Why Caitlyn Jenner Stopped Talking About Politics
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because change is maybe the best kind of constant.
By Eugene S. Robinson
What’s the most famous transgender woman in the world talking about? Outside of feuding with Joe Rogan, starting her own YouTube deal and floating rumors of a return to reality TV? Just about everything. So here are some of the best bits from her longer conversation — you can listen in full here — with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on The Carlos Watson Show.
The Impact of Dyslexia
Carlos Watson: Where did you grow up originally?
Caitlyn Jenner: I originally grew up in New York and Connecticut, born just North of New York City. Then I went through my junior year of high school in Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow High School, Westchester County and then moved to Connecticut for two years. And then off to college in a very small town in Iowa, a town of 900 people in a school of about a little over 1,000 students called Graceland College. And then as soon as I graduated, hopped in my ’63 VW Bug and drove to California.
I needed a place to train. I made it on my first Olympic team in 1972 while I was a senior at Graceland. And I made the commitment I was going to go four more years. And so as soon as I graduated that year, I had my cap and gown on and got my diploma, walked down the stairs right to the parking lot. Threw my cap and gown in the back, everything I owned in the back of the ’63 VW Bug, fired that baby up and headed for California.
CW: Were you a natural athlete growing up? Were you always better than the other kids?
CJ: No. Not even close. What got me started was in fifth grade, I was a dyslexic kid. Obviously I had identity issues, gender issues, but back then in the ’50s, ’60s, even ’70s, you didn’t talk about these things. You kept your mouth shut. But I was dealing with all these issues. Being a dyslexic kid, I was always in the slower classes and this and that. And then in fifth grade, in a gym class, like any other gym class, the coach says, “OK, this is what we’re going to do today.”
We go out to the parking lot. And he set up all these cones around the parking lot and you had to run around the cones and come back and he was going to time you. And he was going to time every kid in school.
So my turn, I’m all excited. OK, here we go. Boom, wound up having the fastest time in the whole school. And it was really the first time I had ever really done anything at school because I wasn’t doing it in the classroom. And everybody is patting you on your back. And when you’re a kid in fifth grade, you need a pat on your back. …
I had no inspirations as a young person — that you’re going to go win the Olympic Games — or any of that. That was a million miles away. Never me. That happens to everybody else. But found the decathlon in 1970 when I was 20, did my first one after a pole vaulter, high jumper, hurdler, stuff like that. I found the decathlon and it had my name on it. It had everything in sports I liked and I said, “You know, I’m going to quit everything else I’m doing.” Because I played football, played college basketball, did all those things.
But I wasn’t really the natural athlete. I was a working athlete. So the way I kind of look at it: I out-trained them. And I was smarter than them: I did the right things in training and I was very, very competitive. When I got into competition, I was able to keep my head clear and I always came up with big performances in big meets. And what’s interesting, and I think it’s interesting to your listeners, is I look back on that time in my life and it’s so far away from me today, or even me after the Games.
I looked back and I said, “Why did I do that?” Why was I so obsessed? Worked so hard, was so single-minded. Why did I do that? And you look back on your life, and because growing up, here I was dyslexic. Obviously, I had identity issues. I had all these things going through my head. Everybody has got stuff in their life. Everybody has got things they have to overcome. …
But because of the issues that I had in my life, when sports came around, I needed it more than the next person. And as I went through my career, it was almost the exact same way. There was always this little dyslexic kid, this little gender dysphoric kid in the back of your head who has got to prove himself, who has got to beat the other guy because it’s more important to me. And I look at it and I think, if I had not had all those issues, I probably never would have done what I did. And so I look at all these issues as really a positive. And it made me who I am today.
The Value of Having Family Values
CW: What kind of parent are you? Or were you?
CJ: I think the most important thing for both mother and father is to lead by example of just the type of person you are. The way you treat other people, what your work ethic is, you get up every morning, you go to work, you’re hardworking, you’re smart in what you try to do. You have great family values. You’re good to other people. They see that. And if they grow up in that environment, with strong parents and hardworking parents and loving parents, that’ll help them out in life, and that’s what they’ll see. That’s what they wind up turning out to be.
I’ve been very blessed. All my kids are doing very well, all very entrepreneurial. I mean, even the kids that you don’t see. I know we have the Kardashian side and Kendall and Kylie and everything, but even the other kids on the other side, who are not really in the public eye that much, yeah, they’re all doing really well. I’m very, very proud of all of them.
CW: Why do you think your kids are doing well? Frankly, the fact that you’re saying all 10 are doing well, that’s really rare. I know lots of parents who they’d be happy if two or three kids were doing well.
CJ: Your kids are your number one priority. Be a loving parent. Give good advice. Set a good example from yourself and the way you conduct your life. But yeah, I mean, we see the Kardashian side, the four kids there. We see Kendall and Kylie. We see all that. But the ones that you don’t see, my son Brandon is an extraordinarily accomplished musician, producer, singer. He’s extraordinarily talented. But I always like telling the story about my oldest son, number one, first one, Burt, who nobody really hears about.
