Caitlyn Jenner on her life as a woman so far
LOS ANGELES—The brunette woman in front of me was formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the “All-American hero” of my youth. The “world’s greatest athlete,” as screamed by the headlines of magazines that featured her on the cover in the ’70s. Last year, in a widely reported gender transition, she became Caitlyn Marie Jenner.
Now, she is known as “the most famous openly transgender woman in the world.” Elegant in a silk cream blouse, brown suede skirt and pumps, Caitlyn has a friendly, easy camaraderie with three other transgender women whom we interviewed along with her—Candis Cayne, Chandi Moore and Ella Giselle. She joked and laughed with these women who are featured on “I Am Cait,” E!’s documentary series on her transition.
But Caitlyn was often serious as she talked about the role that was thrust upon her, being the most visible trans. She has embraced being an advocate to call attention to gender dysphoria, violence against transwomen and other transgender matters.
“This is a very serious issue,” declared the woman who became a national hero after winning the Olympic decathlon in 1976 and breaking several world records. “People commit suicide over this. People are murdered over this issue. This is much bigger than the (Olympic) games and much bigger than anything else I have ever done. How can I make a difference?”
Caitlyn added, “I got to the point in my life where my kids were raised, my life was in order, I was at peace with God about who I was, and I thought, OK, if I can do this and live authentically, how can I make a difference? In the LGBT community, there are a lot of issues and things to deal with.
“There was a statistic like only 8 percent of people out there actually knew somebody who was trans. Virtually nobody knew anybody was trans because it was swept under the rug. What we did in coming out was now, they know somebody who is trans—me—and they have seen other stories. It has brought the media forward to be able to tell these stories. There are some wonderful stories of survival.”
Even when she was being hailed in the Montreal Summer Olympics, Caitlyn said there was a woman inside her who was crying to come out. “My life has been constantly about diversions in life and not dealing with myself,” she said as she began recounting her journey. “I remember after the games, I thought of all these issues I had as a young kid. I had gender issues back in the ’50s and ’60s that you couldn’t talk with your parents about. I was dyslexic, suffering from low self-esteem, thinking that everyone else is smarter than me.
“I found my one thing to hide in and that was sports. I was pretty good at it. When I started off at school, I never thought I would take sports to the extent that I did, but I guarantee you that through 12 years of my life, there was always that dyslexic kid, that gender disparate kid living in the back of my head, who was going to prove herself to the world that she was worth something.
“Sports created a tremendous amount of drive in me to go out there to succeed. I broke the world record. I was ranked number one in the world three times. I broke the world record at the games.”
But even amid the celebration in Montreal, the newly crowned American hero felt scared. “I knew I would retire that night. I knew that would be my last meet ever, because I knew I had to move on in life. I remember waking up the next morning and looking in the mirror, with the gold medal, not a stitch of clothes on. I was going, where do I go from here? I don’t even have to work out today. It was a scary moment in my life.
“Fortunately, the next day, ABC asked if I wanted to work for them. I thought, oh my God, I got a job! I dove into other things. I dove into family for the next 30 something years. I was constantly living distractions.”
Caitlyn married three times and had children with her ex-wives: Chrystie Scott, with whom she has two kids; Linda Thompson—also two kids; and Kris Kardashian—two daughters, Kendall and Kylie, and four stepchildren from Kris’ previous marriage.
Along the way, Caitlyn became an actor, spokesperson for various products, successful race car driver and ran a company that sold aircraft supplies (she also flew planes).
Making the transition
She summoned the courage to finally make the transition. “In the ’80s, I thought I would transition before I was 40,” she shared. “I got to 39. I could not do it.
“Cut to two and a half years ago. I am back out at Malibu all by my little lonesome. Kris (Jenner) and I had gone separate directions, which was fine. I raised 10 of the most beautiful children in the world, all successful, hard-working, great kids.”
“Now, it’s going to be about me,” she remembered thinking. “How am I going to deal with myself, when I am dealing with the same issues at 65 (she’s 66 now) that I was dealing with when I was 8 years old? And that was when I started the process. And believing in myself that I can do this.”
It was a difficult phase, especially when, as she claimed, the tabloids seemed intent on outing her even before she was ready. She empathized with the plight of “The Matrix” codirector, Lilly Wachowski, who recently complained that she was outed by a newspaper.
“The media can be brutal,” Caitlyn pointed out. “I honestly feel her (Lilly’s) pain. In the ’80s was actually the first time I heard somebody in the media say something about, what is going on here (about her)? For over two years, I was destroyed every week in the tabloids. I would have four or five paparazzi cars following me, cutting me off. I would wear the same clothes every day so they would get the same damn shot. They couldn’t turn around and sell it, stuff like that. And in the same hood. It was horrible.
“They were trying to out me way before Diane Sawyer. It was brutal on me, my family, children and loved ones. My mother would call me up and say, ‘I was going through the grocery line—what is this?’ Because I had not told her yet, I would blow her off.
“At some point, I met up with Alan (Nierob), who is my PR guy for over 35 years. I told him my story 35 years ago, and he kept his mouth shut. I called up Alan and said, ‘You have to come out this weekend and we have to talk about it.’
“I wanted to control my story. I could have gone off to the backwoods of Alaska and transitioned, had a nice little life in a nice little town in the middle of nowhere. But eventually, the media would have found me, then it would become a scandal.
