We're going to owe a lot to Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner — who purposely did not spell her new name with a K — is going to absorb an unimaginable amount of attention for the rest of her life. Whatever is not emotionally draining is going to be bruising. I do not envy her, but we owe her our gratitude.

This very public transition from male to female for the 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medalist, who is parent or father to a bunch of grown children including the Kardashian sisters, will set the bar pretty high for future Internet spectacles.


But the exposure — there is going to be a television series on the transformation this summer — will allow us as an evolving society to understand the interior life of a person who believes he or she was born into the wrong body. And it will help us get used to the visuals.

Ms. Jenner, 65, came out this week on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine in a photo shoot done by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz who, to be frank, can make anybody look fabulous.

And she does look fabulous. Her face has been heavily sculpted by surgery, she has large breast implants, terrific hair and make-up and fabulous clothes.

Though, as Bruce Jenner, she gave an intimate interview to Diane Sawyer in March, the Vanity Fair cover is her official coming out. She posted on Twitter under her new identity and had 2 million followers in 24 hours. There will be no end to the scrutiny.

As a society, we will begin with confusion and then we will move to revulsion. There is a whole generation of Americans who don't know what it means to be transgender, and when they find out, they won't be able to wrap their heads around it.

That's how we started with interracial marriage. With revulsion and rejection. That's how we started with homosexuality. But with gay marriage, we came to acceptance with real rapidity. I don't think even advocates of gay rights would have predicted the pace of progress we've seen in the last decade.

But this time, change is going to come at a steep price for Ms. Jenner. There was an outpouring of support on Twitter immediately, including from her children and step-children. But she was deeply wounded when the children from her first two marriages declined to appear in the E! docu-series. And son, Burt, said he hoped Caitlyn would be a better person than Bruce had been.

She was almost immediately criticized for capitalizing on her identity confusion and some speculated that the whole thing was a publicity stunt to pump up the "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" brand.

"You don't go out and change your gender for a reality show," she told reporter Buzz Bissinger in the short article that accompanied the release of the photos. But, yes, this was business and she has a mortgage and she wouldn't mind making a buck. It never looks good when money is on the table.

Interesting choice of Mr. Bissinger to shadow Ms. Jenner and her family for months, by the way. The author of "Friday Night Lights" describes himself as "a cross-dresser with a big-time fetish for women's leather."

Fox was its charming self, continuing to refer to Ms. Jenner with the male pronoun during a segment. And host Neil Cavuto introduced guest Charles Payne as "Charlene" Payne and everybody laughed. There will be plenty more of that.

And Jon Stewart pointed out that the snarky focus was on her looks, her age, and her choice of clothing. Welcome to being a woman in America, he said.

But Ms. Jenner said that now that the cover had been released, "I'm free."

It may take a little longer for the rest of the country. But thanks to Caitlyn Jenner, we are going to get there faster.


Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on