The coronavirus impact on Caitlyn Jenner is that she is following orders to stay home and is not at all sick. Given lots of time to reflect, Jenner tells the Outsports podcast The Trans Sporter Room she’s not shocked by what’s happened to the world of sports, and she realizes now, in hindsight, that she “had a lot to learn” during her transition. But she’s keeping busy; in fact, Jenner has another “big project” in the works, fresh off her jungle adventure with a British reality show: “I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!”
But among the many things Jenner misses on account of this coronavirus crisis is meeting young transgender people.
“I have met so many young trans people. And I think, honestly, that’s wonderful,” Jenner told me over the phone from her mountaintop maison, high above Malibu, Calif.
“You don’t have to be like, in my case, I had to wait 65 years to live my life authentically, just because of life and times and this and that,” Jenner said.
Despite her famously athletic build, Jenner is now 70, which puts her in the demographic considered at high risk for COVID-19. And yet, in terms of her transition, you might say Jenner is also just a few weeks shy of turning five years old.
As just about everyone on the planet knows by now, the world famous Olympic decathlete turned “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” reality star stunned the world in 2015. After months of media speculation and paparazzi pursuit, she came out as a transgender woman: First to ABC’s Diane Sawyer on TV, in April, then to the world on the cover of Vanity Fair the following June.
The story inside, headlined — “Call Me Caitlyn” — not only revealed her new name, but gave everyone on earth something they hadn’t had before: all of us now knew of someone who had transitioned.
“Get on with life, now all that is behind me”
“One thing I’ve noticed in my life,” she confided, “once I got through all of that in 2015, how much simpler my life is today. You know, I just get up and be myself all day. Oh, I don’t have to lie to anybody. I don’t have to do the this and that and sneak around or any of that sort of stuff. And you can kind of get on with life, now all that is behind me. And so, yeah, let’s just live, and enjoy it with a smile on your face.”
Jenner said it’s not so hard keeping that smile going while social-distancing in what is likely the most advantageous, socially-distant settlement in Southern California.
“Fortunately, I live about in the middle of the far end of Malibu,” she said. “I’m on top of the hill, with a beautiful view. And so, if you’re ever gonna get stuck someplace, this is kind of a nice place to be stuck.”
Indeed it is. When I last visited her in February 2016 with my friend and photographer Deana Mitchell, hanging on for dear life around the hairpin turns as I drove far too fast up the twisty, winding road up from the beach in Malibu, we found ourselves in a place that literally is located above the clouds (Okay, it’s really called the marine layer, but whatever).
“I didn’t see a putting green when I was at your house last, 4 years ago,” I said, as I steered our conversation toward what an avid golfer might do in a place like hers, under government orders to stay at home.
Golf is “kind of my game”
“I do have some ways on the property to be able to practice a little bit of a swing,” Jenner said. “I watch a lot of YouTube videos on how to swing the golf club, how to grip it properly and, you know, kind of put things in my head. So, hopefully when all of this comes back, the game won’t be affected too much.”
This gold medalist is no slouch when it comes to golf. She reportedly is still a single-digit handicap and doesn’t play from the forward tees. She calls golf “kind of my game.”
“It’s the one game that you can play, you know. in the fourth quarter of your life and still improve. I still get better today. And and I enjoy working on it. I mean, I’ve always been involved in athletics and I enjoy working on the game. So I do.”
One month after I saw her last in 2016, she holed out for eagle on the first green of the ANA pro-am at Mission Hills, playing alongside Abby Wambach and the LPGA’s Marina Alex and Danielle Kang, according to the Golf Channel. Their team won the tournament.
Jenner calls Kang, currently ranked 5th in the world, “a very good friend.” You might recall Kang made headlines in 2017 when she won her first major and celebrated by eating pho right out of the trophy she won.
Before the postponement of the Tokyo Summer Games, Jenner said she had been encouraging Kang to join the U.S. Olympic golf team.
“She plays on the LPGA tour,” Jenner said. “I’ve been telling her for the last year: ‘You have to make it on that Olympic team. I mean, it would be the greatest experience of your life.’ You know, you go to so many golf tournaments, but this is so much more than a golf tournament. And I talked to her the other day, and she was really disappointed.”
As for Jenner herself: like most of us, the postponement did not come as a surprise, at all.
