Has "I Am Cait" Made a Difference?

September 14th 2015

Aron Macarow

Midway through the season finale of "I Am Cait," we find the trans posse having lunch at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village to plan a party for Caitlyn Jenner. Cue a groan. This is exactly the kind of reality TV that I don't want to watch. But it turns out it's not just a party on a Malibu hilltop where everyone wears white. It's actually a celebration that will close out the show's first season, a ceremony to officially mark Cait's entry into a new life via her recently official name.

Also, why is everyone wearing white at the end of the episode? (It seems Boy George and I missed the same memo.)

Even more meaningful, transgender minister and advocate Allyson Robinson is set to lead the event, an icon in the trans community who has done more to publicly reconcile gender transition and being of faith than perhaps anyone else.

It's this dichotomy that characterizes all eight episodes of the first season of "I Am Cait," and the penultimate installment is no exception.

In now typical fashion, we move from this setting to the most fake Kris/Cait reconciliation selfie ever into a serious conversation about faith and the transgender community.

Jenner asks Rev. Robinson a particularly difficult question. She wants to know how the minister answers her critics, whether it might be strangers or family and friends, who believe that there's something wrong with being trans. Particularly, something against God.

Robinson's response is poignant and thoughtful, what you would never expect from E! or celebrity-driven reality TV — but also exactly what we have come to expect from moments of the show during its freshman season.

Speaking of the Bible, Robinson answers, "Knowing that our stories have always been there helps me keep those two worlds intact."

Why visibility is important

The stories of transgender people have arguably always been there, whether we're talking about the biblical period or modern day Los Angeles. But what's special about this show — and what makes me hope that it will be renewed for another season — is that this is the first time that our stories have been on the screen in such a visible fashion. 

Robinson may have been talking about religious texts; however, she could have just as easily been speaking about the daily news. While the transgender community has always been around, we have not been a very visible bunch.

Until recently, trans stories have been submerged, just under the surface because of the misgendering of a homicide victim, or unstated because the success story chose to keep his or her transition hidden from view. Our stories are not common in the news. Even rarer are chances for the transgender community to be heard, unless you count tragic storylines at the movies, which are usually performed by cisgender actors playing transgender people and not representative of the community itself. (Just last week we learned from People.com that cisgender actor Elle Fanning knows transgender people in real life and that helped her prepare for a role as a transgender man in upcoming film, "Ray." Barf.)

Caitlyn Jenner may not be the community's preferred mouthpiece. She's white and wealthy, unrepresentative of the community at large, and she can be a well-meaning but incredibly flawed person. Even Kris Kardashian points out Jenner's insensitivity in the closer, saying that "maybe that's just Bruce-slash-Caitlyn's personality. That's just the way she is."

I'll admit that my favorites on the show have been everyone but Cait — Jenny Boylan, Candis Cayne, Jen Richards, Chandi Moore — but that is exactly where the power of this show stands. I can list off multiple trans women, all portrayed as strong and successful rather than tragic, who have each had screen time together and separately on screens across America. Wow.

Moore calls the experience life-changing, saying, "I can't think of a time, ever, that I've so celebrated being trans."  

Bumps, bruises and small offenses over the course of the show aside, I can't think of a time that I have either. 

But has "I Am Cait" made a difference? 

I had a disheartening conversation with a co-worker last week that spoke to some of my worst fears about what some cisgender people see when they watch "I Am Cait."

"But has she done the thing yet?" my work friend asked over the phone. 

I returned the question: "What thing?"

The answer I was afraid of came back. "You know, has Jenner chopped it off yet?" she asked, referring to her genitals, a topic the show had so surprisingly and wonderfully stayed away from. (It's never anyone's business to ask a trans person about surgeries. In case you don't know that, check out ATTN:'s primer on what not to ask a transgender person.)

As I silently wondered why this should matter, she continued, 'I just think he's a man who likes to dress up in women's clothing or something. Until he cuts it off at least.'

These words came from a person I've known for years and someone I would never normally classify as transphobic. She knows that I am transgender, and she has been incredibly supportive of me at our workplace. It made no sense. How could she watch "I Am Cait" and still think that Jenner's transition was in some way fake?

Perhaps the show hasn't made a difference in the ways that some of us have hoped. But it has increased familiarity and vocabulary around a community that has spent so long in the shadows. It's broken down barriers — not all of them, but enough to start the conversations we need to begin the real work of cultural change — something that does not happen overnight.

I was not eager to correct my co-worker after what she said, however, sometimes that is how improvements happen, little-by-little from person-to-person. 

Without the shared stories that come from the inclusion of trans lives in mass media, there is no language to have those conversations. And then there is no starting point, no moment for dialogue. Even if that's the only thing that the first season of "I Am Cait" accomplished — and I think it did well more than that — I will certainly await a season two.

Thank you, Caitlyn Marie Jenner. Welcome home.

Here are the rest of Aron's reviews of 'I am Cait.'

Episode 1 - Why I was Dead Wrong About 'I am Cait'

Episode 2 - Caitlyn Jenner Just Confronted a Harsh Reality About the Trans Community

Episode 3 - Caitlyn Jenner Is Going Through a Phase of Transition That's Often Ignored

Episode 4 - The Word That Divided Viewers of 'I Am Cait' This Weekend

Episode 5 - 'I Am Cait' Tackles a Major Part of Transitioning

Episode 6 - 'I Am Cait' Highlights the Biggest Issue Trans People Face While Dating

Episode 7 - The Community That "I Am Cait" Continues To Ignore