NEW YORK (AP) - In the 1970s, Bruce Jenner was a symbol of American masculinity as an Olympic champion. Nearly 40 years later, in an extraordinary television interview, Jenner told the world that he identifies as a woman and has felt gender confusion since he was a little boy growing up in the New York suburbs.
Jenner let his hair down - literally loosening a ponytail and letting his hair flow past his shoulders - in a symbolic moment at the start of his two-hour interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer that was televised Friday. "Yes, for all intents and purposes, I am a woman."
Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn Jenner through the years
Bruce Jenner comes out as transgender, says 'I am a woman'
Jul 1976: Bruce Jenner of the USA celebrates during his record setting performance in the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy /Allsport
Bruce Jenner (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC Sportscasters -- Pictured: Bruce Jenner -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
1976 Olympic Games, Montreal, Canada, Men's Decathlon, USA's gold medal winner Bruce Jenner (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
CANADA - JULY 30: Leader of the pack: Not succumbing to the temptation to run an easy 1;500 metres; the decathlon gold medal being already assured; Bruce Jenner of the United States strides out in front yesterday on his way to 4:12.81 clocking; excellent for a participant in 10-event combination. His total of 8;618 points broke world record he set earlier this year. In 10 events he achieved 4 career bests; tied one. (Photo by Ron Bull/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Bruce Jenner and Linda Thompson during Muscular Dystrophy Benefit at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 25: Charlie Jones (left), Bruce Jenner (center, with child), and Ahmad Rashad commentate for television during the Bruce Jenner Bud Light Classic track meet held on May 25, 1985 at San Jose City College in San Jose, California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Bruce Jenner during Las Hadas Sweet Sixteen Celebrity Sports Invitational at Las Hadas, Mexico in Las Hadas, Mexico, Mexico. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Bruce Jenner and Kris Kardashian (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - 1991: Kris Jenner and Bruce Jenner pose for a portrait in 1991 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1991: (Middle row, L-R) Brody Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Bruce Jenner, Kris Jenner, Cassandra Jenner, Kim Kardashian, (top row, L-R) Brandon Jenner, Burton Jenner,(bottom row, L-R) Robert Kardashian, Jr., Khloe Kardashian of the celebrity Jenner and Kardashian families featured in the TV show 'Keeping Up With The Kardashians' pose for a family portrait in 1991 in Los Angeles, California . (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 25: Bruce Jenner watches the action during the 1991 Bruce Jenner track meet held at San Jose City College in San Jose, California on May 25, 1991. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Kris Kardashian and Bruce Jenner during 1995 Jim Thorpe Pro Sports Awards at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Kris Kardashian, Bruce Jenner and Kendall Jenner (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner speaks June 11, 2001 during the 2001 Service to America Awards Presentation Ceremony in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Bruce Jenner during 16th Cedars-Sinai Sports Spectacular at Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, California, United States. (Photo by J. P. Aussenard/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 12: Kris Jenner and Bruce Jenner attend the world premiere of 'Ali' on December 12, 2001 at Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Bruce Jenner during 2003 Celebrity Sports Invitational Ski Event in Squaw Valley at Resort at Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe, California, United States. (Photo by A. Nevader/WireImage for InStyle Magazine)
BEL AIR, CA - MARCH 13: Olympian Bruce Jenner attends 'The 22nd Annual Jimmy Stewart Relay Marathon And Family Expo Kickoff' at the Hotel Bel Air on March 13, 2003 in Bel Air, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - APRIL 11: Olympian Bruce Jenner and his family attend the film premiere of 'Holes' at the El Capitan Theater on April 11, 2003 in Hollywood, California. The film opens in theaters nationwide on April 18, 2003. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Bruce Jenner during 'Along Came Polly' Premiere at Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Bruce Jenner and Brody Jenner during 2005 ESPY Awards - Red Carpet at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage)
Bruce Jenner during Dream Foundation's 'A Day To Dream' - July 24, 2005 at Santa Barbara Zoo in Santa Barbara, California, United States. (Photo by Eric Isaacs/FilmMagic)
Bruce Jenner and family during E! Entertainment Television's 2005 Summer Splash Event - Arrivals at Tropicana at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Bruce Jenner during Midsummer Night's Dream: A Magic Night of Poker - Arrivals at The Avalon in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 09: Bruce Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner at the 'Keeping Up With The Kardashians' premiere party on October 9, 2007 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
