What does it mean to truly “be yourself,” and have your public image match your private one?
That’s a complicated question for Caitlyn Jenner, both as a transgender woman and as a reality TV star. So it’s fitting that there was a lot of talk about that subject during the finale of I Am Cait. Speaking at a ceremony that honored Caitlyn’s new name, Chandi Moore told Caitlyn, “We’re so proud, most of all, that today you sit in your authentic self.” Jenny Boylan gave a poignant speech in which she concluded that being transgender isn’t incongruous with being spiritual because “God doesn’t love us in spite of who we are, he loves us because of who we are.” The ceremony’s musical guest, Boy George, who led the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles in a rousing gospel song, admitted that he never meant to do something political by wearing makeup on stage at age 19. “I was just being myself,” he said, “which is really quite powerful.”
If this show has taught us anything, it’s that being yourself is an inherently political thing, especially when you’re on television. To paraphrase Jenny’s mother, it’s hard to hate anyone whose story you’ve gotten to know, and watching Caitlyn Jenner use her own story to give a voice to less fortunate transgender people has proven that she’s more than just a privileged, attention-hungry member of the Kardashian clan. Not only does she seem genuinely devoted to raising awareness about transgender issues, she also seems to genuinely care about other people, even when they’re strangers. So why is it so hard for her to show compassion for the one person she knows best?
The confrontation between Caitlyn and Kris Jenner was extremely hard to watch. It seemed like Caitlyn was really showing her true self, and for the first time since this show began, that self wasn’t pretty. She showed little empathy for her ex, often interrupting Kris instead of hearing what she had to say, and occasionally showing outright hostility. When Kris started to cry, explaining that she felt blindsided by the revelations in Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover story and refrained from contacting Caitlyn because she didn’t want to do it in anger, Caitlyn snapped, “What would you be angry for?” After Kris revealed that she still missed Bruce, Caitlyn sarcastically joked, “How do we move forward from this point? Are we going to start hanging out together? Go shopping?”
Granted, Caitlyn has plenty to be angry about, and Kris isn’t exactly a martyr. She should have invited Caitlyn to Kylie’s graduation. “For 15 years of my life, I carpooled the kids every day,” Caitlyn rightly points out, calling the fact that Kris left her off the guest list “a slap in the face.” And maybe Kris doesn’t have the right to keep her personal life out of Vanity Fair, considering that a) that story was about Caitlyn’s struggle, not Kris’ and b) Kris has built her empire by airing her private life in public. But it was still surprising to see Caitlyn acting so callously when Kris broke down in tears over the loss of the husband she once loved. Isn’t this show’s whole message supposed to be about showing basic human kindness to everyone, even those you might not understand?
Maybe that scene was just another important reminder that gender doesn’t always define whom you really are inside. At one point, Kris admits that Bruce’s insensitivity always hurt her feelings, but in the past, she chalked it up to him just being “a guy.” Now, she realizes that “maybe that’s just Bruce-slash-Caitlyn’s personality. That’s just the way she is.” Yep, women can be just as cold as men, whether they’re transgender or not. Score one for feminism?
Ironically, this genuine moment of conflict is revolved with the fakest reconciliation. Caitlyn plants a forced kiss on Kris before the camera, capturing it in a selfie that’s good for some mutual self-promotion. (The image was used to plug the finale.) Maybe these two are made for each other after all.
Thankfully, the finale’s second half reminds us of the kinder, more thoughtful Caitlyn we’ve seen throughout the season. While planning her name-changing ceremony, she asks Jenny for a recommendation on a transgender minister who might lead the festivities. Jenny recommends Rev. Allyson Robinson, who gives an enlightening talk about how to reconcile believing in the Bible with being transgender. Robinson points out that, in Hebrew, Joseph’s coat of many colors is called “a princess dress”—a fact that some Jewish viewers have already disputed on Twitter. But her basic message is a great one: No matter who you are, God just wants you to be yourself.
As for Caitlyn, well, she’s being herself in the only way she knows how. Can anyone truly be herself when she’s on TV? At first, she presents the idea of the naming ceremony with a certain sense of faux-humbleness. “It’s not really about me, it’s about them!” she insists, referring to her transgender friends, right before Jenny jokes, “We should all change our names to Caitlyn!” But it’s clear that her heart is in the right place, and what she’s done these past episodes has been pretty selfless. “I can’t think of a time, ever, that I so celebrated being trans,” Chandi tells the crowd. No doubt many viewers are feeling the same way, after watching this surprisingly respectful, educational tribute to being transgender.