Back when Amazon’s Transparent debuted, trans activist and author Jennifer Finney Boylan told me, “I used to say that, for me, going from male to female was not nearly as profound a change as going from someone who had a secret to someone who doesn’t have a secret.” It’s one of the themes explored on I Am Cait, Caitlyn Jenner’s profoundly well-executed eight-part reality series, debuting last night on E!.
“I was professional at hiding it,” Jenner tells her elderly mother in last night’s premiere. Of course, these days, Jenner has become a professional at sharing her journey. From the one-on-one with Diane Sawyer to her Vanity Fair cover to the moving speech at the ESPY Awards, Jenner has rocketed to the forefront of the trans community, becoming one of its most high-profile faces.
On I Am Cait, Jenner is at her most vulnerable, engaging her family in candid conversation and capturing their first “introductions.” These moments, no matter how staged they may or may not be for the cameras, are still emotional. Watching the scenes with Jenner’s mother and sisters as a gay man, it was easy to see the parallels in her coming out process. While honoring the unique trans experience, I Am Cait’s intimate, personal portrayal of its star’s transition provides plenty of opportunity for viewers — gay, straight, cis, trans and others — to relate. Her mother’s resolve to get it right despite some struggle with the transition is particularly moving. “I loved him with all my heart, and I certainly love her with all my heart,” she says as she leaves her daughter’s home.
Jenner’s children and step-children also make appearances throughout the first episode. Rob Kardashian calls Jenner to congratulate her on the Vanity Fair cover. Kim Kardashian and her husband Kanye West drop in for a visit, with West sharing high praise for Jenner:
“I think it’s one of the strongest things that have happened in our…existence as human beings that are so controlled by perception,” he said. “‘Cause you couldn’t have been up against more; your daughter’s a supermodel, you’re a celebrity, every type of thing, and it was still like, ‘F*ck everybody, this is who I am.’”
Jenner’s daughter Kylie also stops by, fitting Jenner with bright teal hair extensions. It’s hard not to smile seeing the ease with which Jenner’s 17-year-old daughter readily accepts and comfortably bonds with her. “Having that opportunity to just be honest with your family, it’s like somebody taking 1,000 pounds off my shoulders,” Caitlyn says.
Make no mistake: Keeping Up With the Kardashians, this is not. Despite appearances from the Kardashians, I Am Cait strives for more than the celebrity navel-gazing that’s defined Keeping Up. Jenner is acutely aware of her privilege and eager to use her position to give voice to the greater trans community. She discusses the murder and suicide rates of the trans community and even visits the family of Kyler Prescott, a 14-year-old transgender teen who committed suicide. The preview of the rest of the season features lots of other trans stories and activists, including Finney Boylan, Candis Cayne and others.
The combination of Jenner’s emotional journey and the platform for the trans community, makes I Am Cait an important milestone in reality television. At a time when trans visibility continues to rise, Caitlyn Jenner has found the right balance between celebrity and social conscience.
What did you think of the first episode of I Am Cait?