How I Conquered My Biggest Fear at the ESPYs, by Caitlyn Jenner

Jenner writes that getting glammed-up and accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award "was like every fantasy of my life come true"

Photo: Caitlyn Jenner/Who Say

Caitlyn Jenner says that before she came out as a transgender woman, she had “totally isolated” herself from the trans community. Meeting others like her, she says, has been “an eye-opening experience.” Touched by their harrowing but often inspiring stories of survival, Jenner, 65, has partnered with WhoSay to release a weekly series of editorials called “The Real Me” that shine a light on the issues and people in the LGBT community.

Hi friends. What a week. Let me just start by saying, I’m so happy it’s over! What a relief.

Over the last month, I was so worried about what to wear. Donatella Versace reached out to me and said, “I want to do the dress.” I said, “I am SO in.” We started with designs; they made the dress in Italy. Her head dressmaker came over, and we did two fittings to make sure we got it just absolutely perfect. It was like every fantasy of my life come true.

Getting glamorous for the ESPYs was a big process to go through, but it was amazing and so much fun. I really wanted to feel real comfortable up there (although there was a corset under that dress, so I don’t know how comfortable I was!). I wanted to feel good. I wanted to feel pretty. I wanted to be myself.

I didn’t watch the ESPYs live because I would start to lose it and I had to go out in front of all of those people! So I stayed backstage, got ready and walked in on the commercial break before the award was presented. The video piece before my speech was so well done. I have to thank Rebecca Gitlitz and the team at Maggievision who produced it. She put so much time and energy and traveled all across the United States to do that. I couldn’t let myself get too emotionally invested while watching it during the show because I knew I’d lose it.

Of course I was nervous about tripping as I walked up to the stage! That gown was long and tough. Abby Wambach actually helped me up to make sure I didn’t trip. She did a great job with the introduction and I want to thank her for doing that. She was so excited. I told her beforehand, “Abby, we have to have this picture of the two of us up there on stage – you in a tux and me in a Versace gown. THAT is the picture of the ESPYs right there.” When I came up on stage, we stood there, held hands, and took a little bow. It was fun. It kind of lightened things up a bit.

Reading my speech off of the teleprompter was a whole other story. As I was a dyslexic kid, my biggest fear in life was to go in front of the class and read because I just wasn’t very good at it – and that stays with you through your whole life. That’s why all of my speaking engagements through the years have been always off-the-cuff. I’m better off getting up there knowing what I’m going to say and doing it. But at the ESPYs, I really had to stick to the prompter because I only had a certain number of minutes to make it right, to get my points across. I practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced to make sure I’d nail it.

There’s a great line that I heard a long time ago: “Success is not measured by heights attained but by obstacles overcome.” For me to go out in front of a group like that and to do the whole thing off of the teleprompter was huge.

I did improvise a couple of little pieces in there. The piece on my mom was improvised, and so was the little joke I had in the beginning. I had to do that joke. They weren’t sure that it was going to work, but I knew that I had to do it for me, just to get out of the mind-set I would be in after that emotional video.

RELATED VIDEO: Caitlyn Jenner Calls Her New Life ‘Eye-Opening, Inspiring, but Also Frightening’ in ESPYs Arthur Ashe Courage Award Acceptance

Everybody was there supporting me and helping me get through this, but when I got up on stage and started the presentation, I tried to separate myself from where I was and concentrate on the prompter. I never really saw anybody until the point with Diane Sawyer. That was tough because she has been so wonderful in this whole process. It wasn’t just an interview that we did. It changed my life. It started this whole process on such a positive note. I owe so much to her.

The toughest part in the speech was my kids. It was hard to look over there and see all of my children. As I said in the speech, I don’t want to hurt anybody. I just want to be myself. I barely got through that.

I was able to get off the stage without tripping and I went upstairs and had a party. All of my family and friends – oh, it was such a relief because it was over. I could relax at the party. It was just a wonderful moment.

I left the festivities early so that I could actually watch the ESPYs because it’s three hours delayed here in California. It was a little difficult for me to watch myself. While I felt like I looked great and that the gown looked fabulous, I still have a voice issue. It’s not quite right compared to my feminine appearance. That bothers me a little bit. However, I hope that people don’t listen to the pitch of my voice, but listen to what I have to say. That’s important to me.

There is so much misunderstanding of this community that I’m in. People don’t understand trans issues or gender identity issues. Now I’m in a position to try to explain it to people, to try to get them to understand that these are serious issues that affect a lot of people. That’s what my mission has been from the beginning, and I hope that I achieved that at the ESPYs. What an honor.

Before I leave you this week, I’d like to thank the ESPYs and the show’s executive producer, Maura Mandt. Maura was so behind this, even with the little bit of the controversies. She knew it was the right thing to do. Also, I want to thank my dear friend and publicist, Alan Nierob, who has been instrumental in everything you’ve seen from me this year.

Lastly, thank all of you for your support. Getting up there on stage in front of the whole world was no easy feat, but I so appreciate your encouragement and love. We’re changing hearts and minds one at a time.

For more information on the transgender movement, see a list of resources at

Related Articles