TV personality Brody Jenner and father Bruce Jenner pose for the cameras at the 8th Annual Playboy Golf Scramble Championship Finals held at Industry Hills Golf Club at the Pacific Palms Conference Resort on March 28, 2008 in Industry Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
LAS VEGAS - APRIL 05: TV personality Bruce Jenner arrives at the 44th annual Academy Of Country Music Awards held at the MGM Grand on April 5, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 05: Bruce Jenner sighting on July 5, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage)
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CA - OCTOBER 24: Television personality Bruce Jenner arrives at the Stand Up For Kids Annual Dinner and Auction on October 24, 2009 in Westlake Village, California. (Photo by Michael Bezjian/WireImage)
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 13: Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Kevin Kane/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 07: (L-R) TV personalities Kim Kardashian, Bruce Jenner and Kris Jenner attend the Bravada International launch party hosted by Kardashian at The Whisper Restaurant and Lounge at The Grove on April 7, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 11: TV personalities Kris Jenner (L) and Bruce Jenner attend the Endless Youth & Life store opening celebration on November 11, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - JUNE 10: Television personalities Bruce Jenner (L) and his wife Kris Jenner appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno at the NBC Studios on June 10, 2011 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Tonight Show/Getty Images for The Tonight Show)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Bruce Jenner and Hoda Kotb appear on NBC News' 'Today' show (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Bruce Jenner and Kris Jenner arrive at the Brent Shapiro Foundation: The Summer Spectacular on September 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Episode 723 -- Pictured: Bruce Jenner -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - APRIL 4: Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner hits a tee shot during the first round of ARIA Resort & Casino's 12th annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament at Shadow Creek on April 4, 2013 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 08: TV personalities Brody Jenner (L) and Bruce Jenner pose at the Brandon and Leah album release party for 'Cronies' on April 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage)
BURBANK, CA - MAY 06: TV personality Bruce Jenner attends The 6th Annual George Lopez Celebrity Golf Classic To Benefit The Lopez Foundation at Lakeside Golf Club on May 6, 2013 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for The Lopez Foundation)
LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 845 -- Pictured: (l-r) Bruce Jenner with host Jimmy Fallon during an interview on June 4, 2013 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Bruce Jenner arrives at the All Sports Film Festival closing ceremony at El Portal Theatre on November 11, 2013 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Bruce Jenner arrives for Ryan Sheckler's 7th Annual Celebrity Golf Tournament at Trump National Golf Course on September 29, 2014 in Palos Verdes Estates, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
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For the transgender community, it was a moment as significant as Ellen DeGeneres' coming out as a lesbian was for gays nearly 20 years ago. DeGeneres tweeted support to Jenner, saying the former Olympian was "saving lives and opening minds."
"My whole life has been getting me ready for this," said Jenner, 65, known to a younger generation as the patriarch of television's omnipresent Kardashian clan. "It's not just the last few years as they've been treating me as a joke."
The interview was filmed in February in Los Angeles and New York, before a fatal car accident in which Jenner was involved.
Jenner said he self-identifies as "her," not a specific name. But he told Sawyer he felt comfortable using the pronouns "he" and "him," a designation that is an important issue for many in the transgender community, which believes that transgender people should be referred to by the pronouns with which they choose to identify.
Jenner said his "brain is more female than it is male." He said he began gender reassignment therapy in the 1980s - taking hormones, having surgery to make his nose smaller and having hair removed from his face and chest - but gave it up. As Jenner got older, he realized that if he got sick and faced death without facing up to this issue, "I'd be so mad that I didn't explore that side of my life."
As a young boy, Jenner felt an urge to try on his mother's and sister's dresses.
"I didn't know why I was doing it," he said. "It just made me feel good."
Jenner said he has never been sexually attracted to men, and he wanted to make clear to viewers that gender identity and sexuality were separate things.
"I am not gay," he said. "I am, as far as I know, heterosexual. I've always been with a woman, raising kids."
