Justice

The Community That "I Am Cait" Continues To Ignore

At the conclusion of this week's episode of "I Am Cait," most were left wondering what would happen in the hyped standoff between Caitlyn and Kris Jenner. As soon as the scene went dark and the words "To Be Continued..." flashed across the screen, I groaned.

Pushed by E! as the 'can't miss event of the season,' the home viewing audience didn't get much of what they were promised in episode seven. So far, the moment of confrontation—if it can be called that—has involved Kris exclaiming "nice shoes!" as Caitlyn opens the front door followed by an exchange of cookies. It closes just as quickly, with the Kardashian matriarch and her former spouse perched on opposing white couches, staring at each other over a well-arranged plate of cheese.


Yes, the standoff is happening in Cait's Malibu mansion over a cheese plate. And no, this does not make Cait more relatable for trans viewers—or anyone else, I'd imagine.

Celebrity and entertainment press has unsurprisingly been occupied with speculation about the train wreck that many secretly hope will come from the first meeting of the former spouses during the season finale. Will Kris be supportive of Cait's transition? Will they reconcile? Will Cait apologize? Will they fight? Viewers may finally get the Kardashian-style drama that they've been eagerly awaiting all season.

I'm not much of a "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" fan and I've never seen the show because I don't have the same curiosity about the famous reality TV family. But just like most of the audience for last night's penultimate cliffhanger episode, I was left with questions as the scene went dark, mainly, where are all the trans men?

A trans community show with a major absence.

I've been asking this question quietly since the third episode, waiting to make any major public proclamations until the season closed. Meanwhile, I've complained to those close to me every Sunday evening. Now it's obvious that the finale will largely focus on Kris/Cait and the reception of Jenner's ESPY speech, so it seems improbable that "I Am Cait" will feature any substantial trans male presence. Now, it's time to talk about it.

Yes, Nick Adams of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation makes a brief appearance a couple times, perhaps the only recurring speaking role given to a trans man on the show, although I don't remember him being introduced as a trans man. Transgender celebrity Chaz Bono also has a small cameo in the Aug. 16 episode; unfortunately, Jenner barely talks to him on screen. Then there's the handful of trans men that are featured as quick soundbites and set dressing, like the pull out interviews at Los Angeles Trans Pride in episode five. Lastly, the camera pans over faces of possible trans men or to gender-variant individuals (who are also noticeably absent from the show) in the 'field trip' scenes when Jenner visits various community organizations.

But that's it. And if the show producers—I'm looking squarely at executive producer Caitlyn Jenner—didn't have time to make it happen on the whirlwind get-to-know-you trans road trip so far, it's not going to happen in season one.

Why does it matter if trans men and non-binary people are invisible?

Trans men and non-binary people are the communities that are traditionally absent when discussion turns to the transgender experience.

Given the discrimination and incredibly high risk of violence that many trans women face—19 transgender women have been murdered this year in the U.S.—it's critical that the challenges and stories of trans women circulate in the media. Over the last two years, our increasing cultural fascination with trans Americans has grown into an unprecedented media presence with positive images of trans women, including Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Lana Wachowski, Laura Jane Grace and now Caitlyn Jenner.

But the trend of increasing representation of trans women has not been accompanied by a similar, necessary movement that would seem to be related: the visibility of trans men and of non-binary trans individuals.

"I Am Cait" is seen as breaking new ground for trans people, getting our stories on screen as a community in our big international moment. But is this really our moment—or Cait's?

We've seen the late-in-life, white transition story before. It's familiar to anyone who has watched "Transparent," "Transamerica" or "Normal." Perhaps this is groundbreaking as a non-dramatized incarnation of this story—and because Jenner's previous fame from the Kardashians and her Olympic gold have will brought trans lives to previously unreached audiences—regardless, it's creating a path for many viewers to understand challenges of the trans community.

So, what representation have trans men gotten from the show? Mostly one conversation in episode six, which fell into the same fetishizing traps that recently plagued "Transparent," and that have infected trans-masculine representations on other shows before that.

"I Am Cait" and its trans-masculine problem

In last week's episode "The Dating Game," Jenner and crew talked a lot about the challenges of dating while trans. These issues are real and important. But while drinking wine and swapping bad cisgender dating stories at a girl's night dinner, something highly problematic happens, especially given the void of trans men on the show. Someone at the dinner yells out, "We should all date trans men and get over [dating cis men]."

Is this because transgender people are less likely to discriminate against each other because we have a shared experience? Yes, that's part of the conversation, and it's a portion that I can agree with. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there.

Another voice adds, "Trans men don't have the same baggage [that cis men do] around dating trans women." A chorus of voices agree and toast to bagging a trans man.

Yuck. Not only does the whole scene reek of the self-identified "trans chasers" that many of us seek to avoid—and it's no less problematic because it's other trans people doing the fetishizing—it makes trans men less male. (And assumes we're all straight, but that's a separate issue.)

The assumption that cis men are less masculine or less heterosexual for dating trans women is grotesque. The undercurrent is clear: trans women aren't real women, so if a dude dates a trans woman he's not really straight. This also somehow makes him less male. But is that so different from the sub-text of the conversation in "I Am Cait"?

Straight trans men have their masculinity scrutinized in the same way that straight cis men do, perhaps more intensely because of the constant pressure to prove that trans men aren't just very masculine women. The idea that it's easier for a trans man to date a trans women, at least on those grounds, is borderline absurd. To me, what this actually sounds like is that trans men are a different kind of men—already with less masculinity to defend and therefore easier to date. Real (read: cisgender) men have issues when dating trans women. Trans men? We're less threatening than the real thing, because we're not the real thing.

This might have come off as idle joking over dinner, except that this is the only time that trans men have actually been discussed on the show. With so much focus in recent episodes on Cait and her desire to feel like a "normal woman," it shocks me that the only sustained depiction of trans men is somehow not as normal men. We're easier to date because of our "safer" masculinity. We're also only worth including in conversation when it comes to our potential as sexual partners.

"Transparent" fell into this trap last year with Ian Harvie's character, who was seemingly introduced solely for comic relief as the "man with the vag." Harvie was also a "safe" sexual interest on the show, and his failed coupling with another character, Ali, similarly only proved that he was less male than a cisgender man.

The season finale

Leading into next week's final episode, I'm left with many questions about the conclusion of the show, but perhaps not the questions that producers meant to leave me with when the curtain fell on Kris and Cait's first meeting. Sadly myopic, "I Am Cait" has continued to be increasingly gender essentialist and gender segregated, depicting largely only one kind of trans experience to viewer: female, femme and trans. Trans men, non-binary individuals and even less feminine trans women have mostly been erased from view.

As the U.S. Army's first out soldier, Sgt. Shane Ortega, wrote earlier this year:

"If you have a seat at the table and you’re not pulling the seat next to you back for someone else, what is the purpose of showing up?"

I couldn't agree more.

Cait, if there's a season two, it's time to pull out the chair for others in the community. It's time to hand the mic not just to trans women who look like you, but to the ones who may be less privileged, and others in the community as well. Otherwise, is this really the community's big break or just yours?

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