'I Am Cait' is not about Caitlyn Jenner

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5 Highlights from 'I Am Cait' Debut- Kylie & Kanye Meet Caitlyn

We're a little late to the party, but so excited to be here. Winter is a trans musician, storyteller, tenderqueer, son, brother, and less notably,Original Plumbing magazine's Mr. Transman NYC 2013. Nicole is a non-trans journalist who writes about sexuality and gender and can remember a time not so long ago when every article about trans people or issues had to include an ad hoc definition of the term. Those days are gone, and in their place we have I Am Cait, part reality show, part PSA, a landmark moment for trans visibility, and a romp through the homes and closets of a very rich woman. Ahead, we discuss Sunday night's episode of Cait: "The Road Trip: Part One."

Nicole Pasulka: It must be awkward to be this rich and still be marginalized. The first episode was very "Trans 101" and also very much about a member of the Kardashian family. So at the beginning of episode two, I'm wondering, who is this show for? The feeling I've had since Caitlyn Jenner started to publicly transition is that this story is being told for "us," a general public who will gain a better understanding of the issues if we see a relatable trans person who can normalize the experience.

Winter Laike: She refers to herself as a "spokesperson" a lot. I don't remember getting a ballot in the mail or a Facebook invite to decide who speaks on my behalf.

N.P.: Whether or not other people find the hyperfemininity relatable or alienating, it is still on full blast in episode two. Caitlyn's look is really coming together since she ditched that blue dress Kim hates, but her voice still doesn't sound feminine. Before she brought this up, I thought to myself, Wouldn't it be cool if Caitlyn is like, "Screw it, this is my voice"? But maybe it's messed up that I want to see her dial back the full-on femme presentation.

W.L.: I don't think so. In general, I'd really like her to reject the notion that she has to be hyperfeminine in order to be accepted as a woman by the general public. It may sound cheesy, but I wish Caitlyn spent less time on her outward appearance and more on the inside stuff like her confidence. Though I realize that a lot of trans people draw confidence from being seen by the world as the person they feel they are. Society's expectations have fucked up everything for everybody. And by society, I mean rich, straight, white cisgender men. So I guess in a way, maybe Caitlyn's past has done this to herself?

See the promo shots for 'I Am Cait':

I AM CAIT - Caitlyn Jenner
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'I Am Cait' is not about Caitlyn Jenner
I AM CAIT -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Caitlyn Jenner -- (Photo by: James White/E! Entertainment)
I AM CAIT -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Caitlyn Jenner -- (Photo by: James White/E! Entertainment)
I AM CAIT -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Caitlyn Jenner -- (Photo by: James White/E! Entertainment)

N.P.: Kim is back in this episode, because Kim is Kim and she's gonna be in this show. She and her friend Malika Haqq offer some tips on femininity, which amount to: Don't eat ribs in public.

W.L.: Caitlyn tells them she's considering surgery to change the pitch of her voice. Kim points out that if it went wrong, Cait could lose her voice entirely. In the reaction shot, Caitlyn looks like she hadn't considered this.

Ah, Caitlyn, I want to support you, I really do. But you have to stop acting like surgery is always the answer. With any surgery, there is risk, and surgery is not accessible to a large population of trans people.

N.P.: And then I Am Cait swerves left, introducing the highly respected writer, academic, and activist Jennifer Finney Boylan. Jenny Boylan saw you rolling your eyes, Winter, and was like, "I got this."

W.L.: Jenny Boylan is a breath of fresh air. I was afraid the whole show was going to be about Caitlyn's beauty tips. I really enjoy this nerdy, no-nonsense professor along with her patience and eagerness to show Cait some perspective.

N.P.: Seeing that Caitlyn is so focused on the clothes and makeup, Boylan states what should be obvious, but isn't: "There are more important things than what you look like." Jenny Boylan has invited a group of diverse and brilliant trans women in the hopes that Cait can glean some knowledge about how to rep the community. To get ready for the event Jenny gets ... an awkward makeover. Shiny hair appears to be the price of entry here. Jen Richards, Chandi Moore, Candis Cayne, Zackary Drucker, and Drian Juarez arrive for a girls' night. They all look amazing and happy. Because Caitlyn doesn't know any trans women, she is amped.

