Even before Bruce Jenner became an Olympic champion, his first wife Chrystie Scott said, he told her early on during their marriage that he was struggling with being transgender and wanted to “be a woman.”
“It was such a shock to me, but he opened up his heart and confessed,” Scott said in an exclusive interview on “Good Morning America” Monday. “[He said] he had to share this deep, dark secret and he told me he always wanted to be a woman and, understandably, I was speechless. I didn’t really know what to say.”
Jenner and Scott were married in 1972, and she was by his side as he took home the gold medal for the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Jenner was crowned an American hero during the Cold War, and afterwards, endorsement deals and appearance opportunities poured in. His likeness became a nationwide brand, and Jenner appeared in ads, movies and TV shows.
But it was during their first year of marriage, Scott said, that the former Olympian told her about his issues.
“I was really pleased that he shared that intimacy with me, that he trusted me with his deepest, darkest secret,” she said.
Bruce Jenner told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer during an exclusive interview, which aired in a special edition of “20/20” Friday, that Scott was probably “the first one to know” he was quietly struggling with gender identity. Jenner referred to himself using male pronouns during the interview and ABC News has chosen to follow his lead, though he also referred to himself as “Bruce” and “her.”
“I didn’t go heavily into it back then,” Jenner told Sawyer. “I said, ‘These are my issues. This is what I deal with.’ And they think I do a little cross dressing, I do a little of this, a little of that, you know, ‘It’s going to be fine; we’ll work all this stuff out.’”
Six years into their marriage, Jenner and Scott had their first child together, Burt. Scott was pregnant with their second child, Cassandra, when the couple separated. They divorced in 1981.
When asked if Jenner’s struggle with being transgender was what led to their divorce, Scott told “Good Morning America” that, “It was an underlying unrest and an underlying dissatisfaction of being married that led to our divorce.”
“His career as a decathlete was over,” she continued. “There were a lot of changes in his life that made him an unhappy guy right then, so that could have been a big factor. I don’t know. It wasn’t a thing that we explored because it didn’t seem like, it didn’t rear its ugly head.”
Scott said his issues were difficult for her to understand, at the time.
“It’s so hard to wrap your head around it, especially because he was such a manly man and he didn’t display any female style in any way,” she said. “He never indicated anything feminine in his demeanor. It was pretty hard to wrap my head around it, but it didn’t threaten me. It didn’t threaten our marriage. It wasn’t really a threat. It wasn’t a problem.”
Scott kept Jenner’s secret to herself for decades. She said she was very proud of Jenner for coming forward with his story and hopes he can serve as an inspiration to others.
“I’m sure there are plenty of people that don’t have the courage to come out at all, ever, and they live private, dark, tortured lives, and that’s tragic. That’s just tragic,” she said. “The fact that he did share it with me that first year, I felt like it was actually a gift that he gave to me, that he trusted me with something so intimate. I felt like I was in charge of something that I had to hold private and dear and quiet.”
Scott said she and the rest of Jenner’s family, including his children, their spouses, grandchildren and his second wife, Linda Thompson, gathered together to watch Sawyer’s two-hour interview with him at Scott and Jenner’s daughter Cassandra’s house, and that watching his journey through the years was “surreal.”
“I think it was cathartic to watch it together. I think it was cathartic to him,” she said. “ It was a good experience for all of us to go through together, to watch it together. After he left we talked about it together, the kids, how it felt to them. How it felt to me. How it felt to Linda. It was pretty intense.”
But Scott said it was hard for her to watch Jenner’s journey, knowing that he went through the triumphs of Olympic glory, then suffered from depression for years, before deciding to go through with his tradition.
“Going back to the Olympics and seeing him as this manly man and, I must say, it was pretty great,” Scott said. “And then to see him go through this anguish. I know it’s been painful for him. I know it’s been a torment in his life.”
“It broke my heart,” she continued. “I reached over and tried to give him a little bit of comfort. It broke my heart for him. It was sad.”