Let’s talk about Caitlyn Jenner.
Source: Vanity Fair
I’m going to start this article with the proviso that I absolutely fucking hate reality TV.
I do not want to waste my time watching a bunch of vapid individuals talk about themselves and their terrible life decisions in staged dramatic situations.
There is absolutely nothing to be learned or appreciated from these shows except the knowledge that the world chooses to reward dancing idiots with money, and a reminder that maybe I could have survived in this life had I chosen to live with half a brain as opposed to putting myself in a lifetime of debt in order to receive higher education.
(Note: Ru Paul's Drag Race is the exception to the above)
In addition to being a fierce opponent of reality TV, I should also note that I am not a trans woman. I have no personal experience of what it’s like to be a trans person in this world. My knowledge of trans issues has been developing through a lot of reading and by having patient friends, but I’m certainly not a qualified academic when it comes to gender dysphoria.
As such, I have absolutely no intention of assessing I Am Cait from the perspective of what it means to trans individuals or the trans community. That right doesn't rest with me.
Rather, I'd like to take a look at what it means for the LGBTQIA+ community, but particularly the LGB's among us.
I'm probably playing a risky game with this. Empathy is the only tool at my disposal here, so if I happen to fuck up royally in the remainder of this piece, I respectfully ask that our trans customers speak out in the comments section here, on Bobo Academy's Twitter, my own, or on our Facebook page. I'm not opposed to being publicly schooled if this lands in the realm of cissplaining. All dialogue is good dialogue.
Okay, so on to the topic at hand:
For those you who have been living under a rock, I Am Cait is an eight-part documentary following Caitlyn Jenner in the period immediately following her transition from Bruce Jenner and her very public reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair:
Source: Vanity Fair
Jenner is a famous American decathlete whom no one would have remembered had she not become part of the reality juggernaut Keeping Up with the Kardashians; manufactured by her ex-wife Kris, and Ryan Seacrest back in 2007.
Due to her notoriety as a member of the Kardashian clan, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition was anything but a private affair. Her involvement in the processed fame machine of the Kardashians resulted in her being shoved unceremoniously into the spotlight as a new advocate for the trans community, whether she wanted to become one or not - and whether they wanted her or not.
When the Vanity Fair cover hit, alongside the announcement of an upcoming reality show, I groaned, rolled my eyes, and felt a bit sorry for the trans community as this privileged white woman stormed into the spotlight and suddenly became some kind of self-anointed leader after seemingly clicking her fingers to become a very attractive 65-year-old overnight.
Whether or not that was my right is another story, but anything tainted with the Kardashian brush has never been my cup of tea. Turning this issue into another reality TV show seemed tacky. It seemed like another money making ploy; yet another huge publicity stunt to ensure the Kardashians would remain on the front page of every gossip rag, and now legitimate publication, for at least another year.
In response, I did what any intelligent, self-righteous person would do. Rather than judge the source material based on its own merits, I decided to lump it in with the rest of the trash produced by Kardashian clan and avoid it all together. I mean, what kind of people support their daughters in getting unnecessary plastic surgery and allow their 17-year-old (now 18-year-old) to date dickheads who spout lyrics like:
I’m at the bank, I’m penetratin’
I’m puttin’ in, I’m penetratin’
I’m gettin’ big, I’m stimulated
I touched the bitch, she disintegrated
And the ever charming…
They say she young, I should’ve waited
She a big girl, dog, when she stimulated
Okay, not entirely Kris and Caitlyn's fault, Kylie is her own woman. But still. Ew.
My opinionated, self-righteous moral high ground regarding I Am Cait lasted all of a month, however.
Someone, who shall remain nameless, breezed past my usual bitchiness expertly as always and schooled me by politely noting that if I’m going to write on LGBTQIA+ issues I should probably pay attention to all mediums.
Someone never fails to be annoyingly right.
I’m putting this in print, to prove that I do listen occasionally, and to admit that assumptions are indeed the mother of all fuck-ups.
Yes, dear. I was wrong.
As it turns out, I Am Cait is a fairly honest attempt at doing some good in this world...whilst staying in huge coastal Malibu homes with a full team of stylists and access to private jets...but it is honest.
Rather than relying solely on her famous family, Caitlyn takes us on a journey through the period following her transition and coming out with a surprising amount of awareness that she has indeed fallen into a role that she may not be hundred percent equipped to deal with, given her socioeconomic and celebrity status.
Rather than running out to spout new dialogue in the name of the trans community, she carefully consults a group of frank, amazing trans women who don't hesitate in schooling her in what it truly means to be trans outside of the bubble of millions of reality TV dollars and Vanity Fair covers.
If you haven't seen the show yet, here are a few of the considerable number of women who feature in the show:
Jenny Boylan, academic, political activist and national co-chair of GLAAD transitioned in 2000. Still married to her wife of 27 years give or take, Jenny is the frank, no-nonsense contributor of the show. Her occasional bouts of academic snobbery warm my heart.
Chandi Moore is a community health educator and community activist. She's sassy as fuck and doesn't bother mincing words when schooling Caitlyn Jenner on her naivety when it comes to issues facing the entire trans community.
Source: The Chicago Reader
Jen Richards is a writer, actress and musician. She's appeared in videos for BuzzFeed and has co-written the web series Her Story which focuses on the dating lives of trans & queer women.
