Dr. Renée Richards, a former athlete who paved the way for transgender rights by fighting to play professional tennis after undergoing gender reassignment surgery, doesn’t think Bruce Jenner’s sexual orientation will be affected by his female transition — and she’s speaking from experience.
“It’s interesting that people talk about Bruce Jenner: ‘What’s his love life gonna be after he’s transitioned to a woman?’ He’s been married a couple of times — he’s basically a heterosexual man,” Richards, now a successful ophthalmologist, told GQ in a new interview. “I find it hard to believe that he’s suddenly all of a sudden become oriented towards men. It’s conceivable, but it makes for a complicated life.”
“I never really felt oriented sexually to men. It was fun having sex with a man, especially the first few years as Renée. It was fun, and I enjoyed it, but there was never a love object,” Richards said. “I just realized that my sexual orientation wasn’t gonna be changed by my sex change.”
Jenner has said his won’t be either (Jenner previously specified he still prefers the male pronoun). “I’m not gay,” he told Diane Sawyer last month while explaining the difference between sexuality and gender identity.
“Sexuality is who you’re attracted to, who turns you on — gender identity is who you are, what is in your soul,” Jenner said.
Jenner, a former star athlete himself and now a reality TV star, is considered a transgender pioneer in his own right for going public with his true self, first in a
Richards, who was born Richard Raskind, has lived 40 years as a man and 40 years as a woman. But she doesn’t consider herself to be much of a pioneer, despite the New York Supreme Court ruling in her favor in 1977 after the U.S. Tennis Association denied her entry into the U.S. Open because she wasn’t born a woman.
“I was a reluctant pioneer, so I can’t take that much credit for it,” Richards said. “I was not an activist. It was a private act for my own self-betterment, for what I wanted to do. Some people don’t understand why I’m not an activist for the transgendered community, why I don’t talk and preach. I think I do more good for that community by being the best doctor I can be, by being the best tennis coach now and formerly tennis player I can be.”
Perhaps Richards can’t commit to activism because she’s not entirely happy with the community’s preferred nomenclature.
“I am not overly happy with the word ‘transgender.’ It is very inclusive. I was a ‘transsexual’ — I changed from man to woman. Not something in between,” Richards said. “Transgender suggests, and does in many instances refer to, an in-between — part way from one sex to the other. And the idea of androgyny is not appealing to me. I like the binary system that God designed for us – -two sexes, two genders, male and female. It’s what makes the world go round and is the spice of life.”
Still, Richards thinks the “climate of increased awareness of transgender as a subject” has educational value that will help shape society in a number of positive ways, whether it’s how people view the transgender community or how members of the community view themselves. But she still yearns to learn more about the scientific nature of gender identity.
“I don’t see much taking place, however, in the area of causation, etiology, ‘why’ this happens,” Richards said. “There’s very little research from the scientific community.”