FEATURE INTERVIEW - May, 2017
The Secrets of My Life: A Conversation with Caitlyn Jenner
By Matt Geffen, Student Editor
Caitlyn Jenner has nothing left to hide. Two years ago, 17 million people watched as she revealed her true self in an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer. Today, she finds herself out front in center, on a book tour in support of her new memoir, The Secrets of My Life. Since the book’s release, Caitlyn, who is commonly cited as the most famous openly transgender person in the world, has received both praise and criticism, but has remained steadfast in her intentions: she seeks to use her journey as a tool to inspire more people to become their “authentic” selves.
Caitlyn’s focus on authenticity is a common theme throughout her book, but it is the only way to describe someone who on any given day might be flying planes, racing cars, spending time with her children and grandchildren, or meeting with congressmen to fight for her cause. After wrapping up two seasons of her own series on E!, “I Am Cait,” Caitlyn has decided to focus primarily on her work as an activist for the LGBT community. For someone who spent more than a few decades in the spotlight maintaining the hyper-masculine identity of Bruce Jenner, as both an athlete and a “Keeping Up With the Kardashians Star,” Caitlyn is the result of her decision to embrace her true self, who she anxiously concealed for most of her life.
A recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN in 2015, Caitlyn is unapologetic about the fact that she has not shared all of the same experiences and hardships as other members of the LGBT community, because she does not pretend to have faced all these same obstacles. Caitlyn, despite her privileges—wealth, supportive friends and family, access to security and the best professionals in gender medicine—which she could have used to quietly transition, is taking on the monumental responsibility of helping to raise public awareness of, and fight for equal rights for, people who experience gender dysphoria.
For the past two years, I have traded emails with Caitlyn’s publicity team, who have carefully orchestrated everything from her Diane Sawyer interview to her Vanity Fair cover to try to arrange an interview. Given Caitlyn’s very limited and intentional media presence, I was thrilled when she agreed to speak with me for FastForward about “The Secrets of My Life,” which tells the story of her struggle with gender identity over the course of her whole life, as well as her eventual transition in 2015.
During our interview, Jenner’s optimism shines through just as brightly as her message. While she is blunt when addressing the marginalization that the LGBT community faces, she also genuinely believes that things can improve for LGBT rights, even under President Trump. From White House meetings to TV interviews on Fox News and CNN, she is a resolute force in spreading the awareness that is needed now more than ever. Over the course of the interview, Caitlyn and I discuss topics such as her media strategy, her children, cyberbullying, the internet and her visit to Washington DC.
FastForward: Your whole life, you've either been exalted or torn down by the media. Now that you want the world to focus on your activism rather than celebrity, how has the media helped you spread your message?
Caitlyn Jenner: Well, first of all, probably the hardest thing to do is to control your message. You learn that very quickly. Controlling the message, like with Diane Sawyer or Vanity Fair—those are all things that we calculated to get the message out. Then, after that, you kind of lose it. The tabloids will start running all of this stuff that's not even true, from where I am de-transitioning, I'm going back to Bruce, you know, to my views on marriage equality or this or that. The only actual communication I do is through social media and everything I've put out there is very well thought out. I work with GLAAD, I work with a group called the American Unity Fund, a lot of organizations, and before I post anything or put it out it's reviewed by a lot of people in the community to make sure that we get it right, because we're dealing with a very sensitive subject here. To be honest with you, people are murdered over this, people commit suicide over this—you really have to be careful. And I always kind of pick and choose very discretely the amount of actual media that I do. Now I'm doing the book tour, so we're actually doing quite a bit of it.
FF: Right. And I've got to say, you handle all your TV appearances and interviews just so well.
CJ: Thank you, I appreciate that. You know, they're all different and I want to get it right. My intentions are, especially politically, not with the Republican party, not with Donald Trump, but with my community and doing the best I can for this very marginalized group of people that's out there, that's my community, and making it better for the next generation that's coming up.
FF: You say in the book that it might have been easier to be your true self if you weren't always in the public spotlight. How has that feeling changed since meeting people who aren't in the public spotlight, but have struggled to be their authentic selves anyway?
CJ: I have met some of the most wonderful people in the last two years. Obviously we have tremendous issues, especially trans women of color. Our murder rate has been through the roof. Our poverty rates, homelessness—we have a lot of work to do to help these people out. But besides that, I have met some of the most amazing people with some of the most amazing stories. Like the other day, I was having dinner with three other trans women, and [sitting] there and swapping stories about what they've gone through and how their acceptance has been. These are absolutely amazing people who have struggled their entire lives just to live their life authentically in who they are and I have tremendous respect for that. If you see somebody that's trans or you may know that they're trans, go up and give them a big hug and just don't be afraid of them. Yeah, give them a big hug and tell them “I love you and I'd love to hear your story,” and if they're willing, they're some of the most interesting people you'll ever have the opportunity to talk to.
FF: On a different note, you’ve said you're shooting for 30 grandchildren. What advice do you plan to give them about being their “authentic” selves while living life in the public eye, which is something you've managed to do for quite a long time?
CJ: That's actually an interesting subject because obviously when you do go through something like I've gone through in transitioning, and I have a large family, it's not easy. It's everybody in the family. It's a process. I remember one time somebody came up and they said, “Oh my god, what if—okay, what if Kendall,” my darling little girl, “came up and said that ‘I'm trans and I'm going to transition into a guy.’” My first reaction is “Oh my god.” My little Kendall, my cute and adorable little girl? The initial shock of it was tough, but that's what parents go through and I understand that. So it's tough on everybody. The thing is, from a parent's standpoint, especially if a child is identifying as trans at a very young age, just love your child. Love them, adore them, give them a great place to grow up that's free and they can be themselves, and the kids will figure it out.
