Surfer, song writer, music teacher, Jenner leads a full life. Things didn’t look so good in high school. Here’s how her chapter begins:
The summer before 10th grade my girlfriends and I went to a party. I guess the parents were away for the weekend. Anyhow, there were no adults around. There was this big bottle of tequila and I was taking shots. I was fourteen, it was my first experience with alcohol and I overdid it. I asked my girl friends to take care of me because I was really out of it. Most of the night they sat next to me outside on the deck, talking.
This guy I’d once gone to school with sat down with us. He and one of my friends decided that the three of us were going to go to the store. I was like, “Sure.” I was so naive and trusting, it never crossed my mind that something bad could happen.
I don’t even know if we ever got to the store… I ended up with just him. He drove somewhere, I don’t know where. I was blacked out, totally out of it. I woke up to him having sex with me.
I was a virgin and in shock. I was so drunk I couldn’t do anything to stop him.
For Jenner, the aftermath of the rape was compounded by her feelings of guilt for getting so drunk and fear of sexually transmitted disease. One of her friends told her it was no big deal, “That’s what happens at parties.” Embarrassed and without support, Jenner tried to forget about the rape and move on.
Of course, that didn’t work. The cost of keeping it all inside was high. She felt numb. Unable to feel her rage at the violation, it came out anyhow in an act of vandalism that landed her in trouble with the law.
In her chapter, Jenner tells how one, key event triggered a sudden reconnection with her emotions about the rape and her ability to feel.
Songwriting was a big part of the way she coped and healed, especially the writing of one song:
There’s a line in the song, “So go on and tell your friends of a girl you stole.” He did steal that—my girlhood and my first sexual experience.
When he talked about it at school, I was so humiliated. The words in the song give the shame back to him. Okay, go tell people! When he talks about it, he’s admitting to doing this really horrible thing. Maybe someone who hears him will react in a way that makes him realize what he did was wrong.
Jenner performed her song about the rape at Take Back the Night on her college campus. Shortly after our interview, she recorded a live CD at a coffee house. This photo from Strong at the Heart is of her at that concert. She told me afterwards:
“That was an amazing event for me. I wanted to put all the songs I’d written up to that point on the album and then go on to the next phase in my life. Everyone was there. The place was packed.
Jenner met her husband-to-be at one of her concerts. “He and I just clicked on so many levels. We’re both musicians. We love to do the same things: surf, mountain bike, travel. He’s not intimidated at all by me following my heart in life.”
Here they are surfing in New Zealand, shortly after their marriage.
What was it like to be in Strong at the Heart? Jenner answered that question in a recent email:
“When I received my copy of Strong at the Heart, I was both thrilled and apprehensive. Did I really want to see my name and photograph next to an interview on rape? I felt vulnerable, knowing that strangers would know something that personal about me.
“But by the end of my first read through, I was so proud. I felt that I had honored myself by consciously healing and by sharing my story with others.
“We should be able to walk tall, carrying with us the experiences that make us who we are. I look back on when we recorded that interview and I think, wow, that was hard, reliving those ugly moments. But I also identified an inner strength within those fragile layers of myself—and I’ve carried that with me, like a tool or a skill set, to apply to other life challenges.
“Being vulnerable is a sacred space where growth can happen. It is different from being a victim. I once saw a bumper sticker that said, ‘My silence is your power.’ I am proud of myself for breaking my silence, for owning my emotions, and for reaching out.”