Lynnea Urania Stuart
Celebrity can be as much a curse as a blessing. Most don’t appreciate that unless they’ve had to endure celebrity status to some degree. For Caitlyn Jenner, celebrity has been an intense burden she has borne since winning the Olympic Decathlon in 1976, augmented with various media appearances, and eventually with the glare of the reality show spotlight. Hers has been a story of fame, fortune, but not always happiness. She often found it to be as much story of overcoming fear, continuing gender issues, and a journey of discovery that eventually caused her to say, “Jesus, Jenner, what took you so long?” in her book The Secrets of My Life.1
While the book is Caitlyn’s story, it’s inaccurate to say she wrote it. Caitlyn enlisted the help of Pulitzer Prize winner Buzz Bissinger to probe into the details of her story and put together a compelling story that Caitlyn herself would probably not succeed at doing herself due to dyslexia admitted both in her book and in previous video.2
We can’t ignore Mr. Bissinger’s contribution. Caitlyn tells of “over a thousand hours” in which he kept “pushing me deeper and deeper into my soul.”3 As such it might be spoken of as a kind of therapy for Caitlyn, but with a twist. Mr. Bissinger, who was also the writer for the Vanity Fair article in which Caitlyn’s saucy picture burst upon nearly every form of media that used images in 2015, also knew how to play upon the popular imagination, teasing readers to want more.4
It’s what writers do, especially those who write for magazines like Vanity Fair. It needs to be taken into account especially when reading the more controversial parts. This book, like all such memoirs, invites controversy. It relies upon the fact that in the sometimes tawdry world of reality shows no advertisement is bad advertisement. It’s part of what makes “reality TV” like a 3-ring circus that exploits its participants as its performing animals.
One device used in the book may frustrate some readers. Mr. Bissinger elected not to employ a strict chronological approach to the writing. Several times he employs flashbacks from chapter to chapter which, despite its artful depiction of a life that coalesces from shattered fragments, can leave the reader a bit disoriented. While some writers employ italics for flashbacks or for dreams, italics are limited in this book to quotes and emphases and the reader must determine for himself which the case may be.
Only the most cynical could not be moved by stories of the transgender struggle against the onslaught of a hostile society. Caitlyn’s story is no exception. Many of the chapters reveal what cross dressers experience from childhood: the sneaking and hiding, the brief public forays en femme, purging, and even detransition.5
This book depicts a maturing transperson. This should not surprise anyone. Most of us who transition have done much of our research prior to transition, many with advantages over Caitlyn in this regard. Caitlyn’s cross dressing began long before the work of JoAnn Roberts and Angela Gardener via CDS Publications, Tri-Ess, and Renaissance. JoAnn Roberts broadcast widely the issues of heterosexual cross dressers in the 1980’s with help from Phil Donahue. But Caitlyn mentions none of these broadcasts in her book, despite multiple episodes featuring Roberts and Donahue having appeared in that decade and in syndication during the 1990’s.6
But this disconnect doesn’t detract from the pathos of her cross dressing forays or her initial attempt at transition during the same decade. Many other transpeople had likewise been disconnected. Creative Design Services (CDS), more than anyone, brought together a common platform for advertising transgender support groups and bringing together a wide diversity of what would be called “transgender” in the 1990’s. But the CDS magazine Ladylike doesn’t widely appear till about 1990 and its online offspring TG Forum doesn’t appear till the late 1990’s. Had Caitlyn gained greater access to support groups at an earlier time, there’s a good chance that her narrative would have been a different one.
We must also recognize another stressor in the Jenner narrative that aroused controversy: her conservative Evangelical Christian background. She speaks about this aspect in various places in the book, including how she sought affirmation from her pastor but provided her own approach to justification:
“And then he (God) threw in one little curveball to see how I would do with it, something to balance it all out and make my life a little more challenging and interesting. He decided to give me the soul of a woman.
