Perspective

Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover marks a 'masterfully' handled moment

Caitlyn Jenner faces the crowd in style with #VanityFair photo that signals a new moment in mainstream media

The new cover of Vanity Fair features a glamorous woman you've never seen before, yet she's already become one of the most famous faces in America.

Caitlyn Jenner made her debut in public Monday, posing in a classic pinup shot by Hollywood's favorite photographer, Annie Leibovitz.

"As soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I'm free," Jenner, 65, said in a video on the magazine's website. The short film was teasing the release of the Jenner issue on June 9.

Reemerging as Caitlyn is the second most recent watershed moment for the former decathlon Olympian, who revealed during an interview with Diane Sawyer in April that she was transgender. Jenner, who asked to be referred to as "he" at the time, said that the televised "20/20" interview would likely be the last time he'd appear publicly as Bruce.

The Vanity Fair moment also represents a breakthrough moment for the transgender community, of which there are an estimated 700,000 in the U.S.

"It's wonderful Caitlyn Jenner is able to be herself and show the world the woman she has always known herself to be," said Nick Adams, director of programs, transgender media at GLAAD, an LGBT monitoring group that addresses discrimination. "But it's also important to know that this magazine cover is not the moment she became a woman. She was always one; it's just she was the only person who knew that."

In recent years, films and TV shows that feature transgender actors or characters, including "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Orange Is the New Black," have signaled a change in media perceptions about the trans community. The Sawyer interview, and now the forthcoming 22-page Vanity Fair feature, are the latest examples of transgender stories being told respectfully in the mainstream media.

Alan Nierob, the executive vice president at Rogers & Cowan who is behind the communications effort for Jenner, was not available for comment on Monday. But public relations specialist Howard Bragman, a pioneer in advising celebrities who go public with their sexuality, said he's in awe of how well the transition from Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner is playing out in the press.

"It's been handled masterfully," the chairman of the communications agency Fifteen Minutes said Monday by phone. "I'm jealous I didn't get to handle it."

In a matter of hours, Jenner garnered more than 100,000 likes on a new Facebook page she set up. And after she set up a new Twitter profile (@Caitlyn_Jenner), Jenner set a Guinness World Record for the fastest time to reach 1 million Twitter followers, a title she seized from President Obama. Within minutes of her first two tweets, she had more than 190,000 followers. Within hours, she had more than 1.03 million followers and supportive comments from Katy Perry, Maria Shriver and other celebrities, as well as most of Jenner's children and stepchildren. "Freedom! Stunning!" tweeted Kourtney Kardashian.

"Most people do this very discreetly and privately," said Bragman, who advised Chaz Bono when he revealed he was a transgender man. "It's not something that plays out in public. The question is can you play it out well and tastefully and help move the issue along in society? That's what Caitlyn is doing. Most importantly, she is provoking discussion."

Jenner went through previous struggles to hide her gender identity, mirroring the experience of many transgender people. But her physical transition is not as typical.

As a celebrity, she has resources that allow her to access hormone therapy, counseling, sexual reassignment surgery and facial feminization reconstructive surgery if wanted — treatments and procedures that can run well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The important thing to remember is everyone's transition process is different," said Drian Juarez, program manager of the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Transgender Economic Empowerment Project. "She has a lot of privilege. She is economically in a position where she can transition in ways that everyone can't."

The ability to appear more feminine is a touchy subject among transgender women. To some it comes easily. For others, they're easily identifiable as transgender and, therefore, more vulnerable to harassment, discrimination and physical violence.

Jenner says that she underwent hormone therapy and recently at least 10 hours of facial-feminization surgery; the "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" reality star also had a breast augmentation.

"The typical person who's transitioning doesn't end up on the cover of Vanity Fair," said Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, a leading plastic surgeon in the area of facial feminization surgery. "But there are many of my patients who are models and end up in Vanity Fair, just unknown as transgender."

While the exit of Bruce and the rollout of Caitlyn has been surprisingly respectful and controlled as media campaigns go, it's perhaps a result of expert handlers and the clout of being part of E!'s "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," one of the top-grossing reality shows ever. In July, Jenner will be the subject of her own eight-part E! docuseries that will chronicle her transition.

But don't expect a barrage of Caitlyn Jenner interviews just yet. Bragman said the overall positive impact of the Sawyer television chat and the Vanity Fair story lessens the need do more press.

"You don't need to do a lot of interviews now," he said. "It's not about 'how many can we do?' It's about how well can you do it."

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

trevell.anderson@latimes.com

Times staff writer Rene Lynch contributed to this report.

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