“First of all, I wasn’t shocked,” she said. “I’m disappointed, yes, You know, I ran in ‘76 and then retired four years later in 1980 because of the Soviet Union’s involvement in Afghanistan. [Then-President] Jimmy Carter boycotted the games and we didn’t go in 1980. And for me, I felt so bad for all the athletes.”
And Jenner said she feels the same way now for those training for Tokyo.
“The good news here: It’s not canceled, it’s just a year later,” she continued. “But for so many athletes who have been training all winter long, preparing themselves for the games this summer, it takes a year of preparation to get ready for that performance. And now, all of a sudden, ‘Wait a second.’ Now it’s two years away. You know, you may lose. Some athletes can’t quite make it that long.”
“But who knows, especially with the golf game, what it’s going to be like a year from now? So, yeah, a lot of lives are turned upside down, and the athletes will just have to adjust,” said Jenner.
“This won’t last forever,” she went on, and then with her next words she subtly reminded me where she stands politically. She spoke not of COVID-19’s anticipated mind-boggling death toll of as many as 240-thousand in our nation alone, but of the U.S. economy. “It has greatly affected business in this country,” said Jenner, “and hopefully it doesn’t last very long, and the impact is not too bad, and we can get back to normal. It’s just going to take some time.”
“I was wrong” about Trump
One thing that has changed since 2016 is that — while she’s still registered as a Republican — Jenner no longer supports President Trump or the members of the GOP who support his anti-trans policies. She made that clear in my interview, just as she did in an op-ed in the Washington Post in 2018. She wrote an essay headlined, “I Was Wrong,” responding to transgender rights rollbacks, healthcare policy changes as well as the ban on trans military service. “That really ticked me off,” she told me, sounding sincerely angry for putting her faith in the president and her party.
“It’s clear these policies have come directly from Trump, and they have been sanctioned, passively or actively, by the Republicans by whose continued support he governs. My hope in him — in them — was misplaced, and I cannot support anyone who is working against our community. I do not support Trump. I must learn from my mistakes and move forward.” — Caitlyn Jenner in the Washington Post, Oct. 25, 2018.
Unlike my last meeting with Jenner, further questions about politics were deemed off-limits: “Politics is something I don’t talk about any longer.”
But Jenner did insist on making a statement about the decision by Gov. Brad Little of Idaho, who this week signed two anti-trans bills into law, the most discriminatory measures against trans Americans in the U.S. at present.
“I think every trans person, if they’re into athletics, should have an opportunity to compete and to improve themselves,” said Jenner. “I think sports is such a great way to learn a lot about yourself. And yeah, I want to, hopefully they’ll have the opportunity in the future to do whatever they can do. I’m all for it,” she said, and then said again, with more emphasis: “I’m all for it.”
“Boy, did I have a lot to learn”
Four years and a month after our last conversation, reality appears to have sunk in for the reality star. Well, that’s at least true when it comes to actions and statements that have cost her support from many members of the trans community. From supporting Trump and her conservative views, to her now far-less frequent media appearances, and to her “traditional” views that she said had stood in the way of her fully embracing the idea of same-sex marriage, Jenner has taken stock of her stumbles.
“When I came out, my mission was, obviously, I had to come out publicly. I couldn’t do it privately, but I thought, I’m doing that, can I try to make a difference? And boy, did I have a lot to learn,” she conceded.
Jenner stressed to me that her intentions were, and still are, good.
“It’s a very complicated community, and I had a lot to learn, and probably did some things that I thought were right, but within the community, they didn’t think it was right,” she explained, contritely. “I was just trying to use my platform to make things better for other people,” through the foundation she started, said Jenner. “I kind of started that way. And obviously, one thing that is so needed, is financing.”
“What I’ve tried to do, especially now, is invest in this community,” she said. While Jenner is not disclosing how much of an investment she’s making, a report in 2018 by the award-winning journalist and author Gwendolyn Smith detailed $85,000 in grants in just one week.
Some of her fundraising is publicized, much more is not. Among the public beneficiaries of her foundation’s largesse is the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, formed the same year Jenner came out, and funded throughout its five years by her foundation. The TCLA performed the National Anthem at Dodgers Stadium in 2017, teaming-up with the Gay Men’s Chorus and actress Dot Marie Jones for the Dodgers’ LGBT Night.
“I love supporting them,” she beamed proudly. Despite an incident following a TCLA concert in 2017, in which she came face to face with trans activist Ashlee Marie Preston over her support for the president, Jenner was still going to shows before the coronavirus closures of all entertainment venues.
