‘I Am Cait’ sheds light on Jen­ner’s trans­gen­der life


It’s the next step in the big­gest celebrity story of the year.

It’s the long-awaited de­but of Cait­lyn Jen­ner’s do­cuseries chart­ing her new life as a trans­gen­der woman.

Fit­tingly, “I Am Cait” opens with the for­mer Bruce Jen­ner, her am­ple tresses in huge rollers, at home get­ting hair-and­makeup treat­ment as she be­holds a gi­ant blowup of her bomb­shell Van­ity Fair cover that fol­lowed her April in­ter­view with Diane Sawyer.

Yes, Jen­ner’s tran­si­tion from Bruce to Cait­lyn has been a highly or­ches­trated spec­ta­cle, with “I Am Cait” the latest phase of the cam­paign. And, typ­i­cal of celeb-re­al­ity shows, there isn’t a scene in this first of eight episodes that doesn’t seem stage­m­an­aged to push the starry uber-nar­ra­tive along.

Even so, there is some­thing more sub­stan­tial go­ing on here. A grat­i­fy­ing mea­sure of au­then­tic­ity man­ages to by­pass the celebrity trap­pings.

Jen­ner’s mother and two sis­ters help. De­liv­ered to Jen­ner’s sea­side Cal­i­for­nia com­pound for their first en­counter with her as a woman, they seem re­fresh­ingly like reg­u­lar folks who are gen­uinely fo­cused on a fam­ily mem­ber they love and sup­port, never mind all the lights and cam­eras there to cap­ture ev­ery mo­ment.

“It’s go­ing to be so dif­fi­cult for me to think of you as ‘she,’ and say ‘Cait­lyn’ when I want to speak with you,” her mother says. “It’s go­ing to take some get­ting used to, but I want to do what you want.”

At the other end of the au­then­tic­ity scale are step­daugh­ter Kim Kar­dashian and her hus­band, Kanye West. They are seen in a cameo ap­pear­ance that plays as un­in­tended comic re­lief, with Kar­dashian never doff­ing her floor-length coat (she blames her mod­esty on her preg­nancy, yet it smacks more of, “I don’t show my body ex­cept for my own projects”) and with West ex­plain­ing that his shoelaces are un­tied be­cause they’re un­nec­es­sary since his shoes are re­ally slip­pers (“the laces are sort of af­ter the fact”).

Kar­dashian takes the time to sur­vey Jen­ner’s closet full of new women’s fash­ions. Then she and West make their hasty exit.

Such in­ter­ludes un­der­cut the dig­nity of Jen­ner’s chal­lenges, and make what she is go­ing through ar­guably less re­lat­able to an au­di­ence that needs to re­late.

On the other hand, fame claims at­ten­tion, and the celebrity ma­chine for Cait­lyn Jen­ner, in­clud­ing “I Am Cait,” has been im­pos­si­ble to miss. With “Cait,” she will have a weekly pulpit and a guar­an­teed flock to whom she knows how to de­liver her mes­sage loud and clear.

“The tremen­dous amount of sup­port that I’ve got­ten has been over­whelm­ing, but you also have to re­al­ize that it’s not this way for ev­ery­body,” she takes pains to point out.

More than once, she cites the lack of sup­port from fam­ily, friends and out­siders ex­pe­ri­enced by far too many in the trans com­mu­nity, as well as the high mur­der rate and many sui­cides.

“Peo­ple are dy­ing over this is­sue,” she says. “I feel a tremen­dous re­spon­si­bil­ity here, be­cause I have a voice, and there are so many trans peo­ple out there who do not have a voice.”

At the hour’s end, Jen­ner heads to San Diego (switch­ing cars twice to lose pur­su­ing pa­parazzi) to meet with the mother of Kyler Prescott, a trans­gen­der teen who took his own life in May.

The visit to the Prescott home is pre­sented as a drop-in by Jen­ner, but, how­ever cal­cu­lated, it serves as pow­er­ful ev­i­dence for why she’s con­cerned.

“What I want to do is just be able to cre­ate un­der­stand­ing, so the next per­son doesn’t have to be like me,” Jen­ner says.

De­spite dis­rup­tions by a Kar­dashian brand of faux glit­terati, “I Am Cait,” at least in its first week, stays true to Jen­ner’s stated higher pur­pose.


This im­age cour­tesy of E! shows Cait­lyn Jen­ner in the first of­fi­cial pro­mo­tional trailer for the new doc­u­men­tary se­ries, "I Am Cait," in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The show pre­mieres Sun­day on E!

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