Caitlyn Jenner has nothing left to hide.
“I don’t have a secret left in my life,” Jenner told Kelly Ripa and guest co-host John Leguizamo during a revealing chat on Tuesday’s Live with Kelly.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” she continued. “The book is about a lifelong struggle. Everybody has their stuff. Everybody has things that they have to deal with in life, and what I’ve dealt with my entire life is my identity with myself as a person. To be able to share that journey with people … feels great.
For the better part of six decades, Caitlyn Jenner‘s personal life was burdened with shame, confusion and isolation. Though Jenner experienced plenty of highs, her gender dysphoria always lurked close to the surface.
“You’re not talking about sexuality — you’re talking about who you are and who’s in your soul,” she said. “It goes through your head 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
“I grew up in the ’50s and the ’60s — there wasn’t even a word for it. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know why,” Jenner continued, explaining the things she used to do as a kid. “Sneaking into my mom’s closet or my sister’s closet … walking around when I was 9 or 10 years old … [with] a scarf over my head so it didn’t look like I was a girl …”
Sports proved to be something of a tool that she used to divert herself and “prove [her] masculinity.”
“I look back on it now and a lot of the reasons why I was so obsessed with wining the games was because of my issues with gender,” she said. “I was also a dyslexic kid so I suffered from low self-esteem, and all of those things would come into play. I was more determined. I was going to outwork the next person, I was going to out-train the next person, and I was going to be smarter. I didn’t know how far I would go.”
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She did take it far — winning gold at the 1976 Olympics. But it didn’t change how she really felt inside. In fact, the morning after her victory, she found herself more scared than ever.
“I stood in front of the mirror the next morning — didn’t have a stitch of clothes on — put the gold medal around my neck and said, ‘Oh my God now what do I do?’ “
Caitlyn told herself she would transition in 1990, when she turned 40 — but after six years of isolating herself in her Malibu home at the time, she broke down.
“You come up with every excuse why you can’t do this,” she explained. “I’d been on hormones for four-and-a-half years. I went through electrolysis and all these things kind of preparing myself for this. And I got there, and I just couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t time — time in society … time for me … I had kids to raise. I had all those things.”
Six months later, Caitlyn met Kris Jenner. The two married in April 1991 — blending their kids from their previous marriages and having two daughters together, Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner, before splitting in March 2013.
Caitlyn, who says she was honest with Kris about who she was from the beginning, credits the Kardashian matriarch for “turning her life around.”
“She got me back into work, she got me back working out, and we did a lot of really really good things,” Caitlyn said. “We ended up having wonderful children. I picked up four more step kids and my family. So really really, she changed my life around.”
“I loved her — she’s a great woman,” Caitlyn added.
Still, she admits that even though her family is “the best thing in the world,” fatherhood was a diversion from herself. “I spent all my time doing it, and I didn’t think about myself,” she said. “I thought about them.”
After “a lifetime of soul-searching,” Caitlyn finally made the decision to transition in 2015 — introducing her true self to the world on the cover of Vanity Fair.
“I was 63 years old, back in Malibu where I had sat in a house for six years not knowing what to do [in the ’80s], thinking, ‘Am I going to sit out here and rot? What am I going to do with my life?’ ” she remembered.
“I had no choice but to do it publicly,” she said. “I was getting destroyed by the tabloids. I’d have eight to 10 paparazzi following me everywhere I went. It was just, horrible. And then I’m on the cover of magazines and they say ‘Wants to be a Woman’ and I’m in some other woman’s body. Horrible. Until [I came out] two years ago. And that changed everything, because then they couldn’t do those things anymore.”
Now, she’s not sure whether it was bravery or survival. “It’s just something I had to do,” Caitlyn said. “It was a lot of conversations with my family and my pastor. I’m a person of faith. … I had to have my conversation with God. And I said, ‘You know what? Maybe this is the reason God put me on this earth? I’ve raised my children to live your life authentically and in God’s eyes — go out to the world and see if you can bring this issue forward. See if you can make a difference.’ “
Weeks after coming out, Caitlyn was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards. “It was a big moment. It was a very important moment not just for me and our society,” she said, explaining she put her speech on a teleprompter to make sure she “got it right.”
Going out in front of her peers with her first public appearance in a dress was “scary as heck” — mainly because she was worried she would trip on her long dress going up the stairs. “I’m not quite used to it like most girls are,” she said.
There was also the fear about what the audience would think — though Caitlyn put that out of her mind. “I could not look at the audience,” she confessed. “But it was very well-received — that was the most important thing.”
Today, Caitlyn calls being transgender her “calling.”
“The reception I have gotten by people has been so different than the normal trans person, and I realize that. We have tremendous problems in our community. The murder rate is through the roof. … We have this terrible suicide rate. My experience has certainly been very different — very positive. I’ve been very pleased because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Live with Kelly airs weekdays (9 a.m. ET) — check your local listings.