“There can be anywhere from 30 to 40 trans people on stage,” she recalled. “And when the curtain opens up, people, they look up and they go, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know there were so many trans people in the whole world!’” Jenner laughed at the memory. “They’re phenomenal. They’re so good.”
“I’m not going to hide”
“I want trans people to be out there,” she declared. Being “out there,” Jenner explained, is very much tied to this week’s Trans Day of Visibility, which was the impetus for our interview Tuesday evening, as the day drew to a close.
“On this trans day of visibility. I’m not going to hide. You know, unfortunately, a lot of people in the community do hide. And I just want to be out there.”
In addition to the choir, Jenner’s way of being “out there” is to foot the bill for something she calls “this crusade:” to invest in the education of “the next generation of trans people.”
“I’ve worked very hard,” she said, “not only personally putting money in there, but also finding some just really great people, this next generation, that’s coming up. We’ve got a couple of scholarships, grants. One went to a trans woman up at the University of Oregon.”
That would be a prior guest of our Outsports podcast, The Trans Sporter Room: Dr. Bethany Grace Howe, a trans woman whose research Jenner’s foundation funded, “to properly identify what daily interactions LGBT people have to deal with regarding their identity.” Jenner and her publicist even joined Howe for a panel discussion on campus.
Another beneficiary, she said, “was this trans guy who actually comes from a military family. He was in the ROTC program and was getting a scholarship down at the University of Texas,” until the trans military ban cut short his dream of higher education. “I helped him,” said Jenner. “We know he lost his scholarship, so I thought, here’s a great opportunity to try to make a difference in somebody’s life, personally, and help them with their education.”
“In the future, I want trans doctors, I want trans lawyers, I want trans business people,” she said. “And the way you do that is educate this next generation coming up.”
Jenner said she and her foundation choose the recipients “very much on a personal basis,” but given the current state of affairs, their efforts are paused.
“With all this mess right now that’s going on in the world, we’re kind of on-hold for a while, but hopefully we’ll get through all this,” she said with optimism. “We’ll fire it back up again. But I want to invest in the community, invest in individuals and help them.”
Jenner would not elaborate or explain what next “thing” she’s working on, saying to do so “would jinx it.” But she did send good wishes to mutual friends of ours, including her former “I Am Cait” cast members, in particular Jennifer Finney Boylan, bestselling author of a new memoir, Good Boy.
We ended our conversation as we began it, speaking about how the coronavirus was impacting us. As of Tuesday night, Jenner wasn’t aware of any personal connections to the outbreak.
“Well, I don’t know of any cases, so that’s good,” she told me. Speaking of herself, her famous family and her personal assistant, Jenner added: “Just like everybody, we’re trying to follow the guidelines the best we possibly can. We’re trying to kind of self-isolate our homes, not spread anything, and just laying low for a while.”
As we said goodbye, I reminded the most famous transgender athlete on earth to wash her hands. She was, after all, speaking to me on her assistant’s phone. Again, despite her fabulous health, her age alone puts her in the highest risk factor group.
“Don’t you worry,” Jenner told me. “I’m looking at the sink right now and it’s got all the disinfectant stuff right next to it.”
We hung up, and I smiled, thinking that it was great catching up with this generous, energetic and complicated woman, learning what’s changed about her, and what’s not. And then I thought: there is no way in hell Caitlyn Jenner is doing her own dishes.
But guess what: following the publication of this report, her public relations person told me, in no uncertain terms, yes: Jenner does her own dishes.
Also interviewed in this week’s podcast following Jenner is Team USA’s Athena del Rosario, a transgender woman from Santa Cruz, Calif., who is a goalie for the Beach Handball team. She’s recovering from Facial Feminization Surgery, observing the isolation protocols with her wife, and speaking with The Trans Sporter Room podcast about the support she’s received from her coaches.
Representing #TeamUSA on #TransDayOfVisibility ♀️ ♀️— MsGoalieQueen (@MsGoalieQueen) March 31, 2020
Sometimes it's important to be VISIBLE even when you don't want to be. It's important to recognize that GOD doesn't make mistakes. It is okay to be who god made you. It's okay to play sports as your true self! YOU are #1 ️ pic.twitter.com/v7pOiRTT3F
del Rosario also has a bone to pick with Outsports about our coverage of drag, which she denounces as an “offensive misrepresentation of trans women.”