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The United States of Jennervania

The United States of Jennervania
February 28, 2016 Jennifer Boylan

Greetings, culture lovers.   Sunday March 6 marks the season premiere of season two of “I Am Cait,” the docu-series on the E! network that follows the early transition of Caitlyn Jenner. And which co-stars, among other people, me: a professor of English at Barnard College of Columbia University, a person who, one year ago, could not have told you the difference between a Kardashian and a kangaroo.

Season two of the show is really different from season one.  This spring, viewers will see a group of Americans fighting out the very questions that now consume the rest of the country:  What do we have to do to secure equality and justice?  What role does privilege play into our sense of ourselves–as citizens, as advocates, as women?

[There are also things like cowboy bars and blind dates and lingerie stores.  And yes, there are Kardashians (but no kangaroos).]

Caitlyn’s “road trip” this season is not just a show about a trip through America. The show IS America.

2016 finds us, as a nation, as divided as we’ve been for a long, long time.  That division is reflected in the women on the bus:  Caitlyn Jenner begins the season as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative; the rest of us are all left of center, including one woman who identifies as a socialist.

At times, it seemed like we disagreed on everything.

Viewers of the program will see cast members shouting at each other, storming out of rooms and slamming doors.  There is at least one show where I’m jabbing my finger in the air at Caitlyn shouting, in response to her suggestion that conservatives “support everybody’s rights”, “That is a lie!  That has never happened! You’re living in a dream world!”  And so on.

You will see us talking to right-wing ministers.  You will see us talking to Hillary Clinton.  You will see us at a Native American medicine wheel ceremony.  You will see us on the receiving end of angry protests in which people shout that Caitlyn Jenner misrepresents the reality of transgender people’s lives.

These are lives that are increasingly threatened– not only by violence, but from a slew of “bathroom bills” now under consideration in scores of statehouses, bills designed to humiliate and degrade us.

The irony is that transgender people have never been so visible in the culture, and not least because of shows like Caitlyn Jenner’s (and I Am Jazz, and Transparent, and others).  This increased visibility has brought about a degree of recognition of our humanity that was unthinkable a dozen years ago.

And yet, as this visibility increases, so do the efforts to erase us.  In the face of all these threats to our humanity, I’ve heard from many of my friends in the trans community, questioning whether it was even appropriate for me to be part of this program, given the terrain we’re now in.

I admit that I struggle mightily with Caitlyn’s political views, as well as with her sense of what “womanhood” actually means.   There were times when I thought that, even though CJ and I are both trans, we couldn’t have less in common with each other.  I found her an exhausting and infuriating companion at times, a Republican glamorpuss with a head like a rock.

And yet, for all that:  I have a tremendous affection for her as well.  I consider her my friend. I admire the way she decided to use her transition–and the strange fame of her family– to create visibility, and to try to make things better for our community.

People who don’t have friends that they disagree on lots of things with probably won’t understand my affection for her, but my tent is pretty big when it comes to the people I love. 

What are the odds that a group of American–trans or cis–can come to understand each other?  Can we even learn to talk the same language?

Over the course of this season, I think people will see us trying.  We learn, sometimes begrudgingly, how to respect each other.  It’s not just Caitlyn Jenner who changes and grows this season– it’s all of us:  me, Candis Cayne, Chandi Moore, Zachary Drucker, Kate Bornstein, and the new addition to the “cast,” 18-year-old Ella Gieselle.

If a group as diverse and gnarly as the women on the Jenner bus can learn, somehow, to talk together, then perhaps the rest of the country can do so too.  As Jenner says in one of the new season’s promos, “The stakes are too high to get it wrong.”  The “it” she’s referring to might well mean the whole country.

Maybe this season of IAC isn’t really about transgender issues at all.   Maybe it’s about learning, against all odds, how to see the love and humanity in each other, even when we disagree.

As Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a man until you walk around in his heels.”

I hope you’ll step into our heels in the weeks ahead, beginning with episode one, premiering on E! March 6.

 

11 Comments

  1. Michael Rowe 1 year ago

    This post alone should make everyone want to tune in, even those of us who might otherwise want to give it a pass. Sometimes it’s hard to see what has been built until the construction is finished and the edifice can be judged all of a piece. Good luck to everyone involved in this season!