Jenner said he has not decided whether he will undergo sexual reassignment surgery.
"These are all things that are out there in the future for me to explore," he said. "There's no rush for that. And I would do it so quietly that nobody in the world would know."
Jenner's four oldest children appeared on the interview special to support their father, but not the two girls he had with Kris Kardashian. He said his stepdaughter Kim has been a big supporter, urged on by husband Kanye West, but that his stepdaughter Khloe was taking it the hardest.
Jenner's first two wives offered messages of support; ABC said Kris Kardashian's publicist called to specifically say his third wife would have no comment. But Kardashian tweeted that no one had asked for comment and, after the interview aired, tweeted: "Not only was I able to call him my husband for 25 years and father of my children, I am now able to call him my hero."
Jenner told Sawyer that Kris was having a difficult time with it, and that if she better understood it, the couple would probably still be together.
Jenner's 89-year-old mother also was interviewed, saying she was more proud of Bruce than when he stood as an Olympic champion in Montreal.
The E! Entertainment network announced that Jenner would be part of a documentary series about the transition that would begin airing on July 26.
Hollywood offered support. "Tonight" host Jimmy Fallon, echoing Neil Armstrong when the astronaut took his first steps on the moon, tweeted: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
"Today, millions of people learned that someone they know is transgender," said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. "By sharing this story, Bruce Jenner has shined a light on what it means to be transgender and live authentically in the face of unimaginable public scrutiny. Though Jenner's journey is one that is deeply personal, it is also one that will impact and inspire countless people around the world."
Jenner showed Sawyer a closet filled with dresses and men's clothes. Sawyer said she had a private dinner with Jenner where he wore a dress, but the former Olympian did not appear in one in the ABC special.
Jenner said his two youngest daughters, suspecting that each other was secretly using her clothes, set up a computer to catch the other in the act - only to find their father using their full-length mirror wearing one of his own dresses.
"I would like to think that we can save some lives here," said Jenner, who admitted he once considered suicide at a low point when seen by paparazzi heading to a surgery to have his Adam's apple shaved back. "I have a feeling this is my cause in life. This is why God put me on this Earth, to deal with this issue."
See how Twitter reacted to the news:
Bruce Jenner Twitter Reactions
Bruce Jenner comes out as transgender, says 'I am a woman'
so very proud of you, my hero.
..this isn't about me. I'm so proud of you, Dad. You are so brave. My beautiful Hero.
Just finished watching the #BruceJennerInterview with the family. Bruzer, I'm soooo proud of you! Dads really are heros ❤️
Sending lots of love and support to #BruceJenner and their family tonight. It is always brave to stand in one's truth. Congrats darling.
#BruceJennerABC Now that is bravery.❤️
Mazel Tov to #BruceJenner - very very brave!!!
As someone who struggles with gender identity, Bruce Jenner is giving me a voice, and I can't thank her enough for that.
im rlly happy that this bruce jenner interview is respectful & educational which is a huge contrast from how other media have been reporting
This Bruce Jenner interview is very inspiring. No one should have to hide. The stigma towards LGBT people is responsible for so much pain.
some of us are too young to understand/remember what a MAJOR symbol bruce jenner was with the olympics
this is huge for an older generation
Bruce Jenner's story is so inspiring. Sheds light on issues felt by the Trans community and how important it is for us to be good allies!
"We did 425 episodes and...the one real true story was the one we were hiding," said Bruce Jenner of Keeping Up With The Kardashians
Transphobia is a real thing. What Bruce Jenner is doing right now in the public eye is brave and commendable. What an awesome dude.
I have a ton of respect for Bruce Jenner, the man is very brave and honest. You have to respect that.
Bruce Jenner's message is strong and true. Be who you are and don't let people tell you any different.
I support Bruce Jenner because there's a lot of people who want to do the exact same thing and are too afraid. Be who you WANT to be.
Bruce Jenner: “I Am A Woman” http://t.co/VPB2YWKHm9 http://t.co/AASTnk0naT
Good for Bruce Jenner. You get one life, live it to the fullest. Lots of courage to be this honest in public eye. https://t.co/Gn9lUyxqX8