I have finally seen the finale of season 2 of I Am Cait. Clearly it was intended to bookend the season. Back in episode 1 the season started off with the other girls getting angry with Caitlyn over her support of the Republicans, and of Ted Cruz in particular. Episode 8 is the end point of Caitlyn’s journey from right-wing drone to leftist activist. Well, sort of.
More of that later, but first the more interesting part of the show which featured Ella and her relationship with her father. When Ella was introduced to the show it was as the trans daughter of an old friend of Caitlyn’s. In episode 8 we got to meet this guy, who was very supportive of the girls. Afterwards Ella was a bit upset and basically doing the, “you have no idea how much hell he put me though” thing. Eventually Ella and dad get to have a chat, and it all turns out in the end, which was good TV but did feel a but scripted. I hope it wasn’t.
The point of all this is to show how hard things can be for young trans kids, and indeed for any trans person who has a family. With most problems in life, you tend to feel that the one group of people you can turn to for support is your family. For trans people it tends to be the exactly opposite — family are the people who find it hardest to accept you.
Part of that, of course, is that they have known you longer and better than anyone else, and therefore find it harder to come to terms with what they see as a “new” you. But part of it is also that families are very much afraid of the social opprobrium that will descend upon them because of what you have done. It is the same sort of dynamic that leads to honor killings.
We have to hope that in time society will become sufficiently accepting of trans folks that families will no longer feel shame, and be afraid of losing status, because a relative comes out as trans. It appears to have mostly happened (in Western countries) with lesbians and gay men. We are still a long way from it with trans. Ella was lucky, in that her dad was able to get over the shame he felt at having to tell his mates that his child was transitioning. Caitlyn probably helped a lot with that, simply by being very publicly trans and famous. Other trans people aren’t so lucky. Sometimes if you love your family you have to let them go and give them time to get used to you and want to come back.
Meanwhile, back with the politics. As anyone who is following the news knows, Caitlyn hasn’t exactly turned her back on Republicanism. She is still, after all, a very rich person with a lot to lose under a more left-wing government. What she is slowly coming to realize, however, is that a lot of her friends have far more to lose under the likes of Cruz, and that she too could fall victim to that. Losing half a million dollars in taxes when you are worth billions is one thing; losing your ability to participate in public life because you are banned from using toilets and openly discriminated against by many businesses is quite another.
The main thrust of this episode was a trip to Houston to confront the right-wing pastors who led the campaign to repeal HERO, the city’s equal rights ordinance. This was a fairly general piece of legislation promoting equality in a wide range of areas. It was brought down by a campaign that pretended the law was specifically about allowing trans pedophiles into women’s toilets.
I note in passing that I now feel so much less guilty about all those years of yelling abuse at Lance Berkman from the stands at Emperor Norton Field. The guy really is an unpleasant piece of work.
As television the episode didn’t work that well because the crew was refused permission to film at either of the churches they tried to attend. We have only the cast’s reports of what happened. They do, however, ring true. Apparently, while the pastors and older members of the congregations mostly shunned them, the young kids all wanted to take selfies with Caitlyn. Even Kate Bornstein was very positive about the change that Caitlyn is helping make happen.
What the show didn’t show is the controversy that surrounded its making. The trans community in Houston, and specifically black trans people, had been very much involved in getting HERO passed in the first place, and in the fight to keep it. No attempt was made to involve them in the show. Instead the crew brought in Mara Kiesling, a high profile, Washington-based, white trans activist.
I’ve met Mara and liked her. She does a very good job. But the apparent shunning of the local black activists in favor of a Washington-based white one did not go unnoticed. Whether this was the result of cluelessness, or a feeling that the local activists had failed, or that the show didn’t want to upset Texas too much my showcasing people who were black as well as trans, isn’t clear. It also doesn’t matter, because the damage got done either way.
There has been some talk on Twitter about there being a season 3, and I know some people have been agitating for the show to look at trans communities outside of the USA. That would be good. But I think it has work to do inside the USA first. Right now it is very much a show about good-looking, gender-normative, mostly-white trans women. There was the debacle last season over Angelica Ross, and the one this season over Houston. We’ve seen nothing of Laverne Cox or Janet Mock, who are far more articulate advocates for the trans cause than Caitlyn, and we have seen very little of trans guys or non-binary people. Before the show starts to look at the wider world, it needs to look at the whole of the US trans community.