“What a responsibility I have towards this community. I just hope I get it right.”
The words are spoken by Caitlyn Jenner in a particularly vulnerable and poignant moment at the start of I Am Cait, her eight-part reality TV series that begins at 8pm ET on Sunday. The gold medal-winning Olympian is shown sitting up in bed, dressed in a robe with no make-up, looking anxious and preoccupied.
“I feel bad that especially young people are going through such a difficult time in their life,” says Jenner, 65. “We don’t want people dying for this. We don’t want people murdered for this stuff.”
She goes on: “Am I going to do everything right? Am I going to say the right things? Do I project the right image? My mind’s just spinning with thoughts.”
Americans will have the chance to reach their own conclusions about these questions with the launch of the E! docu-series. Billed as one of the most talked-about reality TV launches in years, I Am Cait has also faced its detractors.
Jenner’s carefully choreographed public rollout as a trans woman – in a Diane Sawyer ABC News interview, then on the cover of Vanity Fair , followed by her first public appearance at the ESPY awards – was denounced by some as a publicity campaign to keep her star in the ascendant.
Jenner’s four children from her first marriage refused to participate in the show, with the oldest, Brandon, dismissing all E! reality series with a memorable putdown: “Every one of them is a circus.”
But critical response to I Am Cait has so far been generally positive, with Time magazine going so far as to wonder whether it might become “the defining reality show of a generation”.
Certainly, Jenner has had it easy compared to many transgender women and men who struggle with extraordinary levels of attempted suicide and violence . With no problems when it comes to money or access to medical treatment, her experience is light years away from that of so many individuals suffering from gender dysphoria – the sensation that identity and physical form are out of sync.
But with every step in the unveiling of her new identity as Caitlyn, Jenner has become more outspoken about the plight of so many others with whom she is now associated within the transgender community. The growing strength of her opinions reflect the learning curve she has been on, exposed as she has been to a steady stream of letters from trans women sharing with her their struggles and hardships.
In the first episode of I Am Cait, Jenner explores the darker side of the transgender story when she visits the family of Kyler Prescott, who killed herself at the age of 14 on 18 May. Even though Prescott’s family was supportive of her desire to transition to a woman, the pressure still overwhelmed her.
Caitlyn Jenner’s family also comes across as deeply supportive. Her mother, Esther, continues to use male pronouns and the name “Bruce” but insists, somewhat paradoxically: “I want to do what he wants.”
Kanye West too speaks out in support of the transition of his wife Kim Kardashian’s stepfather-turned-stepmother.
“I think this is one of the strongest things that have happened in our existence as human beings, that are so controlled by perception,” the rapper says. “You couldn’t have been up against more.”
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