  2. Katherine Harris 1 year ago

    Hello Jennifer,

    I’m still debating whether or not I’ll watch the program this season. I’m really not a reality TV fan unless it’s home improvement or gardening. I do hope that the second season is a success. Like others I do have issue with her politics, but honestly I only just fell out of the GOP fold and it’s because of the incessant attacks on the LGBT community. She is also, or was last season, very much out of touch with the trans community. She’s learning, just as I am and others finding their way in this complicated existence.
    What irks me most are the comments I see within the social media by other trans people, especially the women, who are so negative towards Caitlyn because of her wealth that has allowed her the surgeries, beautiful clothes, the lifestyle she has. So incredibly petty. I know that if I had her wealth I wouldn’t worry about my next order of meds, have a pretty decent wardrobe, and most certainly knock out some surgeries. I strongly suspect that those catty trans women would do exactly the same. Caitlyn is trying. She’s involved. She may not always get it right, but the effort is there. Can’t wait until I’m full time to get more involved. Any way, much success to the second season. Hugs.

  3. Gillian Miller 1 year ago

    I am not a Caitlyn fan. Coming out of the Kardashian craziness, I was uncomfortable with her from the start. Most of us try to live our lives day to day. I do not need or want representation by Cait.

  4. Rachael Ferraro 1 year ago

    One of the greatest things I remember about the tour coming to Dubuque to celebrate Transgender Awareness Month was meeting all the wonderful trans women in this show. It was an honor to have lunch with such strong amazing influences as Jenny B, Kate B, Zachary, Chandi. Jen A. Candis, Ella, and Mimi. I felt so comfortable and at home surrounded by the girls. They make you feel like you’ve always known them. It was a great experience ladies, and I appreciate your coming to our small mid west town to celebrate. Can’t wait to see the episode. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.. Dubuque Transgender

  5. Mi 1 year ago

    Hi Jenny!

    Ingrid here ,
    I watch I’m Cait and is a big fan of the show
    and Caitlyn all of you are wery great of course.
    I think I can learn something from all of you as
    I do every time I meet new people and learn to
    know them,now I have not met any of you but
    I would most certainly like to do so !.
    I’m shore I would have fun !
    I’m a poet ,writer ,tomboy ,artist etc.

    you can read some of My poems if you like I can
    send you ,give Caitlyn my regards to

    Kindley (Mi)

  6. Gay Maddox 1 year ago

    Hi, Jenny.

    I so wish this piece you wrote was getting more exposure on the internet and in the media because to tell you the truth, before I read your words from last December, I had decided I could not stomach one more episode of Cait’s show because she seems to think getting hair, makeup and boobs makes her an expert on what the trans community really needs. I know she’s trying, but she is making herself look utterly ridiculous on that show. I am not surprised there is talk about cancellation. My big fear for Cait is when she was he and a tremendous success, he was used to being taken seriously, to being admired, to being able to earn really good money. Now, as a woman who has no idea what it means to be a woman, people are looking down their noses at her and that show makes you and Candi and the other ladies look well spoken, intelligent, funny, generous, warm hearted and basically well rounded women while Cait is coming across as a thing that wants to look like a woman but think and behave like a man. And, not just a man, but an opinionated bully of a man. If I’m not mistaken, during his interview with Ms. Sawyer, didn’t he make reference to a point in his life when he considered suicide? If this show fails, and the trans community cannot accept Cait as the leader and ambassador she’s set herself up to be simply because she is so out of touch with the reality of the trans universe, what will she have left except a closet full of expensive clothes and an isolated home far too big for one woman up on a cliff with only herself for company with perhaps a few friends like you who don’t like to quit or give up on anyone? I do truly fear for her future and am so thankful she has you and a few others like you in her world. I wish I had you in my world and I’m not L or B or G or T. I’m just a 63 year old woman with breast cancer and I think you are a magnificent specimen of humanity. Keep up your good work, your beautiful writing and take care of you lady because you are an absolute treasure.

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  5. […] its heart; Jenner is their promising, frequently hard-to-handle protégé. Boylan has already written about this season with her typical eloquence and […]

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