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Caitlyn Jenner made her public debut Monday on the cover of Vanity Fair.

A photograph of Jenner, shot by Annie Leibovitz, accompanied an article on Jenner’s transition to a woman after long identifying as a man named Bruce. It immediately became a sensation on social media when the magazine posted the article online.

Jenner, who won an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, has had a long public life — as Bruce Jenner, she had been on the cover of Playgirl, an author, an actor and most recently a part of the Kardashian family’s reality-television empire. Earlier this year, reports emerged that she was undergoing gender-reassignment surgery.

The Vanity Fair article was written by Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of the book “Friday Night Lights,” about a high-school football team in Texas.

“Bruce always had to tell a lie. He was always living that lie. Every day, he always had a secret,” Jenner said in a video posted to YouTube by Vanity Fair. “Caitlyn doesn’t have any secrets.”

The Vanity Fair article represents the latest in a carefully calibrated series of public steps by Jenner and her team, as she moves toward the debut of a new reality show on the E! network that will begin airing at the end of July. The magazine had first thought of running an article on Jenner this past year, a spokeswoman said, but it began taking shape this year when a publicist for Jenner contacted an editor at Vanity Fair.

In April, Jenner spoke to Diane Sawyer about the transition, but she did not reveal her new name. The prime-time special on ABC drew almost 17 million viewers.

Jenner had started to make the transition in the ’80s, the Vanity Fair article reveals, shortly after winning the gold medal at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Even as she traveled the United States, making speeches and starring in commercials, she wore pantyhose and a bra underneath her suit. She stopped, fearful of public reaction, but recently began again when her marriage to Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashians, ended.

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never did anything about it, I would be lying there saying ‘You just blew your entire life,’ ” she told Bissinger.

Bissinger, who describes himself as a cross-dresser with a big-time fetish for women’s leather, wrote that he had spent hundreds of hours with Jenner over three months, and that it was an occasionally surreal experience.

In May, the article says, Jenner began shooting a new reality series for the E! network. The series, E! said in a statement, will cover Jenner’s life as a transgender woman.

The series, consisting of eight one-hour episodes, will also explore what the transition means for the people in her life and how those relationships are affected, while offering a better understanding of the challenges those in the transgender community often face, the network said.

A Twitter account, in the name of Caitlyn Jenner, was started at the same time that the Vanity Fair article was published online. Within minutes the account had more than 150,000 followers.

Jenner’s stepdaughter, Kim Kardashian West, tweeted: “How beautiful! Be happy, be proud, live life YOUR way!”

Khloe Kardashian declared: “We were given this life because you were strong enough to live it! I couldn’t be prouder!!! Caitlyn.” The third Kardashian sister, Kourtney, chimed in: “Freedom! Stunning.”

Jenner daughter Kendall Jenner added “be free now pretty bird.” Her little sister Kylie Jenner took to Instagram with the cover and this sentiment: “My angel on earth!”

Among others to welcome Caitlyn — and her new Twitter handle @Caitlyn_Jenner — were Lady Gaga, who tweeted: “thanku for being a part of all of our lives & using your platform to change people’s minds.”

The White House retweeted Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama’s sentiment: “Nice to meet you, @Caitlyn_Jenner. The brave choice to live as your authentic self is a powerful example to so many.”

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization GLAAD promptly issued tips and terminology for referring to transgender people.