Bruce Jenner: ‘The First Time I Wore A Dress,’ And What It Means For Societal Gender Norms

By now, everyone has heard about Bruce Jenner and his self-defining as a woman. He has been “making the transition” from male to female for years, with setbacks, but what does that even mean? If someone has male genitalia, are they male? Bruce Jenner, and many individuals who relate to his situation, along with psychological experts, say the answer is a resolute “no.”

In his tell-all interview with Diane Sawyer, his honest and, at times, heartbreaking struggle with his gender identity makes it clear it is not an issue that we as a society can pass off as rare, or weird, or not our problem. Many in our society are struggling with genitalia that does not correlate to the person they feel like inside. And the problem with that is societal — it creates mental illness, emotional distress, suicide attempts and completion.

The former Olympic gold medalist, who admitted he began the transition from male to female 30 years ago in various ways, said he first tried on his “mom or sister’s” dress when he was just eight- or nine-years-old — which means he has been struggling with gender identity for more than fifty years. This tremendous athlete, father of six, and Olympic champion was unsure how to handle the feelings that were as basic to him as eating or breathing — so the question remains, how many in our society have similar issues, what types of struggles do they suffer, and how can be help them feel more “normalized” in a culture that seems to polarize male and female roles?

Jenner admitted the desire to wear the dress was innate, even as a pre-pubescent male. He didn’t know why he wanted to wear the dress, but he knew that it was “wrong,” so he did his best to hide it.

“I don’t remember the exact dress because I put it on and then I marked the closet so when I put it back, I could put it all back in the exact same spot so I wouldn’t get caught. At that time I didn’t know why I was doing it besides it just made me feel good.”

Later, Jenner theorized it made him feel good because his brain is that of a female. He wanted to identify with that females did — they wore dresses, in his little boy’s mind. But what does it mean to be male or female, and how can we help children who are in the throes of gender confusion? Bruce Jenner is now 65-years-old, the prime years of his life long gone.

While his interview was powerful and thought-provoking, it leaves many questions in its wake. How much “experimentation” among children is normal, and when do we realize that a child really does not identify with the genitalia they were born with? How should we handle the situation?

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[image courtesy of imgarcade]