Caitlyn Jenner and Reality: Baggage, Transitioning, and Doing it on TV

So. Caitlyn Jenner.

Caitlyn Jenner -- the post-surgical* female identity of former Olympic gold-medal decathlete and begrudging-September-of-life reality star -- is all over the place right now. The media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive -- so positive, in fact, so encouraging, so just-be-yourself-warm-fuzzies, that its almost easy to forget what a pathetic media rodeo this whole thing is.

I don't think Caitlyn Jenner's transformation itself is a stunt; I think that she's "living her truth" now in sincerity. I think that Bruce suffered silently for decades being held up as a pillar of manliness while feeling trapped in the wrong, sweaty, dangling, male body. I believe that he spent a lifetime of secretly wearing women's clothes during his press junkets, of feeling like a fraud and an undeserving failure. I believe that he was a "victim of society," and that the grand scale of Bruce's accomplishments -- being the number one athlete in the world, beating the Soviets at a time when we needed fist-pumping, fast-running, weight-lifting men to defend our national identity -- only compounded his inner turmoil. 

But I also think he is a neglectful, self-pitying asshole. Jenner, father of six, was an entirely absent father to his first four children. His first marriage fell apart while his wife was pregnant with their second child. (According to Vanity Fair, he told her about his lady proclivities and she reacted with extreme grace and kindness, but the marriage failed anyway.) He refused to attend the birth of his daughter, and by all accounts -- including his own -- has largely ignored his first two children.

He married again, and sired two more offspring. This time when he told his wife about his urges, she had the reaction more of us would expect -- shocked, sickened, sad. They divorced so he could move on, pursue hormone treatments, to "live his truth."

But then he stopped pursuing hormones. He knew who he was, but he wasn't ready/willing to be Caitlyn yet. So he married Kris Jenner, kept silent about his hormones and his identity, and had two more children over 23 years of marriage. Then they divorced. Then TMZ exposed his laryngal reduction (to shave down his Adam's apple). Then he told Kris.

Then he told Kris.

To be sure, I'm not gender-dimorphic, and I'm certain that it is impossible for me to grasp the prohibitive, uncomfortable reality of living a very public life as a very recognizable example of your gender only to feel that just under the surface that you are not that person at all. Jenner wasn't just a man -- he was literally the best man on earth, but a woman on the inside. That's terrible and confusing and unimaginably hard.  However, I refuse to believe that this conflict made it impossible for him to be a present parent, or that this struggle gives him the right to openly and willfully deceive his spouses and his children.

Vanity Fair's June piece "introducing" Caitlyn Jenner sprawls over a whopping 22 pages. It runs more pages in the meat of the magazine (not relegating Jenner to the "continued on page 275" columns of the back like most articles are), not in small part thanks to Annie Lebovitz's enormous, beautiful photo spread. (There is no denying across the board that Caitlyn Jenner looks unbelievably fabulous.) But it's massive and viral and "instantly iconic."And, most importantly, it dethroned Kim Kardashian's Glamour cover released on the same day.

The VF piece is, to be sure, on Jenner's side. You can tell Buzz Bissinger, the author, likes Jenner, sympathizes with Jenner. He paints Keeping up with the Kardashians as something that Kris Jenner controlled, demanded, orchestrated, inflicted upon poor Bruce. We're told about their amicable divorce -- no lawyers, because Jenner didn't fight Kris for the rights to the Kardashians and their mutating spinoffs that populate the networks like wet gremlins.

But that's because Caitlyn Jenner has her own reality show in the works. And while the network executives claim it will be "classy," isn't the whole premise exploitative and ogle-y and gimmicky? And worse -- what made me begin to doubt the motives of Caitlyn -- Jenner spends a significant chunk of the Vanity Fair article bemoaning her poor relationships with her children and hoping that her new identity will be a fresh start to be a father...only to express frustration and irritation that her first four children and not interested in participating in Caitlyn's reality show.

Jenner admits that she wasn't a present father, but denies some of the details. And she couches the story in the idea, somewhat implicitly, that her inner turmoil made it impossible to be in touch with her children. Of course it was her struggle. But it was also a struggle of for people she brought into her life and brought into the world. They struggled through her absence and her deceit, and now they're struggling through her pressure to talk about it on television.

Now that Bruce is Caitlyn, he seems to expect forgiveness and bygones and a new leaf for everyone. In an interview about the overwhelming response to the VF article, Bissinger stated, "[t]here is no question that [Jenner's children] are scarred, but there is also no question that Caitlyn is reaching out to them in a way that Bruce never did."  Sure, good for her, I'm glad when anyone finds late-in-life moments to repent and redeem. But her tone seems to be one of impatient expectation: "I'm a woman now, I'm different, so forgive me and forgive me right now and forgive me on the E! channel."

I understand that Jenner is a brave figure for the transgendered world: her high-profile transition and willingness to discuss it on a public stage is ultimately helpful for raising awareness about the LGBT community, which is never a bad thing. I'm proud that the media response has been largely kind and embracing, and I'm comforted that Jenner lives in a world that finally made her able to feel comfortable with herself. But, what I'm saying is: does being a woman absolve you from being an asshole? Do you get a blank slate because you get a bunch of attention from Slate? At the end of the day, Caitlyn's highly choreographed "coming out" just feels like more of that old Kardashian shtick.


*To be clear: she's had a bunch of surgeries, including contouring of facial bones and breast implants, but not gender reassignment surgery, aka, genital surgery.

Related: Kim Kardashian is Ruining Everything I Love
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