggest mistake of my life.
Bruce Jenner’s Dramatic Life
In an ironic twist, Jenner’s interview aired April 24, 32 years to the day that I underwent gender reassignment surgery.
At the interview’s opening, Jenner said, “This will be an emotional roller coaster, but somehow I will get through it.” Hasn’t his entire life been one mind-boggling ride? Build the most outrageous roller coaster ever, with slow-crawling upward highs followed by swift blink-of-the-eye downward spirals, and you have Jenner’s triumph-to-tragedy-filled life. Jenner has ridden this roller coaster more than once in his life.
In 1976, only 90 days after his Olympic triumph, Jenner’s younger brother was tragically killed in a horrible accident in Jenner’s automobile. Jenner had been given a new Porsche, and his 18-year-old brother, Burt, had wanted to take his sweetheart, Judith, for a ride. On that cold November day in Connecticut, Jenner handed the keys of his Porsche to his little brother, who lost control of the car and hit a utility pole. The crash took the lives of both Burt and Judith.
Life can be unpredictable, especially when you are about to dive into a gender change with no guarantees. In the last year, Jenner has suffered great emotional stress, with his separation and divorce from Kris Kardashian and the end of his participation on the lucrative family reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” While these difficult losses were still painfully fresh, tragedy struck again on the California Pacific Coast Highway. The car Jenner was driving pushed another car into oncoming traffic and resulted in the second driver’s death. Being involved in someone’s death creates the kind of emotional pain that never goes away.
No one knows how Jenner’s story will end. Two deaths, a gender transition, divorce, and a pending trial could psychologically derail the best of us. The odds are that Jenner’s life, like that of many transvestites who transition, will experience the euphoria of extraordinary highs in the beginning followed years later by a downward spiral.
Bruce Jenner Needs Concern, Not Admiration
We should all be concerned for Jenner. A whopping 41 percent of transgenders report attempting suicide. We saw a glimpse of how fragile Jenner is when he shared that he recently considered suicide. The paparazzi had camped outside the clinic where he was undergoing some “feminizing” surgery. Home alone later that day, he said he paced the hallways of his home and considered shooting himself. Thankfully he didn’t. It’s a measure of his vulnerability that this particular frenzy of tabloid attention shook him up. After all, he has spent his entire adulthood in the public eye. He should know the paparazzi never stop.
As long as the television lights are on and the cameras are rolling, being in the spotlight he enjoys, Jenner will be fine. But when the lights go dim and the cameras are no longer rolling, he will face the most difficult time of his life. His celebrated change of gender could turn on him and become the cause of deep depression, which, left untreated, according to those who study the causes of suicide, is the number one cause for suicide.
I wish I could say I’m the only transgender to regret transitioning, but contrary to what the media would lead us to believe, I know I’m not the first or the last. I get many emails from male-to-female transgenders who eventually regretted their gender change. Some say regret came as early as three months after surgery; others tell me it took 8, 10, 15, even 30 years to admit that gender change was the biggest mistake of their life. I have received comments such as, “How could I have been so stupid?”
What was missing from the interview was a discussion about sex-change regret. Instead, there was no indication that Jenner or Sawyer were aware or understood that the long-term results of changing genders can be dramatically different than one’s expectations.
I pray it ends well for Jenner. He says he wants to “change the world” when, in my view, Jenner would do better to change his mind.