The “journey,” as Caitlyn Jenner calls her life, can pretty much be bookended by two magazine covers: Sports Illustrated, in the summer of 1976 — Bruce Jenner, arms upraised to celebrate his decathlon gold-medal win at the Montreal Olympics, crossing the finish line in blue shorts and a red shirt … and Vanity Fair, in the summer of 2015 — Caitlyn Jenner, arms behind her back, wearing an ivory bustier, celebrating her new life as the woman she says she always wanted to be.
Jenner has been famous for most of her life — as an Olympic athlete, as a promoter of sports and Wheaties, as a reality TV celebrity, as the father and stepfather of 10 children, some of them even more famous than Jenner. Her new memoir is “The Secrets of My Life.” The title is a bit of a joke, an acknowledgement that, as the best-known transgender woman in the world, there are no secrets anymore.
This is from our live conversation at the Los Angeles Times Ideas Exchange.
There was a part of your book where you’re living in Malibu, you’re secretly going through transitioning and you turn one of the rooms of your house into a closet for your new clothes. And your mother comes out to visit and sees this, and she says she’s so glad that you have a girlfriend. I thought that symbolized how you had to live that part of your life.
And how secretive I was. My mom was the toughest one to tell, and she was the last one. I told pretty much everybody. It’s tough on parents. But my mother — she was 88 at the time — the first reaction is, like any parent, “Oh, my God, what did I do wrong?” I said, “Mom, you did absolutely nothing wrong.” And it took me about a month of just talking to her all the time to say, “Mom, it’s not your fault.” This is just what you’re born as — it’s who you are.
As I was looking online, I noticed there’s no Wikipedia page for Bruce Jenner — there’s just Caitlyn Jenner.
They wiped it out?
Was that your doing?
It’s got all the Olympic history in there but ...
All it is, is Caitlyn Jenner. It’s amazing. When the Vanity Fair picture came out, that cover shot — which my family, the Jenner side primarily, they were not that happy with it. They thought it was a little too much, a little too …
Yeah, you’re on the cover in a bustier. And I get that. But honestly, I like the cover. Why? Because of the shock value of it. People weren’t expecting it.
It wasn’t halfway.
It wasn’t halfway. It was all the way. People had never seen a picture of my authentic self. So for me, that changed everything right there, literally. The media threw out Bruce — that was the end of Bruce. He’s gone. This Caitlyn character is a lot more interesting.
So where does Bruce fit in your narrative?
Bruce was around for 65 years. Bruce did a lot, OK? And I’m very proud of his accomplishments. He lives now inside me. Caitlyn gets a chance to live, where Caitlyn was always inside and Bruce lived.
I raised my family, raised great kids, worked all my life, was successful, won the games, beat everybody in the whole world. I’m proud of that life. So I don’t say, “Just forget it.” That is part of my journey.
I get it. The Republicans do not do as good a job when it comes to LGBT issues. I know that. And the Democrats do.
It was actually sad when I got my [Caitlyn] driver’s license and all that stuff because I liked Bruce. Bruce was a good person. He did a lot of good things in life. Then, all of a sudden, right down to my birth certificate, the names were changed and gender markers were changed, and it was tough to take. He’s still there.
When you did your book tour, you were in Washington, D.C. I assume at the top of your agenda there was transgender issues. There is still the North Carolina bathroom issue. There are still questions about prosecuting attacks on transgender people as hate crimes.
Boy, have I gotten hammered over the last two years for being a Republican. I get it. The Republicans do not do as good a job when it comes to LGBT issues. I know that. And the Democrats do.
But from my standpoint, I want our country to do well, and the Republican party is closer to things like our Constitution — although I have had problems with them over the last 20 years. But limited government, I’m all for that. Lower taxes; let the people go — they’ll fix everything, I guarantee you.
I like being on the inside because I am outwardly Republican. I have sat down with 15 evangelical Christian conservative senators and Republicans at private dinners in Washington. Probably everybody in that room had never met anybody who was trans. And I want them to get to know me. I want them to know I’m not crazy; I’m not nuts. We talked for three hours about faith, about politics, about the issues that are out there for our community.
