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Buzz Bissinger: With Caitlyn Jenner, 'You Feel A Connection'


Call me Caitlyn - those words on the cover of next month's Vanity Fair - that cover story about the gender transition of the 1976 Olympic gold medal decathlete, Bruce Jenner. In the cover, Caitlyn Jenner is posing in a white corset, her hair tumbling in long waves. She looks proudly into the camera of photographer Annie Leibovitz. We hear Caitlyn Jenner in a short video on the Vanity Fair website with scenes from that photo shoot.


CAITLYN JENNER: Bruce always had to tell a lie. He was always living that lie. Every day he always had a secret from morning till night. Caitlyn doesn't have any secrets.

BLOCK: The 22-page story is written by Buzz Bissinger, who had unprecedented access to Jenner as she completed her transition to female, and Bissinger joins me now. Welcome to the program.

BUZZ BISSINGER: Hey, thank you.

BLOCK: You describe then Bruce Jenner in the 1980s after this Olympic gold medal going to meetings, giving speeches, you know, basking in his fame and wearing pantyhose and a bra underneath his suit.

BISSINGER: Bruce was living a false life. He wasn't living a true life 'cause he was afraid of expressing himself, afraid of being his true soul. In the '60s and '70s, it never, ever would have been accepted, but, you know, what do you do when you were born a woman? What do you do when you want to feel like a woman in a society where you can't? I mean, this is - he is the athletic ideal. He is the equivalent of the Marlboro Man at that point in time in 1976. So he's giving these speeches - these rallying speeches - about the greatness of America and competition but saying to himself, as he gives this rousing speech, I'm a fraud. I'm a liar, and more than that, people really have no idea who I am. What they're seeing up there is my own private act.

BLOCK: Jenner was married three times, and you talked with each of those wives.


BLOCK: What did they tell you about what they knew about his gender dysphoria?

BISSINGER: Well, you know, it differs from wife to wife. Chrystie Scott was the first wife, and she noticed that her bra had a rubber band attached and thought that was kind of weird and asked her husband, Bruce. Then he came clean and said I've been wearing your bra and your clothing, and she accepted it. The second marriage he did not say anything until they already had two children, and, literally, kind of one day said, look, I got to level with you. I have gender dysphoria. And, you know, she was devastated, and so they went to a therapist and the therapist said you know what? This condition will never, ever change. If you want, you can have a relationship with Bruce as a woman. Otherwise you have to move on, and she moved on. And then roughly about seven years later he married Kris Jenner. He didn't tell her the severity of the condition. And the question is what obligation do you have to say, look, here's the deal. My condition isn't changing. Maybe we can fashion something, but you must know this. And that he did not do, and I think it makes Kris feel confused and really upset. You should've come clean with me at the beginning and then I make the decision or we make the decision, and he never did that.

BLOCK: I didn't know until I read your story, Buzz, that Caitlyn Jenner has a deal with the E! television network for a docuseries about her life. It's the same team that does "Keeping Up With The Kardashians." Why is she doing this? Is it the money? Is she at all worried about exploitation?

BISSINGER: I think part of it is money. As she says in the piece, you know, I'm a businesswoman. I have a right to make a living, and I get that. I think there is also the goal of trying to educate the community about the plight of transgender men and women. There's a tremendous fear about exploitation and spectacle to the extent that his four so-called Jenner kids - his first four children from his first two marriages. To their credit, they forgo money and they forgo exposure and said to their father, which was difficult given their past relationship, we're not participating because we want you to have the kind of legacy you can have as a hero, of someone who really changed, you know, our society. And we're worried that this is going to be seen as a Kardashian spinoff, that it's going to be spectacle and it's going to be a circus, and we're out. We're not doing it.

BLOCK: It does sound like those four children from his first two marriages have really come to know a father who was completely absent from their lives. They love her now. They love Caitlyn Jenner now in a way that they never loved their father Bruce Jenner.

BISSINGER: Well, that's right. He just basically - I don't know how else to put it. He abandoned them. He had virtually no contact with them for years at a time - no acknowledgement at birthdays, not coming to graduations - and it really, really hurt them. But once they found out that their father was going through transition, that he was ready to go through the process of becoming a woman, they understood things. They understood his emotional disconnection. They understood his discomfort, and they've all taken great steps to reconnect, and it's a work in progress. It's not going to be easy, but they see a Caitlyn - and I've seen this - who's very different. The Bruce I saw was lonely. He was a loner. He was very awkward socially, a little bit goofy as kind of emotional deflection. Caitlyn - you feel a connection. You feel an immediate connection. You feel a reaching out. You see an openness because she's free. She is free to live her life as whatever she wants to be, and that's exciting, and that's stirring to see.

BLOCK: That's Buzz Bissinger. His profile of Caitlyn Jenner is in the July issue of Vanity Fair. Buzz, thanks very much.

BISSINGER: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.