Reporting by University of Pennsylvania students Maria Collins, Maxwell Levy and Daniel Kahana
Caitlyn Jenner has taken a lot of heat these past few months, she told a packed house of students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium.
Just not for what you might think.
After a question from a student, the former Olympic runner Bruce Jenner and Kardashian husband-turned-I Am Cait star Jenner admitted “I have gotten more flak for being a conservative Republican than I have for being trans.”
A student had asked why Jenner wasn’t an ardent Democrat, given the party’s embrace of transgender rights. As journalist and author Buzz Bissinger, who was listed as the evening’s interviewer but was often unable to get a word in edgewise, said, “Just because you change gender doesn’t mean you change your core beliefs.”
Jenner spoke for an hour, with Bissinger’s prompting, on topics ranging from when she knew she was born in the wrong body (“around 9 or 10 years old”), who’d play her in a movie set during her Olympic years (“Farrah Fawcett,” slyly) and one comment from a student thanking her that drew tears.
The student shared his coming-out story, and spoke emotionally about how powerful it was to watch Jenner come out to her mother on I Am Cait. Jenner, tears in her eyes, replied that it would always haunt her that she never came out to her father, who died years ago. She believes her father is looking down on her now and saying, “You know what, you’re doing a good job. You’re making a difference.”
The pair were clearly comfortable on stage together, though Bissinger very dramatically showed frustration over Jenner’s tendency to not answer questions quickly. At one point, as Jenner was regaling the crowd with her life story, Bissinger tried several times to interrupt the tale. “Oh, you’re still here?” Jenner noted, as the audience roared.
Bissinger, who told Jenner’s story for Vanity Fair, and is working on a full-length biography of the star, shot back: “You know Caitlyn; you have this amazing ability to talk continuously without having to take a breath.”
Apparently the interviews for the biography were a similar process. “You know he asked me a question one day and I didn’t end up giving him a proper response,” Jenner said. “He finally got it four days later when he asked me again!”
A student asked Jenner to reply to a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, who’d criticized the reality star and former athlete for not fitting the profile of a role model.
“Well, I’m not a role model!” Jenner replied strongly. “I’m so new to this community I don’t expect to be one.”
Bissinger asked whether Jenner was trying to cash in by publicly embracing the transition process — a claim Jenner strongly rejected.
“I don’t need the money. So I don’t understand that claim,” Jenner said. “No one transitions for financial gain. No way.”
The session was not without its lighter moments.
Near the end of the night, a student asked Jenner what her favorite emoji is — a question that clearly stumped the 66-year-old parent. “An emo- what?” Jenner asked, as the audience laughed and Bissinger tried to explain the word.
“I’m still not sure what you mean. You may think because I have these young kids (Kylie Jenner, the Kardashians), I’m hip and cool,” she continued. “But I’m not. I’m still out of touch.”