Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY speech.
Winter Laike is a trans musician, storyteller, son, brother, and less notably, Original Plumbing magazine’s Mr. Transman NYC 2013. Nicole Pasulka is a non-trans journalist who writes about sexuality and gender and can remember a time not so long ago when every article about trans people or issues had to include an ad hoc definition of the term. Those days are gone, and in their place we have I Am Cait, part reality show, part PSA, a landmark moment for trans visibility, and a romp through the homes and closets of a very rich woman. Ahead, we discuss Sunday night’s episode of Cait, “What’s in a Name?”
Nicole Pasulka: This week, Cait is getting ready for the ESPYs where she’ll receive the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, and she is determined to hash everything out with her ex-wife, Kris. Kris! Who we’ve been expecting to show up to tell her side of the story for what feels like an eternity because frankly this show is like watching nail polish dry. I have warmed up to Cait — I like her way more than I ever thought I would. She’s sweet and she’s trying. But the endless drumbeat of “we have to change this” and “people need to know about that” has started to wear on me. A dull, well-intentioned life isn’t a bad thing, but it does not make for riveting TV.
That said, I do love hearing people’s stories, and maybe viewers who haven’t thought about trans issues much feel differently?
Winter Laike: Yeah, I’m in the same boat. Things are getting repetitive, and the blanket statements are having less and less of an effect on me. I would like to see more action toward change. And in the moments where Cait shares her story and the stories of other trans people, I want to see the positive reaction that others have to it. Viewers need to see that trans people can be accepted and respected by those outside the LGBT community. Otherwise, I feel like we’re constantly living in a bubble. I’m sure the show could jazz things up with some drama about Cait dealing with legislators.
N.P.: Cait’s family was around early on, but they’ve been out of the picture for several episodes. Now, it looks like everybody’s coming through for the ESPYs — everybody but Kris, at least.
W.L.: Ronda and Cait tackle her to-do list. She needs to apply for a new golf-club membership since her usual spot is under construction and she can’t decide whether to use Bruce or Caitlyn on her application. Cait tells Ronda to just use “Bruce” and Ronda pushes back — Caitlyn is her name now.
Caitlyn doesn’t want to worry about the locker-room situation, which is completely understandable. I think that gives most trans people anxiety. From a safety standpoint, it seems like it would be better to use the women’s locker room. I don’t know how Caitlyn thinks going by “Bruce” would play out. As Ronda points out, “Everyone’s going to know that you’re Caitlyn.” She’s been putting all this time and energy into finally being herself, why would she undo all of that for golf? Ronda is really pushing her on this, but she’s not getting through. Generally, I’m not down with people telling others what to do, especially cis people telling trans folks how to live their lives, but I’m with Ronda on this one.
N.P.: Ronda is like, you’re here, you’re queer (or in this case you’re a very normative trans woman), the old ladies at the golf club are just gonna have to get used to it.
No surprise, Candis, Cait’s BFF and a trans woman who gives solid advice on the regular, feels the same way. “You’re living your life. They’ll get over it. You can’t play both sides of the fence,” she tells her. “Sign your name as Caitlyn from now on and move on.”
She can visit all the trans kids in the world but getting these old gals at the club to roll with her gender transition is where she can really shine as a spokesperson and reach a group of people who might not listen to anyone else.
W.L.: Speaking of trans kids … Candis and Caitlyn head to L.A. Children’s Hospital where Chandi Moore facilitates a support group for trans and gender nonconforming youth. Chandi warns Cait that some of the subject matter may be pretty intense, and “we lay it all on the line.”
The young people talk about having identification documents with the wrong names and gender markers. It can make it difficult to get a job, go to school, use restrooms, and can lead to dangerous and humiliating encounters with police. A name can out a trans person, especially if they “pass” on a regular basis. A trans woman might be referred to as “miss” and “ma’am” every day, but when she shows her ID and it says “David” she’ll be bombarded with questions (usually about her genitals). This can sometimes end in violence.
