Monday, April 27th, 2015
Bruce Jenner told us his story. But what did he say? Do we remember more about him saying he has the soul of a woman, or do we hear the heart of a person who has struggled terribly for most of their life and is seeking peace with themselves? (I’ll refer to Bruce using pronouns of the male gender in this writing because at the time of life he is addressing, he presented as a man.)
As I’ve read commentaries on the interview by Diane Sawyer there are certainly diverse views and opinions, and that is to be expected. But the comments that strike me the most are those who have made judgments and criticisms about Bruce’s search and answers that have come from the intense seeking done for over fifty years of his life.
I can so totally relate to Bruce. He spoke of a childhood where he did things in secret that were part of a pursuit of finding himself in a culture that seemed to not understand. He didn’t believe he could be honest about his questions. He spoke of marriages to three women that he entered hiding part of his personal truth and the way these women were hurt by his eventual honesty. I can relate to a life long quest to find peace with an identity that for most of his life seemed so fragmented.
As I listened I saw some sarcasm, and some cynicism that is to be expected when someone is exposing such a deeply personal part of themselves. He knew those seeing the interview would have diverse reactions. He knows there will be critics who will hate what he is saying. He knows there will be a religious community that will say his faith isn’t valid and that all he needs is Jesus. He is fully aware that there will be those who will say that if he would just trust more, submit more, and follow the Bible; his unsettled gender will find itself aligning with his body.
But, how many listeners will do so with no agenda at all but to hear his heart? Who will hear this story and say, “I’m so sorry you’ve been going through this for to long, how can I walk alongside you?” Does Bruce have those kinds of friends?
I was thrilled to hear that his children have been as honest as they can be and still love the person they call “Dad.” Sure they’re troubled! Of course this is challenging for them to walk through. Yes, they will consider their friends, their culture’s response. They’ll ponder the future of their family and their children as this man called Dad, Grandpa, will not look at all like dads, or grandpas they’ve always known. That’s really hard to accept for anyone regardless of their love for the person. But they sat right beside their Dad, and are choosing to love while they walk through their questions seeking resolution with this intimate relationship they’ve known for their entire life.
Bruce talked about entering a marriage with some honesty, but still hiding the crux of the matter he was really dealing with. He spoke of beginning his transition thirty years earlier and stopping out of fear and personal concerns. I can also totally relate to that. I came out in my twenties I began to accept myself with a deeper honesty than I ever had before. But there were unanswered questions that had now come from a deeper faith in God. In those questions some people gave me answers that brought fear into my heart. Fear of what God would do if I continued to allow myself to be gay. So, I went back into the closet. It was a different closet this time. Everyone knew I had attractions to men. But the closet was built out of the fabric of fear of what would happen if I continued to live in that authenticity.
Bruce came out to his first wife to a point. He was honest about his struggle but he didn’t go deep enough for her to truly understand. She knew there were problems, but without Bruce being fully honest she believed in solutions that could not go to the deeper places because she just didn’t know all the facts.
When I entered my second marriage, I believed I was honest. I tried to reveal the deeper things in my heart and my sexuality. But that wasn’t deep enough. I was scared to be totally honest because I believed it would harm my relationship with God and would ruin the marriage. I thought what I had found could be satisfying and intimate in other ways. I believed my fears and my inner honesty could be kept hidden away while I trusted God to resolve them in secret places.
Bruce spoke of a time when he knew he finally had to deal with this fully with authenticity. Based upon his love for his children, his wife, and filtered through his fears, can you imagine what this may have been like for him? Can you for one second just open your heart to hear his? Can you compassionately, and empathetically get into his shoes for a moment? What would that feel like? Think about the anxiety that would press into his chest as he began to expose himself to the entire world through this very public interview. Why do you think he wanted to do this?
When I decided to come out again it wasn’t based on personal pleasure. It wasn’t a desire to make a big splash in the pond of ExGay ministry and conservative Christian culture. I was scared to death! I was afraid I would burn all of my bridges in all of the relationships I knew. I’ve been fearful of abandonment all of my life. Would my honesty bring all of my loved ones and friends to a place of abandoning me forever?