W.L.: It's like finally being invited to a sleepover with the popular girls at school. Let's hope she doesn't wake up with shaving cream all over her face. Cait is over the moon to share. And she should be! But, of course, not every newly out trans person gets a group of badass activist friends to immediately take you under their wings and listen to the misguided things you say.

Photos of Caitlyn's recent outings:

Caitlyn Jenner out and about
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'I Am Cait' is not about Caitlyn Jenner
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: TV personality Caitlyn Jenner arrives at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Chris Rock, A. J. Calloway and Caitlyn Jenner attend the 2016 Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons honoring Irving Azoff at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 14, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Caitlyn Jenner is seen on February 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ignat/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 09: Caitlyn Jenner is seen on the streets of Manhattan on February 9, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/GC Images)
RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CA - FEBRUARY 02: Executive Producer Caitlyn Jenner speaks at the AOL 2016 MAKERS conference at Terranea Resort on February 2, 2016 in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 14: Tv personality Candis Cayne (L) and executive producer/tv personality Caitlyn Jenner speak onstage during the 'I Am Cait' panel discussion at the NBCUniversal portion of the 2016 Winter TCA Tour at Langham Hotel on January 14, 2016 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 04: Caitlyn Jenner Hosts Special Screening Of 'Tangerine' at Landmark Nuart Theatre on January 4, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
Caitlyn Jenner speaks to the Chicago House luncheon at the Hilton Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner attends Glamour's 25th Anniversary Women Of The Year Awards at Carnegie Hall on November 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 08: Caitlyn Jenner seen at the Soho House for dinner on November 08, 2015 in New York, New York. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: Caitlyn Jenner seen leaving 'Therese Raquin' on Broadway in Midtown on November 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Kamau/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27: Caitlyn Jenner attends Logo TV's 'Beautiful As I Want To Be' web series launch party at The Standard Hotel on October 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27: (L-R) Chandi Moore, Candis Cayne, Caitlyn Jenner and Geena Rocero attend Logo TV's 'Beautiful As I Want To Be' Web Series Launch Party at The Standard Hotel on October 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27: Caitlyn Jenner attends Logo TV's 'Beautiful As I Want To Be' Web Series Launch Party at The Standard Hotel on October 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 03: TV personality and activist Caitlyn Jenner speaks onstage during the Point Foundation's Annual Voices On Point Gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on October 3, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for The Point Foundation)
PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Caitlyn Jenner attends the 8th Annual Safety Harbor Kids Polo Classic Fundraiser at Will Rogers State Historic Park on September 12, 2015 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Michael Bezjian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Caitlyn Jenner is seen on September 03, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Caitlyn Jenner attends Culture Club's performance at the Greek Theatre on July 24, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Nederlander)
Photo by: Joel Mark/STAR MAX/IPx ©2015 7/16/15 Caitlyn Jenner at The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. (Del Mar, CA)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24: Caitlyn Jenner introduces Boy George and Culture Club at The Greek Theatre on July 24, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/WireImage)
Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe award for courage at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: Caitlyn Jenner is seen in Tribeca on June 29, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30: Caitlyn Jenner arrives at Patrica Field store in Soho on June 30, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30: Caitlyn Jenner is seen coming out of Patricia Field store in New York City on June 30, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30: Caitlyn Jenner is seen on June 30, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by NCP/Star Max/GC Images)

N.P.: The public has never greeted a trans-coming-out with so much welcome and warmth, says Jen Richards. But, they remind us that Cait doesn't have any experience in the trans community. How exactly is she going to be a "spokesperson" for them?

W.L.: I feel like instead of being the "spokesperson" for the trans community, Caitlyn could be the Barbara Walters of the trans community, interviewing and speaking with trans women who are doing meaningful work. In the first episode, Caitlyn mentioned wanting to give a voice to those that do not have a voice. Maybe this is a way to do that.

