After Kim Kardashian’s 2015 appearance at Inforum’s prestigious Good Lit series, to promote her picture book, Selfish, was met with protests, many people expected that the reality star’s equally polarizing former step-parent, Caitlyn Jenner, would be greeted with hostility when she appeared, last week, at the Commonwealth Club’s public affairs forum, to get the word out about her new autobiography, The Secrets of My Life.
But the only protester at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, where Jenner appeared, in conversation with retired Judge LaDoris Cordell was Dr. Karla Gottschalk, a transgender lawyer, naturopath, and former Republican candidate for the Hawaii state senate. She was passing out fliers, featuring suggested (and pointed) questions for the former Olympic gold medalist and star of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and I Am Cait challenging Jenner on her vanity, knowledge of transgender biology, and perceived greed.
Gottschalk is not alone in her criticism of Jenner, who’s become an unlikely LGBTQ figurehead, since her conservative Republican politics often conflict with the needs of the trans community, most of whom are low-income, underinsured, and far less insulated from transphobia. Jenner answered her critics as she attempted to regain control of her narrative in an hour-long conversation. Here’s what we learned.
Caitlyn Jenner released The Secrets of My Life to free herself.
I wanted to free myself. There’s nothing worse than going through life sneaking around, not being honest with yourself, your family or as a public figure. This is the story of my journey and telling people that I came out the other end a free spirit and better person.
Jenner’s book — written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger (Friday Night Lights) — was also about making amends and regaining control over her narrative.
When you look at your life, there are always regrets. I did things wrong. I had times when I was not a good parent where I was dealing with my own issues, and I was honest about those things. I needed to tell my family that I was sorry.
I was also getting destroyed in the tabloids for years. They knew nothing, but destroyed me all the time. I had kept it as a private thing, so I wanted to control my narrative, to control my story.
The Secrets of My Life is not political.
It’s not a book about the Kardashians. It’s not a book about politics, but I had to say something. Politics is a page-and-a-half of the book.
Caitlyn Jenner is able to reconcile her conservative views with the needs of the greater trans community.
I’ve lived a very privileged life, OK? But also, I’ve worked my ass off. I was the best in the world. I understand that, but how could I use that and that platform to make a difference? My loyalties are not to the Republican Party and not to Donald Trump, just because I believe in the constitution, limited government, obviously lower taxes for everybody, less regulations, a thriving economy. I’m not a fan of the government; I’m a fan of the people of this country to get us out of anything we need to get out of. We just need the freedom to do that.
My loyalty lies with my community to make it better for my community. I would rather work to convince the Republican party to do a better job when it comes to equality for the LGBTQ community than try to fight the Democrats on lowering taxes, bigger regulations and a bigger government. So that’s where my fight is, and I will fight them big time.
Jenner says she does most of her political wrangling behind the scenes.
I have sat to dinner in a private home with 15 evangelical Christians who are Republican senators and congressmen — or, as we would call them, “the enemy.” I work very closely with the American Unity Fund, and their only mission statement is to get the Republicans to do a better job with LGBTQ issues.
I would say that 80 to 90 percent of the things I do politically, you have no idea what I’m doing, and I would not to do it any other way. I do it privately, behind closed doors. I want the Republican Party to get to know a trans person.
Trump’s not the enemy; his Cabinet is.
I talked to [Trump] during the campaign, and I was hopeful. He was actually pretty good on gay issues, and he supported us at the conventions to thunderous applause.
But I think he surrounded himself with some bad people. They’re giving him bad advice, but he’s the president, he signed [a reversal of Obama’s signature initiative, which enabled public school students to use the bathrooms of their choice] and he’s responsible. But there are some bad people in the Republican party.
Don’t count Caitlyn Jenner out of running for office.
I have spoken at Republican events and had a lot of people say that maybe I should go after something like that. And, of course, when I said it on The View, the other day, the next thing you know I’m the first trans woman to ever run for president. I was thinking, maybe I would start with Mayor of Malibu and work my way up [laughs]. So I don’t know. I’m just checking things out, but it would be a possibility.
Jenner is more concerned with forging political alliances than romantic ones.
I am fortunate in a lot of ways because I [transitioned] much later in life. I’ve raised 10 wonderful, smart, intelligent children, and I have my 11th grandchild. I have this wonderful large family, so it’s not like I need one.
Would I enjoy having someone who enjoys a lot of the things I was doing and could be a companion and friend? Sure, I would welcome that, but it’s not high on my priority list. High on my priority list is trying to make a difference, trying to bring [trans rights] forward. I want to make it better for the next generation.
The hearts and minds of cisgender people can be swayed by hugs.
Most people have never been hugged by or even talked to a trans person. I try to be nice to people when I’m around them. I give them hugs. I take selfies with them. I want their first experience with a trans person to be a positive, uplifting experience. I want people to walk away from me, thinking, “God, that Caitlyn is so nice.”
Don’t get hung up on pronouns.
I have met, over the last two years, some of the greatest trans people who’ve done great things. Some people get hung up on what pronouns to use. I say, “Just go up to them, give them a hug and start a conversation,” and I guarantee you that person will have the most interesting life story you’ll ever hear. Listen to them; listen to their story.
Caitlyn Jenner now supports marriage equality. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Yes, it’s evolved. If you had told me 30-40 years ago, that there would be marriage equality, I wouldn’t have seen that. But like everyone, it’s been evolving. Especially in our community, I still get stuff. The hate on the internet is overwhelming. But no, I am all for marriage equality.
Her thoughts on gun control have not changed.
I support the Second Amendment. It’s the one unique thing we have in the world. I think we have a lot of controls on guns in our country and need to enforce them. There are so many guns in the system now, in the hands of criminals and bad people, and we have the right to defend ourselves.
Jenner has never regretted her decision to transition.
No, I have absolutely no regrets, whatsoever. To be honest with you, every time I read this book and what I went through, I cry. I’m thinking, “All this crap happened to me, all the sneaking around, and today my life is so simple.” I can just wake up in the morning and be myself. How simple is that? It’s a wonderful feeling. I’ve never been happier or more content.