Caitlyn Jenner ready to spotlight transgender struggle in ‘I Am Cait’

23 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Caitlyn Jenner contemplated suicide.

LOS ANGELES – As Caitlyn Jenner plays tennis with her sister, the 65-year-old mocks her own athletic prowess with the quip “Bruce was a better tennis player than Caitlyn.” It’s a moment of comic relief in an otherwise emotional first episode of “I Am Cait,” an eight-part docuseries premiering Sunday on E! that pulls back the curtain on the new life of Caitlyn Jenner, the most high-profile transgender American, an Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce. The “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star has documented her new life as a woman in a reality series called “I Am Cait,” and she makes a startling revelation during the first episode. She says, “I’ve been in some dark places, I have been in my house with a gun and said, ‘Let’s just end it right there, no more pain, no more suffering,’ that struggle, it’s real and I’ve been there… I was an isolationist, I isolated myself from the world because I didn’t fit in, I was kind of stuck in the middle. There are many hair and make-up sessions, and time in the closet where Jenner and famous stepdaughter Kim Kardashian (appearing with rapper husband Kanye West) peruse dresses sent over by designers Tom Ford and Diane Von Furstenberg. Looking exhausted, she stares into a camera and agonizes over the stress in becoming a sudden role model for transgender people everywhere. “I hope I get it right,” she says, twice.

That’s the thing that so many have been wringing their hands and patting their brows about as the media’s new LGBT superhero, Caitlyn Jenner, has been afforded more platforms and publicity during her very brave, very public transition. But before the fussing, and in the opening scene, Jenner is stripped of make-up and sleepless at 4:30 a.m. as she worries about helping transgender youth who are thinking of killing themselves. Jenner’s public transformation and cultural crusade — it accomplishes its inspirational, educational and motivational goals. (Later episodes were not available; presumably there hasn’t been a lot of time to film since Ms. And it arrives with the attention of a nation of skeptics wondering whether a reality show on the channel the Kardashians built on guilty-pleasure vapidness would squander teaching moments in favor of empty-calorie entertainment. She and the mother talk about how to help transgender children and the show wraps with a suicide hotline number. “At times the tone can be stiff and cautious, like a public-service announcement,” wrote critic James Poniewozik. “But it’s a service nonetheless, lending celebrity’s un-turnoffable megaphone to the voiceless, especially kids.” Esther Jenner pays her daughter the ultimate compliment, saying she didn’t think she could be prouder than when Bruce stood on the Olympic podium but is more so now for the courage Caitlyn has shown.

Jenner began living as Caitlyn.) It doesn’t totally succeed as dramatic reality television, but perhaps that’s to be expected given how high the stakes are, both for the transgender cause and for Ms. After all, reality TV, despite its origins as a medium that forced audiences to confront culture and their own ignorance in order to inspire empathy and progress, has become, by and large, garbage. Jenner is keenly aware that she has made herself the public face of a movement for acceptance and equality, and she is willing to look like a wreck, to be a wreck, over these issues.

Her transition has been a major cultural moment, with a widely praised rollout — an interview with Diane Sawyer in April, the E! “About Bruce” special in May, a Vanity Fair cover story in June and a moving speech at the ESPYs last week. Jenner at length in full female hair, makeup and dress, and bounteous commentary is sure to ensue on her wardrobe choices — what do we think of the leopard number, the white pantsuit, the dark floral wrap?

The Wire isn’t TV, it’s Aeschylus.) But watching Caitlyn Jenner’s story unfold over these past months, I kept wondering: Where is Shakespeare when you need him? If there’s a singular thing that Jenner and her family—including select members of the Kardashian-Jenner brood who appear on the show—can accomplish, it’s normalizing a community that is so alien for so many people. Whatever hang-ups you have about hanging out with the Kardashians, the Bard could have wrung a folio of history plays out of their antics, which encompasses so many of the most electric livewires in American culture—including fame, sex, shame, selfies, diversity, feminism, and thrumming, humming, gunning capitalism. Jenner’s children from her first two marriages have refused to participate because of Bunim/Murray’s involvement, according to the Vanity Fair profile. Jenner declined to comment for this article.) To answer this criticism, Bunim/Murray will have to prove it can deliver a show that doesn’t exploit or sensationalize its subject.

And, if it passes that test, it must pass another: Can it have an effect without being a bore? “I think our track record speaks for itself,” said Gil Goldschein, the chief executive of Bunim/Murray. “When you work with someone for that long, there are relationships and a trust factor, and if you’re dealing with what Caitlyn is dealing with, I think it’s very important to work with people you trust.” In the premiere episode, there are lighthearted scenes, including Ms. Jenner taking Kim Kardashian on a tour of her closet (Kanye West, who is married to Kim, also makes an appearance), and lamenting that she needs a sports bra while playing tennis.

What’s missing is any real conflict, and you can see the producers working to gin some up — Esther Jenner expresses some honest, affecting confusion and anguish (but no real opposition), and there are hints that things may not go so well with Ms. Jenner also reveals her new look, post-transition, to her mother and sisters, and has them sit down with a counselor to help navigate thorny territory like how Ms.

