"I Am Cait" Gives A Voice To Transgender People (Even Though It's Scripted)
The season premiere of E!'s I Am Cait, which aired last night, starts out with Caitlyn sitting up in bed in the wee hours of the morning, appearing unable to sleep because she has so many thoughts racing through her mind.
"What a responsibility I have towards this community," she says, directly into the camera. "Am I gonna do everything right? Am I gonna say the right things? Do I project the right image?
"I hope I get it right. I just hope I get it right."
She's not going to get everything right, and the show is already doing things wrong. I Am Cait is true to its Kardashian roots in that everything feels staged. We don't necessarily believe that Caitlyn's mother is as "proud" of her as she seems, though it's a nice sentiment. Caitlyn's confessions to the camera are eloquent at times, but sound more like lines fed to her than thoughts that just popped into her head.
But, to Jenner's credit, she's taking advantage of her unique circumstances — she's a legendary Olympic athlete, father/stepfather in one of the world's most famous families, reality television superstar — to promote awareness of transgender issues. "So many trans people out there without a voice," she says. "I can’t speak for them because everyone has their own experience, but I am an expert on my own life."
Caitlyn Jenner doesn't live a "normal" transgender experience — far from it. She's got a personal hairstylist, makeup artist, and wardrobe stylist, a camera crew following her around, the support of her family, and the general support of the public.
Not everyone is this lucky. But she knows that, acknowledges it, and is making it her responsibility to help those transgender people less fortunate than she is.
The pilot introduces Caitlyn to the world: a real, living, breathing human being, rather than the cover model for Vanity Fair. She's getting used to presenting herself as a woman, and much of the show focuses on her appearance. It seems she's perpetually getting her makeup and hair done, and rifling through her closet for the perfect outfit.
So the show is pretty surface-level for now, though it has its share of serious moments. At one point, Jenner talks about the darkest point in her life, when she was in her house with a gun and said to herself, "Let's just end it right here. No more pain, no more suffering." Toward the end of the episode, she visits the mourning family of Kyler Prescott, a transgender teen who took his own life, and has a heart-wrenching conversation with his mother. These moments, however, felt like a secondary plot; the show tends to glamorize the male-to-female transition a bit too much, with all the blue hair extensions and Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses.
What it does well, though, is capture body language. Caitlyn's nerves are constantly presenting themselves in her fidgeting hands: as she talks about suicide rates among transgender people, as she awaits her family's arrival, and as she hides from the paparazzi, switching cars three times on her way to see the Prescott family. Even though she's a very privileged position, she still struggles.
Hopefully, as the season continues, there's more of an emphasis on the violence and hate that so many transgender people must face on a daily basis. It's hardly glamorous, and viewers need to understand that. The degree to which Caitlyn is a relatable character may also become an issue as the show progresses; surely the process of transitioning is difficult, but not many of us have a team of people making sure we look how we want to look at all times, constantly telling us we're beautiful. And the majority of transgender people don't have such an unconditionally supportive family. This needs to be talked about openly and frequently throughout the season.
Despite the Kardashian-esque nature of the show, I'm convinced that Caitlyn is doing this not for herself, but to save lives and open minds. It's a huge responsibility, but her intentions are noble. She may not be the "perfect" representative for the transgender community, but she has a voice that people listen to — and that's a giant step in the right direction.
When Kim and Kanye come to visit her, Kanye captures Caitlyn's courage quite well: “You couldn’t have been up against more," he says. "Your daughter’s a supermodel. You’re a celebrity at every type of thing and it was still like, ‘F*ck everyone, this is who I am.’”