Over the past couple weeks, you can’t stand in a grocery store checkout line without seeing the face of 65-year-old Bruce Jenner. The Olympic gold medalist, and Kardashian reality TV star, is on the cover of every tabloid magazine.
It seems most media outlets have something to say about his decision to transition into being a woman, and it’s not always positive. This kind of media coverage really bothers Seattle psychotherapist Kate Stewart.
“I was hearing people say things like, ‘He was such a masculine Olympian, and now this.’ As if, like, how sad that he’s come to this, that he’s transitioning into being a woman. I was really upset by that because it’s very disrespectful. What a negative connotation to put on this change when apparently this is what he wants to do,” said Kate. “I think we should respect that.”
Hearing from a trans woman, who’s been through the process, might paint a clearer picture of what it’s like to transition. It could stop the gossip and actually humanize trans people.
Puyallup’s Kathryn Mahan is on the board at Seattle’s Ingersoll Gender Center, one of the longest running gender support groups in the nation. She transitioned in her late 40’s.
“Every day you feel like you are not being true to yourself and you’re living a lie,” said Kathryn. “You can keep that up for a long time and some people do it all their lives. But suicide rates are much higher for transgender people; drug abuse, alcoholism, risky sexual behavior. These aren’t because these are people of weak character, it’s because they have these huge conflicts going on inside of them. Honestly, when you tear down the bricks of the facade and let who you really are come out, that’s when your life really begins.”
Kathryn said she always knew she was trans, and reports now say that Bruce Jenner has known since he was five years old.
“You know, he won the decathlon in the Olympics, which is an amazing achievement. People can ask, how can you be that masculine and be feminine inside? A lot of transgender people go to the extreme, partly to fit in and partly because you want to prove that you’re as good as anyone else,” explained Kathryn. “You shouldn’t just assume that because a person has won the decathlon, and is a hunk of a man, that doesn’t mean what’s going on inside.”
Kathryn doesn’t necessarily think his public transition will be easy.
“Here he’s got all this money and he’s famous and he’s won gold medals. But I think we learned last year with Robin Williams that we should not be making assumptions that he’s just gonna fly through this thing,” she said. “My heart really goes out to him and I hope this works out well for him. I hope that he can find a group like Ingersoll Gender Center.”
Kathryn said she thinks Jenner’s forthcoming reality show that will document his transition, could be good for the trans movement. Just like Ellen DeGeneres’ did as the country’s first open lesbian to play an open lesbian on TV.
“There’s a lot of different ways to fight the battle, but for me the best way is just to be a person out in public and own my square meter. I think it’s very important for people to see us, face-to-face. But there are other people who are working the legislative battles,” said Kathryn. “I think there’s an opportunity here, with Jenner’s TV show, maybe that’s going to open a lot of minds, too. Every time that another person comes out, gathers a good support group around them, and succeeds at life and becomes more beautiful and blossoms into who and what they are, everyone of those is a victory.
“It shows that America really has nothing to fear. I think we just make the quilt more pretty and more interesting.”
Kathryn said Seattle has one of the most progressive trans communities in the nation, and people often move here and seek help at the Ingersoll Gender Center because they’ve heard our region is safe and accepting.