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.