Any transgender person is going to make a massive transition in his or her life. But it’s easy to forget that they’re not the only ones going through an extremely difficult and exciting change. Their family and friends have to make massive transitions, too. This week’s I Am Cait handled that idea with great sensitivity, not just by allowing Kim and Khloé Kardashian to vent their frustration over Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover, but also by refusing to choose sides in that argument. Just because Caitlyn deserves her family’s full support right now about the transition itself doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to disagree with how she’s handled it every step of the way.
The episode begins with Caitlyn waking up at 2:57 a.m. from a nightmare in which the paparazzi have trapped her in a parking garage and she can’t get out. Obviously, this is a very real fear for Caitlyn, who’s been hounded by the press even before she came out as transgender. Those who’ve accused Caitlyn of using her Vanity Fair cover just to boost her fame have missed a bigger point. She’s going to be covered by the press no matter what she does. She doesn’t have a choice. So she can either let the tabloids track her every move and spin their own stories, or she can choose to pose for select magazines and start her own reality TV show and tell her own story herself. “They’re going to run their own stupid little story, and I don’t want that,” she says of the tabloids. “I’ve got a much bigger message to get across.”
It’s a bit ironic, though, that she’s worried about the tabloids not letting her speak for herself, but she doesn’t have a problem with telling Kris Jenner’s story, without her permission, to Vanity Fair. So Kim Kardashian, ever the family peacekeeper, shows up to explain why that story hurt her mom and her sisters. Uh oh. Is Caitlyn in trouble? “How can I be in trouble?” Caitlyn purrs, trying to sound harmless. “Sweet adorable thing like me?” Presenting herself as the real victim here, Caitlyn tells Kim that Khloé has sent her nasty text messages, before trying to shrug the whole thing off. “You can’t please everybody,” she says, as if she had simply landed on a Worst Dressed list instead of revealing private family matters in public.
At a time when Caitlyn most needs kindness herself, she’s having trouble being kind to others, especially those in her own family. Rather than getting emotional, Kim calmly points this out, listing specific things that hurt the rest of the family: Caitlyn saying that Kendall and Kylie were “a distraction” from her real life, and her claim that, had Kris accepted her as a transgender woman, they’d still be together as a couple. The conversation that follows is raw and messy without being disrespectful or soapy in a gratuitous way. Kim insists that it’s not fair for Caitlyn to say that Kris should’ve stuck with the marriage through Caitlyn’s transition, because Kris isn’t a lesbian. Caitlyn says Kris shouldn’t have gotten so emotional, because this was not about Kris—it was Caitlyn’s time to finally tell the truth about her own life.
Kim says that just proves Kris really loved her. “You got the fame,” Kim says, “But you’re losing your family.” Wait, Kim Kardashian, the woman who just released a selfie book called Selfish, is accusing Caitlyn of being fame-hungry and self-centered? Ouch.
Kim is more convincing when she simply urges Caitlyn to be more considerate. “You look amazing,” she says. “It’s your time. But you don’t have to bash us on your way up.” She tells Caitlyn that, whether or not she and Kris are together, their family needs a united front so that they can understand each other. Her family first message is so human, you might forget that we’re talking about the Kardashians here—that is, until Caitlyn suggests that the whole clan make up over Twitter. She’s willing to tweet an apology, but she says, “I can’t apologize unless they come after me.” Sigh. Family first, unless, y’know, it interferes with how the press is covering Caitlyn. The same press that Caitlyn was just ranting about earlier in the episode.
While we wait for Caitlyn’s big confrontation with Khloé, who’s way more pissed off than Kim, Candis Cayne invites Caitlyn to a sleepover. While Caitlyn admits that it’s a little “elementary” to have a sleepover in one’s 60s, it seems to dovetail with what she learns from the transgender activist Kate Bornstein later in the episode: transitioning can sometimes feel like a late adolescence, where you’re coming to terms with being a woman for the first time. Caitlyn, who’s never been to a sleepover before, seeks some guidance from her hairdresser, Courtney, who tells her to bring a few outfits, including a sexy white lacy teddy, just in case she wants to play “lingerie dress up.” Telling Caitlyn what to expect, she says, “You pillow fight. You tell ghost stories. You compare boob sizes.” Wow, Courtney, you’ve been to different sleepovers than I have. Do the ladies also order a “big sausage pizza” and, when the delivery guy arrives, his pants get so itchy, he’s forced to take them off?
