I Am Cait: There was something important to say, but Caitlyn Jenner was too busy playing dress up to say it

The good news is, Caitlyn Jenner cranked up the volume on the transgender conversation.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

The bad news is, Caitlyn Jenner cranked up the volume on the transgender conversation.

I mean, before Jenner’s televised chin wag with Diane Sawyer, her Vanity Fair cover shot and her cable TV homage to herself, I Am Cait, the rest of the world basically ignored us. Few knew we even existed. And now? They see us as circus bears riding a bike and won’t let us use the washroom.

Well done, girly.

But, hey, that’s what Kitty Cait promised, isn’t it? She vowed to use her white privilege, power and influence to “reshape the landscape of how transgender people are viewed and treated.” So, unless a girl has to take a pee in, say, Charlotte, N.C., or Medicine Hat, Alta., it’s mission accomplished.

Right about now, you might be thinking that you’re in for a bit of Caitlyn Jenner bashing. You’re right. And I’m not typing with a pair of kid gloves on.

I’m rather pleased that E! network has pulled the plug on I Am Cait after a two-season run, because it was a toxic, insulting misrepresentation of the transgender life. Kitty Cait doesn’t have a clue how I feel, nor the other 1-1.5 million trans individuals in North America who, unlike the High Priestess in the Cult of Cait, do not stir every morning from a bed in a $3.5 million Malibu mansion. A park bench, perhaps. But a mansion, no.

cult of caitI don’t begrudge Kitty Cait her wherewithal, estimated at $100 million and largely built on the back of Bruce, her former Olympic decathlon champion self. It’s the flaunting of her good fortune that rankles. It’s her single-minded focus on glam gowns and suitable shades of lipstick while the rest of us are preoccupied with unique challenges completely foreign to her. You know, like wondering what public toilet we cannot pee in.

No doubt that unrelatability is among the reasons viewers abandoned I Am Cait. I mean, if she can’t find common ground with every-day transgender folk, how is it possible that a connection with cis folk can exist?

Thus, few will miss I Am Cait and its narcissistic, vacuous star because few were watching.

Jenner’s premiere attracted 2.7 million pairs of eyeballs in 2015, and 2 million viewers had bolted by the time Season 2 arrived on our flatscreens. It got worse. One episode drew an audience of 480,000, which, in the world of television ratings, means you are being seen by, well, nobody.

So what happened? Well, it’s like the old Moscow Circus: People were curious to see a bear ride a bike, skip a rope or ice skate. And that’s what Caitlyn Jenner was to so many people—a novelty act. She was the bear riding the bike, the only difference being the bear wasn’t allowed to speak while Kitty Cait coughed up enough hair balls to knit a new designer outfit.

Kitty Cait and part of her trans posse (drinking wine, of course).
Kitty Cait and part of her trans posse (drinking wine, of course).

I confess that I limited my intake of the second go-round of I Am Cait earlier this year.  It’s my understanding through conversation and research, however, that it was every bit the cringe-worthy train wreck that was her first-year frolic with her trans posse of paid BFFs in 2015, which I gave a test drive based on the naive notion that she might actually deliver something of substance on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and, most important, transgender collective. Alas, Kitty Cait spent the majority of her time flouncing about the United States—“Road trip, girls!”—with her faithful flock of fawning followers, and when she and her trans gal pals weren’t toodling around on dirt bikes, drinking wine, roller skating, drinking wine, swimming, drinking more wine, and kissing Boy George’s ring finger, Cait could be found cooing over Candis Cayne or in a clothes closet the size of Manhattan, fretting over what to wear for a sleepover at Candis’s abode. Or she might have been bragging about the cost of her store-bought, trophy tits.

At different times, Kitty Cait was rude, abrasive, aggressive, interruptive, cruel, power addictive and hopelessly ill-informed on transgender reality. She displayed an insatiable hunger for attention. Her likability quotient was the only thing lower than her ratings.

In one episode, she insisted on using her dead name, Bruce, in order to curry favor with a fancy-schmancy golf club. That’s where she lost me. Totally.

All the while, I would watch and shudder, wondering to myself, “Do people think all transgender women are such total ditzes and mean-spirited bitches?”

On occasion, the High Priestess and her Caitlettes would engage in meaningful dialogue about transgender life, whereby one of them spilled on the horrors of being mocked, maligned and ridiculed by doctors, lawyers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Kitty Cait then would invariably punctuate those true stories of trans torment by gasping, “That actually happened to you? Really?”

Those moments of earnest, revealing and sometimes emotional chit-chat were, I assume, designed to inform and educate. Unfortunately, they were as fleeting as Jenner’s attention span, because there always seemed to be a new garment (usually a gift from a world-renowned seamstress) she simply had to drape over her 6-feet-2 frame.

Whatever message I Am Cait proposed to deliver was lost in multiple layers of designer gowns, lip gloss and a centrepiece whose mind, vis-a-vis transgender issues, is a vacant lot and whose mouth is a landmine.

It didn’t have to be that way.



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