Caitlyn Jenner: ‘I See My Gender Dysphoria As a Gift’

By the time I was 9 years old, I was struggling with my gender identity. I would sneak into my mother and sister’s closets when nobody was around to try on their clothes, or go play with their makeup. I had no idea why I was doing it; it just felt right.

I also struggled with dyslexia, which was kind of a double-whammy. I was scared to go to school and be asked to read in front of the class; I would sit there with sweaty palms.

Then, in fifth grade, we had a running race out in the parking lot and they timed every kid in the school—and I had the fastest time of anybody. I was shocked, and realized this was something at which I could actually excel.

Looking back, I think that sports meant more to me than the next person.

I needed sports more to prove to myself that I could be good at something, and I worked a little harder than I think I would have if I hadn’t been struggling.

Though that running race in the fifth grade was the beginning of my sports career, I never thought I’d go to the Olympics. That was something that seemed like it would happen to somebody else, not me. But after being introduced to the decathlon by a track coach in college, eventually I was not just trying to be the best in my school, I was trying to be the best in the world.

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By the time I was preparing for the 1976 Olympics, for the last six years of my athletic career, all I did was train for six to eight hours a day, driving myself to be the best I could be. I was extraordinarily dedicated, motivated, and competitive.

During my Olympic training, I was so far away from Caitlyn. I honestly just ignored my gender issues the best I could. But it was always present. ​When you suffer from gender dysphoria, it’s not something you can take two aspirin for, get plenty of sleep, wake up the next morning, and everything’s fine. You’re just kind of stuck with it.

I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t know what was going on with me.

But it was also my dyslexia and gender issues that made me an Olympic champion. I channeled my struggles to drive and push me. Now, I see those issues as my gift.

Everybody has issues they have to deal with.

Whether that’s family issues or identity issues or a learning disability, the quality of your life is going to be determined by how you deal with those obstacles. The key is to use it to push you forward.

I think everybody deserves an opportunity to compete in sports, no matter who you are, no matter what your identity.Sports is a great place for young people to get to know themselves, and to learn about winning, losing, hard work, and dedication.

While there’s a lot of progress that needs to be made, I think the Olympics committee is way ahead of the rest of the sports world when it comes to trans athletes because they’ve been grappling with hormone use issues in athlete for a long time that have forced them to develop clear policies for athletes.

Years after the 1976 Games, when I was competing, it was revealed that East Germany was illegally administering male hormones to female athletes as part of their training. Incidents like this have contributed to the need for hormonal testing among Olympic athletes, and the continual reevaluation of how hormone levels can affect fair competition.

The Olympics committee has also had to create policies around athletes using hormones for non-doping purposes, too. After a long battle with the IOC, American sailor Kevin Hall, who had to take regular testosterone shots after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, was cleared to compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics with a “therapeutic use exemption” despite testosterone being a banned substance.

Over the last 15 to 20 years, the IOC has done a lot of research on these issues. I think they’ve done just about as good of a job as you can do.

In the future, I think more sports organizations are going to have to find a way to accept trans athletes, too. We have certainly come a long way in the past 20 to 30 years, but we still have a ways to go.

There is an environment of machoism in some male sports that keeps athletes closeted because they’re afraid it will hurt their career.

That was certainly the case for me; living my life as a woman never even seemed like an option when I was a young person.

In 1977, the year after I competed and retired, I got to meet tennis player Renee Richards, who’d come out as transgender. I never told her about any of my issues, but I thought, “What guts she had to do this, to live her life authentically,” and I admired her so much.

That being said, I think every athlete has to contemplate coming out on an individual basis—every situation is different and every individual has to do what’s best for them.

When I was young, I felt I couldn’t do anything about my gender dysphoria. Back then, I could never have envisioned a future for myself as happy as I am now.

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I have no regrets about my life.

I was fortunate to have six genetic children and four stepchildren. I also had wonderful women in my life. I spent the majority of my life raising children and working, and I have no regrets about that.

But I never thought that someday I would be able to live my life authentically, I thought I’d just have to deal with my identity my whole life.

It wasn’t until I was 63 years old looking back and realizing I was dealing with the same issues I had when I was 9 that I wondered, “What am I going to do with my life?” I finally got the guts to tell my story. It wasn’t an easy decision, and it took a long time.

No matter your situation, there’s no right or wrong way to come out. But now, I wake up in the morning, and I look in the mirror, and everything finally feels like it’s in the right place. I’m not struggling anymore. I’m happy.

. This article is part of Women’s Health 2020 Pride Month Coverage. Click here for more.

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