One of the great things about I Am Cait is that it often proves there aren’t as many differences between transgender women and cisgender women as you might think. We’ve all had bad relationships where, as Candis puts it, we see red flags and we still don’t leave. We’ve all had to deal with ignorant guys who still believe that thinking “like an engineer” is the same thing as thinking “in a masculine way,” to quote that matchmaker who’s helping Caitlyn and Candis find love. (Dude, go and look up the hashtag #ilooklikeanengineer and get back to us.) We have all gone out clubbing and found ourselves unimpressed by the musclehead in tiny briefs who’s doing push-ups while hanging from the ceiling… right? Okay, maybe that last one is just Caitlyn and me.
But the most powerful moments of I Am Cait come when it reminds us that, despite all the similarities between cisgender and transgender women, everything is just about a billion times harder if you’re trans.
For that important lesson, we have Candis to thank. This week she’s brutally honest about the struggles she has been through. First, she talks to Caitlyn about how hard it’s been for her to keep auditioning for new roles. People are always judging you when you’re an actress, she tells Caitlyn, but being trans and having them judge you is worse. Candis doesn’t even get into the other complications she must face as a transgender actress. Audition for roles where you’re competing against cisgender actresses, and you might not get the part if the casting director isn’t open to casting a transgender actress. Audition for roles that specifically call for a transgender actress, and you might be waiting a long time between auditions, because there just aren’t that many of those roles out there. That’s changing, as actresses such as Laverne Cox start playing parts that don’t specifically state that they’re transgender, but sadly, it’s taking Hollywood a long time to catch up to what the real world looks like.
Granted, it might be hard for some transgender women to feel sorry for a beautiful, successful Hollywood actress, whether she’s transgender or not. But Candis shares some very relatable problems, too. She admits that it’s been difficult for her to even find a doctor. She tells Caitlyn that many doctors will refuse to see transgender patients, or won’t prescribe the hormones she needs, or will use the fact that she’s transgender to satisfy their curiosity and perform an unnecessary physical on her. Caitlyn is horrified. She accompanies Candis to a new doctor, who seems like a thoughtful, professional guy, but before he introduces himself, the two of them discuss how uncomfortable it can be for a transgender woman to even put on a hospital gown and wait for a new doctor to enter the room.
And then there’s the whole issue of dating. “Honestly, the heterosexual dating world is nothing compared to people in the trans community,” Caitlyn admits, and we get a glimpse of what she’s talking about when Caitlyn’s hairstylist, Courtney, puts her own boyfriend, Johnny, on the spot. Courtney asks Johnny how he’d feel if he started dating someone who was transgender. Johnny is noticeably flustered, not wanting to offend anyone, but also not wanting to lie and say it wouldn’t make a difference. He’s being put in an unfair position. He hasn’t had time to think about his answer, and if you ask me, everyone should have the freedom to be attracted to, or not attracted to, whomever they want. Getting flustered by the question doesn’t necessarily make him transphobic. It just means things might be a little trickier for transgender people who are looking for love.
What’s interesting is that Caitlyn herself could stand to open her mind a little. Her ideas about gender still seem a little retrograde. After getting lunch with Candis, whom the producers seem to be pushing as Caitlyn’s love interest (though I think it’s obvious that they’re just friends), the two women discuss who will pay the bill. “Here’s the deal,” Caitlyn says, pulling out her pocketbook. “I opened the door for you coming in.” Oh, honey. Didn’t anyone tell you that women can open doors for themselves and each other these days, or even (gasp!) for men? That doesn’t mean you’re picking up the check. Otherwise, no one in Hollywood would ever open a door again.
In many ways, Caitlyn’s still quite old-fashioned. When she goes out clubbing with Candis and other friends, she doesn’t want to dance on the table. She’s shocked that the male dancers are only halfway dressed, and when she sees one scantily clad guy basically swinging from the rafters, doing some wildly acrobatic sexy-dance, she’s hilariously blasé about it. “That’s cool,” she sighs, with a tone that suggests, Yawn! I’ve seen better Olympic routines in my day. What she really wants is romance, and she admits, “It would be very attractive to me to have a guy treat me like a woman… a normal woman.” Sigh. What does “normal” even mean?
NEXT: Can a transgender woman find love with a transgender man?
Thank goodness Jenny is there to challenge Caitlyn’s ideas. “You don’t need a man to make you a woman,” she tells Caitlyn. You said it, Jenny. Right now, some Etsy vendor is embroidering that on a lacy handkerchief.
As it happens, Jenny is in a long-term relationship with a woman. And during a dinner party with other transgender friends, Caitlyn learns that there are other options out there, too. When the actress Trace Lysette (Transparent) insists that she’s given up on dating, because it’s just too hard to find cisgender men who treat her with respect, another trans woman suggests that Trace try dating transgender men, because “the trans man doesn’t come with the shame.” The conversation is a surprise to many of the women at the table–and probably to some viewers, too. It’s yet another lesson that gender and sexuality aren’t the same thing.
Right now, Candis really needs a new approach to dating. She tells Caitlyn that she was an abusive relationship for years, and later, she and Chandi rant about men while getting pedicures. “The killer part is, some guys just think that we’ll go for anything, as if we don’t have standards or morals or a type,” Chandi says, rolling her eyes. It’s such a real-talk conversation, with Candis laying every emotion bare, and Chandi giving her the all-time greatest girl-I-feel-you face, it makes me want more screen time from these two. Forget the idea of shipping Caitlyn and Candis. I want a Candis and Chandi spin-off.
Because no episode of I Am Cait is complete without an inspirational, make-you-cry moment, this one takes a brief detour to a camp for transgender youth, where one young trans camper says, “Being around friends is really nice when you haven’t been around friends for your entire life.” (Excuse me, I have allergies! My eyes are totally not watering!) Then we’re back to the Caitlyn and Candis show, as they take a joyride in a Lamborghini and meet up with the matchmaker guy, who asks them to rank the importance of traits like physical attractiveness, intellect, and spirituality in terms of percentages. Because Caitlyn starts by filling out the lowest percentage first, the matchmaker tells her she filled it out like a man, or rather “like an engineer,” which isn’t going to encourage Caitlyn to update her own gender ideals. But the matchmaker does say something insightful. He tells Caitlyn that she’s prone to dating a best friend.
Obviously, that hasn’t worked out too well for Caitlyn in the past. Judging by next week’s trailer, Kris will soon be confronting Caitlyn about what went wrong in their marriage. But I still have hope that Caitlyn will find someone to date, even if it’s not Candis. It’s inspiring that we have a proud transgender woman on television in 2015. Now if only someone out there would be proud to date her while the cameras rolled. Like Jenny said, you don’t need a man to make you feel like a woman. But it’s still nice to find love when you can.