That’s the only way you can slowly change minds. I would rather convince the Republican party to do better with all LGBT issues than try to convince the Democrats to do lower taxes, less regulation and let the people go.
But my loyalty was not with Donald Trump, not with the Republicans. It’s with my community.
Did you see my Instagram post that I put out? We had the White House in the background, and I hold up my book and I said, “President Trump, I’m in Washington, D.C. I would love for you to read my book. You might learn something. And by the way, when you’re done with it, could you give it to [Atty. Gen.] Jeff Sessions?”
Donald Trump once invited you to play golf. I think you could take him up on that offer, and maybe beat him by five or six strokes.
Not now, not now. He doesn’t want to get beat by 67-year-old trans woman.
I did go back to the inauguration, and the one person I wanted to talk to was Mike Pence. He has passed some very anti-LGBT legislation when he was governor — and I mean, really bad stuff.
I was at a cocktail party and there he was, and they brought me over and I got introduced to him and I said, “I’m a Christian, I’m a Republican, conservative thoughts, but I’m also trans. I would love to have that conversation with you.” And he looked at me, and he said, “You know what? I would love to do that.”
This administration has been silent at best. And there’s a nominee for secretary of the Army who says —
Oh, Mark Green. Oh, he’s horrible. He said being trans [means] you have a disease. I don’t got no disease, OK? I had a physical, I didn’t see one disease on my physical. And that whole bathroom thing — he’s going to fight it because the Bible says he has to fight evil. Horrible.
[Since this interview, Green has withdrawn from nomination for the post.]
Then there’s the question of prosecuting hate crimes against transgender people.
I think all murders of trans women should be prosecuted as hate crimes. On March 10, a letter was sent to Jeff Sessions about getting all these trans murders prosecuted as hate crimes, and they never heard back from him, and that ticks me off.
Something else you write about in the book is terminology: pronouns, transgender woman, transgender man. On the census forms, on other forms, it just says — what? What are the boxes that you think would be ideal?
This is what I would like. I would like, over the next 20, 30 years, to get what the gay community has today. OK? They have been fighting for a long time, OK? Marriage equality, fighting on issues, acceptance. I would hope our community gets to the day where we have that acceptance, where just being trans is natural because it is in humanity. There are variations in humanity. If we didn’t have variations, we wouldn’t have evolution. That’s how I started the book off — it was a quote from [human sexuality expert] Milton Diamond. And it says, “Biology love variation. Biology loves differences. Society hates it.”
You spoke often about how fortunate you were to be able to afford to do what you wanted to do. Should transgender surgeries be covered by insurance policies? And if there’s a new Obamacare, should that figure into it too?
Well, that it is expensive, I know. And yeah, obviously I would like to have insurance cover those types of things. I would fight for it. In some cases it [does]. I was at a Starbucks and this lady, maybe 50, 60, comes up and she goes, “I transitioned like 40 years ago.” And she was all proud that insurance paid for it, and all she had to pay was $1,500.
Insurance will come in and help lower the cost in certain ways, maybe pay for the anesthesiologist, pay for the hospital, do things like that. Is it universal everywhere? Absolutely not. It would be nice if we get to that point where we can help everybody if they need to have it done.
Young people are so self-conscious about their bodies. What about locker rooms for kids in school, in high school, in college, even when you get to the pro athlete level? How do you accommodate transgender kids, transgender athletes?
Did you watch Diane Sawyer last week?
No. It was past my bedtime.
On [ABC’s “20/20], we had the [superintendent] at Arcadia [Unified School District], and he was just fabulous. They fought this whole thing about the locker room, and this guy was great. They were going over this whole thing, and he says once we got the lawyers out of the room and we sat down with the parents, and with the school, we just kind of worked these things out. They wound up putting up curtains, and everybody was happy.
