For as long as I can remember, I’ve been ignoring Bruce Jenner. As a child of the ’70s, I ignored him in the cereal aisle, where his Olympic-champion mug couldn’t entice me to pick his terminally bland Wheaties over more healthful Sugar Smacks. I ignored him in the ’80s, during his star-turn in Can’t Stop the Music, a disco-tinged Village People biopic that saw him nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor. In the ’90s, I don’t recall Jenner at all, as I was rather busy ignoring him.
By the mid-2000s, however, Jen-ner had become much more difficult to ignore. He’d plighted his troth to the Kardashian clan, America’s First Family of publicity tapeworms, who are as long on fame’n’money as they are short on talent, unless you consider leaked sex tapes and Instagram butt-selfies a talent. As the paterfamilias/house eunuch of the Kardashian seraglio—both in real life and in the fake reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians (now in its tenth smash season)—Jenner allowed viewers to witness him getting ignored by his daughters and serially humiliated by his wife. “Momager” Kris (her self-appointed nickname as her daughters’ tireless manager) would leave him behind on trips, confiscate his ATM card, and generally keep his huevos in her purse, well before he started carrying one (the two recently divorced).
Now, as you’ve inescapably heard, Jenner is downright impossible to ignore. Namely, for the reason that he is no longer a him but a her. After announcing in a Diane Sawyer special in April that he was transitioning genders, albeit retaining his heterosexuality, Jenner let the other Manolo drop this past week, declaring “Call Me Caitlyn” from the cover of Vanity Fair. Lovingly shot in full flower by Annie Leibovitz, after the breast augmentation, facial feminization procedures, and tracheal shave, Caitlyn looked nothing like a hulking former decathlete, but rather, a hulking Vargas girl or a creamy Old-Hollywood starlet, albeit a heavily airbrushed one.
Her new incarnation was met with pure rapture by an adoring Internet, where Caitlyn was compared to everyone from Jessica Lange to various female deities, her burdensome worm now transformed into a beautiful butterfly. Only a handful were rude enough to notice the Y-chromosome in the biological punchbowl—she’s still smuggling said worm under her satiny Edy Corset. (Caitlyn has indicated that she plans on sticking with her original-issue equipment for now, which has no bearing on
In all the hubbub, there was another transition as well. Bruce Jenner had spent the better part of the last decade being a tabloid joke, renowned for his dysfunctional family, bad haircuts, and even worse plastic surgery. But Caitlyn Jenner achieved instant secular sainthood as a profile in courage—a cross between JFK, MLK, and J. H. Christ, all swaddled in elegant Donna Karan couture.
The likes of Lady Gaga and Ellen DeGeneres saluted her bravery. She set land-speed records on Twitter, where her new Caitlyn account garnered a million followers in four hours, breaking Barack Obama’s old record, though he too tweeted, “It takes courage to share your story.” Just how much courage it takes in Transjennered America is a matter of debate. When your coming out is met with a two-hour ABC special and a 22-page cover spread in Vanity Fair, the leader of the free world is tweeting attagirls, Estée Lauder is considering endorsement deals, your first public outing will be to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN, all to be followed by another reality show (sorry, a “docu-series”) called I Am Cait—well, call it courage if you must, but this definitely ain’t your grandfather’s Battle of the Bulge.
Then there are Caitlyn’s enthusiasts/enforcers in social media. A Twitter mob tarred-and-feathered Nickelodeon star Drake Bell, who was foolish enough to tweet that he’d still call Bruce Bruce. (“Ok Drake, your name is now Donna,” tweeted @Onision. “Enjoy being called what you don’t identify as, Donna.”) CNN’s media watchdog, Brian Stelter, couldn’t help but notice that some people were “misgendering” Caitlyn. “After all,” he tsked, “Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover was very clear, ‘Call me Caitlyn.’ ” An ACLU lawyer wrote that even mentioning a trans-person’s “birth-assigned sex is an act of hatred.”