Candis Cayne is an American actress and performance artist. She was the first transgender woman to hold a recurring role in a prime time series when she played Carmelita on ABC's Dirty Sex Money. Candis has become Caitlyn's main confidante and friend. She has also been floated as ratings bait via creative editing which has positioned her as a potential love interest for Caitlyn. Candis has only dated heterosexual men in the past.
Drian Juarez is a Program Manager for the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. She made a brief appearance early in the season but has since returned to assist Caitlyn with the process surrounding legally changing her name and gender.
As you can probably tell from the above selection, the show has made some attempt at ensuring that the dialogue is somewhat intersectional, and also informative. These women are only a handful of those featured over the seven episodes which have currently aired, however tend to be the five core influences so far, with Candis and Chandi having the most screen time.
The conversations featured are usually intelligent and the tone is more serious than I ever expected. The majority of it is actually taken up with strong messages about the reality of living as a trans person, how difficult it is for many to transition, and by highlighting the fact that Jenner has - in comparison to others - had it relatively easy.
It covers the impacts on families, and on young trans kids. Episode six publicized the difficulties of many in America to gain access to appropriate healthcare, with some having to travel for miles and others being simply outright denied the right due to impossible distances and the lack of anything in their local area. The latest episode also covered the lengthy delays in the legal system for many to have their legal identity match their true selves, although there have been moves to streamline this process in more liberal states such as California.
Overall, the women featured work hard to educate Caitlyn, and by extension, the audience.
This is an E! Network show, however, so standard reality TV format has not been completely abandoned. There are moments of cattiness and faux-drama; and the show plowed straight into a love interest for Caitlyn in only the second episode. However, when you get past it, it's clear that this series intends to take a very very different tact to that of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which is fucking refreshing to say the least.
So, as my title suggests, I think you should all take a moment to watch it.
And to solidify this point, I will proceed to preach about why.
As a white, cis-gendered woman I am going to be completely honest and say that the struggles of trans women, and women of colour for that matter, barely cross my mind on a daily basis. I'm not going to lie and say I consider these things all the time simply to make you like me more. My friends are primarily cis-gendered White and Asian men and women; and due to my current locale being Japan, being Asian is not the problem for my queer Japanese friends, being queer within Japanese society is - but that's an article all on it's own.
We're all guilty of focusing primarily on the things that affect us directly. This is human nature.
However, human nature is not an excuse to be an uneducated numpty.
It is vitally important that we all, as human beings, educate ourselves about the lives of others. It is so easy, when you live a comfortable life with minimal challenges to forget about those who are still struggling for the recognition to simply be treated like a person.
I'm not trying to minimize the struggle of being a cis-gendered gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or sexually fluid individual. However, I think we all need to raise our level of awareness when it comes to the issues facing the trans community, and be aware that the highly publicized fight for marriage equality is not, and has never been the only issue affecting the LGBTQIA+ community.
As Chandi pointed out in episode six of the season, there is a considerable level of segregation within the LGBTQIA+ community, primarily between the LGB's and the T's (and probably to I's & A's but I'm going to have to limit myself today). There is absolutely no denying that out of the original four letters, the T has always tended to be left at the bottom of the pile.
"We're living in a world that has no place for us."
I think it's hard for any of the LGB's to refute that.
I'm not going to say I Am Cait is the fix-all for transphobia inside and outside the community, or that it's going to solve all of the issues surrounding access to education, employment, and healthcare which seem to stem from deep seated prejudice in our society. However, I think I Am Cait is an extremely important addition to the dialogue surrounding trans issues.
From the perspective of someone who is of the LGB's and outside of the trans community, the presence of Laverne Cox since the launch of Orange is the New Black, and now Caitlyn Jenner is a huge stepping stone towards a broader level of understanding for those who are not necessarily acquainted with a trans individual or individuals. Jenner herself stated that before transitioning she had never met another trans woman before.
The show suits this purpose as it's an easily digestible, relatable series which you could sit down and watch with your mother. It's something that helps bridge that gap into the unknown, and has just enough Kardashian guest appearances to keep the reality TV generation happy.
Jenner is quoted in the show as saying: "what we're trying to do is normalize this as much as we can."
Trans powerhouse Kate Bornstein was quick to respond that "part of the reason you want to [normalize trans experiences] is because you don't wanna be a freak."
She, obviously, had a point. The idea of "normal" is always such a dangerous and pervasive idea.
However, I think rather than viewing I Am Cait as a project in normalizing trans women (which, okay, it is) and getting outraged by that idea, it's important to see the merits in what Jenner is trying to achieve, particularly for those outside the trans community, looking in.
Exposure is extremely important for people to see and learn about something they don't necessarily understand, and as such, develop a level of understanding and acceptance that they may not have had before. It helps the development of empathy, which is something that is sorely needed in society right now if there's to be any change.
The women featured on this show are intelligent, successful individuals who have achieved great things. These are positive representations and stories. Maybe they're all wrapped in a gorgeous package, to market to the masses who might get uncomfortable seeing someone mid-transition, but I feel like regardless of what is yet to be included in the show's dialogue, it's a step forward in education. A very important one.
I Am Cait is hopefully going to remind people that we are all fucking human.
Taking a moment to expand your personal knowledge, regardless of whether you're a part of the LGBTQIA+ community or not, is important. And I feel that I Am Cait, regardless of it's reality TV format, is a damn good place to start.
And as for LGB men and women? It's about time that we acknowledge the grand canyon sized division that exists within the community between cis and transgendered members and fucking do something about it.