I’m sure Bruce went through all of these feelings. His children, his mom, his friends and the entire culture of people he’s known his entire life. What would they say, what would they do? But he was motivated to walk it through regardless. He just had to do it. Why?
I was scared, but I came to the place where I had to say, no matter what, I must be honest, I must be authentic, or I’ll die. Bruce spoke of the day he truly thought it would be easier if he just died. He pondered how that may bring it all to an end and his life would finally find peace. I thought many, many times about what it would be like if my life just ended. That would be a way to walk this out with at least some integrity. And yes, my own narcissism thought, “Maybe now, they’ll hear me.” I’m sure Bruce thought those same things.
But like Bruce, I picked myself up by the bootstraps and said, “I’ve just got to do this.” I had to work it through. I knew the answers didn’t lie in suicide. Somehow I knew I had to deal with this in this life. Bruce described how he believed his life had a purpose. He was given a challenge to walk through and he hopes his challenge will bring hope to others.
My life has always been a very public one. Somehow I have always hoped that my honesty, and authenticity would bring others hope through knowing they aren’t alone. I’m positive that Bruce’s story will reach into the hearts of thousands of transgendered people and their loved ones with a breath of hope. Answers to lifelong questions may bring comfort to many people.
I stepped out there in a very public way. Writing openly through blogs and publishing a book were my action of choice. Many have found me and exhaled with peace as we’ve talked. I no longer have answers for them, but I have a story that may be one they can relate to and not feel so alone.
Bruce will have critics. They will post, blog, and personally share with him how much they disagree with his choices. They will have advice and attempt to push him back into his closet with the belief he’s not being truthful with himself. Some will attempt to force him back into the façade of his former male existence. He’ll hurt as they chose to not listen to his heart. While he has now moved into authenticity, no question there will be painful days ahead. I hope there will be burden bearers who will not try to fix him, or change him, but will merely listen to him with compassion.
During my own transition of coming out and living more authentically, I’ve had those who have criticized me. I’ve had those who have moved away, some quietly, others very boldly. It hurts my heart deeply. But who am I if I’m not honest with myself? Did they ever ask what it may have been like to have lived my entire life hiding my personal truth? I didn’t feel fully connected to them anyway because I wasn’t fully connected to myself.
Sitting at a table with someone across from me was one of the most healing moments I can remember. This lady was someone I’ve known since childhood. Our paths have come and gone through the years. But several years prior to this moment she shared with me she had developed a deep faith in Christ. Her faith is now the most important thing to her in her life. I had known many people like that over the years. I am one of those whose faith is deep. But when I decided to come out and live as an openly gay man I avoided her. I began to shut out people I feared would completely reject me, or chastise me for making this choice.
I feared deeper conversation and only talked about surface things as we shared our meal together. But the moment I feared presented itself. Sitting anxiously across the table from her she took my hands into hers. For a fleeting moment I gasped, what now? She became honest with me. “John, why in the world do you think I would hate you? Why do you believe for one moment I would reject you? I’ve known you since we were kids. I know your heart. I know your soul. Do you believe any of this has come as a surprise to me? I know you were hurting. I know you were lacking intimacy within your marriage. I know you were anxious and unsettled there. I could see it with my own eyes, my soul. I love you. I believe in the grace of a very big and loving God. Don’t you think God has seen all of this too?
You’ve entered a more honest life. I can see that in you. I see the peace in your heart. I see the deep connection you now have with Larry. I know it’s deep, honest, and true for you. I would never want to rob you of the life you have found today. I support you fully. I may not always understand or agree, but that’s not for me to judge. I’m merely here to love you unconditionally.
This, my friends, is an example to me of the love of God. It is my hope there will be good people who will grab Bruce’s hands, as she becomes who she is. I hope that she will find the love of God, the true grace of compassion and empathy. I hope that she’ll shed the same kind of tears I shed that day across the table from my lifelong friend. I hope those tears will continue to flow as mine do today as I write these words.
That’s the kind of transformation I believe comes from the spirit of love. The heart transformation, far more important than what someone does with their body, or whom they chose to love.
Our culture has a tough road ahead that will be rocky to say the least. It’ll be some time before we all learn to accept those who are different from us. But in listening to the heart, this road will smooth out for some.