N.P.: Right, decades of activism by these and so many other women made a coming-out like Caitlyn's possible. And now they're here! For girls' night! Sipping vino and dishing about structural inequality. Courtney, Cait's hairdresser and one of the two cisgender women who have been Caitlyn's primary support system since she's transitioned, wonders if other trans women will accept Cait or if they'll envy her. Envy is a funny way to say, "get really annoyed by conditions of privilege and inequality," but again Jen Richards brings the conversation back to structural discrimination against trans women. She says, of course she can support Caitlyn as an individual, "while still calling into question a system that makes this particular story the one that we finally listen to while we've been ignoring the stories of black and Latina trans women and poor trans women."

W.L.: These women are saying the things that need to be said. The closest we get to positive portrayals of trans women in the major media are Janet Mock and Laverne Cox. If there isn't a recent book release or new season of OITNB where some heavy trans issues are brought up, we don't hear from them in major media.

N.P.: When Drian Juarez tells a moving story about having to pay for her transition through sex work, Caitlyn is quick to bring up Janet Mock, who wrote about doing sex work to pay for her own gender reassignment surgery. But, uh oh, this knowing reference backfires. "Cait thinks that because she read a couple of pages in a book that she's in the know but she doesn't get it," says Chandi Moore.

I dig that this episode has basically become a gentle callout in front of some breathtaking scenery. Caitlyn obviously wants to "learn" something, but it's not clear what exactly. How to be a "better" woman? How to be a "leader"? Or how she can actually further the cause of trans rights? If the women she's invited over to her house have their say, accomplishing that last goal will involve taking a more progressive view of things like sex work and government-funded social programs.

W.L.: I have to give it to Caitlyn at this point because, after name-dropping Janet Mock's book Redefining Realness, she is impervious to Chandi's "bitch, please" face.

See more famous transgender and LGBT activists:

Famous transgender activists
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'I Am Cait' is not about Caitlyn Jenner
Laverne Cox poses in the press room at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Chaz Bono arrives at the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on Saturday, April 12, 2014. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Tennis player Dr. Renee Richards, shown in action at stadium in Forest Hills, New York during U.S. Open tennis match on Sept. 1, 1977. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)
In this June 1, 2015 photo, a journalist looks at Vanity Fair's Twitter site with the Tweet about Caitlyn Jenner, who will be featured on the July cover of the magazine. Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, on Monday unveiled her new name and look in a sexy Vanity Fair cover shoot -- drawing widespread praise, including from the White House. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender campaigners -- and many well-wishers -- welcomed the high-profile debut, as did the 65-year-old Jenner's family, which includes the media-savvy celebrity Kardashian clan. 'I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self,' Jenner wrote in her first tweet after the magazine released the July cover photo by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz. AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Writer Janet Mock attends Marie Claire's Second-Annual New Guard Lunch at Hearst Tower on October 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Marie Claire)
FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2009 file photo, transgender activist and prominent AIDS leader Diego Sanchez talks about his work as a legislative assistant to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sanchez became the first transgender person named to the Democratic Party’s national platform committee. President Barack Obama, who established his bona fides as a gay and lesbian rights champion when he endorsed same-sex marriage, has steadily extended his administration’s advocacy to the community that comprises the smallest and least accepted band of the LGBT rainbow: transgender Americans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Carmen Carrera attends the OUT100 2014 Awards at Stage 48 on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
US transgender star Amanda Lepore arrives for the largest annual AIDS charity gala in Europe known as the Life Ball, at the Vienna International Airport near Schwechat, Austria, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Kye Allums attends the premiere screening of the MTV and Logo TV documentary "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word" at the Paramount Screening Room on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
U.S. Thomas Beatie, his wife Nancy and daughter Susan Juliette report in the RTL end-of-the-year review show "2008! People, Pictures, Emotions" in a TV studio in Huerth, western Germany, on Sunday evening, Dec. 7, 2008. The 34 years old Thomas Beatie was born as a women. After his sex change he was the first "pregnant man" in the world and he has born their daughter. Now he is in the second time in a pregnant situation , so he told in the show. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz)
Transgender former US Navy Seal Senior Chief Kristin Beck speaks during a conference entitled 'Perspectives on Transgender Military Service from Around the Globe' organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Palm Center in Washington on October 20, 2014. Transgender military personnel from 18 countries who allow them to serve openly, gathered to talk about their experiences and discuss whether the US military could join them. It is estimated that more than 15, 000 transgender personnel currently serve in the US military, but policy requires their separation if they are discovered, according to the ACLU. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Dana Beyer poses for a portrait at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. on Monday, June 9, 2008. Beyer is a transgender activist in Maryland's Montgomery County, where the county council voted 8-0 last year to extend civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Transgendered novelist and Colby College english professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, poses Monday, march 3, 2008 at her home in Belgrade Lakes, Maine. Boylan, 49, has become an activist for the nation's transgendered and one of the most widely recognized transsexuals of recent years. (AP Photo/Joel Page)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 07: Model Gigi Gorgeous attends the NYLON Young Hollywood Party presented by BCBGeneration at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on May 7, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for NYLON)
Candis Cayne arrives to the 6th Annual Hollywood Style Awards on Sunday Oct. 11, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Katy Winn)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Mixed martial artist Fallon Fox attends the 2013 Emery Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on November 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
Isis King attends the premiere screening of the MTV and Logo TV documentary "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word" at the Paramount Screening Room on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
Lana Lawless is photographed with a golf club, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010, in San Francisco. Lawless, a former police officer who underwent a sex change operation five years ago, is challenging the LPGA's ban on transgender players. She filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday in San Francisco federal court claiming the LPGA's "female at birth" requirement for competitors violates a California civil rights law. Lawless is seeking to prevent the LPGA from holding tournaments in the state until the organization changes its policy to admit transgender players. She is also seeking unspecified damages. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Model Lea T presents a creation by Teca by Helo Rocha during the 2016 Summer collections of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
Jenna Talackova (R) arrives for a press conference in Los Angeles with her attorner Gloria Allred (out of frame) on April 3, 2012. Canada's Miss Universe pageant said it would allow the transgendered model to compete in its pageant as long as Canada recognizes her gender as a woman. Talackova was previously disqualified, she said, because she used to be male. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, writer and producer Lana Wachowski poses on arrival for the Los Angeles Premiere of the film 'Jupiter Ascending' in Hollywood, California on February 2, 2015. The film opens on February 6. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Caitlyn Jenner attends the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

