NEW YORK, N.Y.—Speaking publicly for the first time since completing gender transition, Caitlyn Jenner compares her emotional two-day photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz for the July cover of Vanity Fair to winning the gold medal for the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics. She tells Pulitzer Prize–winning V.F. contributing editor and author of Friday Night Lights Buzz Bissinger, “That was a good day, but the last couple of days were better. . . . This shoot was about my life and who I am as a person. It’s not about the fanfare, it’s not about people cheering in the stadium, it’s not about going down the street and everybody giving you ‘that a boy, Bruce,’ pat on the back, O.K. This is about your life.”
Jenner tells Bissinger about how she suffered a panic attack the day after undergoing 10-hour facial-feminization surgery on March 15—a procedure she believed would take 5 hours. (Bissinger reveals that Jenner has not had genital surgery.) She recalls thinking, “What did I just do? What did I just do to myself?” A counselor from the Los Angeles Gender Center came to the house so Jenner could talk to a professional, and assured her that such reactions were often induced by pain medication, and that second-guessing was human and temporary.
Jenner tells Bissinger the thought has since passed and not come back: “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”
Bissinger spent hundreds of hours with the man the world knew as Bruce Jenner over a period of three months, and then countless hours with Caitlyn, also attending the photo shoot with Leibovitz at Jenner’s Malibu home.
Bissinger apologizes to Jenner for repeated pronoun confusion and asks whether she is sensitive about it. “I don’t really get hung up,” she tells him. “A guy came in the other day and I was fully dressed—it’s just habit, I said, ‘Hi, Bruce here,’ and I went, Oh fuck, it ain’t Bruce, I was screwing up doing it.”
Bissinger speaks extensively with Jenner’s four children from his first two marriages—Burt, 36, and Cassandra, 34, with first wife Chrystie, and Brandon, 33, and Brody, 31, with second wife Linda—and describes an insensitive father who had been absent for years at a time. Jenner openly acknowledges mistakes made with them as Bruce, and expresses genuine regret. Says Burt, “I have high hopes that Caitlyn is a better person than Bruce. I’m very much looking forward to that.”