When Bruce Jenner came out as a transgender woman in a splashy Diane Sawyer interview back in April, he postponed requesting female pronouns or announcing a new chosen name, instead indicating that those shifts in reference would come later with the introduction of his new female identity. At that point, it appeared that we’d be meeting her in July, when a special docu-series on Jenner’s transition will air on the E! network. But the release on Monday of the July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair signals that the wait is already over: With the help of gorgeous photography by Annie Leibovitz and an exclusive profile by Buzz Bissinger, Caitlyn Jenner has made her grand debut.*
While the photos show Jenner at the height of feminine glamour, Bissinger’s story goes beyond the basic narrative presented in the Sawyer interview to detail the decades of struggle it took for Caitlyn to finally come into existence. “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.’ ” Jenner told the reporter. “ ‘You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”
Recounting her life around the height of her Olympic fame in the 1970s, Jenner reveals that her long hair at the time was a small attempt to align her felt gender identity with her self-presentation, as was the wearing of traditionally feminine undergarments under masculine clothes. Indeed, Bissinger focuses heavily on the dissonance (sometimes too much on his own personal experience of it) between the image of Jenner as “one of the most iconic male athletes,” a paragon of American masculinity, and her actual female identity, writing, “Jenner was actually one of the great actors of our time.” While this focus feels more-or-less true to Jenner’s experience, the profile may strike some readers as overly concerned with details like Jenner’s “fine-looking breasts” and an accounting of the cosmetic procedures she’s undergone. That said, the tone is largely respectful and compassionate.
Beyond Jenner’s immediate transition, much of the article is spent unpacking Jenner’s relationship with the non-Kardashian side of her family. Due to fears that “the whole narrative will devolve into spectacle and shenanigans intercut with a little dash of social cause,” as Bissinger writes, the children from her first two marriages have apparently refused repeated entreaties to participate in the upcoming reality show, even as they support their father’s personal journey. To Bissinger’s credit, the profile does sound a note of skepticism about how the reality series and associated marketing may play out, given that it is being managed by the same producers and network as the Kardashian shows. But Jenner insists it will address “the appalling conditions in which many transgender women and men live.”
If that’s the case, the show has the potential to do a great deal of good, and Caitlyn Jenner may be rightly hailed as a force for transgender equality. (The piece reveals that she has already been declared the winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, an ESPYs honor previously claimed by Muhmmad Ali.) But activism aside, her own achievement of self-actualization and peace is deserving of celebration as well. “Bruce always had to tell a lie, he was always living that lie, every day he always had a secret, from morning to night,” Jenner said in a video interview on Vanity Fair’s website. “Caitlyn doesn’t have any secrets.”
*Correction, June 1, 2015: This post originally misspelled photographer Annie Leibovitz’ last name.