But unlike when a couple gets married, getting a name change is not easy. It has to be approved by the court, and it can take over a year just to get a court date. The requirements vary by state and can include a background check or publicly announcing your name change. Some requirements, like legally publishing the name change, are problematic because they jeopardize the person’s privacy.
N.P.: Cait tells the group that “it’s extremely important that we’re heard. We’re part of society. We’re people.” I don’t disagree, but the problems some of these kids face won’t all disappear if name changing becomes easier for trans people. One beef I have with this show (and Cait’s) point of view is that issues raised often get flattened — not getting an ID, or struggling to get through college as the result of gender identity rather than the result of gender identity AND poverty, racial inequality, or disparities in education.
“This really puts my personal challenges into perspective,” Cait then tells the group. Yes! That’s almost what I’m saying, but not quite. The “we” Cait has started to embrace has limitations because, of course, her life is as different from some trans experiences as it is from those of cisgender people. Do I sound like a broken record right now? Sorry. This show does that to me.
W.L.: Drian Juarez is back! Drian, you’ve been missed. She brings Cait and Ronda information and forms on how Cait can change her name and gender marker. Caitlyn is excited, but maybe not as excited as Ronda.
N.P.: Caitlyn’s mom, sisters, and niece come for the ESPYs. Cait is thrilled to have family with her, and it’s pretty touching. Her mom just broke her hip, but she shows up anyway.
They all go for dinner with Candis and the girls. Everybody is having a nice time — joking about outfits. Cait’s mom is asking lots of questions and things get a little personal, but goodwill reigns.
W.L.: And now, the ESPYs! Candis was super-sweet and had a dress made for Chandi, who was way touched by the gesture. During Cait’s acceptance speech, she thanks her family and directs a message to the audience: “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead. Because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”
This clip didn’t mention other gems from the speech like: “Trans people deserve something vital — they deserve your respect.” It also didn’t show Cait calling attention to the deaths of two young trans people, Mercedes Williamson and Sam Taub. I think this venue is such an incredible place to say these things because it’s full of athletes and other celebrities. As Caitlyn says, “What you do and what you say are absorbed and observed by millions.” Just think of all the instances of student athletes bullying or assaulting others. More proactive anti-bullying and consent platforms from famous athletes could change that. The “I Wanna Be Like Mike” effect could help save lives. Caitlyn says that this is not about her; it’s about all of us accepting one another. Now that’s what I call an acceptance speech!
N.P.: Cait has been calling Kris. She really wants to talk. Caitlyn says she learns more about Kris reading things online than from her directly. But maybe Kris feels the same way?
W.L.: It appears that the BIG TALK we’ve been promised all week is finally going to happen.
N.P: Hold on, though. Before Cait can talk to Kris, she’s got to get some encouragement and advice from Jenny Boylan and her wife, Deedie. Jenny and Deedie are adorable and in love and seem like they have some sympathy for Kris. So do I, a bit. Cait has seemed pretty angry with Kris for most of the show, but in a clip from before Cait transitioned, Kris is crying because Cait — then Bruce — hadn’t even told her about being on hormones.
Two years after splitting up with Kris, Cait seems happy. She’s on an adventure, and “as the trans person moves into the new brilliant self, the rest of the family is kind of left in the dust,” Deedie says. “There’s a period of mourning the loss of your mate, or your father, or your partner.”
Back from her chat with Jenny and Deedie, Cait’s in her closet getting ready. (That joke about her being “in the closet” is way stale.) This is “not the 400 meters, it’s a marathon,” Jenny counsels over the phone, which feels apt since it can feel like she’s training for a gold medal in being trans.
W.L.: Kris comes over … and … AHHH! Another week without the talk. There’s only one episode left. Will Caitlyn and Kris ever get to share all of their feelings? Will either one of them own their shit and apologize? Can they find a way to be friends for the kids? What kind of cookies did Kris bring? The world wants to know!