Friday 2 December 2016

Keeping up with Caitlyn Jenner: How an Olympic champ became a hero for the transgender community

Published 03/06/2015 | 02:30

Cover girl: Caitlyn Jenner's big reveal in Vanity Fair.
Cover girl: Caitlyn Jenner's big reveal in Vanity Fair.

It's rare in this day and age for a magazine cover to make jaws drop, but that's just what Vanity Fair's July issue did when it was released on Twitter on Monday. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, the woman behind many of the magazine's iconic covers, Caitlyn Jenner revealed her true face (and body, resplendent in an ivory corset) having lived as Bruce Jenner for the previous 65 years.

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As the cover image was released, Jenner also launched a Twitter account under her new moniker, and broke a world record as she amassed one million followers in just four hours, beating President Barack Obama's just a fortnight ago. At the time of going to press, Jenner's following had more than doubled that. The reaction online from Jenner's family and some of the world's most famous people was overwhelmingly positive. Lady Gaga, an LGBT activist, said "Caitlyn, @Caitlyn_Jenner thanku for being a part of all of our lives & using your platform to change people's minds" while Ellen DeGeneres tweeted "My hope for the world is that we can all be as brave as @Caitlyn_Jenner".

I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me.

— Caitlyn Jenner (@Caitlyn_Jenner) June 1, 2015

But why is Jenner's transition resonating so much? It seems the reasons are myriad. Firstly, the courage it must have taken for anybody in the public eye to come out as transgender after 65 years is astonishing and admirable. Broden Giambrone, the Chief Executive of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland told the Irish Independent: "Positive visibility for the trans community is integral, and I welcome Caitlyn sharing her story. I think it has been positively welcomed because she approached it with openness, courage and dignity."

Secondly, Jenner has been internationally famous since winning an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Games, and known for being the very definition of macho brawn and athleticism. After that victory, he became a bona fide celebrity, the American hunk du jour who even graced the cover of Playgirl magazine. He had high profile marriages to Christie Jenner (1972-1981) and Linda Thompson (1981-1986) with whom he had children Burt, Casey, Brandon and Brody. But it was his marriage to the woman formerly known as Kris Kardashian in 1985 that has been most well documented, thanks in part to the incredibly popular E! show Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Appearing on the show for 10 seasons, the public took to Jenner as the put-upon stepfather to some of the most famous and photographed people on the planet, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe as well as their brother Robert, husband to notorious "momager" Kris and father to social media superstars Kendall and Kylie Jenner. Audiences liked Bruce because he was a foil to the famous females in the household, often shown grimacing at their exploits and antics.

Rumours began to swirl of Jenner's desire to live as a woman after his separation from Kris in 2013. However, the transition was only confirmed in late April when Bruce sat down with Diane Sawyer for a tell-all interview, telling her that when he was photographed after a procedure to diminish the appearance of the Adam's Apple, he contemplated suicide rather than coming out. "That night I thought, 'Oh, it's like, over.' And I was... walking up and down this hall right here, back and forth, back and forth all night long," Bruce told Sawyer.

"Heart's pounding. And I thought, wouldn't the easiest thing to be right now, and I could see where people get to that-is go in the room, get a gun. Boom. You know? Pain's over. Done. You know. Go to a better place and I thought, nah, I can't do something like that. I mean, I wanna know how this story ends."

At that point Bruce was still using his given name and the male pronoun publicly, referring to his true self only as "her". In both Sawyer's interview and a subsequent KUWTK special two-parter entitled About Bruce, the audience was given a glimpse of Jenner's female wardrobe, painted toenails and longer hair, but nothing about her name or appearance. Now though, with this glorious reveal and instructional cover line "Call me Caitlyn", it appears that she is ready to fully live the rest of her life as a female, and will reportedly accept the Arthur Ashe award for courage next month at ESPN's annual sporting ceremony.

Her Twitter bio reads, "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me".

Many noted how beautiful Caitlyn is, with some likening her to the actress Jessica Lange and causing LGBT advocates to point out that not all transgender women are in a position to transition as physically smoothly as Jenner has, due to financial issues. Others say that it has never really been about how Jenner looks on the outside, but how she feels on the inside.

Giambrone's take? "Trans people need to see ourselves represented in the media. Caitlyn is more privileged than most trans people, but her story still resonates with many. It's very important we get to share these stories."

Many hope that this is just the beginning for Caitlyn, and that years of happiness will follow. The words her daughter Kendall tweeted are perhaps apt - "be free now, pretty bird".

Irish Independent

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