So very few transgender people have cameras and paparazzi following their every step as they transition, but at least Caitlyn Jenner finally has control of her own story. Sunday night marked the debut of her docu-series on E!, I Am Cait.
Each week, The Advocate is presenting a look at the moments in each episode that we feel resonate most strongly within the trans community, through two perspectives. What you’ll read here are just opinions, not facts.
I’m News Editor Dawn Stacey Ennis, writing from my experience as a woman assigned male at birth who transitioned in the public eye. To provide variety, a different individual will join me each week, on what we’re calling “The Advocate’s sofa,” comparing our notes as we watch, for the duration of the season.
While we acknowledge there is more than just the binary, we’re beginning with a trans man: Scott Turner Schofield, the award-winning actor and diversity speaker who was the first transgender actor to appear on daytime television, in The Bold and the Beautiful.
Scott Turner Schofield: My heart is bursting. This is the must-watch show of the season. And I truly did not think I would say that.
Dawn Stacey Ennis: I have but one word for what we saw: outstanding! From the first 30 seconds, I knew it wouldn’t be what I feared, a slick reality show that focused on all the glam and none of the substance. And to see CJ for the first time, right at the start, without makeup, discussing her fears and responsibility? Wow.
STS: The fact that Cait said, right at the top, “I just hope I get it right,” while noting her privileges and her awareness of the true lives of transpeople shut up my inner skeptic long enough to continue. And then she let us see her in her rollers! Not being a woman, I don’t know how deep that is, but I kind of get it. Like, neither my mother nor my fiancée have ever let me see them in rollers!
DSE: Just about as perfect a beginning as I could hope for, and I agree, it put my doubts at ease.
STS: Her gentle, sweet kindness really grabbed me. She was so quiet on Keeping Up With The Kardashians — like, dork dad — and through this show we see this compassionate, empathic woman who just wants to do good in the world. I found myself wishing to get to meet her someday.
DSE: Well, let’s look at who else we saw. I was impressed with how her family was portrayed, and I think that having a gender therapist on hand was weird, but interesting.
STS: My fiancée watched with me and she was upset when the gender therapist had no substantial answer for Esther’s bible quote about men dressing as women.
DSE: I remember Diane Sawyer brought up the same quote in the ABC News special. As I recall the expert they interviewed said, something along the lines of, “there must have been transgender people when they wrote the Old Testament, otherwise they wouldn’t have come up with a rule not to do that.”
STS: The Metropolitan Community Church — where my fiancée is a leader — has a whole book about that stuff. She wished that Christians who are earnestly seeing reconciliation for themselves — like Cait’s mom — could have been better served in that moment. Especially since all the other topics were so well addressed.
DSE: As a dad, I was in tears watching Cait "meet" Kylie, on FaceTime, showing that she was concerned for her daughter seeing her that way instead of in-person. I felt sorry as she obviously struggled with the unexpected call. You saw how worried she is for her daughters and her first concern is to not upset them.
STS: I love that the family has what my gut/experience says is a truly authentic response. They show their true, difficult feelings — “how will I call you my daughter?” — while in the same breath proclaiming that the love they share is what’s most important and will not change. Again, in a way that feels authentic.
DSE: So, you don't think they're acting?
STS: I think we have made such caricatures of the Jenner/Kardashian crew (or they did it to themselves on Keeping Up With The Kardashians) that the idea of them being “real” seems impossible. Most of my friends have told me they suspect “she must be selling something.” Well, take it from a truly critical eye: Caitlyn Jenner is selling love, acceptance, social awareness and the imperative to live a good life for yourself and others. Even in the prelude episodes — About Bruce — I was floored by how genuinely and authentically they dealt with everything. My gut check was really clear on their sincerity.
DSE: There’s an old expression in Hollywood: “The key to success is sincerity - if you can fake that, you've got it made.”
STS: I know, sincerity + Kardashian? Well, the world is changing. I think Cait said, “I want to do this right,” and hired producers and got GLAAD involved in a big way.
DSE: I read she’s not allowed to talk about it, but I see all over this the fingerprints of GLAAD co-chair Jennifer Finney Boylan — the Barnard professor, author and trans woman who was seen in the ABC News special and in a tease for the next episode of I Am Cait. No doubt, Jenny is helping Cait shape her new public image. And that’s a good thing, because Cait really is new at this. Too new. She knows she runs the risk of making a misstep that trans people everywhere will regret. And pay for.
STS: So what if she hasn’t learned everything yet? So what if that part is an act? Her intent is in the right place. I feel sincerity in every frame, even if she may be "faking it 'till she makes it." And I’m also thinking: how is it the Jenner/Kardashian crew are doing this family thing better than most families I hear about? Just sayin’.
DSE: What made you cringe? For me, there were three moments: all those clothes that came from designers... Diane Von Furstenberg, etc. While it's (almost) every girl's fantasy to have a closet stuffed like that, it's so not what happens to 99.999 percent of us. No truck shows up with a new wardrobe at the new trans girl’s house! Second, what is she doing with her old dude clothes? Will we see her donate them? Give them to trans men maybe? And finally, I wanted to leap into the TV and join them on her couch as we watched her mom struggle, clearly overwrought. I just wanted to hug them both!
STS: My cringe moment was about how gorgeous everybody kept saying she is. OK, yes. She is gorgeous and good for her; I hope she truly enjoys it. But it made me wonder: what if she had transitioned and still "looked like a man?"
DSE: Not everybody can afford facial feminization surgery. Not every trans woman wants it, or needs it, either, but for some, it’s the only way to attain true self esteem.
STS: Caitlyn was so good about naming her privileges, but she never mentioned that her beauty is one of them. Or that, the crux of discrimination against trans people, is how conventionally beautiful they become.
DSE: Unless she addresses it, I think it could inadvertently send the message that this is what trans women have to do. I hope not; I’m hoping people know this is what she chose, what she could afford to do. And that there are folks like me who say, my looks are what God gave me, and I’ll make some adjustments, but I don’t want to change my face. Or understand that in others’ cases, it’s financially impossible.
STS: When was your biggest laugh?
STS: Mine, too! Kanye’s shoe bit, LOL. And I loved his awkward side hugs. But he did them to everybody, not just Cait. Do you think it’s an act ? And/or did you feel the sincerity?
DSE: I feel he is a force for good within the family. I am sold on Kanye bringing sincerity to all of them, based on what Cait said in the earlier special, about how he turned his wife Kim Kardashian around when she was struggling with her dad’s identity. And yes, loved the sneakers and his untied laces; who would have thought Kanye was actually a positive addition? But I can’t help bringing up another moment that made me cry, though: when Esther spoke, at the end.
STS: I think she was really, fundamentally, OK about the transition. She just kept bringing it back to loving her child. If you have that, you can get through everything.
DSE: I can’t wait until next week!
STS: I am really jazzed about this show. Call me flabbergasted, but call me a fan. I am going to watch every episode and I hope they stay this good or better. She really will have changed the world if this show keeps doing it so right.
DSE: Will you recommend this show to trans men?
STS: Trans men should watch this because everyone should watch this. This show is about how to be a good person in the world. If we don’t quit dividing the world by gender, who will?
DSE: I won’t mince words: I loved it.
STS: I don’t want to go "full gush," but this show kinda took me there. I think she really did do this episode right, and I feel optimistic for the future.
DSE: Thanks, Scott. Good night!
Next week on The Advocate’s sofa: Tiq Milan!
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Watch the clip where Kanye meets Cait, from the debut episode of E!'s I Am Cait, below: