People who are transgender have lived very diverse lives because they have either lived as both genders, a combination of genders, or an ambiguity of gender. If a person had spent most of their life classified as male or masculine and then goes on to transform into a very feminine version of womanhood, then they are going to carry the experiences they had as male over to their experience after their transition. In other words, changing a person’s gender does not entirely change who a person is despite undergoing a massive identity change.
On the second episode of “I Am Cait”, Caitlyn gets introduced to a bunch of important trans women. This is presented like the new girl getting invited to the sleepover for the first time. By this point, the enormity of Cait’s privilege is astounding. She has a lot of cash, a lot of employees and advisers, and a lot of PR persons working on her image. She is more powerful than the average person by many levels of magnitude, and has the power to represent the trans community to the greater world because of her notoriety. This is a heavy burden. She must do it right because people’s lives are depending on it, a point she made in the first episode. But by the second, it is revealed that this might pose more of a problem because of who Bruce Jenner was versus who Caitlyn is capable of becoming.
Trans identities are both inherent and forged, natural and created, just like all other personalities. Experiences that shape us to peruse a perspective on the world are defining and important to a persons disposition. While Caitlyn was still Bruce, she achieved incredible feats in the athletic and celebrity world, fame and fortune were brought, and public scrutiny was applied. When she was married to Kris Kardashian, she raised her children in front of a camera and exposed a failing marriage to the world. Her political views are right wing, supporting isolation and boot-strap mentalities just like how her experiences could have shaped her to have these views. The old “if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can” is a very seductive mentality. To Caitlyn, all anyone has to do is work hard and they’ll get what they deserve. But most of us know, the world does not work like that. Not even a little sometimes, at points when a person is working so hard but so down on their luck that literally the worst thing in the world is happening to them. And this happens often to trans youth, the cost of being one’s own self, pursuing one’s own identity, has come at such a massive cost that they have lost everything, have no food, no where to live, no money, and are living on the streets. There are no bootstraps in this situation. There is only help to be taken.
This situation comes up in an awkward scene with the trans girls. These women are advocates and old timers, they have been transgender for a long time and have worked to make the world a better place for their brethren. They are gathered around, sharing cheese and wine, and the topic of the hardships on transpeople comes up. Caitlyn voices her right wing perspective that “handouts” will only harm people in need, to which all the women are visibly repulsed by. They are seeing Caitlyn for who she really is, the summation of experiences that makes up this person, the person who is beyond the gender or identity.
Fame is a process of isolation. There needs to be the presence of enigma with fame, of superficial royalty; fame is a cage. Caitlyn Jenner has been isolated from the trans community. Jennifer Finney Boylan says, “she wants to be our savior…but sometimes I’m not sure what gets through to her”. Boylan is the author of She’s Not There: Life in Two Genders and is a major trans rights advocate. On top of being away from an already isolated community, Caitlyn has been away from what could be called “normal people”. These trans women were part of some of the first hormone distribution underground scenes, or being part of drag scenes, or having to do sex work in order to pay for surgery. This is the most poignant moment of the episode because Caitlyn’s disconnect from a real person sharing their story about sex work was so telling of her overall suffering from general isolation. The best she could do was relay a book the person should read, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. Its almost like for Caitlyn, these stories are abstractions, they aren’t real. Many things aren’t real to the rich and famous because of how insulated their worlds are; poverty, war, other economic hardships.
Its important to remember that Caitlyn Jenner is an executive producer and has control over the content. She is a major reality star, a person with star power who is not going to be portrayed audaciously by networkers but instead is going to be a part of crafting her appearance and image on her reality series. Jenner is making a very strategic decision to reveal her ignorance problem and expose the negativity associated with it. If she is going to take on the massive task of representing the trans community as the first major celebrity to transition in their lifetime, someone whose gender is actually tied to their success, then she needs to be real and honest about what her limitations are and how to improve on those limitations.
This is a big undertaking for any televisions series, but especially a reality television show. “I Am Cait” dropped fifty percent in audience size for the second episode, which unfortunately makes sense. It is a little difficult to peg who the program is for. On one hand, transwomen yes. But Caitlyn’s immense amount of privilege might get in the way of making “I Am Cait” a desirable program for struggling transwomen. Celebrity culture people, sure, but is this a topic they are interested enough in to tune in for one hour per week? Because of the marginalization of transpeople, “I Am Cait” is struggling with an audience problem as well, which again unfortunately makes sense. Instead of striving for ratings and audience numbers, perhaps “I Am Cait” should accept what it is: a one season documuseries about a rich and famous transwoman working to help the trans community.
If the producers of “I Am Cait” can continue the thread of exposing Caitlyn’s ignorance problem, then this television series could actually amount to something positive for the trans community. Obviously, the flashy money and hot shots that are nearly pornographic of Malibu take away from the positive feeling about a show where the protagonist is a part of a traditionally broke community. The California landscape porn shots are for the celebrity people, not the queer people. However, it is reasonable to expect limitations on what “I Am Cait” can accomplish for the trans community on the account of who Caitlyn Jenner is and what she is willing to accept about the world.