“I Am Cait” wrapped its first and possibly only season on E! this week, leaving trans activists torn as they take stock of the reality series and its impact.
“There is some tension coming from the community about it,” André Pérez, founder of the Trans Oral History Project, told TheWrap of the show, which followed Caitlyn Jenner on her very public transgender journey. “Caitlyn Jenner is put on this pedestal… to become the authoritative voice on trans issues and that happened overnight. It wasn’t anything that she did to particularly earn that title. She wasn’t elected by the trans community.”
Pérez’s comments were echoed by many in the transgender community who spoke with TheWrap. While some praised the reality star for her courage, others were ambivalent about and even offended by her show, characterizing it as exclusionary and tone-deaf.
“[‘I Am Cait’] doesn’t really mirror or reflect the struggles or the reality for transgender women of color,” said Jennicet Gutiérrez, the trans woman who famously interrupted President Obama at a White House LGBT Pride event in June. “It doesn’t reflect the experience of transgender women in general.”
At a conference of LGBT journalists in San Francisco earlier this month, Jenner’s wealth and fame — and perceived insensitivity to trans men and women who lack in those departments — made her a target of criticism.
Activist Ashley Love told journalists that some in the trans community had taken offense at remarks Jenner made on her show, which seemed to stigmatize economically-disadvantaged trans people who receive government assistance.
“A lot of people felt Jenner was demeaning trans people of color, poor trans people, trans people with disabilities, trans people who aren’t reality stars,” she said.
In an interview this month with “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, Jenner said of her wealth, “Yes, I’ve worked hard. I’ve been able to put a few bucks away.”
That comment didn’t exactly endear Jenner to critics who claimed, as Gutiérrez did, that, “It’s implying any other trans women who don’t succeed is because we haven’t worked hard enough.”
But other prominent trans advocates said that Jenner and her show deserve praise.
“I think Caitlyn really put herself out there in a way that she did not have to for the greater good,” Scott Turner Schofield, the first transgender performer in daytime television, told TheWrap. “The Bold and the Beautiful” star added, “I really take exception with the people who chuck her story because she’s rich… She got schooled on her privilege by the other people on the show. And that was a wonderful moment of learning.”
Pérez, who also directed and produced the upcoming web series “America in Transition,” told TheWrap that “I Am Cait” is important because of the context in which it showed Jenner.
“In the past we’ve almost always seen trans people as these isolated individuals. We see them outside of communities. We see them as struggling with their own bodies,” he said. “And so the idea we are seeing a trans person who is part of an entire community that is diverse and where people have different opinions and experiences, that’s huge.”
Schofield said it might be better for Jenner if there isn’t a second season of “I Am Cait,” at least for now. “Honestly, as a human being, I want Caitlyn Jenner to take some time to learn who she really is without all of the scrutiny and the cameras. It’s already hard enough for her.”