With great power, comes great responsibility.
The opening scene of I Am Cait, the docu-series chronicling Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn Jenner, is perhaps the most revealing: no makeup, eyes red and swollen from crying, shoulders heavy from the responsibility she bears.
“I just hope I get it right,” Caitlyn says. She is acutely aware that with great power comes great responsibility and there is no greater power these days than fame. She remarks throughout the premiere episode of I Am Cait that she has a voice and must use it, to give hope to the many in the trans community who have none if nothing else.
This is an E! production, so you cannot escape the punctuation of celebrity fluff – Caitlyn surrounded by her glam squad, clothes donated by Tom Ford and Diane von Furstenberg, changing cars to evade the paparazzi – but truly touching moments abound.
The first episode is essentially one of firsts. Caitlyn’s family (mother, sisters, daughters, Kanye West) is introduced to her for the first time. Concocted for the cameras? Maybe. But we also learn from Caitlyn’s sister Pam that the seeds of Caitlyn were sown more than 30 years ago and it was only two years ago that Bruce started talking about living an authentic life. “I was a professional at hiding it,” Caitlyn jests.
Caitlyn’s mother, Esther, and her navigation of Caitlyn’s transition provide the pulse for the episode. We see through a mother’s eyes how coming to terms with such a monumental change is complex and never an easy thing.
During a conversation with Susan Landon, Child and Adolescent Program Director at the Los Angeles Gender Center, Esther recalls Bruce trying to rip off boys’ clothes as a child and asks about how to reconcile a teaching in the Bible (Deuteronomy 22:5 for those of you playing at home) with being transgender.
Esther tearily admits, “It’s not easy,” and the close-up of her wringing her hands speaks volumes. “It’s going to be so difficult for me to think of you as ‘she’ and to say … ‘Hey Caitlyn’ instead of ‘Hey Bruce’.” But the moments of reservation and anguish are balanced with those of empathy and acceptance, such as Esther recognising Caitlyn has “the same soul you were born with”.
In the episode, Kylie Jenner also meets Caitlyn for the first time (if you don’t count the unveiling of Caitlyn during a FaceTime call where her first reaction is “You look pretty”). Kylie’s cameo feels like an afterthought, lacks emotional resonance and her role is reduced to clipping in hair extensions she bought for Caitlyn.
Watch the moment where Kylie meets Caitlyn for the first time. Post continues below.
The appearance of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West has a similar effect. With the exception of Kanye waxing philosophical about perception and beating the odds, this seems more like a deployment of star power than anything else.
There is no resolution here for Esther – which, in itself, makes this reality program a little more real – and there is no single moment of revelation where she exclaims, “I get it!” The mother-daughter arc will surely be dragged out through the series to pull at the heartstrings, and there’s no doubt the cameos of each of the Kardashian clan will provide drama.
Landon notes before the family discussion scene: “There’s nothing more important than acceptance, support. This takes time in some families but the other thing to remember is that it’s a process over time.” This could not be truer for someone in transition. Look at Caitlyn – it’s taken more than 30 years for her to step into her authentic self.
Watch Caitlyn discussing her fears about becoming a transgender icon. Post continues below.
Caitlyn Jenner joins the ranks of other trans figures in the public eye like Candis Cayne, Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock. The difference with Jenner, however, is that the spotlight is 10 times hotter. From the simple but stunning “Call me Caitlyn” Vanity Fair cover to the heartfelt speech at the ESPYs when she accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Jenner lives inside the celebrity machine and seems to have a genuine desire to use it for good.
As more reports surface of transgender children and teens ending their lives, it’s refreshing (and important) that someone with a platform like Jenner talks about how excited they are about life and how much there is to look forward to.
Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” Caitlyn Jenner has not only introduced herself to the world, she has shown us how pretty truth and courage can be.
Did you watch I Am Cait? What did you think?
I Am Cait airs Monday nights at 9.30pm AEST on Foxtel’s E! channel.
Did you watch I Am Cait? What did you think?
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