Nellee Holmes chats to one of the world's most famous transgender women - the incomparable Caitlyn Jenner
As a former Olympic champion and one part of the reality TV juggernaut Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Bruce Jenner was a formidable star in his own right. And after years of tabloid taunts and nasty rumours, in June last year, Caitlyn Jenner revealed herself as a transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, talking to Diane Sawyer in a watershed moment for 2015 pop culture. Now a TV star with her own show, Caitlyn is hellbent on bringing transgender politics to the forefront of modern society. Here's what she has to say about family, I Am Cait, and her hopes for the future.
You were a part of one of the most watched TV shows in the world while your transition into a woman had already began, but that was a secret for the audience. Was it scary that this secret would be discovered before you were ready to share it with the world?
I used to practice cross-dressing and my whole life I was scared to death that I could get caught on the road or in a hotel or someplace in a woman's outfit. But what tortured me more was my constant thinking about why I was doing it: "Is it cause of possibly getting caught? And how far can I go and how many chances can I take and not get caught? Or maybe that's who I really am?". I was really scared in the past but today I am free from secrets and free from fears. This last year, I won Barbara Walters' Most Fascinating Person in the world. [laughs] And I was thinking to myself: "This is kind of cool, but since now I will never win that award again". Why? Because you always need to open a secret for that and now I don't have any left.
Your show I Am Cait raises issues about how it feels to be a transgender woman in contemporary society. What was your idea for doing this TV show? Did you want people to walk in your shoes or make a kind of political statement?
Well, what I wanted to do right from the beginning with the show was just live my authentic self. I got to the point in my life where my kids were raised, life was in order, I was at peace with God about who I was, and I said to myself: "Okay, if I can do this and live authentically, how can I make a difference and influence the community?". The LGBT community has a lot of issues to deal with and these issues are extremely serious. People commit suicide over their sexual orientation problems. What's more, people are murdered over this issue and that's terrifying. This is much bigger than a game - this is our reality. Whether you want to face it or not it is here. I want to make a difference and that's why I started the show.
There are other transpeople beside you in the show. Was it important to involve them?
Absolutely. I wanted to tell different stories of different people. These men and women, they all are worthy and deserve understanding. Transition is not a whim. It's the most difficult decision we ever made, believe me. And by telling our stories we want some respect. We want to change the attitude and if we can, do it [so] those who will live after us will live in a better world.
Caitlyn, what do you miss about Bruce?
[Laughs] I am trying to think what I miss about him, and I just can't find a thing... So it seems I don't' miss him at all. Today I am much more comfortable about who I am. But this woman has lived inside me all my life and it's time to let her expose herself. So today it's Bruce's turn to live inside. But again I still have the same views, my relationships with people remain the same (and I feel blessed about it), I still fly airplanes or go to the racetrack. My life remains the same except one nuance, which is that I'm now happy and totally satisfied with who I am. Honestly, it was in some way sad to change the name and gender marker and to say "Bye" to Bruce. That was pretty traumatic to me, because he was a good guy. But now he is gone.
Can you talk about Andy Wachowski, a filmmaker who recently came out as transgender, and also the fact that Lilly (her present name) wasn't quite ready to come out with her secret yet?
I understand Lilly's pain and I know all these hard things about keeping a secret. But the media can be so brutal... I think it was in the '80s when I heard or read something about transgender people. And since the same time, the paparazzi have tried to find something wrong with me. For two years before I actually gave Diane Sawyer that frank interview I was destroyed every week in tabloids. I would have four or five paparazzi cars following me, cutting me off. I wore the same clothes every day so they got the same damned shot and couldn't turn around and sell it. And it was brutal on me, on my family, on my children, on my loved ones. I was so terrified that my mother would go to a grocery and see one of these magazines and it would blow her up because I hadn't told her myself. I am really grateful to Alan [Nierob] who was my PR guy for almost 35 years. I told him the truth about myself long, long ago and he kept his mouth shut for so many years. He's one of the few true professionals left in the field.
Yeah, I could have gone off to the backwoods of Alaska and transitioned and then had a nice little life in a nice little town in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, the media would have found me and then it would become a scandal. How can I control this? So I called Alan and we talked about but how can we take this issue which is so important and been swept under the rug for so many years, how can we take this and elevate it and put it where it belongs? So we sat down and started to come up with a plan. When you only get one chance to tell your story you want it to be nothing but class. So it was ABC news, and it was Diane Sawyer which was brilliant, and they backed it up with a Vanity Fair story. So it was very well thought out, because it deserved to be, for the community.
I saw the interview with Diane Sawyer for the first time together with Kourtney, Kimberley, Khloe and Kris
They say it's a man's world. Have you experienced any sexism as a woman?
I have lived an extraordinary life. I have stood on top of the platform and the world perceived me as this macho male, successful and physically perfect. I was conquering the world and that was a very powerful feeling. But was it me? No, it was a portion of me. It was amazing when Vanity Fair came out and everything changed. That was the first time they saw me and learned my [new] name. It was the time to throw old Bruce right out under the bus. This Caitlyn girl, she is a lot more interesting. Waking up in the morning the other day, I was walking around the house and I thought, you know what, I am just happy. It was so simple and I so meaningful at the same time. People often ask me about the transition from the male powerful role to the weaker female role. And I keep on telling them I don't think women are weak. A lot of women just don't understand the power of their femininity and the power of being a woman.
