Caitlyn Jenner biographer on transitioning, cross-dressing and being different in America

Exclusive: Buzz Bissinger tells The Independent about Ms Jenner's struggle with pain and fear

Earlier this year, it was revealed Caitlyn Jenner was working on a "tell-all memoir", and co-operating with Buzz Bissinger, the veteran journalist and author of Friday Night Lights. It was he who revealed Ms Jenner's transition in a lengthy article last summer in Vanity Fair. These are the edited highlights of an interview with Mr Bissinger, who promises there is "hell of a story" still to tell.

Rapport 

I became acquainted with Caitlyn when I was doing the Vanity Fair story. I think it was late February. That’s when I first met her she was living in a rented house in Malibu. I helped her move the following day. So she put me to work straight away. And we hit it off. I spent hundreds of hours with her when I was doing the Vanity Fair piece, either interviewing her, or hanging around and try and get to know her. The rapport was good. She respected the story, which was critical in terms of her relationships on the Jenner side. She mentioned the idea of a book, I’d say in the late summer. She asked if I was interested. I was went back and forth, because these are tricky books. I’ve done them before. It’s her book, I’m there to help her write it, help her say things, and be truthful, say things than need to be addressed. But it’s her book, and and as a serious journalist you think about that. I’ve done them before with mixed results. I did one with Lebron James.

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Caitlyn Jenner has become one of the most visible trans women in the world

Pain and struggle

I’m not a ghost writer. It’s up to them as to whether they want to put my name on. I don’t really care. People are going to buy the book because of Caitlyn. She has a real story to tell that has not been told, particularly [about] the pain and struggle. It’s an incredible story. And let’s face it, a bizarre story. If you could pick anyone in the world who would be the least likely to transition into a women it would have been Bruce Jenner. You know, I was there in 1976 when Bruce won the Olympics, and he instantly became a huge American hero. So, this is an opportunity for me to do that, so I decided to sign on and we’re been working very hard on it since December. We probably already have about 600 pages of transcripts.

Fraud

I think there is more [to tell], in getting the totality of the journey. I wrote this definitive magazine piece which was the only print interview she did, but I feel there is a lot more to say. I don’t think that people understand - in her case and in the case of virtually all people who want to transition - just how difficult it is; how much lying there is, how much struggle there is. Just how much you hide. You literally end up living day every as a fraud. And this was impossible because of Bruce. Once she won the Olympics it became impossible for her. She’s an American hero. She represented everything we wanted to believe in in. I know because I was there. She was backed into a corner.

Caitlyn Jenner on Vanity Fair

Revelations

I hope there are [some scoops], but one person’s scoop is another person’s “there’s no scoop there”. There is a lot of new information and I think that a lot of it will be of great interest to readers.

Vanity Fair

Each case is its own. I can only speak for Caitlyn and Caitlyn has said this many times ‘this is my story. This is not a story that is reflective of the transgender community in many respects'. Caitlyn is the first to say ‘look, I‘m white, I’m privileged, I have money, I’m lucky’. She was proud, she was proud of the way she looked. She wanted to look sexual and sexy. That was her prerogative. It took a lot of boldness. She looked fantastic. Look, there are some women who like to look great, there are some men who love to look great. There are some men who don’t give a shit and some women who don’t give a shit. That’s important to Caitlyn. It was Vanity Fair, which is a glamorous magazine. She was wanted to look glamorous. This was her introduction to the world. Trust me, if she looked dowdy or simple, in her case there would have been nothing but ridicule from the tabloids and the paparazzi. There was a lot on the line for her, and she was proud of the way she looked. She pulled it off

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Bruce Jenner at the 1976 Olympics

Suicide 

She said the reaction to the article was phenomenal and I’ve seen it myself. Not just through social media, to letters she got of inspiration, letters saying ‘you’ve helped make a difficult decision in my life and I’m a lot happier for it. I was thinking about suicide before I saw what you did and it’s  been a great inspiration’. We’re all reporters and we all dwell on the negative. But I think the negative was quite slight.

