Two of Caitlyn Jenner's stepdaughters confront their father, the former Olympian meets transgender pioneer Kate Borstein as well as Chaz Bono, and the cameras accompany her to a slumber party at the home of potential love interest Candis Cayne. Those were just some of the highlights of this week's episode of I Am Cait on E!
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 Ennis, writing from my experience as a woman assigned male at birth who transitioned in the public eye. To provide variety, a different individual is joining me each week on what we're calling "The Advocate's sofa," comparing our notes as we watch, for the duration of the season.
This week I'm joined by trans man Aidan Key, co-author of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves and founder of the Gender Odyssey conference. Key's work to increase understanding and awareness of gender identity in all people has taken him from kindergarten classes to boardrooms. He has guided many schools and organizations in expanding their anti-discrimination language to include gender identity/expression and in understanding the practical, everyday ways in which to implement these new policies.
ENNIS: Wow this was a very different episode -- and we got to see Cait challenged multiple times about how her transition is going. I'm going to start with her conversation with Kim: I thought it was open and honest but did you notice how Cait relies on "don't go there" instead of answering certain questions?
KEY: I agree. This went beyond the wow-you-are-so-brave-and-we-all-still-love-you refrain that, for many friends or family members of a trans person, falls into the category of how one is "supposed" to respond. The first response falls more into the category of, "I love you, I'm open-minded, bashing trans people is not cool, and the camera is rolling." This episode went further.
ENNIS: We've been seeing Cait worry about her family, and disappointing them. And this week she had to listen to her daughters tell her just that.
KEY: Of course there can be a myriad of feelings inspired by a person's gender transition, especially if it came unexpectedly. As the anger, distress, and confusion find an outlet, a friend or family member often has no problem finding validation from others for these feelings but with no guidance as to how to move through them. As I watched Khloe and Kim express their anger, I couldn't help but think that all they've heard from others may have been along the lines of, "Yeah, that's really effed up!"
ENNIS: My own experience tells me you're right. Those who have given me grief often cited what their friends told them, as if that should matter!
KEY: Who among us, as transgender people, has not been accused of selfishness as we move forward in one of the scariest and most courageous paths we will likely ever take? Yes, the distress that others feel is valid. It needs an outlet. The transgender person however should not be the dumping ground. Many of us have been told that our choices are what brought about the harsh repercussions -- loss of family, loss of job, loss of respect, loss of safety, loss of life. The only choice Caitlyn made was to continue living, truthfully, authentically for the first time in her life.
ENNIS: That's a choice all of us who are trans face. And it was clear her daughters understand her challenge but feel as though she's forgetting her family.
KEY: What really came through loud and clear for me was two children, who recognize that their mother is suffering, and need to lay some blame. Cait's gender transition just makes for an easy target. Is Kris suffering? Probably. Are the children angry? Sure. That is not so unique to the ending of a 25-year old relationship regardless of the circumstances. I found myself hollering at Kim (well, the TV really), "See how gracious, civil and respectful you will be when (I should say, "if", but it's Hollywood after all) your marriage ends!! It ain't the transition, sweetheart. Hope your child isn't there schooling you when...I mean, if... that time comes!"
ENNIS: When Kim told her father, "You've got the fame but you're losing the family," hit right at the core of Cait's fears.
KEY: Sounded a tiny bit like blackmail to me. Toe the line or else. What many of us have had to do, and Cait will also have to determine, is how much of the distress of others should she shoulder? And, for how long? How much will she apologize to others for their reactions? Will she ultimately believe that "she did this to them?" I hope not for too long.
ENNIS: This is certainly the biggest personal battle she's faced. And at a time in which trans people are increasingly under attack.
KEY: Transphobia is strong as ever. Telling the truth, living truthfully, is something Caitlyn finally found the courage to do despite the "freak" factor. Yes, this impacts others but that is life. I am delighted that Cait wants to make a difference in the perceptions of others, or to "normalize" it as she says. I hear from many parents of trans children that they "wish their child was just gay." Not because gay is better but because the presence of gays and lesbians is prevalent and accepted - i.e. normal. I look forward to the day when a gender transition falls into the same category. Then we will see the anger of Khloe and Kim as simply an example of the anger of two children who are feeling protective of their mother at the end of a relationship.
ENNIS: This week we saw how Cait's closet is full of lingerie, and later trying on clothes with Candis Cayne. It's yet another "D'oh!" moment, as the trans experience is presented as a fashion show. It's so much more.
KEY: Cait is like a kid in a candy store for the first time. Who can blame her for wanting to dig in and do "girl things." I am glad she has a friend like Candis with whom she can feel relaxed and have fun. Interesting subtle flirtation going on but ultimately I am rooting for a solid friendship.
ENNIS: What a treat to see Cait meeting the legend that is Kate Bornstein! Hopefully she opened Cait's eyes. "Owning the freakdom" -- what a great message!