Have you already discovered those powers?
Recently I invited Sharon Stone over. We met and talked about just [about] anything. And then she said: "Women don't realise the power of touch". I didn't get it and she explained. She was in the audition for Casino and she wanted to get the role badly. So she was doing the scene with Martin Scorsese who [stood in] for the actor. She put her finger on Scorsese's hand and kept that finger there and never lost that touch. She had all his attention and the role. That's just one example of the little things women have [at their disposal] to control men and "their" world. Learning to be a woman is going to be a very interesting journey. And I am so happy to be on this team.
Can you talk about the reaction your children had when you told them?
My kids were great! I started off with my son Brandon and he said one of the most amazing things I've ever heard: "Dad, I have always been so proud to be your son. But I've never been more proud of you than right now". And that was a wonderful start! My girls, I was particularly concerned about my younger daughters just because they were so vulnerable. I remember sitting there talking to them and I had said that I'm going to go through a complete transition. And they were like: "Oh my God! How is that going to work out?". And my sister was terrified: "How can you do that?". But I think they were really concerned for me because they loved me.
I saw the interview with Diane Sawyer for the first time together with Kourtney, Kimberley, Khloe and Kris. After fifteen or maybe twenty minutes into the show, social media started going crazy. But I was sitting on the couch with the most social media family in the world so no surprise about it. [Laughs]. Social media started going crazy in a positive way. And then the celebrity world started reacting. I think it was Lady Gaga who was the first to write that she was so proud of me. And then Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, the list just went on and on and on. And my kids were reading all these! I think right then they knew it's going to be okay.
Tell me about your meeting with Hillary Clinton - I heard something went wrong...
Oh, the media loves that story...
Ok, let me ask you whether you endorse Donald Trump?
Let me just briefly make a statement: I don't endorse anybody. I am going to let the primaries just run and let them do whatever, and when we do have a candidate on the Republican side we'll see what to do with all these. I've never hidden my sympathy for the Republican Party but I don't support any particular candidate at the moment.
40 years ago at the Olympic Games in Montreal you were awarded the most powerful male athlete in the world...
And I am still very proud of that moment.
You should be. But did you know in that moment 40 years ago that Caitlyn was there? How did you combine your sporting career and your inner woman?
My life has been constantly about diversions and not dealing with myself. I had gender issues back in the '50s and '60s that I couldn't talk about. I was a dyslexic kid, suffering from low self-esteem, thinking that everyone else is smarter than me, better students than me, all these issues. And I found my one thing to forget about all these painful thoughts and that was sports. And yeah, I was pretty good at it and I didn't have to think about or deal with the rest of the world. When I started at school I never thought I would take it to the extent that I did but I guarantee you through that twelve years of my life, there was always that dyslexic kid, that gender disparate kid living in the back of my head, that was going to prove to the world that he was worth something.
It created a tremendous amount of drive in me to go out there to succeed, and I took it all away to where the last three years of my career when I broke the world record and I was ranked number one in the world three times. But I remember waking up the morning after the Olympics and looking in the mirror, with the gold medal on my chest, and thinking about what was next. What would be my next purpose? Where should I go from here? It was a really scary moment in my life. Fortunately, the next day ABC called and asked if I wanted to come to work for them and I thought: "Oh my god, I got a job!".
This was wonderful and I dove into other things and I dove into family for the next 30 something years. But I was constantly living distractions. And then in the '80s I thought I would go through gender transition and do it before I was 40. But when I got 39, I could not do it. Just couldn't. I had done a bunch of stuff and the rumour mill started. Kris and I had gone separate directions which is fine and I had raised ten of the most beautiful children in the world, all successful, hardworking, great kids. I had done that job. Now, it's going to be about me. How am I going to deal with myself, when I am dealing with the same issues at 65 that I was dealing with when I was eight years old? What the hell am I going to do? And that was when I started the process. But I believed in myself more than ever. And now I am absolutely free and happy.
I have only watched the first few episodes of I Am Cait, but you seem to talk about everything on the show and one of the issues that you also talk about is love and finding love for trans people...
Well, I am at a different place in life where I've already been a partner, a father, a friend and whatever. So relationships now are a less of an issue. But in our show there's a girl Ella who is only 18 years old and who went through a transition just a few months before me. So for her, finding love is a big issue. She looks to the future with hope that someday she'll find someone who can make her happy. On one of the episodes I talked to a lawyer about what are the possibilities for transpeople, male or female. I mean marriage, family, all of those types of things. And to be honest with you, when I was watching the show, I was actually encouraged by it. I believe world can be a better place where people are free and happy and they treat each other like equal no matter their sexual orientation or something.
If man wants to seduce you, what is he supposed to do?
[Laughs]. I have no idea, really... You know what is very interesting in this whole thing, is that I hated to go out in the old days. I never went out even with the family. Now, everything is different! Now I find so much fun in being somewhere outside my home. I do really enjoy going out with my girls, friends and family to dinner or to some event. Now I feel free to enjoy life and that's what I like most about being Caitlyn.