"I m personally cheering him on," the talk-show host tells PEOPLE
Dr. Phil McGraw raised eyebrows Wednesday night during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live after he jokingly suggested Bruce Jenner‘s life-changing decision to transition into a woman at age 65 was pointless.
“Bruce and I have known each other casually for a while and we’re around the same age,” McGraw tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement.
“I’ve said long and loud it’s never too late to make a life change, and I’m personally cheering him on,” he says. “I’m glad he’s decided to set himself free in order to live his life authentically. It’s his life and his body and his decision – more power to him.”
Though the talk show host says he’s happy for Jenner, McGraw’s initial response when asked by Kimmel whether he wished that the former Olympian had chosen to talk to him instead of 20/20‘s Diane Sawyer for his first interview about his transition sparked backlash.
“It would be boring to talk to me about that,” he told Kimmel. “I … would just say, ‘Look, if it’s what you want to do, do it. I mean, what the hell does it matter what anybody else thinks?’
“That’d be the first 30 seconds, and then I guess we’d spend the next hour and 59 minutes saying, ‘You’re almost 80, what’s the point? This is a theoretical exercise, right?’ I mean, he’s kind of, like past his prime, right?”
Although his intent may have been lighthearted, Mary Andres, associate professor of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Southern California tells PEOPLE the decision to transition later in life is no joking matter.
“I think developmentally what happens with the older adults,” she says, “they get to the place where they are, ‘Okay I’m done kind of taking care of others in some way.’
” ‘I’ve been the sacrificial parent. I’ve been the caretaker and now the kids are kind of doing okay for themselves’. I think transitioning for some people is the same as divorcing because it’s like, ‘We’ll keep it together for the sake of others even though everybody is miserable.’ And then it’s like, ‘Okay, finally we can care about ourselves more than we care about others.’ And they give themselves permission to transition.”
While McGraw might agree that Jenner’s revealing interview is better suited for ABC News journalist Sawyer than his own show, he adds Jenner is “a hell of a nice guy.”
Jenner’s interview with Sawyer airs Friday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.