Now, I want privacy for all kids, OK? So I’m all in. But it’s not just trans kids. Just think of privacy, and especially let’s take the girls’ locker room, the girl that has a weight problem. She’s so self -conscious about her body, she wants privacy too. Maybe the little trans girl wants privacy. And what this school system did is put up curtains for the showers. It was that simple.
When you got the ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage award, you got a lot of pushback. Some people in the LGBTQ community were saying, “Look, you can’t represent us because you have not gone through what we have been through. You have not been bullied. You have not been harassed by the police. You have not been sexually vulnerable and sexually attacked.”
First of all, I am not the spokesperson for the trans community, OK? And I never once in my life ever said I was. I’m a spokesperson for my story. That’s the only story I know.
My experience has been totally different from theirs — I agree with them 100%. Every trans person I talk to has an experience that’s different. It’s not about that. It’s not about, Oh, I deserve less credibility as a trans person because of where I came from than the next person because they were living on a poverty level, did get arrested, whatever it may be, OK?
We have to come together as a community, come together and not fight with each other. And I see that a lot. There’s a lot of this inside the community, and criticism of each other. We’re all trying to do the same thing. I’m doing my thing, and I’m doing it my way.
The second part is the criticism over your Glamour magazine woman of the year award, for the same kinds of reasons — you’ve never had a period, you’ve never been paid less for doing the same job that a man is doing, all of those things.
Well, that’s right. I’m a trans woman. For me, my experience to womanhood was different, OK? Way different than a woman who is born that way, a cis-woman. It doesn’t make me less of a woman because I call myself a trans woman. But my experience was different.
I don’t want to disrespect women who, like you say, have grown up as women, who’ve dealt with women’s issues, who’ve had periods, who’ve birthed children and all that kind of stuff. My journey to womanhood is different. I’m very comfortable that I’m a trans woman.
You were transitioning for a period of about four years, and then you stopped.
It wasn’t time. I was on hormones four and a half years. I had a little bit of a nose job. I had two and a half years of electrolysis — that’s a lot of fun. I went through all of that thinking, I’m going to do this before I’m 40. And I got to 39 and wasn’t even close. I could not go any further. The issue was not where it is today. All I really knew was [transgender tennis pro and ophthalmologist Renee Richards]. She was kind of crucified. She was looked at as a big freak back then.
But there was no information out there; I didn’t know anybody else. There was no Internet. I couldn’t even find a therapist. I was single for those six years, and not a good father because I was just suffering in my own crap. I spent about six years in the house and came out once in a while to buy food or go to work. That was about it. And then I thought, I just gotta get back to life.
I read that when you started the Kardashian show, you had watched Ozzy Osbourne’s reality show and thought, “Oh, this might be something.” If you were so careful about protecting yourself, why would you put yourself out there in that position?
First of all, I’ve always liked to work, number one. Number two, doing a show like that would be a great opportunity for your kids. They’re doing pretty good. A great opportunity for your kids and family. And so [former wife] Kris and I, we talked about it, and then Kris — she’s good, she ran with it.
Did you feel like you were risking everything every time you were on television?
Did you see how I was portrayed in the show? They portrayed me as this kind of weak, quiet, everybody’s running over me. I didn’t feel worthy defending my position and my opinion, so I stayed in the background an awful lot.
Here’s an audience question, from a high school teacher: What do you wish teachers and adults would have said to you as a teenager that might have helped you?
First of all, I’m not a therapist. This is only my personal opinion. As far as parenting a trans child or as a teacher of a trans child, it starts off with love your children, OK? Love your child. Adore your child. Be there for your child. Your child will figure these things out. In school, they’ll figure things out. I think from a teaching standpoint, leave an open environment. Let them be themselves. This is a real issue. It’s not like some made-up thing. Protect the children and give them an environment to grow up in.
You spent 20 years in a houseful of women, and now you’ve made your transition. What do you really think of people who leave the toilet seat up?
I’ve realized that they’re horrible people. I didn’t know that at first.