Bruce Jenner is the latest high profile person to join the LGBT community. After watching his come-clean interview by most accounts, he was surprisingly honest and inspiring as he delivered his beautiful, touching story. I was moved to tears, something I didn’t expect. Moreover I found his story to resonate with me, cause me to revisit memories of my own taboo upbringing. Many times during the show I thought about my dad’s journey. I remembered how I kept feelings bottle up, how I was affected.
Glued to Jenner’s most tender moments, his unpretentious emotional sharing, it was when I listened to his children that I was most intrigued. I was envious of their dialog as they responded to the landmark moment, the unveiling of their dad’s secrets. I am convinced they will share a refreshingly honest future. The four oldest of his six biological children, each spoke in a very mature way
supporting their dad’s choice to transition to a woman. They made very clear they would be there for him in what is sure to be a difficult transition for such a public masculine icon. That said, in this big ‘Kumbaya’ moment I was also relieved to hear Diane Sawyer pipe up and ask (what surely much of the viewing audience was wondering), “it’s wonderful to see such positive support, but aren’t any of you upset by this? Isn’t this hard for you?”
Kids I think feel the need to be good little soldiers; it was certainly the case for me. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t support our loved ones, don’t get me wrong. But in that moment Diane tried to get real with Jenner’s kids, I thought about all the tap dancing I did around my family truths. For me that was often the most stressful. Having to place a rosy face on what was a very shameful, confusing truth. My dad was not the norm! I needed help understanding why and what that meant.
Post interview I checked into twitter responses, beamed to find many heartfelt positive tweets. #bravo, #inspiring, #respect, #hero. At the end of a long line of positives I found his youngest daughter Kylie, who touched me the most. Her tweet, supportive yet what I felt laced in a bit of apology, “Understandably, this has been very hard for me. You will hear what I have to say when I’m ready but…it’s not about me. I’m so proud of you, Dad. You are so brave. My beautiful hero.”
I wanted to reach out to say, it is ALSO about you! Feeling connected to the youngest of the Jenner clan my mind launched back to a similar tender age, when I was 16, feeling my world was crumbling. All I wanted was to be heard.
Dad had been living in Coralville, Iowa, an hour plus northwest of Davenport where I lived with my mom. At the time the distance felt so great. At 16 I was becoming more independent but at the end of each day I desperately needed to be grounded. I needed to know my family story, who they truly were. This tender reality was what I needed to feel safe. When it came to Dad I wish I could say I felt this way. I knew in my heart dad was gay, my boyfriend had spoken so out loud. Holding this knowledge deep in my soul I didn’t have the heart or courage to approach him directly. Instead I wanted to test him. One weekend I called him, to stage a guarded heart to heart. I didn’t intend to pin a gay identity on him but I knew the subject of religion, his church would strike a cord.
We hadn’t ever truly spoken on a regular basis but connecting with him had become even less frequent. Needless to say when I rang him up one Sunday afternoon he was more than a bit surprised. “Hi Dad, it’s me, Stephanie. I’m calling because I want to talk to you…about us.”
“Sure honey. What’s on your mind?”
“I”ve been thinking, about us, that I hardly ever see you. That I we barely talk.” My heart was racing. I was mindful how rare it was for me to step up the level of sass but I wanted to make sure my tone had an angry edge. I didn’t mince soft, sweet pleading words. I felt I deserved some truth. Still, underneath my frustration I felt guilty because what I truly yearned for was a relationship. I also wanted an understanding of a situation that was elusive to me. I’d rehearsed the next line, knew it might sting. Truth be told I hoped it would.
“Dad, I just feel like our relationship is simply — biological. That we’re less father daughter, that you’re more of a biological figure, little more!”
“Steph that’s just not true, I do not feel I am simply your biological father.”
Tears welled over my water filled eyes. Full of angry steam, I rolled on, “You are always talking about our Catholic religion, how it is so important to honor your mother and honor your father. What I wonder is, what about the kids?”
It was so hard for me to do that, to stand up to my dad. To virtually sting him with hurtful statements, but I had to test him. Dad was pulling away himself. Deep inside I had an inkling it had to do with him being gay. Full of anger, confusion, deep sadness, I wanted him to fight for me. I wanted what most others had — a family unit, the norm. At 16 I would have settled for an explanation. Had he come out to me, to my siblings and I, his unveiling certainly would have been a blow, but I’m also certain we could have worked through it. I wish there had been a common platform to do so, but the times didn’t support it. Unfortunately in many places today it’s still the case.
I didn’t want to throw my dad away, stop speaking to him which often happens when gay identity is unveiled, but I also wanted my emotions to be felt, my voice to be heard. Ultimately I wanted to be supportive because in my heart I loved him. With all the defensive walls up it was difficult to get to a starting point. Coming out, revealing true self, is at least a start on the road to understanding. I too wanted my dad to be my hero, but it was too much for me to handle in 1981.
I’m happy for the littlest Jenner but I want her to know I hear her too.