Cross-dressing

I think most definitely [it helped create a rapport]. She was transitioning from a man into a woman. That’s a very very big thing to do. Cross-dressing is a very different activity. For me I get a sexual charge from cross-dressing. For transitioning men and women, sex has nothing to do with the reasons. You want to change sex. For me it is sexual. But the common denominator is how difficult it is to be different, the fear of certain members of society reacting in a negative way and she was an inspiration to me to speak out and be proud, and not be scared by what people say. Most definitely. At the end of the day, the most important thing in your life is to be your authentic self and she has helped me tremendously. I did see parallels and it helped with us in our rapport.

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Buzz Bissinger said Ms Jenner had an important and powerful story to tell

Immersion journalism

I like to immerse myself as much as I can in the subject mater. I like to be there as things are unfolding. It’s taking a microscope or telescope to a place, to a town, to an event and just reporting the s**t out of it. That is what I like to do. It makes for the best story. It makes for the most powerful and resonant journalism. 

[The personal cost] is not just the time on the road, it’s the fear that I’ve a spent lot of time, I’ve spent a year-a-half in Texas, I’ve ended up quitting my job, is there really a story there or I am going to sit down at my computer and realise there is not a lot to say there, or it isn’t going to sell well? Because every author cares about these things. There’s writers’ block. My second book, which was about urban America, took five-and-half years. There’s a lot of fear there. It was a not a big seller, especially compared to Friday Night Lights, which was my first book. You wonder if you’ve had your best days at a young age, relatively. You sweat tears of blood, and relationships, and no-one cares about it. As you get older that makes for a difference .You’ve been working on your own forever, it’s very isolating, and then you dump it out into the world and you find that no-one really cares and none one bothers. I’ve had great success with some books, and less success with others.

Selfish  

The great thing about Caitlyn, and I sometimes forget this, is that Bruce won the decathlon by training for eight years every day, so now she is Caitlyn she is very good and giving in terms of time. She gets it. A lot of these book involving high profile people – they don’t get it. They don’t really want to do. Their agent has told them to do it, or someone has told them to do it. They don’t really care about it. She cares about it, intensely. But you know, this is a book. The job of organising, structuring it, making it interesting and dramatic without falsifying it - that falls on me. It’s also a book that I think requires not simply talking to her but talking to the fifty or sixty or one hundred people who have come into touch with her during her life. If think they can be included, with their anecdotes. It should not simply have Caitlyn’s voice, because it holds her accountable. Her life has not been seamless. She has a contentious relationship with the Jenner kids, some of the Kardashians, some of the years with Kris (her ex-wife) were very very difficult, and she’d be the first to say that at certain moments in life, she has acted in a very distant, selfish manner. And none of that is going to be left out.

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Bissinger's 1990 book was a best-seller

Bring different

We live in a capitalistic world. We all have self interest. You could argue that Donald Trump is running for president simply to make his brand more visible. Or the Clintons are running to advance their interests. She did speeches for Goldman Sachs for $250,000 dollars. I can guarantee you that Caitlyn’s motivation for transitioning was not to make money. Is she getting reward from it? Yes. And I would say that virtually every celebrity does the same. But this is not book of gossip. She decided to hire a serious journalist and I think this will be a serious book. How many copies will it sell? Hell, I don’t know. I can’t even worry. I think Caitlyn is doing a book that is serious, dramatic, and tells her story and tells the difficulties that not only transgender men and women face, but everyone faces who is different, and I identify with that.

Being different in America is really f**king hard. It is a very judgmental society. The scariest thing about Donald Trump in a sense is not Donald Trump, because I find him kind of amusing in some bizarre way. It’s the 35 per cent who support him. Who hate Mexicans, and hate Muslims…I think his supporters also hates Jews, I think they hate blacks, that is a big swathe of this country. And so telling a story about what it’s like to be different, I think it’s a hell of a story. And I do identify with that.

Jenner on Trump

Was it the smartest thing to say? Probably not. The thing about Caitlyn is you have to remember that because you transition it doesn’t mean your core beliefs change. Caitlyn grew up in a very sheltered environment, a very conservative environment in the 1950s. Look, personally I hope her political views evolve. They certainly they aren’t are the same political views I have. But you know she could have lied, she could have said I’m support Hillary, I’m supporting Bernie Sanders and she has not. She’s told the truth. And she tells the truth, and she tells the truth no matter what the reaction is and I do admire that.  She is willing to take the hit for it. 

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