Bruce Jenner and What It Means to be a Man

From Vanity Fair (July 2015):

Bruce Jenner was ‘always telling lies.’ Caitlyn ‘doesn’t have any lies,’ she saCaitlyn Jennerys.

 “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life,’” she told me. “’You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”

“I’m not doing this to be interesting. I’m doing this to live.”

 “I never thought in a million years I would ever have to divulge such private, intimate feelings I’ve had all my life.”

I’m reading excerpts from Caitlyn Jenner’s interview in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair with tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my skin. She is an incredible, complex, beautiful, multi-faceted and brave woman. And what really strikes me the most, is watching this woman exemplify what it means to be a man.

Caitlyn Jenner was once Bruce Jenner, an accomplished and famous athlete. He set a world record for the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and came home with a gold medal. Bruce epitomized what being a man “should” look like. He was strong, handsome, capable, and physically powerful.

However, all the while, Bruce had a secret. He felt like, and wanted to be, a woman. For decades, Bruce kept this secret, only telling a close few. The pressure to keep this secret was so palpable, that Bruce even contemplated suicide after a 2013 TMZ report came out about his tracheal shave. So great is the shame in our society for sexual choices and preferences other than the heterosexual “norm,” that Bruce thought death was a better option than openly admitting his secret.

And yet, two years later, Caitlyn Jenner debuts herself on the cover of Vanity Fair in her full gorgeous glory.

Just for a moment, I want to thank Bruce. I want to thank him for having the courage to live his truth, in spite of the fear and shame he faced. Bruce, by living into his true identity of Caitlyn, has helped to shift what it means to be a man in this country.

I would propose that “being a man” is not necessarily being the strong, tough, guarded, emotionless, powerful and dominating character that our popular media depicts. Instead, I think that Bruce (and many many like him who are bravely but quietly living their own truths) is helping to pave the way to a new version of masculinity which is about bravely and courageously living your truth and vulnerability.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes that in her research, men reported their biggest source of shame was feeling weak, defective, criticized, and ridiculed. The star athlete transforms into a soft feminine woman. The feminine energy is the epitome of vulnerability and softness – everything the masculine fears being. For this Olympic athlete to face the shame of looking like a failure, to live his truth of living as a woman, is a tremendous act of bravery.

Bruce Jenner was a real man. He had the courage to face his greatest source of shame in front of a worldwide audience. He chose to live as a woman, in a society that still degrades and demeans women for being the lesser sex. Bruce felt all of this, and still chose to live his true identity.

Caitlyn says, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.”

Thank you Bruce, and Caitlyn, for helping to redefine what we think it is to be masculine. Being a man is to live your truth, in spite of the perceived shame. It is about having the courage to live in your vulnerability, and even softness. Being a man is no longer about hiding what you really feel, in order to be strong. It is about being so strong, that you can express your greatest fears and vulnerabilities. It is about realizing that bravery is not about conquering others, but living your highest truth.