Into episode four of “I Am Cait”, Caitlyn’s transgender identity is becoming more developed, but she is still hyper aware of what she calls the “freak factor” in her new life. In a conversation with Kate Borenstein, one of the most influential transwomen in America and author of Gender Outlaw, Cait asks “How do you get over the freak factor?” to which Borenstien answers “Owning the freak factor with heart”. Cait and Borenstein mindfully discuss how there will always be some segment of the population who views transpeople as “freaks” and as such feels that they are lesser humans than cis gendered people. For Caitlyn, this is intensified since her journey as a transwoman is being actively exploited by the paparazzi. To cis gendered people who feel transfolks are “freaks”, there is little understanding of how sex and gender are different and sometimes unrelated, and there is active fear about the transidentity and what it means for the person’s worldview. To understand that the gender binary is false is to unlearn something that was presented as true for much of one’s life. Cait asks Borenstein “How do you get over the freak factor” to which she replies “Owning the freak show with heart”. Essentially, Borenstein tells Cait, there is nothing a transperson can do about the people who feel they are a freak, their minds are closed and their perspective is too harsh to listen. However, one can relish in their freakishness and make it part of their identity, to understand it, to own it. This is a monumental task for transpeople, and requires the support of allies.
Borenstein clarifies what she thinks an ally is versus what is generally thought of as an ally. To most people, they assume that they are trans allied if they are accepting of the trans identity. For Borenstein, this does not meet the burden of an ally by simply being supportive. Active support is helpful, but action yields more results. An ally must be a person who responds to the needs of transpeople, as she says ally means “you ask me what I need, I tell you, and you tell me how much you can actually supply”. She then goes on to give the example that she may need an ally to act as a body guard in a crowd that she needs to get through. Why would Borenstein need an ally in a crowd of people? This is because transbodies are viewed as public property due to the freak factor. The twentieth century was awash with “freak shows” which treated people with abnormalities as exploitable commodities that the public had a right to access. All the humanity for these exploited people in the freak shows was lost, they were simply an exhibit to ponder. A transperson may not feel comfortable in a crowd because of how their bodies have been treated by cis people, as if they are an exotic specimen to be inspected by touching or being asked inappropriate questions. Cis people who feel transpeople are “freaks” are also curious about transbodies and trans lives. They will often become preoccupied with the transperson’s genitalia and their private sexual lives and sexual orientation. To be made into a freak is to have one’s personal space invaded and colonized. Allies must work in congruence with transpeople as to how best assess their most active needs and lessen the amount that the freak show factor has on them.
As Caitlyn’s family found out in episode one, Caitlyn is the same person as she was when she was Bruce, she just has a new identity to work into. Transpeople are still humans, their change of gender is akin to changing one’s clothes in terms of affecting the essence of a person. Clothing relects a peson’s thoughts about their identity, and chosing the proper gender is the way for transpeople to express to their satisfaction their identities. Obviously, the person will change with a transition, but the core of them remains intact. The freak factor takes this away and asserts that a person is the summation of their ability to be “normal” and any deviancy from normalization is paramount to betraying what is natural and what is right. Borenstein reminds Cait that the beginning of a transition is like a second adolescence, a time when people are very vulnerable to bullying and the outside opinion of the world. Acting as a true ally requires cis people to fight the notion that a person is a freak simply for transitioning genders and actively challenge real cis gendered people when they make transphobic comments.
While this episode positively and successfully gave cis people information about how to be an ally, as is a goal of Cait with this show, it also revealed the extent of the privilege Cait has as a rich trans person living in Los Angeles. There are several support groups and resources mentioned in the show for transpeople in Los Angeles, which makes sense as it is a large city in California and the center of the entertainment industry. However, these resources and support groups often do not exist for transpeople living in areas like the South or the Midwest whose populations may not be as comfortable with the idea of transpeople. Cait has professionals come to the house who specialize in trans issues to help support her through her transition, another thing many transpeople do not have access to due to location and the culture of where they live. This is an issue the show has yet to address or acknowledge in a significant way. There was a nod in the first episode by Cait to her privileged nature, however, the show overall has failed to note how privileged Cait is actively over other transpeople. It is sometimes a frustrating feature of the show because few things about Cait’s life are humble, and it would be constructive to see Cait humble herself and acknowledge with active mindfulness that the support she receives is a privilege that few are able to get.