Caitlyn Jenner's Memoir, The Secrets Of My Life, Contains Only One Secret
And that is that Caitlyn may be a robot?
The Brand: Caitlyn Jenner
The Extension: The Secrets of My Life by Caitlyn Jenner with Buzz Bissinger
Is This A Brand Worth Extending? Let's try to look at Caitlyn outside of the Kardashian Koncept. It's nearly impossible at this point, I know, but if we can travel to an alternate universe and consider the story of young Bruce Jenner growing up in a very conservative household in the very conservative 1950s, riddled with anxiety despite being a Magnum-level hottie, sort of wandering into the status of world-class athlete by way of his natural talent and hyperfocus, abandoning two families because of the soul-crushing depression that comes from living a lie inside a generation that will kill you for your particular truth... If you can separate that history from the absurdist "reality" of Kim 'n' Kris 'n' Ko., it turns out that Caitlyn Jenner who, since beginning her official transition in 2015, has experienced the boomerang of punchline to lauded hero to letdown with whiplash speed, has a far more real story to tell than the we saw on reality TV.
Is This An Extension Worth The Branding? It is, frankly, difficult to imagine a product that could fall short of Kardashian standards, so no worries there!
Soon after announcing her transition, because of the PR onslaught she rolled out to "get ahead of the story," the controversy of Caitlyn became less about one of the greatest male athletes in the history of sports becoming a woman, and more about her, well, seemingly blithe attitude about the whole thing! The fashion show of it all lent a tone to Caitlyn's media appearances, causing her to appear as if she didn't understand the marginalization of the average trans person, which she didn't, and the reality show...didn't help. What, without the 25 years Bruce spent as part of the Kardashian empire, might have been an educational examination of a closed-off, prickly person in their twilight years finally being freed to live as what she perceives to be her true self was actually completely tainted by that circus, and turned out to be more of a series of episodes of Caitlyn being forced to care about other people while wearing expensive wigs. I'm sure, in fact, there are viewers out there who still believe that this has all been a big moneymaking scam "for publicity," and every time Kris appears on some hour of TV or another to stir up the argument about what she knew when, doesn't it kind of seem that way?
In fact, Kris and her children have done the rounds in various media to fret about what Caitlyn would say about them in this book and it's basically nothing. They're barely mentioned, but for the occasional shade suggesting that Caitlyn liked stealing Kris's clothing to wear because "it is quite sizable."
Until The Secrets Of My Life, the carefully staged, heavily managed parts of Caitlyn's transition completely obscured the actual reality that this journey of hers has been lifelong. The book, to my great surprise, managed to provide some insight into Cait without straying too far into E! territory. Shockingly, she trades very little on her marriage into the Kardashian family (how else to describe it?), even going out of her way to compliment Robert Kardashian, Sr. for being a great person and father, something she herself admits she fell dismally short of achieving with her own children. Nor does she have much to say about her celebrity status or daily elbow-rubbing with the stars, though there is a brief, fascinating recollection of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Caitlyn clearly takes great pleasure in excoriating O.J., particularly as the stereotypical male athlete type Bruce felt he had always been forced to emulate.
The stories of each of her first four children being born and the abandoned are hard to read, especially after a few chapters of what sounded like her own idyllic upbringing, though with an emotionally unavailable war-vet father. Caitlyn doesn't make excuses for it, other than to try to explain that her gender dysphoria (as she defines it) kept her emotions on lockdown for most of her life and did not allow her to form real bonds. And that's just the thing. She doesn't make excuses or beg forgiveness for…anything. Even with the help of Buzz Bissinger, who wrote the now-historic Vanity Fair profile of Caitlyn, she can come across as a bloodless, entitled, 67-year-old white Baby Boomer, and seems to shrug off any suggestion that she go on an extended mea culpa tour for the years of hurt and confusion she caused in others. She pays some lip service to being sorry that her depression made her arms-length her family, and that's something at least, but the repeated "well, my wife knew all about it, or was in denial!" reads like blame-shifting.
If any of her children is waiting around for her to Step Eight them for hiding herself away for their entire lives, I suppose they'll be waiting forever. Her straightforward delivery reveals that what you've seen of Caitlyn is what you're getting: the only thing she's ever lied about was the 60+-year fiction that she was a man. The rest -- the conservative politics, the privilege, the fear of emotion -- is at the core of this person. About choosing track and field over football and basketball, sports in which Bruce also showed great aptitude: "If I win, I did it. If I lose, it's my fault. I get to walk away by myself. I don't have to commiserate with teammates or, for that matter, celebrate with them."
Outside the soap-opera elements of Bruce's three marriages, the stories Caitlyn shares about her athletic life and road to Olympic glory are rather interesting. It's so easy to forget the unbelievable achievement of the decathlon. What a thing to have done! There's a reason the gold medalist is called The World's Greatest Athlete, and for Bruce to have gone through all that and still feel literally driven and compelled to release himself from the prison of his own body…it's so telling of the magnitude of pain trans people endure. His life after the Olympics, going from hotel to hotel to give his speech Finding The Champion Within (why didn't they name the book that?), reveling in the privacy that allowed Caitlyn to emerge only for a moment in furtive cruises around hotel lobbies, is equally eye-opening to that pain.
Perhaps due to the influence of Bissinger, the book tries to take a present-tense tone, reading a great deal of the time like Caitlyn sifting through Bruce's memories. It doesn't always work, exactly, though I read it on a Kindle and wonder if the print edition formatting makes things more clear.
All in all, Caitlyn clearly states that while she does not subscribe to the idea of erasing Bruce completely from her history (which is why I felt okay using his name here), she's only looking ahead from now on. She had the final surgery. Bruce is gone. If some of her clothing-and-makeup-obsessed thoughts on what it means to be female seem juvenile, I guess it's because they are. On the struggle to be accepted as feminine: "Because I continue to love car racing and motocross and motorcycling, does that somehow make me less feminine?" Aw, girl. Welcome to womanhood.