According to recent polls, nearly 25 percent of Americans do not know what the word “transgender” means. Only 10 percent report that they actually know a transgender person. Of course, more than that percentage probably know a trans person, but for any number of reasons, their trans friends or family members aren’t comfortable telling them yet.
I’m lucky to have a handful of trans friends, and I knew that when Caitlyn Jenner announced her transition – with a concurrent reality series documenting her initial steps into public life after years of hiding in plain sight – they’d have something to say about it. So I got my pals Skyler and Aidan to watch I Am Cait with me, and tell me what they thought about it. Now you’re lucky, too.
Dave White: Taken together, this show and I Am Jazz (TLC’s program about 13-year-old Jazz Jennings and how she navigates adolescence as a trans girl) feel like a one-two punch of trans education for people who’ve never encountered it. One show comes from the world of celebrity and the other from suburban middle-class family life, different narratives, neither feeling like a token offering. Is something big erupting here?
Skyler: I think it’s absolutely amazing. And for Caitlyn, to be such a high-profile person transitioning, that’s incredible. It’s important for people to see this. She’s reaching people my parents’ age. She’s also reaching young people who watch the Kardashians. It’s amazing how she’s spanning the generations. It’s huge. And she’s a Republican, so she’s also spanning the political realm.
Aidan: And Caitlyn has fabulous hair. Honestly, that was my first thought. Having said that, it wasn’t all body sensationalism, which I appreciated. I was afraid [the show] was going to be this tabloid experience, given her associations with the Kardashians. But this was surprisingly tender. And I liked how the family experience seemed very much in keeping with how lots of families deal with having a trans person in their midst.
How did her family situation play to you? Did it reflect any of your own experience?
Skyler: Oh, yes. I come from a mixed Republican/Democrat family, my dad is a Republican. My mom is a Democrat. Lots of lively arguments due to that. Watching my dad deal with my transition stuff as a conservative Republican was much different from watching my mom, whose response was much more like Cait’s mother. Conservatives simply have a harder time with this. And to see a Cait doing this, not just being openly trans, but openly Republican. Will those people write her off? Will she effect any change in their stance on this issue?
Exactly. She takes a lot of shit for being Republican. But if you think about it, she’s rich. Lots of rich people are Republican. They like their money more than they like just about anything. But now, yes, a famous Republican is trans. How interesting that’s going to be.
Skyler: And she doesn’t talk about her politics much. I wonder if it’ll come up more now in the show, or if she’ll ultimately change her politics. I’ll be watching for that.
Aidan: This the white, wealthy trans experience, to be sure. “Hey, here’s this new wardrobe given to me by my designer friends.” Because that’s everyone’s experience.
Do we think the show will move into the body/surgical aspect of all of this?
Aidan: One thing I found interesting, and not at all surprising, is that everyone’s first comments are always about the way the person looks and how the non-trans people are surprised. I mean, really, what the fuck? “Oh, you’re so beautiful. And let me sound surprised by how beautiful I think you look.” Maybe we could be concerned with you having the same personality you’ve always had, instead?
Having said that, something going on within the trans community right now is this insistence on not asking people about genitals and their bodies. And I get it. I understand why. It is very personal. We don’t ask everyone about this, just trans people. But as a trans person, I kind of want to know. I want to know the process that other trans people experience. I feel guilty about that now because I’m breaking the rules. I don’t get to want to know that information. But I think our bodies are important, too. So I’m conflicted. It’s natural. And getting mad at people about it isn’t quite fair.
They talk a lot on I Am Jazz about her hormone blockers and estrogen shots. They go there. Caitlyn not so much. Actually, so far, not at all.
Aidan: This new generation of trans kids. I feel like my grandfather for saying this, but it’s like night and day. With hormone blockers, kids with access to it won’t have to have bilateral mastectomies because they never grew tits. They never have to have their jawbone or Adam’s apple shaved down because puberty never got the chance.
Skyler: I’m glad they focused on relationships here. I loved seeing Cait’s mother and her religious questions. That was big in my family. My mom quoted the same stuff from the Bible about cross-dressing. That’s going to be important for religious people to see play out on TV, too. She doesn’t know how to speak about it yet. And Bruce – oh god, I just did it myself, sorry – Caitlyn, is pretty chill about pronouns and names right now. Everyone gets to go at their own pace with her.
It’s hard for family to switch a pronoun right off the bat. They grew up with that person. It takes time. And parents are the hardest. It’s been 20 years for me, and my mother still slips up pronouns occasionally. Grandparents, it’s even harder. You can’t really be too upset about that. I’m happy that we get to see families here being real and fucking up along the way.
Caitlyn’s sister has known for 35 years. That’s since Can’t Stop The Music.
Skyler: Right, and how did they keep that from their mom for so long? You can see she was sad that they didn’t trust her with that information.
Aidan: And then there was that beautiful moment. Her mom saw her for the first time and said, “Oh, there you are.” I don’t think she even heard herself say that, or understood what it meant, that she was seeing her child as herself for the first time. There you are.
Let us discuss Kim and Kanye.
Skyler: I loved what Kanye said about living your own life.
Aidan: I had this idea of Kanye being kind of a jerk, but his statement was really nice and supportive, awkward hug and all.
And saying “fuck” in front of Grandma. No bad swears in front of Grandma, please, Kanye.
Aidan: Kim was tearing that closet apart! “This has to go!” And poor Caitlyn had already selected those things. And her idea to prank Kris Jenner by arranging for Caitlyn to wear a dress she already owned. Kind of mean, kind of funny. Ok, very funny and very mean. Sure, this is exactly the appropriate time to pit your parents against each other in a “Who wore it best?” challenge.
Those are some serious clothes in that closet, though.
Aidan: I think that can be the first step for a lot of trans people, how they present themselves. Bruce was a known as an athlete, a “man’s man.” So it feels logical, I think, for that pendulum to swing hard in the other direction toward the High Femme of Caitlyn. That isn’t how so many trans people are. It’s the entire spectrum. But people have no problem just asking you, “Well if you’re a woman, but a butch woman, then why not just stay a lesbian?” And the answer is, “Because I’m not a lesbian. I’m a man.” Or, you’re a man but really feminine, why not just stay a man, or identify as genderqueer?”
And the answer is “Because I’m the one who gets to tell you what I am. Not the other way around.”
Aidan: Exactly. We impose so much on everyone.