“It was the only way I could justify in my heart that God was not condemning me but was testing my strength and resolve.” (authors’ italics)7
Similarly, Caitlyn wasn’t on board regarding same sex marriage by the time Ellen DeGeneres interviewed her. This statement prompted Bravo to suggest she singularly blamed Ellen for Caitlyn’s failing relationship with many elements of the trans community:
“This discussion further alienated me from members of the LGBTQ community. Ellen’s appearance on The Howard Stern Show, where in my mind she even more emphatically took what I said out of context, made it go viral.”8
The lead in a Bravo article on this comment that states, “Caitlyn Jenner is blaming Ellen DeGeneres for alienating her from the LGBTQ community,” clearly fails to place Caitlyn’s words in their proper light, for “further alienated” admits a pre-existing alienation. Caitlyn did not singularly blame Ellen. Instead we find a wider assessment for that alienation, centered on the basic facts: “I am white. I am entitled. I have wealth.”9 She also enumerated her Republican Party affiliation as an understood cause for transgender anger, especially with its platform being “inadequate and disappointing when it comes to LGBTQ issues.”10
The designation of Caitlyn Jenner as “the spokesperson for the transgender community,” since her initial interview on the matter in 2015, has long aroused transgender indignation, especially from certain trans commentators on civil rights who understandably saw her as need to earn her own spurs. Time quoted Caitlyn to say:
“I am not a spokesperson for the trans community. I am a spokesperson for my story, and that’s all I can tell. And hopefully by telling my story, I can make people think.”11
Consequently, and in the same spirit, Caitlyn seems to approach the issue with a sense of resignation, saying, “It is the media that has ordained me the spokes man of the transgender community,”12 and:
“My words are not gospel even though the media likes to think so. I am very new to the community, and I understand some still perceive me as an outsider.”13
That’s an understatement. It’s kinder than what many of us see in open displays of transgender hatred directed against her on social media. Face it. Some transpeople want her head on a silver platter. Post anything about Catilyn Jenner on Facebook and watch transgender wrath brew, perhaps one reason she deactivated her Facebook timeline earlier this year.14 Many established trans writers have fueled this hatred including the sometimes bellicose Parker Marie Molloy who tweeted:
“tl;dr Caitlyn Jenner is trash, an embarrassment. @JennyBoylan @Caitlyn_Jenner”15
Another who protested Caitlyn in Chicago, Monica James, told the Chicago Tribune:
“Make the services and make this movement and this plea for trans tolerance intentional and direct for the people who are facing the violence every day on the streets, the people who are being discriminated against on the basis of their gender and their race at the same time.”…“She can’t speak to those struggles. It defaces the real truth behind transitioning.”16
Clearly Caitlyn can’t speak in the same way as the oppressed, but it doesn’t stop her trying. Her strange experience in the reality spotlight forced her to educate herself as quickly as possible as a transperson. Her choices of known spokespeople for the trans community to help her as cohorts included Jennifer Finney Boylan, Chandi Moore, Candis Cayne, and Kate Bornstein and her choice in this regard could not have been better. Her cohorts were not only knowledgeable and supportive but real, things for which Caitlyn expressed her gratitude.17
Perhaps the greatest amount of controversy surrounding The Secrets of My Life centers on family relations, most particularly with respect to the Kardashian klan. Caitlyn asserts at the beginning:
“This is a book primarily of recollections. I believe them to be true, and I have cross-checked them with various members of my family and friends and what has been written in the past.
“But they are based to a large degree on my memory, and memory as we all know is selective There is absolutely no attempt to color what I see as the truth for my own purposes: there is much I regret because of my own actions, just as there is much I celebrate.”18
Kris Kardashian, however, has disagreed, saying, “I’ve never been so angry and disappointed in somebody in my whole life.”19
This controversy may contribute to the public hoopla that fuels reality shows but offers very little for real public understanding. What truth exists between Caitlyn and the Kardashians, none but family members can ever really know.
