Given that this is a Kardashian reality show – and I once swore hell would have to be frozen over before I would ever watch one of their shows – the first I Am Cait was actually not bad. Trust me on this, as I sit in hell putting my skates on while shooing penguins away from my slush-puppie, I’m as shocked as you all are.
The show has problems, that’s for sure, but it has heart. I think. Maybe. OK here’s my problem, I want to believe that Caitlyn Jenner is genuine in her wanting to help and represent trans people. I want to believe that she had a hand in this piece talking about trans suicide, but this show is so over the top and dramatic I just don’t know what to think. She certainly seems genuine but reality TV is the opposite of reality, we all know that. Among the smaltz and drama though there is genuine emotion on display here, and some of it hit home with me.
Two weeks ago my parents flew out to visit me; I haven’t seen either of them in years and they’d never met me before. Well, the real me – Marcy. So as Caitlyn Jenner is meeting her mom again for the first time I’d just gone through the exact same thing. Only mine was without the soundtrack, drama and hyperbole, but then I’m not getting paid a fortune to be on ‘reality TV’ either. That section certainly had my tears bubbling up all the same.
While my parents were out here visiting they did really well using the right name and pronouns. When they slipped up they corrected themselves and moved on, everything was OK. In I Am Cait you get a great example of how to do this at about 15:03 into the episode. Caitlyn has brought in Susan P Landon, a gender expert(?), to talk to the Jenner clan. Susan makes a mistake on Jenner’s pronouns, which is pretty easy to do when talking about a transgender person’s past. It’s worth watching for how she handles it; a swift apology, a correction, and Susan moves on. No drama, no over apologising, it really is that simple.
Caitlyn’s mother, Esther, continually says how much she loves ‘Bruce’, how proud she is of ‘him,’ and it’s jarring. Her messages contradict and it shows just how she’s struggling to come to terms with Caitlyn’s transition. At one point she uses a female pronoun to make a point then switches back to male pronouns, removing the idea that she’s somehow confused. She’s not, Esther is choosing to misgender Caitlyn throughout the show and she’s not alone, other Kardashians also misgender Caitlyn too in passing. Pam, Caitlyn’s sister, is trying a lot harder than some but even she says some weird stuff: “I was hoping she’d have the same personality as Bruce – and she does!” As she’s the same person, what on earth were you expecting? This really underlines how uneducated some cisgender people are about transgender people.
Although you could play transgender show bingo while watching this (we’ve had shots of her getting made up, getting dressed, crying, the large wardrobe – BINGO!) the show wasn’t all fluffy nonsense, either. Within the first 10 minutes Caitlyn had spoken twice about the terrible situation that trans people are currently facing in society; about the murder rate, the suicide rate and about how much responsibility she is feeling ‘to do this right.’ Suicide comes up five or six times during the show, I’m surprised and pleased at how forcefully the show underlined the dire situation trans people face.
Caitlyn does genuinely seem concerned about other transgender people, but she is clearly very removed from the everyday reality of being transgender. She has makeup applied to her, she’s dressed by others, coached, insulated by security and massive wealth, and even has a personal assistant on hand constantly. Perhaps Caitlyn Jenner is as concerned as you can be without ever having directly faced any of the hardship of being transgender? I’m just not sure.
In some ways I Am Cait is training wheels for white-cis-hetro-normative social-conservatives, it shows them that transgender people are human, have feelings and deserve respect. The far right won’t change their bigoted views of course, but the middle ground liberals and conservatives of the USA might just be positively influenced by I Am Cait and really that’s not a bad thing.
I’m still not sure what to think about this show, and it might be a while before I can fully process my thoughts on it. I stayed away from the Twitter hashtag during the show and didn’t search for other people’s thoughts on the show due to the rampant and vile transphobia that filled Twitter during the ESPY awards. Maybe I’ll check again during episode two. I’ll be watching the next show wrapped in a blanket, sipping tea, watching the penguins fish while hell blows a blizzard.