Interview by Kitty Grady and Alina Khakoo
Awaiting our interview with the world’s most famous trans woman, Olympian, reality TV star and outspoken Republican, we concur that Caitlyn Jenner is a contradictory and divisive figure. When we first catch sight of her at the Cambridge Union Society, wrapped in a Tom Ford bodycon dress and strategically lit by a photographer’s floor lamp, she fuels our cynicism. Perhaps sensing our apprehension, she ushers us into armchairs, pulling our voice recorder towards her before sharing her experience of transitioning. She makes us feel at ease, inspiring an unexpected sense of camaraderie as we collectively nod and high-five. In her own words, Jenner is happy to be ‘on this team’, and on this matter we find it easy to agree.
We’ve read that you consider yourself to be a spokesperson for women’s and LGBT+ rights. How did living sixty-five years under the name of Bruce inform this?
I have lived a very interesting life. Not many people can say they’re a men’s Olympic decathlon champion and Glamour’s Woman of the Year. I’ve seen the world from both sides.
You have a very unique perspective.
I think women are generally brought up differently to men. They are brought up as the so-called ‘weaker sex’, physically and emotionally, told to be in the background rather than out in front, and I think that’s engrained in them at a very young age. It’s very difficult for them to get away from that. My journey into womanhood was very different, so I see the world very differently. I don’t think women realise the amount of power they should have in all areas of society. I want to encourage them to stand up for themselves.
But you’ve always been surrounded by very strong women.
It’s true, especially in Kris’s case. Kris was extraordinarily strong and a very good businesswoman. People didn’t expect her to be as strong as she was, but she got her way.
Is a woman’s power different to a man’s power, and if so, how?
You know the old saying: if a man is powerful he’s considered strong, if a woman is powerful she’s considered a bitch.
The dreaded bossy woman.
I think that because women have never been brought up with physical strength, they have learned communication skills better than men. They know how to play the game better than men, especially in business. In Kris’s case, she was the master of sending gifts. She would have a meeting and immediately return home to give thoughtful gifts to the people she did business with, sending flowers or a handwritten note. People were so impressed, because nobody does that. Guys especially don’t do that. But it was just her way of doing business and how she plays the game, and I think women can often do that better than men.
What has been your experience of female networks, from the Kardashian clan to the community of trans women that you are part of?
I like being on this team.
It’s a good team to be on.
First of all, I never fit on the other side: with the guys. I lived that and people saw me there but I never really fit in. Today I fit in so much better with women and women’s issues. In the old days, when I played golf, I never really liked playing with the guys. Now on Tuesday mornings we have the all-girls team and I out-drive them by about a hundred yards. We have so much fun, laughing and having a good time. I never really had that with the guys. I am around more women now, I can identify with them and they can identify with me.
We’re glad you’re enjoying being one of the girls.
I think it has a lot to do with feeling comfortable with myself now. I was never comfortable before. I did a lot of speaking over my lifetime, and I’d be up there onstage, talking about the Games and winning and losing and saying all this stuff. And a lot of the time I’d be up there with a bra and panties underneath my suit but nobody knew it. I’d be up there talking to hundreds of people, and I’d done the speech so many times that I had it down, and so my head is wandering and I’m looking around thinking: these people don’t even know me. I’m talking about a forty-eight-hour period in my life [during the Olympics], but there’s so much more to me. I’d walk off the stage and feel like a fraud, like I wasn’t able to tell them the whole story of me and what I’ve been through in my life because I had all these secrets. I always felt like I cheated them, and so finally, after many, many years, I finally get to tell my story and it’s whole.
How was your experience of writing a memoir?
Once the book got out, I said: I’m done, I have no more secrets. Everyone has their stuff, everyone has things in life they have to deal with. A lot of the time you can’t tell anybody what you’re dealing with. We’re very complicated human beings, but during this process I’ve learned that there’s nothing better than to live your life truthfully.
You talk often about truthfulness and authenticity. Do you feel that it is more difficult to live authentically during the so-called ‘post-truth’ age of fake news, social media and reality TV?
Yes, it is very difficult to do. But first you have to start with yourself. I’ll take my situation: transitioning. It’s not just me transitioning. Because I transitioned later in life, I had a lot of other people who had to go through it with me, and it can be hard for them to understand. When I was talking to my daughters, Kendall and Kylie, they said ‘what do we call you?’ and I said ‘Dad! I’ll always be your Dad, that works for me’. So my two little girls call me Dad, and within the community they say ‘oh you can’t do that’, and you know what, I don’t care. That’s what my daughters are comfortable with. And you know what they’re very good at? When they talk about me, they say ‘oh my Dad, she…’ and never mix up their pronouns. Once you get through all that, you find out you’re a better person, and I feel that the people around me also see me as a better person, because I’m living my life truthfully.
How do you feel about making your ‘true’ but also most intimate self so public?
I actually never got to come out to everybody. I lost my father, a war veteran, many years ago, and my brother was killed in a car accident when he was eighteen. They never got to hear this story. My father loved me and the Games, but never saw the other side. I always wondered how he would react. He probably would have said ‘huh?’ and not understood it at first, but he would eventually see the work I’m doing and how I’m trying to get people to understand these issues. I think they’d both be very proud of me.
Main image: Getty Images/Alisa Molotova, courtesy of The Cambridge Union Society.