In the months before Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new identity on the cover of Vanity Fair, the former Olympic athlete was the target of relentless ridicule.
After it became public in October 2013 that Jenner, then known as Bruce, had separated from wife Kris Jenner, it was hard to miss the constant tabloid gossip about Bruce’s increasingly feminine appearance, especially the paparazzi photos of his longer hair and manicured nails on magazine covers.
Amid the speculation came a wave of mockery that many denounced as transphobic. “I’m just busting your balls while I still can,” Jamie Foxx infamously said of Jenner while at the iHeart Radio Awards. In Touch Weekly went so far as to digitally transpose an image of Jenner over a photo of British actress Stephanie Beacham, next to the headline “Bruce’s Story: My Life as a Woman.”
The very public and ever-present ridicule left Jenner humiliated, according to the Vanity Fair cover story in which she came out Monday as Caitlyn. But Jenner found strength in another victim of public shaming, she tells interviewer Buzz Bissinger in the soon-to-be-released article: former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Two weeks after her facial feminization surgery, Jenner listened to a TED talk by Lewinsky, once pilloried in the press for an affair with former President Bill Clinton, in which she described herself as "patient zero" of the cyberbullying era. The Internet still ran at dial-up speeds when the scandal transformed Lewinsky from a little-known 22-year-old into the most infamous name in politics across the globe. Nearly two decades later, Lewinsky shared the message she learned through the pain: “Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: You can survive it.”
“Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: You can survive it.”'
“The talk had struck a chord with Caitlyn because of the similarities with how she had been dealt with on the Internet,” Bissinger writes. In the Vanity Fair story, Caitlyn sits Bissinger down at her kitchen counter and, drawing from five pages of notes, gives her own version of a TED talk to her interviewer.
“My heart bled for Caitlyn. She was so earnest, trying so hard: you could feel the essential goodness in Caitlyn, and Bruce Jenner before her. Mistakes had been made, ones that caused terrible scars, but as many others had said about him, they emanated from following a path of least resistance as well as from a hatred of confrontation,” Bissenger writes of the presentation, which he estimated lasted about 40 minutes.
Among Jenner's first champions after she made her new identity public was Lewinsky herself, who tweeted: “insisting on a different ending to her story is EXACTLY what @Caitlyn_Jenner is doing. she is helping so many. BRAVA!”
While Jenner faced criticism Monday, her words seemed to draw power from Lewinsky's message. With a new-found strength, Jenner reclaimed her narrative, tweeting, “I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me.”
As hundreds of thousands of people re-tweeted Jenner's message, making a trans woman the fastest person to gain a million followers on the social network (outpacing President Barack Obama with a record four hours and three minutes), it seemed the world agreed.