“I have met some of the most wonderful people over the last nine months—great transwomen and transmen, people who are working in this community to try and make it better. They don’t deserve to be misrepresented and be outed by the media (before they are ready). We came up with a plan and it started with Diane (Sawyer’s show). There’s nobody better, and she’s absolutely brilliant. You only get one chance to tell your story the first time, and we backed it up with Vanity Fair.”
The former college football player (a knee injury forced her to try decathlon, instead—a serendipitous twist) is relieved that she no longer has to hide her true identity.
“Having this secret in my whole life, I was going around scared to death that I was going to get caught,” she admitted. “I was at the time crossdressing, and I would walk around the hotel.
“Who am I? It was a long journey to figure that out. On a couple of occasions, I thought I might get caught but didn’t.
“I was afraid of being outed in the media. But last year, I won Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating Person title. I was thinking, this is cool, because now, I will never win that award again because I have no more secrets.”
Caitlyn maintained that Bruce Jenner is still inside her. “He is still there—still my same views, my relationships with people,” she said. “I still fly airplanes and go to the racetrack. I can still do all the fun stuff. Why not? Girls can do that, too!”
Asked if she has experienced sexism as a woman, Caitlyn replied, “I have lived an extraordinary life. I have stood on top of the platform. The world perceived me as this macho male, successful physically going out and conquering the world. That is a very powerful feeling and I have been there. Was it me? No, it was a portion of me.
“Now, for the last 10 months, I have had the opportunity to live my true self that people never knew [about]. It was amazing—when the Vanity Fair story came out, everything changed. That was the first time they saw me (as Caitlyn), and the first time they learned the name. To be honest, the media threw old Bruce right out under the bus. He was like, gone.
“This Caitlyn girl is a lot more interesting. They jumped on that bandwagon. It was so dramatic, and it literally happened within minutes. The good has so outweighed any negative that I have had.
“Waking up in the morning the other day, I was walking around the house and I thought, I was just happy. People do wonder, why would you transition from the ‘powerful’ male role to the ‘weaker’ female role? All I can say is that it wasn’t me. What a lot of women don’t understand and don’t get is the power of their femininity, their power of being a woman, if they know how to play the game. I have always been with very strong women.”
Bruce was noted for being a conservative and a Republican. Caitlyn, who stays a Republican, was quoted as saying in another interview, “I have gotten more flak for being a conservative Republican than I have for being trans.”
On whether she’s supporting Donald Trump (other reports said she’s for Ted Cruz), Caitlyn claimed, “I don’t endorse anybody. I am going to let the primaries just run and let them do whatever.
“Because the Republicans need more help. Yeah, they do, so we need to help them along.” Those three sentences made the African-American trans Chandi shake her head in disagreement, but with a smile.
Others are more outspoken in their criticism of Caitlyn, who is referred to as a “fashion brand” by writer Hadley Freeman.
In her column for the UK newspaper, The Guardian, Hadley wrote: “It’s flat out fantastic that a fashion brand is making such an effort to support trans people. But … last February (2015), Jenner was driving her SUV in Malibu and collided with two cars, killing 69-year-old Kim Howe. You probably haven’t heard much about this sad mess, because it doesn’t fit in with the media’s nervy narrative about inspirational Caitlyn. If you have, it was likely through the joke Ricky Gervais cracked at the Golden Globes about Jenner ‘not doing a lot for women drivers.’
“He was widely criticized for that … After the accident Jenner said she was ‘praying’ for Howe’s family. Of more comfort to them might have been the financial settlement she agreed to pay Howe’s stepchildren.
“Although investigators determined that Jenner had been traveling at an unsafe speed for road conditions, prosecutors ultimately declined to bring charges against her, deciding there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction. But I’m curious to know how many other women who had been in an accident that left another woman dead are, nine months later, named one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year, as Jenner was.
“But accidents happen. So let’s get to know Jenner as a person, as opposed to deifying her as a plaster saint. On her reality TV show, ‘I Am Cait,’ Jenner, a lifelong Republican, claimed that Donald Trump ‘would be good for women’s rights.’
“This would be the Trump who is antiabortion, calls women ‘fat pigs,’ describes breastfeeding as ‘disgusting,’ opposes marriage equality and once mocked a trans beauty contestant on TV. As a brand strongly associated with gay rights and equality, I’d love to know how many other Trump fans MAC hires for its advertisements.”
Almost a year since her gender transition, Caitlyn stressed that she’s still adjusting to so many things. “Mental courage” is often mentioned as a quality of people who made the leap into being transgender.
“There are a lot of things about womanhood that I am learning,” she conceded. “It’s many of the little things in life, not the big things. I think gender, for everybody, is a journey. We all learn about our gender and about who we are as a person. I have had this woman living inside me all my life. Finally, it’s her opportunity to live and put little Bruce inside and let him live inside. But in so many ways, I am still the same person.”
Same person, but a much happier one. “And next is, how can I make a difference? I want to see how we can bring this issue forward. And it’s not just here—it’s around the world. How we can make it better for the next generation coming up? It’s going to be a long road. I can’t certainly do it all myself. It’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime,” she remarked.
“This issue is no longer swept under the rug—at least we are talking about it. That is a great start. That is making a difference, because it’s played all over the world. This is a human issue—how to deal with the LGBT community. It doesn’t have borders. It’s in every country. So, it is a global issue.”
On a lighter note, Caitlyn volunteered that she now enjoys going out. “What is very interesting is that I hated to go out in the old days. I never went out, even with the family of this and that.
“I actually enjoy going out now, being with my girls, my friends and family and going out to dinner or event. That has been the good part.”
With those words, Caitlyn broke into a blissful, girlish smile.
E-mail [email protected] Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.