Monday, July 27, 2015

I Am Cait

“The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.”

This quote by novelist Armistead Maupin was the epigram (if a television show can boast such a literary device) displayed at the beginning of the premiere episode of “I Am Cait,” the new reality series featuring the life and trials of Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner. I must agree; if we were all honest with each other about our fears and our foibles, there would be a lot less hatred and a lot more compassion in our society. But we are taught to follow the norm or pay the price in isolation, so we do. (Because isolation, for some, can be crushing. Consider the example of Richard Cory.)

But occasionally someone happens along like Rosa Parks or Harvey Milk who happens to have extraordinary courage, a person who refuses to bend under society’s pressure and risks being broken by it in order to bring about change. Say what you will about Caitlyn Jenner (and certainly her critics have felt this is a no-holds-barred scenario), her willingness to sit in front of a camera and apply lipstick after having been one of the studliest creatures in Olympic history makes her one ballsy dame in my book.

Those nasty critics have said that her motivation for doing the reality series is fame and money. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Fame? You’re kidding me, right? Ahem, blogger-in-your-twenties, do some homework. This gal already has more than a modicum of notoriety. Money? I want to say the wealth is there, but what do I know? Transitional surgeries are expensive, that I do know. But considering the Jenner we’ve known and loved for years, the lover, the dreamer, the Olympian, I tend to believe her statement that she wants to do good in the world, to reach out to those who struggle in darkness, those who do not have the freedom yet to be who they are openly.

In watching the first episode last night, my greatest concern was for Esther, Caitlyn’s mother. Clearly she loves her child. If my son came to me and said, ‘Mom, all my life I’ve really been, in my heart, female,’ what would I say? How would I react? Pretty sure the same way I did when he came out to me when he was fifteen. ‘Ok. Whatev. I love you.’ But then, I have always been privileged to have had gay and trans friends, even before it was cool for straight people to have gay and trans friends. For sixty-five years, Esther has had a son named Bruce—and for forty of those years, he has been her famous son Bruce. Now he is asking that she change her pronouns, call him “Caitlyn.” It’s a tough transition. And change is always scary, even for the best and bravest of us.

Esther’s bottom line? ‘I love him… that’s not going to change.’ Yes, Mama Jenner, props to you. It brought to mind conversations I had with one of my dearest friends when her daughter emerged as transgender and decided to transition. “Cathy” would become “Lee,” and his mother was nothing less than excited for him and one hundred percent supportive. But Lee’s dad was a staunch conservative, and so I worried and fretted along with my friend over what his reaction would be—needlessly, it turned out. His bottom line was the same as Esther’s: ‘I love my child. That’s not going to change, no matter what.’ And his sentiment has been born out over the years; he and his son have a great relationship.

I have no doubt this will happen for Caitlyn and Esther, and I hope we see their mother-daughter relationship solidify as the series goes on. I doubt that I will watch every episode. As a somewhat ‘gender fluid’ individual myself, I am not interested in Caitlyn’s wardrobe choices or hair accessories or nail color or make-up. But I am definitely interested in her motivation, which I believe is a sincere one. As a high school teacher and a supporter of the LGBTQ community, I am thrilled that this series is out there. Trust me: Across the country, there are teenagers who have shut themselves away from others because of their grief at not being able to live outwardly as they truly perceive themselves inwardly. For them to see a big strong man transition into a big strong (but no less sexy) woman is a tremendous advancement in our society. So thank you, Caitlyn Jenner, for providing, once again, a healthy, positive role model.

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