Burt was struggling, I mean bad. When he was just out of high school, he was not going to college. He was going to do life on his own, and it got so bad literally he was living in his car. I think he was in Brentwood, and he saw some people walking dogs. He loves dogs, He goes, “Maybe I could do that. I’m just sleeping in my car. Let’s go walk some dogs.”
So he started walking dogs, putting feelers out and getting people. The next thing you know, he had five dogs, 10 dogs, 20 dogs every day he’s walking, and he goes, “Oh my God. This is a business. I’m making money at it on my own time, exactly the way I want to do it.”
So he started thinking a little bit more entrepreneurial, and he goes, “What if I…?” and he found this house with a pretty good-size backyard, and he says, “What if I … start boarding dogs there? I’ve got all these contacts.” So he leases this small house, and he starts putting dogs in there, doggy daycare kind of stuff. Next thing you know, he’s got five dogs, 10 dogs, 20 dogs, 30 dogs, 40, 45 dogs a day in his backyard. Doing OK.
He goes, “Well, maybe I should take this one step further.” So in Santa Monica, he leased this big building and did all the work inside to make it a dog center and basically opened up West LA Dogs. I mean, he started off with nothing, and now he got up to 245 dogs a day, seven days a week, 365 days out of the year. He’s got a great home. He’s got property up in Tahoe. He’s got all his toys.
Yeah, Burt’s doing really, really well and really been smart about it. He kind of self-taught himself the business world. Just got another building across the street so he can start expanding even more. Yeah, he’s the story of the family you don’t see, but I’ve just been so proud of him throughout the years and how entrepreneurial he’s been, and never asked for a dime, never anything. Burt’s doing it on his own. Yeah, he’s done a phenomenal job.
CW: I love hearing that story. I especially love hearing it because he found something that brought him joy, and it’s almost kind of a natural, organic, which feels like the most beautiful kind.
CJ: Yeah. A great definition of success is when you can’t tell the difference between work and play.
CW: It’s interesting and maybe a little sad for me to hear you say that you’ve gone from feeling like you could make a big difference to feeling like maybe you can’t and you’ve got to be more muted and more quiet. Why is that? What’s happened that’s made you maybe less optimistic about the impact you could have?
CJ: Well, a year ago, to live in my shoes for a day? Yeah. The community can be very, very, very difficult. I hate talking about political stuff … It’s certainly the environment that we’re living in right now.
But just a brief overlay: I was hammered because I’ve always been more on the Republican side than I have the Democrat side. I’m very fiscally conservative. I want a strong economy. I want low taxes. I want the government out of my business, but socially I’m much more progressive.
I want a strong economy so we can take care of our people, and we need to take care of our people. That’s always where I’ve come from. But just the political environment over the last three and a half years … sometimes it just drives you nuts. So for the last year, I honestly haven’t talked politics. I don’t want to talk politics. I certainly follow it very closely, but I’ve kind of just, “Let’s stay out of this thing.” It’s a no-win situation. And so that’s pretty much the way politically I’ve done it for the community.
Besides giving away a lot of money and helping out what I can do? No matter how much a lot of these organizations, no matter how much money you give them, they always need more. I totally understand that. And so it’s been a little bit frustrating. It’s not easy to raise money for this community, but we’re just trying to do our best.
That’s about all we can do right now. Honestly, right now during the pandemic, it’s almost impossible. Nobody’s thinking about this. Nobody’s thinking about trans people and their problems. Everybody’s kind of got their own problems. They want to keep their job, and so we’re kind of just laying low right now.
CW: Interesting, so you think it’s all the Trump stuff that has made it noisy and hard for you to have the same kind of impact maybe you wanted to have in the trans community?
CJ: Not really, because I came out when Obama was in there. I’m not blaming anything on any administration or anything politically, I’m just saying the environment we live in.
CW: Oh, no, no. Sorry. I meant because you supported Trump. Is it because you came out in support of Trump that you think that caused friction and made it hard for you to be a key player in the community?
CJ: First of all, I didn’t support Trump. I’ve always been on the Republican side and he was our candidate. So what are you going to do? OK. We were kind of handed him. At first I was probably a lot more optimistic on what could be done.
Unfortunately as time goes on and the years go by and everything, it became very difficult. And just the environment that we live in today, politically in the media and this and that, it’s like, “Hey, I’m out of this thing.”
I even had people talking to me about running for the Senate or Congress and all these people that said, “You’ve got to come up and do this.” And I thought, “You know what? I think I can do a better job being on the outside, trying to influence other people than just being one vote in Congress or in the Senate or whatever it may be.” Yeah. It’s a tough environment, and you see it all the time. I don’t need that in my life.
CW: Caitlin, what do you think would have happened if you had not come out?
CJ: Near the end, one incident in particular, I was thinking of suicide. I can see how people can get to that point. And the next day after thinking that, I was going for a walk through this field and said, “My God, that was so stupid. Why would you silence your voice?” You don’t know what’s going to happen. But if you’re smart, maybe you can make a difference. Maybe you’re going to have this loud voice that can make a difference. And that’s worth staying around for, even if it doesn’t work out and people hate your guts for doing it.
So, yeah, that was kind of that, and talking to my pastor about faith, were kind of the last hurdles I had to get over.