Ever since she won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, Caitlyn Jenner’s life has unfolded in the public eye. After retiring from her sporting career, for example, the former athlete ultimately moved into TV. And, of course, Jenner would go on to become a household name thanks to her appearances in the high-profile reality TV series, Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Then, in 2015 Jenner made headlines in all kinds of media when she announced that she is a transgender woman. But times have changed, and of late the star has shied away from the spotlight for arguably surprising reasons.
Born in October 1949, Jenner first rose to fame at the Montreal Olympic Games. While participating at the games, the native of Westchester County, New York, won the decathlon. The Olympic event consists of ten separate track-and-field disciplines, and therefore the winner is unofficially regarded as the best all-round athlete in the world. In 1976, then, this honor was bestowed on a person the public knew as Bruce. But it would be almost 40 years after that when Jenner would reveal her true identity.
Indeed, in April 2015 Jenner revealed to Diane Sawyer in a television interview on 20/20 that she was actually transgender. The TV personality proudly declared, “For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman.” At the time, Jenner was starring on Keeping Up With the Kardashians with then-wife Kris, their children – Kendall and Kylie – and stepchildren – Kourtney, Kim, Khloé and Rob Kardashian. And on two dedicated episodes of the show broadcast in May that year, Jenner prepared all members of the family as to the public and private implications of her transition.
Then, in September 2015 the one-time decathlete’s name officially became Caitlyn Marie Jenner, while legally her gender was now female. And the former gold-medal hero had become something of a heroine to the LGBTQ community. Accolades for her efforts to shed light on transgender issues poured in from all sections of society, however. At the end of 2015, for instance, Jenner made Time magazine’s shortlist for Person of the Year and Glamour’s ranking of its 25 Women of the Year.
However, the honors for Jenner didn’t end there. In 2015 the star was also recognized as Social Media Queen at the Teen Choice Awards – largely thanks to her phenomenal Twitter presence. And earlier in 2015, Jenner had starred in her own reality series, I Am Cait, on the small screen. Cameras followed her as she transitioned and adjusted to her new life. The premiere attracted 2.7 million viewers, and the show later received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program.
Nevertheless, not all of the noise surrounding Jenner at this time was positive – and much of it may have eventually led to her disappearance from the public eye. For starters, the reality star made waves within some sections of the LGBTQ community for her opinions on same-sex marriage. The controversial comments came on a September 2015 episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
During filming, Jenner turned to host DeGeneres and explained, “I’m older than most people in the audience. And I kind of like tradition, you know. And [for me, marriage has] always been [between] a man and a woman.” However, she then seemed to backtrack somewhat by declaring, “If that word ‘marriage’ is really, really that important to you, I can go with it.”
But that was just the beginning of Jenner’s political controversies. In an online interview with The Advocate in March 2016, Jenner admitted that she “liked” Republican senator Ted Cruz. The right-wing politician had previously disparagingly described the right of transgender children to use bathrooms that matched their gender identities as “politically correct lunacy.”
In that same month, Jenner stoked the fire further by appearing to support the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. On an episode of her show, I Am Cait, she voiced the opinion, “I think [Trump] would be very good for women’s issues.”
And with that declaration, Jenner “eroded a lot of the enthusiasm that the LGBT community at large had for her as she was coming out,” according to PR executive Danielle Moodie-Mills. The LGBT activist spoke to entertainment website The Wrap, saying, “I find it very disappointing that there hasn’t been a cultural shift in [Jenner’s] understanding of the [LGBT] movement.”
But it wasn’t just members of the LGBTQ community who became disillusioned and angry with the TV personality’s pronouncements. Some members of Jenner’s own family allegedly also felt frustrated by statements she made following her transition. And in April 2017 Jenner published a memoir, The Secrets of My Life, that reportedly led her former spouse and stepchildren to draw lines in the sand.
In the book, Jenner claimed that ex-wife Kris had known all along about her husband’s gender identity. This led Kim Kardashian West, who had previously supported Jenner’s public transition, to call her stepfather a “liar” and “not a good person.” Allegedly, Kim subsequently cut off her relationship with Jenner; Kris also reportedly stopped speaking to her former partner.
Nevertheless, it appeared that the pain was shared by both sides of the divide. In November 2017 Jenner addressed The Cambridge Union, a prestigious debating society based in the U.K. university city. “It’s been a little tough over the last couple of years,” she reportedly said. “To be honest, I don’t talk to [the Kardashians] anymore. They don’t want me in their lives, [and] they bashed me pretty badly. It’s devastating when your kids do that. It really hurt.”
Then, not long after the Jenner-Kardashian family’s discord came to light, dramatic news of another split emerged. In September 2017 it was announced that Jenner would no longer be seen on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And despite being on board for the hit TV vehicle from its start in 2007, Jenner was also absent from its ten-year anniversary edition.
But this development apparently did not come as a great shock to some media watchers. Insider’s Jethro Nededog hypothesized, for example, “As Kris is one of the executive producers of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is there any surprise that Caitlyn isn’t returning?”
However, this meant that Jenner no longer enjoyed any reality TV exposure, as her own show had ended the year before. Despite a strong opening ratings performance, I Am Cait failed to keep viewers. In fact, one episode of the show had only 480,000 people watching – down quite a bit from the 2.7 million who had caught the series debut.
But behind the scenes, away from all the drama in her public life, Jenner soon faced a personal crisis. In January 2018 rumors began to swirl that the former Olympian was facing replacement knee surgery. However, she later took to Instagram to dispel that claim – and disclose the real reason that she was seeking medical treatment.
Jenner wrote on the social media site, “I recently had to get some sun damage removed from my nose.” It turned out, in fact, that the star had developed skin cancer after long-term exposure to the sun. Perhaps that was why she added, “PSA – always wear your sunblock!” to her post.
But even though political controversy, family feuding and health scares have banded together to pushed Jenner out of the spotlight, the pause may just be a temporary one. The trans advocate agreed to speak in the U.K. House of Commons in May 2018 to deliver a keynote speech on diversity to members of the British Parliament.
And despite the backlash Jenner had previously received, the event’s organizers, U.K. television network Channel 4, lauded the star. Specifically, the broadcaster praised the TV personality for bringing her story – and an international conversation – to the forefront. A Channel 4 spokesperson said, “Caitlyn Jenner is one of the most high-profile transgender people in the world. And her transition brought transgender issues into the mainstream, helping to stimulate debate and increase awareness.”