N.P.: Finally the ROAD TRIP we were promised! The women want to take Caitlyn to San Francisco so they can introduce her to more trans activists at the Human Rights Campaign offices. Caitlyn hides herself from the paparazzi and joins the others — minus Drian Juarez and Zackary Drucker — in an enormous camper stocked with more vino. Cait maybe has a crush on Candis (now the tabloids speculate that they're dating). Ronda and Courtney, the cisgender women who've come along for the trip, feel excluded. Ronda's mad she has to sleep in the crappy room. In the morning, Caitlyn peppers the stunning redwood forest with golf balls and wonders how her gender transition will affect her game.

Jenny Boylan, however, is focused on the task at hand: educating Cait, the self-described "baby" trans woman, about the trans community.

W.L.: While Caitlyn has been able to overhaul her wardrobe and get procedure after procedure in a short period of time, the trans women she meets at the Human Rights Campaign have been transitioning for years. They tell her they still haven't been able to access the resources that Caitlyn has. Transitioning is not a sprint; it's a marathon. And something that the show hasn't really gotten into yet — and I really hope they do — is that there isn't one way to be trans.

Some people may go on hormones or hormone-blockers. Some people may have surgeries. Some people may want one surgery but not another. Some people may not want to use hormones or have any surgery at all. A person's process does not make them any more or less trans. There is no formula.

Unemployment, homelessness, sex work — for trans women these things aren't unusual. Chandi wants to know what Cait plans to do about all this since what's unusual or uncommon is Caitlyn's perspective and experience.

N.P.: Yeah, that's my question, too. Visibility for marginalized people is good, for sure, but visibility doesn't automatically lead to jobs, health care, education, or safety.

W.L.: I'm watching to find out what, if anything, she's going to do about these things. At the HRC, Blossom Brown describes being profiled as a sex worker, and Caitlyn immediately asks, "Is that what people will think of me?" It's still all appearance, all the outside stuff, and not about how she's developing as a person. Though Caitlyn is talking, in moments like this one, I Am Cait is not about her.

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