Many deemed the costumes offensive and transphobic, but while walking the fairway with Lauer, Jenner told him she was “in on the joke.”
“No, I don’t think it’s offensive at all,” said Jenner, 65. “I know the community does and [the costume maker has] gotten a lot of criticism for doing it. I think it’s great.” Jenner paused to laugh. “To be honest with you, I think it’s great, except they could have a better-looking outfit for ’em, you know? … We could have done my own costume. I mean, that was a serious bustier on the cover of Vanity Fair. At least get some good clothes.
“You gotta enjoy life. Life’s too short. I can’t get upset about that type of stuff.”
Jenner refused to take a hard line stance in favor of marriage equality when she spoke with DeGeneres. Instead, she said that she was initially against it but that she doesn’t “ever want to stand in front of anybody’s happiness.”
“That’s not my job,” Jenner continued. “If that word ‘marriage’ is really, really that important to you, I can go with it.” When DeGeneres asserted that Jenner was still “kind of a little not-on-board,” Jenner clarified: “No, I’m on board. It is going to be pretty much the law of the land. I still feel like I’m okay with that, because I don’t want to stand on somebody’s happiness.”
In conjunction with her thoughts on marriage equality, Jenner’s comments to Lauer more fully illustrate Jenner’s philosophy on LGBT rights and how she sees herself. She’s been very careful to articulate the differences between how she feels personally versus the “official” party line of organizations such as GLAAD, usually referring to such groups as “the community.”
The sharpest departure between Jenner and others may be over the issue of pronouns. When Jenner first came out in her interview with Diane Sawyer, she said that she was still fine with the use of “his” and “him” and the name Bruce because she hadn’t yet introduced herself as Caitlyn, which happened with the publication of her cover story in Vanity Fair.
When Buzz Bissinger was following her for the story, he reported that her transition was so new that sometimes she would still absentmindedly refer to herself by saying, “Hi, Bruce here.”
Because transitioning is such a personal and individual process, everyone is different. Some trans people would prefer never to be called by their “dead name” — the name they had before transitioning. Jenner has demonstrated much more flexibility about such rules. Her own family still refers to her as Bruce, and she continued to observe Father’s Day this year, celebrating by going off-roading with her children.
However, Jenner became a bit more pointed in communicating the distance between herself and “the community” when Lauer told her he was nervous about getting something wrong.
“To be honest with you, I’m the easiest on people,” Jenner said. “Now the community — GLAAD, all the people in the community — ‘Oh my god, you have to get the pronouns right. You have to do this. You have to do that.’ — I’m much more tolerant than that.”
The reverse implication of such a statement is that when trans people insist on being referred to by their preferred pronouns, they’re being intolerant or difficult. This is the line where the personal becomes political on some level: Jenner is a public figure and currently the most recognizable trans person in the world. Whether she wanted to or not, Jenner became an LGBT icon the moment she came out. That status was cemented with the publication of her photo on Vanity Fair.
Still, Jenner has been exposed to the machinations of the media circus that is the Kardashian family long enough to know to be precise with her words, so this was a shrewd move on her part. It smacks of a strategy in which the modus operandi is saying something that will be construed as controversial and then cleaning up the resulting mess with a statement later if necessary.
Despite some objection to Jenner being awarded ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the road she’s traveled in transitioning has been very different from most everyday trans people, something she discussed with Lauer.
“[I’m] very grateful,” Jenner said. “People have been so accepting, so understanding. But I’ve also learned that that is the exception, not the rule.”
That’s why something as seemingly small as pronouns can hold outsize significance to some, and why organizations such as GLAAD have publicized guidelines on how to refer to trans people.
“I’ve never had that,” Jenner said, referring to the economic hardship many trans people, especially trans youth, experience. “I’ve worked very hard in my life. I have no excuses about my life and what I’ve done with my life. Yes, I’ve worked hard; I’ve been able to put a few bucks away. That’s the American dream, okay? But I get it. I have learned so much. It’s devastating to me to see people dying over this issue.”