KEY: I think Caitlyn will look back on her time with the paradigm-shifter Kate Bornstein and understand more of what she was saying. I love Kate's comments about the word "ally" being troublesome. What else did she say? "Learn to jump!" Amen to that! Early in my transition, a person once asked me if I was a man or a woman, and I said, "YES!" He didn't like that but, hey, we need to own our truths! Do I give him the answer he needs? If my safety depends on it, sure, otherwise I have a universe-given task of speaking truthfully. We need to own it!
ENNIS: Kate is also right about the difference between being an accepting person vs. being an ally. And I loved what she said about the first step of being a good ally: "ask."
KEY: There is no better person on the planet, at least my tiny experience of it, that has more gender wisdom, humor, insight, compassion and fierceness than the indomitable Kate B. Caitlyn could indeed change the world with Kate as a mentor, friend and guide.
ENNIS: And I think it was good that she wisely reminded Cait that she is in beginning another adolescence.
KEY: I look forward to the day when the media -- the rest of the world, really -- stops asking newly-transitioning people like Caitlyn, to explain what it means to be transgender. She can explain what it means to embark on her journey but that is about it. Caitlyn owns that, to be sure. I respect that greatly. Would we ask an 11-year old girl just starting puberty to explain what it means to be a woman? No. That comes with time, life experience. I would like to challenge the media to allow their questions and focus to mature a little bit. Being transgender is so much more than clothes, surgery, and how did your mother, spouse, child, brother, sibling, employer, next door neighbor, and phlebotomist react to your transition?
ENNIS: The scene with the gender therapist was very brief but she provided some valuable advice: you can't force acceptance.
KEY: I have had the pleasure of hearing the gentle wisdom of Susan Landon and it was a sweet surprise to see her on the show again.
ENNIS: She appeared in the first episode making a house call, holding a group therapy session with Cait, her mother and two sisters.
KEY: I would add to what Susan said, that while you can't force acceptance, you can raise the bar high and absolutely expect it....eventually.
ENNIS: How great to see Chaz Bono -- he is the first trans man to appear on I Am Cait. "I can learn a lot from him," says Cait -- and wow, he looked fabulous!
KEY: Love me some Chaz! Never thought I would see a celebrity transition that would eclipse the child of Sonny and Cher! Maybe if Barack were to transition...
ENNIS: OMG, let's not go there! How about when Cait and Candis met the trans kids and their parents -- such brave children!
KEY: Yes, brave children. But they have the blessing of childhood optimism. That can help so much. The parents on the other hand? They often have to find their way through so many barriers while simultaneously navigating fear for their child's safety, contempt or ridicule from society directed at both them and their child, and finding the strength to stand up and advocate for their trans child! How many of them, prior to learning about their own kid, would have watched Caitlyn's journey with the word "freak" on the tip of their tongues, I wonder? Love is a powerful motivator.
ENNIS: The dad of a trans child who says, "You are living with a unicorn!" Loved that!
KEY: That dad's beard! He rocked it! I misted up when one of the moms said that she didn't know how strong she herself could be. And that she learned about strength from her child!
ENNIS: And then Cait visited her stepdaughter Khloe. I cringed when she bragged about Donatello Versace sending her a purse not yet "on the market" along with designer sunglasses -- yet another thing to highlight the difference between her transition and the rest of the trans world! Well, at least her meeting with Khloe started very friendly. Then Cait told her she's learning about the problem of trans homelessness. "Aww" says Khloe. "That's not good." FACEPALM!
KEY: Yeah, followed by Caitlyn saying, "Well, enough about that!" Ugh. Now, if you want a true transition story, let's have the Donald Trumpster try to survive working two or three minimum wage jobs!
ENNIS: The family seems fixated on the "Distraction" quote in Vanity Fair. That her children were a distraction.
KEY: Distraction wasn't the right word to use, to be sure, but I bet Caitlyn knows that now. How many trans people spent a chunk of their lives with our attempts to give society what it demanded rather than what we needed? I wouldn't call it a distraction, I would call it trying to survive. At some point, when the cabin loses air pressure, we really need to do what is so often advised. Don your own oxygen masks first...
ENNIS: That is good advice I often repeat! And how about Khloe's advice that they "conversate" -- sorry, Khloe, but that's not a word.
KEY: Ultimately, this family has a way of navigating life that I can't fathom. The lack of privacy has got to be debilitating at times. I, for one, hope that this family, like so many I have met, turns this challenging time into one that really strengthens them in the long run. As bumpy as the ride has been thus far, the fact that they are still standing says something. I hope they stay the course!
ENNIS: Thank you Aidan! Next week we'll see Cait's trip to New York and the ESPYS.
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Watch the clip in which Cait meets Chaz Bono, from Sunday's episode of E!'s I Am Cait, below: