The Long Transition: What It Means For Caitlyn Jenner and America

imageAmid Monday’s media fanfare surrounding the completion of Jenner’s transition, something beyond a viral moment was happening

Here’s the apex, the moment hardly imagined in anyone’s wildest dreams in the long-haul, potholed drive for final, incontrovertible L.G.B.T. equality. Not only are the more unusual — not to say edgy – aspects of gender identity being revealed and shown proudly in public, but they are applauded and even iconized.

It began with the honey-voiced Laverne Cox in Orange Is the New Black, a transgender woman playing a transgender inmate, a first in any history anyone could remember, celebrated on a Time magazine cover, in fashion shoots and by adoring fans. Now gender liberation reaches cultural apotheosis with Caitlyn Jenner, who as Bruce Jenner memorably won the gold medal for the decathlon at the 1976 Olympic games and became a heroic role model on Wheaties cereal boxes.
On Monday, in a deluge of media attention, Bruce Jenner completed his prolonged and at times agonizing transition from man to woman in spectacular fashion, showing skin in a white strapless corset and wearing a coy smile on the cover of Vanity Fair.

“Call me Caitlyn,” said the headline, a stroke of genius itself.

The world rejoiced. The cover went viral.

Jessica Lange, lauded actress and leading lady of American Horror Story, was told that fans were comparing her face and hairdo to the newly feminized Caitlyn. She reportedly responded, “That’s so wonderful.”

How can we not applaud, fall on our knees even, and celebrate the electrifying transformation not of Bruce into Caitlyn Jenner, but of America itself, from a homophobic and transgender-ignorant people into a welcoming, embracing society, home to all sexes of whatever fashion.
Caitlyn Jenner brings it all home to us, and we must be grateful for the opportunity to receive the news with a joyful heart and a wide open mind. Caitlyn Jenner has made us better.

As a colleague put it to me, “Essentially Bruce has transitioned from Bruce to Caitlyn as America has transitioned from intolerant to tolerant on this issue.”

This morning, quite predictably, Caitlyn was the big headline. Television networks and cable went wild with a story tailor-made for the gush of morning TV. Anchors lavished Caitlyn Jenner with support and admiration, and we got a glimpse of her debut as a woman. CBS This Morning, for one, gave a tantalizing look at videos and still shots of Jenner as he evolved from a ponytailed guy into a a lithe, statuesque woman in an elegant evening gown, her long hair falling sensually around her feline face, her eyes lined and mouth lipsticked.

And what does Caitlyn have to say for herself?
She was asked by Vanity Fair to compare her two-day photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz for the July cover to winning the gold at the Olympics. “That was a good day,” Caitlyn told V.F. contributing editor and author of Friday Night Lights Buzz Bissinger, himself a cross-dresser who has written about his fetish for women’s clothing. “But the last couple of days were better … This shoot was about my life and who I am as a person. It’s not about the fanfare, it’s not about people cheering in the stadium, it’s not about going down the street and everybody giving you [a] ‘that a boy, Bruce’ pat on the back, O.K. This is about your life.”

Jenner, who according to Bissinger has not had genital surgery, did undergo 10-hour facial-feminization surgery on March 15, and suffered a panic attack the day after, wondering, “What did I just do? What did I just do to myself?’’ The interviews with Jenner took place over a period of three months and the photos were shot at Jenner’s Malibu home.

At times Jenner spoke emotionally about her transition: “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.’’’

The Vanity Fair cover story is the culmination of a prolonged all-out media courtship that included a two-hour ABC interview with Diane Sawyer on April 24 that was watched by more than 17.1 million viewers. Other outlets pursued Jenner but he picked carefully how and when and where he would make the final revelation: himself as herself.

Ducking away from the media was hard enough for Jenner, who married and divorced Kris Jenner, the dominant matriarch and star of the reality TV hit “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Bruce Jenner’s relations with his family and the struggle some of them went through to accept and support his gender change was easy pickings for gossip columns and the nightly TV entertainment shows. Jenner’s own documentary about his transition, scheduled to debut on July 26 on the E! network, is likely to stir up even more attention.

“I am so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world, Caitlyn,’’ she said on Twitter. “Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me.”

Caitlyn Jenner will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS next month. “For the first time this July,’’ she said, “I will be able to stand as my true self in front of my peers.”

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