Why America Needs Caitlyn Jenner's New Series
Some would say The Caitlyn Jenner Show debuted last month, when her Vanity Fair cover all but broke Twitter. Indeed Jenner has sparked a massive moment for the transgender community, but there's still plenty of work to be done: 89 percent of people in America say they don't know a transgender person, according to one poll. Another survey found 24 percent aren't sure what transgender means. That's why America needs her new E! docu-series (the elegant way to say reality show), "I Am Cait," more than ever.
Now that Jenner is the face of the trans community to many, the bar for the premiere episode has been set sky-high. And the scrutiny will be too.
Early criticism of Jenner's coming out has largely focused on her bombshell appearance. Elinor Burkett's controversial New York Times op-ed chided Jenner's "idea of a woman" as a "cleavage-boosting corset, sultry poses, thick mascara, and the prospect of regular 'girls' nights' of banter about hair and makeup." Lip gloss and nail polish loomes large in the first glimpses of "I Am Cait."
But if you consider what it must be like to be a 65-year-old woman who has never been able to freely, outwardly express herself, including her clothes, hair, and makeup, the freedom to rock a fresh manicure doesn't seem so inconsequential. As Jenner says in a preview, the show is about "getting to be who you really are."
Many are also jumping to harp on her show for not reflecting the issues common to most transgender women who, unlike Jenner, don't have easy access to physical or mental health care, much less hormone therapy or facial-feminization surgery. Jenner lives quite safely on a bluff overlooking Malibu, while statistics say trans women are at a disproportionately higher risk of murder than others. (Jenner will try to touch on these issues on "I Am Cait" by meeting with the parents of Kyler Prescott, a transgender teen who committed suicide this year.)
All that said, even if the docu-series stars the most #firstworld transgender woman in history, even if is a frothy E! production, it's still an opportunity to show all of the ways that Jenner is a human woman like any other to the masses — someone who freaks out before her mom comes to visit, someone who has tense moments with her kids, someone who lies awake at night worrying about whether she's making the right decisions. (Also, someone who laughs at herself when realizing she bought the same little black dress as her ex-wife.)
On E! or not, at times superficial or not, America needs this show now. It needs to know trans men and women and their struggles on a deeper level. Sometimes a TV show isn't just a TV show — consider that, in 1997, it was shocking for Ellen DeGeneres character to say "I am gay" on her sitcom. Today, gay marriage is the law of the land. "I Am Cait" won't singlehandedly overhaul ignorance and prejudice about the transgender community. But if it makes it a little harder for someone who has never met a transgender person to reduce them to an abstract idea instead of a human being, it's a start.
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