“I Am Cait” Focuses On Compassion And Education, Not Drama

A few things were made abundantly clear on last night’s premiere episode of “I Am Cait,” Caitlyn Jenner’s new reality show on E!. While perhaps technically a spinoff, “I Am Cait” is a far more serious and hopefully less scripted reality show than the wildly popular “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” But despite the show’s more sober tone, it’s also obvious that Jenner, who was “KUWTK”‘s constant curmudgeon, is beaming with a happiness and a sense of freedom previously unseen before her transition. And, most importantly, the premiere of “I Am Cait” proved that Caitlyn Jenner has been listening and paying attention to the real-life, everyday struggles of the trans community, and is committed to making good on her promise to be an advocate and educator on their behalf.

The episode struck the perfect balance between the personal and the educational. Jenner’s mother, Esther, and her sisters, Pam and Lisa, came to visit and to meet Caitlyn for the first time as fully herself. Largely very supportive of Caitlyn’s transition, the scenes with Jenner and her family showed that acceptance is the most important thing loved ones can offer a trans person, while total understanding is something that hopefully comes in time. Jenner has a counselor come by to answer some her mom and sisters’ questions, including about the early signs in her childhood that she might have felt something was “off,” like not wanting to wear “boys” clothes. The scene was a great one for demonstrating that trans people often start to notice in childhood that they don’t quite fit in, largely because our societal expectations of gender become more obvious and restrictive to them, though they may not be able to articulate just what it is that they’re feeling.

Another great moment in the episode was when Kim Kardashian and husband Kanye West — who reportedly was instrumental in helping Kim come to terms with Jenner’s transition — stopped by Caitlyn’s house to hang out (and peruse the latest outfits in her closet). Though I balk at those who are seemingly surprised that Kanye has been among the most open-minded in Jenner’s extended family – this piece gets into why homophobia/transphobia are not specifically problems in the Black community — I was still pleasantly surprised by what Kanye had to say (watch above):

“I think this is one of the strongest things that have happened in our existence as human beings, that are so controlled by perception. You couldn’t have been up against more.”

Caitlyn said that though she and Kanye have never been close, she’s been pleased with his open-mindedness, and I hope their relationship continues to grow now that Caitlyn is free to be herself.

The heaviest moment in the premiere focused on the suicides rates for trans youth, with Caitlyn visiting the family of Kyler Prescott, a trans teen who took his own life in May, and participating in a memorial ceremony for him with his loved ones. Caitlyn, I think, still has much to learn about how much her own privilege — and yes, she used that word, which makes me think she’s really been paying attention to the feedback she’s gotten from the trans community and leaders like Janet Mock — has benefited her during this coming out process. It’s the kind of the privilege that the average trans teen, like Prescott – who, unlike many others, did have the support of his family — does not have, making survival so much more difficult than I think Jenner can actually imagine. Which is not to say that trans teens shouldn’t be reminded that “it gets better,” but more important than words are actions, like providing resources, safe havens and family counselors, for starters. But based on this first episode of “I Am Cait,” Jenner is clearly determined to learn more, and most of all, committed to making advocacy for the trans community her most important contribution to the world.