The Secrets of My Life appeals to a variety of readers, not the least of which consists of that element that salivates whenever it hears the latest celebrity gossip. It appeals to those who have been fans of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and I Am Cait, as well as those with a special, possibly morbid fascination with the O. J. Simpson case and who want further material on one of Simpson’s attorneys, Robert Kardashian. It’s an episode Caitlyn would prefer to distance herself, saying, “I have tried to erase O.J. from my mind.”20
But more importantly, if anyone wants a story of transgender angst and wants to understand it, The Secrets of My Life is a book worth reading, but should not be the only book one reads on the subject. The reader needs to caution himself with the understanding that her burden as a celebrity necessarily places her experience at a different level than that of the typical transperson. After all, most who transition do so against incredible odds, often counting the process as a miracle, something Caitlyn appears to recognize while gazing upon the Pacific from her own cloister.
And it’s well that she does. It’s also well for us hoi polloi of the trans community to recognize that we’re typically freer than Caitlyn will ever be, precisely because she remains as the figurative caged bird in her gated residence in the ocean breeze. She made use of celebrity and she can savor her reward. But it’s a status that keeps her running from paparazzi and dodging the judgmental. She seems to have made her peace with The Secrets of My Life. She had better; because with such a publication, she will never be able to live down those words if she wanted to do so.
The Secrets of My Life
Caitlyn Jenner with Buzz Bissinger
Published by Grand Central Publishing, Hachete Book Group,
Available on Amazon and through Barnes & Noble
Hardcover: ISBN: 978-1-4555-9675-1
Large Print Hardcover: ISBN: 978-1-5387-4398-0
E-Book: ISBN: 978-1-4555-9672-0
Quotes from The Secrets of My Life are used consistently with the fair use directives of the publisher for review purposes. Any quotes coming from Transpire for use in a commercial non-review project needs to go through the publisher’s permission process. Please contact Hachete Book Group at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Image credit: A section of Caitlyn Jenner’s cover The Secrets of My Life herein presented for buyers to recognize the product, placed within a patchwork of altered public domain images: the Olympic flag, Malibu.
- Jenner, Caitlyn with Bissinger, Buzz. The Secrets of My Life (April 2017) Grand Central Publishing, Hachete Book Group, New York City. ISBN: 978-1-4555-9675-1, p. 290.
- Ibid, p. 32. For the video, see Ilyashov, Alexandra. Caitlyn Jenner Tells Her OWN Story For H&M (July 20, 2016) Web: com: http://www.refinery29.com/2016/07/117375/caitlyn-jenner-video-hm-olympics-collection-2016 . Retrieved June 8, 2017.
- Op cit, p. 318.
- Ibid, p. 319.
- Detransition beginning in 1989. p. 183.
- Johnathan Geek. Donahue with Crossdressers Featuring JoAnn Roberts and Tri-Ess Part 1 (July 23, 2012) Web: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDbNvPs3i-k . Retrieved June 9, 2017.
- Op cit, p. 272
- Ibid, p. 196.
- Ibid, p. 192
- Ibid, p. 193.
- Steinmetz, Katy with D’Addario, Daniel. Person of the Year: Short List No. 7: Catilyn Jenner (2015) Web: Time: http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2015-runner-up-caitlyn-jenner/ Retrieved June 11, 2017.
- Op cit.
- Observed by Lynnea Urania Stuart on Facebook in 2017.
- Molloy, Parker. Tweet (February 11, 2017) Web: Twitter: https://twitter.com/parkermolloy/status/830553253020594176
- Wong, Grace. Caitlyn Jenner talks about her life at Chicago House fundraiser (November 13, 2015) Web: Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/breaking/ct-caitlyn-jenner-chicago-house-met-20151112-story.html . Retrieved June 11, 2017.
- Jenner and Bissinger, pp. 316, 317.
- Ibid, p. vii.
- Saad, Nardine. Caitlyn Jenner memoir’s version of life with Kris Jenner creates a new rift in the family (April 27, 2017) Web: Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-entertainment-news-updates-april-caitlyn-jenner-s-book-draws-kardashian-1493313743-htmlstory.html . Retrieved June 8, 2017
- Op cit. p. 243.