Bruce Jenner's Ex-Wife Linda Thompson Offers Words Of Support & Pride In Touching Essay

The outpouring of support following Bruce Jenner's admission that he is "for all intents and purposes...a woman" during a two-hour interview with Diane Sawyer has been monumental for the Olympic champion. After previous speculation over Jenner's ever-changing appearance galvanized a series of vitriolic remarks and caustic joking at the Keeping Up With The Kardashians star's expense, such destructive commentary has since been turned on its head. Friday night's episode of 20/20 appears to have done much more than bring Jenner's specific struggles to light — it has catalyzed a discussion on why gender dysphoria is not something to be mocked, or shushed, but as something that demands educations, dialogue, and acceptance both in the public eye and the homes of those that have felt forced into concealment.

As members of both the Kardashian and Jenner clan have voiced their support and pride for Jenner following his interview, another person who was one of the first to become privy to the reality star's struggles with gender identity has come forward to detail their experience and support: Jenner's second wife and mother to two of his sons, Linda Thompson. In an essay posted to The Huffington Post, Thompson recalled her first meetings with Jenner, their marriage, and his private revelation in the 1980s about the "living hell" he experienced each day when he "looked in the mirror and [saw] a masculine image staring back at him where there should have been a feminine reflection."

Thompson described the emotional upheaval she experienced that eventually led to the end of her marriage, when she could not reconcile being married to a woman, even though she understood Jenner's turmoil and the fact that, "It's impossible for those of us who are comfortable living in our own skin to fully grasp what an imprisonment that must feel like to be born into the wrong body." Thompson's thoughtful reflections are followed by accolades for her ex-husband's "tremendous courage," and a call for others to practice kindness and understanding while becoming receptive to his journey.

Below are some highlights from Thompson's essay:

On First Meeting Bruce

He was sweet, shy, and very gentlemanly... His friendliness became a little flirty, so I asked him outright, 'Hey, aren't you married?! I watched you win the Olympics, and as I recall, your wife was very present!' Bruce's whole demeanor changed as he sadly responded, 'No, I'm separated, and it's really not a lot of fun.' He seemed so childlike and lost in that moment that my heart truly went out to him.
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On Beginnings Of Her & Bruce's Marriage

Those were the happiest days of my life. I had a wonderful husband, who was the most athletic, high-spirited, energetic, easygoing, manly man imaginable. I had two beautiful, healthy baby boys. I had two great stepchildren. Life was just about as good as it gets. We had moved into a sweet, one-acre mini-estate where I planted roses, fruit trees, and flowers, and where many lasting memories were made.

On First Learning Of Bruce's Struggles

When Brody was about 18 months old and Brandon was about 3 and a half years old, Bruce came to me one day with a very somber look on his face and said, 'There's something about me that I really need to tell you, something you need to know.' I truly thought he might possibly tell me he had had an affair while on the road. But that's not what he wanted to confess to me. Bruce told me that he identified as a woman. Not understanding exactly what he meant, I questioned him. 'What do you mean you identify as a woman?' I asked. 'What does that mean?' He replied that it meant that for as long as he could remember, he had looked in the mirror and seen a masculine image staring back at him where there should have been a feminine reflection. Bruce lamented, 'I have lived in the wrong skin, the wrong body, my whole life. It is a living hell for me, and I really feel that I would like to move forward with the process of becoming a woman, the woman I have always been inside.'

On Therapy With Bruce

[Our therapist] told me in one of the first few sessions, 'Linda, this is who Bruce is. His identity is that of a woman, and that will never, ever go away. You have a choice to make. If Bruce goes through with his gender reassignment, as he is now planning to do, you have the option of staying with him after he becomes she, or you can divorce him and move on with your life.' She told us that 25 percent of transgender people commit suicide because they are so depressed and feel so hopeless...As devastated as I was, my heart bled for Bruce and what he must have lived with his entire life. It's impossible for those of us who are comfortable living in our own skin to fully grasp what an imprisonment that must feel like to be born into the wrong body. I know it's difficult to understand, to emotionally or even intelligently wrap your head around.
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On Pain & Understanding

I mourned the death of my marriage, my man, and my dream of enjoying a lifetime of family togetherness. But I was also empathetic to, and mourned for, the pain that Bruce had experienced every day of his life. As earth-shattering as his confession had been for me, pulling the proverbial rug out from under my world, Bruce's struggle made mine pale in comparison. I now had to 'man up,' support Bruce and his decisions regarding his own body, take care of my sons, and move on with my life...If Bruce had told me about his gender issue when we first began getting romantically involved, I would not have married him. Pure and simple. But looking back, I'm so grateful to God, the universe, and Bruce that I didn't know, and that Bruce played the role in my life that he did. What a tragedy that truth, if Bruce had confessed it in 1979, would have been for my existence as I have known it!

On Her Hopes For Bruce & Others

My hope and my prayer is that humanity has evolved enough and been properly educated to exercise kindness toward those who have struggled or who we may perceive to be 'different.' Our uniqueness, our individuality, and our life experience molds us into fascinating beings. I hope we can embrace that. I pray we may all challenge ourselves to delve into the deepest resources of our hearts to cultivate an atmosphere of understanding, acceptance, tolerance, and compassion. We are all in this life together.

Read Thompson's full essay here.

Editor’s Note: Per Jenner’s stated preference, Bustle will continue referring to Jenner using he/his pronouns for the time being. We will follow his lead and make any changes to this policy as needed in the future.