The entire premiere undulates between the lighthearted and the sometimes unbearably heavy (not in an off-putting way, but in a very real, imperative way). Things get a little tenser when Esther asks a doctor and transgender expert that Bruce has invited to the house what she makes of the Bible passage about men dressing in women’s clothing. Other current shows about transgender people, like TLC’s “I Am Jazz” (about the tremendously winning teenage girl Jazz Jennings) and ABC Family’s “Becoming Us,” are also generally upbeat but are more able to generate some tension and discord, perhaps because they focus on younger people and take place outside the celebrity bubble of affirmation.

Her first words: “You didn’t tell me you were on Twitter!” The laughs are quickly escorted out by an ominous music cue. “You also have to realize that it’s not this way for everybody,” Jenner says, tempering the celebration. It made television history in 1993, when it cast Pedro Zamora, an H.I.V.-positive Cuban immigrant for the third season of MTV’s “The Real World.” Mr. Zamora’s openness about his H.I.V. status and his relationships with his roommates (the understanding Rachel, the irritating Puck) made him a sensation and earned the show plaudits. When Esther and Caitlyn sit down to talk further, Esther grips her knuckles and says, repeatedly, “It’s not easy.” Neglecting her pronouns, she says, “I love Bruce, it will never change.

The truth is that Caitlyn and Bruce both appear to have some of the traits associated with athletic greatness: forcefulness combined with a lack of serious introspection, which would just be a distraction. Jonathan Murray, a founder of Bunim/Murray, said that the former President Bill Clinton told him that the show did more for AIDS education than his administration could ever do. To ensure awareness that Jenner’s transgender story is not universal, E! has brought on a trio of well-regarded transgender consultants to make sure that these crucial messages are conveyed in the right way. It’s going to take getting used to, but I want to do what he wants.” But after a very short conversation in which they agree Caitlyn’s soul has remained the same, Esther seems to make enormous progress: “I loved him with all my heart, and I can love her with all my heart,” she says.

Jenner’s sincerity when she cites statistics about suicide among transgender teenagers or consoles a grieving parent, but you also can’t help noticing how she seems to be reading from a script. The centerpiece of the show’s premiere is Caitlyn’s debut in front of her sisters, Lisa and Pam, and her mother, Esther, an angel of a woman brimming with love and—perhaps as an unintentional public service—questions about her son’s transition. She has the qualities of an excellent decathlete, spokeswoman and even leader, but as a reality star she could take a few lessons in openness and spontaneity from the Kardashians. If there’s any good in the world, she’s also the person who might be the biggest factor in changing the minds of Americans who tune in unsure of what to think about the transgender community. “It’s OK,” Caitlyn tells her family when they walk in and see her as her for the first time. “I knew it would be,” Esther says, giving her child a hug. “Gorgeous,” Pam says, through tears. “I thought you were going to look more like me,” she laughs.

Steve-O”; “One Ocean View”; the Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie show “The Simple Life”; and, in 2008, the company took over producing duties for “Project Runway.” Mr. Murray defended Bunim/Murray’s credentials by pointing to productions like the warmly received documentaries “Valentine Road” and “Autism the Musical,” both of which appeared on HBO. Esther tells Caitlyn, “It’s going to be so difficult to call you ‘she,’ or think of you as Caitlyn.” But it’s her tear-soaked sentiment near the end of the episode that crystallizes the whole point of the show. Murray must also suspect there’s a moment here: He said he was developing a show on mothers with children who are “expressing gender issues.”) But there are also hints of repentance. Murray recently donated $6.7 million to the University of Missouri to start a documentary journalism program, and thanked the university for “taking some of my dirty reality money.” The story of how Bunim/Murray became the producers of Ms.

Even when Caitlyn goes to visit the mother of Kyler Prescott, a transgender 14-year-old who killed himself in May, everyone remains even-keeled, telling a story of a kid who was not unloved or bullied, but misunderstood by adults. So much of that sequence is illuminating, from the three cars Jenner must take to escape the paparazzi on her way to the Prescotts’ to the surprising revelation from Mrs.

That is not an insult: It takes an outsize personality to thrive on reality TV, not just an outsize story, and transgender people are no more likely to have those than anyone else. (Kim, a reality TV natural, provides the episode’s only really lively moments, going through Caitlyn’s closet and demanding she throw a dress out. Prescott that her son was embraced by his parents and that his suicide came from bullying, his inner turmoil, and adults’ refusal to accept his transition. The show ends with a title card featuring the number to the Trevor Project suicide hotline, and a plea for anyone having suicidal thoughts to reach out.

Bruce, an icon of hunky, Olympian masculinity-turned-harried house husband, was constantly lapped by Kris and the girls at this sport, because—in retrospect, it seemed—she was always hiding her true self. A quick trailer for the remainder of the eight-episode season then plays, showing Jenner navigating how to live publicly as Caitlyn and discuss her transition with the press, while still being respectful to her family. It’s such a sensitive subject and I feel Caitlyn has an inner compass of what’s right and what’s wrong and we’re following her lead sincerely.” The producers are aware that hourlong sermons about the hardships of transgender people may not be what E! viewers are craving. “We don’t want it just to be some kind of educational lecture,” Mr.

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