SPEN, Colo. — Among the scores of big shot scientists, hospital presidents, and health care officials gathered here over the weekend, no one captured as much attention as Caitlyn Jenner.
She was in town for a health conference, and she mingled easily among attendees, eagerly posing for selfies, hopping on shuttle busses to events, and gliding through Aspen’s high-end restaurants.
Jenner, of course, is the onetime Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon who went on to become a reality TV star. That was all before she went from Bruce to Caitlyn.
Her address to the Spotlight Health conference, part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, was an opportunity for her to tell her story and talk about transgender health care. She also refuted a claim she may be transitioning back to being a man, telling a packed audience: “Girls, I’m on the team and I’m not leaving.’’
In a separate conversation with STAT, Jenner, 66, discussed what’s on her mind when it comes to mental health and the transgender community, among other issues. This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Are there lessons you can share about what you’ve had to go through physically in your transition?
It’s not as much a physical health issue as it is an emotional issue. Physically, we had it down pretty good as far as transitioning, to do it in a healthy way. It’s mostly the emotional scars that need to be healed that had festered for a long, long time.
So probably the bigger issue is the mental side because we have tremendous suicide rates, murder rates — it’s off the charts.
How have doctors and the medical profession dealt with you?
In the last 10 or 20 years, we have come so far on this issue and how to deal with it — the psychiatric side of it. There are so many more doctors now out there who specialize in gender dysphoria. I’m working on a video right now with Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, and possibly Chicago, explaining to doctors what to look for if you’re in rural America and have a trans child. How do you deal with it?
You’ve got to get them while they’re young — around 16 — because that’s where the big suicide rate is. We need just to help explain this to doctors so they can put it on their websites.
Do medical professionals understand trans people?
Specialists do. The medical profession in general doesn’t understand it — and I understand that. They don’t teach it in college. You’ve got to kind of learn it on your own. There are specialists out there like in Philadelphia, like in LA, that are so far ahead of everybody else.
Obviously you could afford top care, but did you have any experience with doctors who just didn’t get it?
I’ve always gone with medical professionals who are very good in this area, who have worked with other trans people. They have a lot of experience. But that’s not the case for most doctors. Maybe this is the first time they’ve seen anybody who’s trans.
Who better understands these issues, Democrats or Republicans?
I’m on the conservative Republican side. I’m not excited with what Obama has done to the economy, to our Constitution, all that kind of stuff. But as far as the transgender community, they’ve actually been very good.
Everybody looks at the Democrats as being better with these issues. But Trump seems to be very much for women. He seems very much behind the LGBT community because of what happened in North Carolina with the bathroom issue. He backed the LGBT community. But in Trump’s case, there’s a lot more unknowns. With Hillary, you pretty much know what you’re gonna get with the LGBT community.
Based on your personal experience, what’s your message out there for the medical world?
That there’s a tremendous amount of information out there. But you have to research and look for it. So for any doctor: Do your homework. These kids are emotionally delicate. In some cases, even if you do everything right, you can still lose them.