FF: Throughout the book you talk about your “Grand Diversion,” or your athletic training as a way to distract from your larger struggle with gender identity, and you also credit it as saving your life. Is pursuing some type of diversion a coping mechanism that you would recommend for people struggling with similar issues?
CJ: One thing that I have learned is that everybody's journey is different. This is how I did it. I am not a spokesman for the community. I'm a spokesperson for my own story and that's it. And so this is what I did. When I was growing up, times were different. We're talking the '50s and ‘60s, where there wasn't even a name for this. You just didn't understand why these thoughts were in your head all the time, 24 hours a day. So you just dealt with it the best you possibly could. Yes, I did have what I call diversions, from sports to—and I did say one time that having children and doing all that was a diversion, and all my kids go, “Oh, we were just a diversion?” No, no, no, no, no. It wasn't you, it was a diversion from who I am as a person. I love my children. It was great having an opportunity to raise them. So yeah, you cope with it the best way you possibly can. And the book is about the way I dealt with all these things, good and bad.
FF: You mentioned just now that it was different back then, and obviously with the internet picking up, the media's changed a lot. Do you think the internet has made it harder or easier to be your “authentic” self as a celebrity?
CJ: The internet changed everything. Back in the '80s when I was really struggling, those were my really tough years. There was no information out there. I couldn't even find a therapist. I didn't know anybody else who was trans. I couldn't meet anybody. There [was] no internet—there [were] no websites, there was no YouTube, there was none of that stuff. And so, for me, I was very isolated. When the internet came along, I remember the first time I googled in transgender, and my god, all this information popped up. I went, “Oh my god, look at this.” And then YouTube came along and videos started and all that sort of stuff. What it did, it really changed the dynamics of our community where kids today are much younger and they're identifying as being trans because they can find it all on the internet. They're all living on the internet anyway, and now they can find out all this information and find out that they're not alone, that there are other people that feel the exact same way. But it also sets up, on the bad side, it's perfect for bullying.
FF: You talk about that in the book a lot.
CJ: Yeah. Online bullying has become just absolutely horrible and the research is, now, that online bullying is more devastating to these kids than what happens even in school, because online it goes everywhere. The internet has good points, but then it's got some really bad points too, and we have to give these kids good guidance at a very young age in a loving home.
FF: Our current First Lady has been very vocal about the issue of cyberbullying and kind of the toll it's taking on youth. Is that something that you would work with her on?
CJ: Oh, yeah. Actually, I have talked with people in the Education Department. I was back in Washington, DC last week to talk about the effects of bullying, of the internet, of all the things that are happening in our school systems, things like that. Bullying is a big, big, big, big, big problem.
FF: Right. I loved the video you posted on Instagram in front of the White House.
FF: Are you able to share anything about who you met with there?
CJ: No. All my meetings are behind closed doors. I deal with a very sensitive subject and I feel like I can get more work done if it's done quietly. I'm not the type of person that's going to be on a street corner with a sign, jumping up and down and yelling. Because I am a supporter of the Republican party as best I possibly can with a lot of these issues, I have a natural in and I can get in to see congressmen and senators and talk to them about the issues, but I try to do it privately. And we have to change the minds one at a time. One at a time. So I work that pretty hard.
FF: It's a slow fight for sure. You've had a fascinating life so far and you've mentioned that you feel politics might be a way to channel your activism into action in the future. In what political office do you feel could make the biggest impact?
CJ: People have asked me, “Oh my gosh, you should do the political side of it,” and I'm going, “Wait a second, I don't know.” I'm taking the next year and kind of looking into it and trying to figure out where, because I'm fighting for my community. I want to make it better for the next generation. Is it better to be on the outside of the political arena where I can kind of work both sides and talk to people? Can I get more accomplished that way? Or is it better from the inside? I don't know. That's something over the next year I'm going to take a serious look at and any place that I can do a good job and get the most accomplished, that's what I'll wind up doing.
FF: Awesome. You've already accomplished a lot in two years as an activist for the LGBT community. What else do you want to do for your community that you haven't had a chance to yet?
CJ: Yeah, this is what I want. I've watched obviously the gay movement over the last 30, 40 years and how they've come. Here we are in San Francisco right now. It's just part of our society and people are accepting of it. I remember watching Sam Champion, a weather guy in New York City. Been there for probably 30 years doing the weather. And a couple of weeks ago he was standing there at the table talking about his husband—no big deal. And I'm going, this is amazing how far the gay community has come to be just accepted by society. I guarantee you, when he started with ABC 25, 30 years ago, he had to keep it quiet that he was gay and he couldn't talk about that type of stuff. I would like the trans community [to] be the same way. The trans issues are out there. They're not going away. They're part of humanity. And there are so many good people. It's very marginalized. We've got a lot of issues. But they're wonderful people and a great part of society. I would love to, at some point, get to where the gay community [is], where it's accepted by society. And that's going to take some work. It may not happen in my lifetime.
FF: Well, Caitlyn, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
CJ: My pleasure.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
For more information on Caitlyn Jenner and “The Secrets of My Life,” visit www.caitlynjenner.com. You can follow Caitlyn on Instagram @CaitlynJenner, Twitter @Caitlyn_Jenner or check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/caitlynjenner.