NEXT: Caitlyn’s first sleepover[pagebreak]
The actual sleepover is way less racy and seems like a lot more fun. There’s lots of girl talk, and Candis directly asks Caitlyn, “Would you like to go on a date?” It’s a weird moment, because Candis isn’t asking Caitlyn out, she’s just wondering if Caitlyn is ready to start dating in general. But E! has taken that quote out of context many times, using it to tease this week’s episode. This is one of the very few times that I Am Cait has ever felt a little cheap. It seems clear that E! would really like to create speculation about a budding Caitlyn-Candis romance with ratings-goosing rumors like the one in this headline, but I’m not buying it. Candis is just doing what any good friend would in this situation: letting Caitlyn try on her best clothes (I loved the elegant black dress!) and laughing good-naturedly when Caitlyn suggests that Candis is “bigger in the ass.”
Like any good ladies’ night sleepover, this one ends with a nice big hug, some mutual compliments… and a serious meeting with a famous gender theorist. Kate Bornstein, a transgender activist and author of some pioneering books about gender, asks Caitlyn how she’s been dealing with “the freak factor.” “We are freaks to a lot of the world,” Bornstein explains, urging Caitlyn to embrace any part of herself that feels like a freak. Caitlyn sees things differently, preferring to “normalize” her experience as much as she can. It’s a fascinating conversation, one that suggests there might be generational differences between those who transitioned decades ago (Kate did it during the 1980s) and those who are transitioning now. It also proves there’s no “right” way to transition.
Kate also comes armed with an important lesson for any cisgender person who wants to help a transgender friend or loved one. You can’t call yourself an ally, she says, if you just assume that every transgender person wants, say, gender-free bathrooms. You have to ask that person what, specifically, they need from you to help them. Do they need a bodyguard to get them through a crowd without being harassed? Then become that bodyguard. “Ask,” she says. “That’s the first step in being a good ally.”
Caitlyn wants to be an ally, too, though in her case, she’s looking to become the celebrity advocate for transgender people who aren’t quite as privileged. That’s a heartfelt goal, but it can feel a bit awkward when it plays out on screen. Caitlyn meets with Susan Landon, who works to help transgender people and their families, but Caitlyn’s problems mostly focus on the fallout from her Vanity Fair cover story—not exactly a problem that your average transgender teenager can relate to. Inspired by Landon, Caitlyn attends a support group for transgender children and their parents, where Chaz Bono helps lead the discussion, and the testimonies from parents are powerful. One father says that getting a transgender child is like “living with a unicorn.” Once you see how happy your children are living as their true selves, he says, it’s hard to imagine thinking they’d be better off if they waited to transition at an older age. Another mother says she’s baffled by anyone who suggests that her child might “switch back,” noting that her child has been the same person since the age of two and isn’t likely to change. Suddenly, it’s obvious that Caitlyn isn’t here to help these people. They’re here to help her become a more generous parent.
By the time Caitlyn gets to her meeting with Khloé, she needs all the tips she can get. There’s so much pent-up aggression building up in Khloé, you can physically see it on screen. It’s there in the way she violently smooths her hair every five seconds, or the way she asks Caitlyn a question and interrupts with a growled “mmm-hmmm!” before Caitlyn’s even finished answering, or the way she keeps correcting Caitlyn, over and over again, for saying that her Versace handbag isn’t even “on the market” yet. “You don’t say that,” huffs Khloé. “You say, in stores.'” Really, Caitlyn! How embarrassing!
When they finally do get around to talking about Vanity Fair, though, that anger starts to dissipate. Khloé’s upset about nothing more or less than what Kim already mentioned: She just wishes that Caitlyn “would come from a place of more compassion” for the family. After Caitlyn apologizes for calling the kids “a distraction,” Khloé admits that she’s also tired of serving as the mouthpiece for other family members, like Kendall and Kylie, who were hurt by Caitlyn but don’t want to confront her themselves. “It makes me look like a crazy bitch,” says Khloé. “And I’m like, I’m only the bitch! I don’t wanna be the crazy and the bitch! I wanna just be one!” You’ve got to love Khloé, the most self-aware Kardashian.
I’m not sure if Khloé’s suggestion to have the whole family “conversate” over group text messaging is the healthiest way to solve their problems, but I respect her for trying to resolve the situation. She’s not crazy, and she’s not a bitch. She’s just grappling with raw emotions in the best way she can. And it’s nice to see that Caitlyn and I Am Cait are both letting her tell her own story in a way that the Vanity Fair story didn’t allow her to. Learning to rethink your family history after a loved one transitions can’t be easy for anyone, no matter who you are. But considering what this particular family has been through, this was a surprisingly respectful episode. For the Kardashians, this is as drama-free as it gets.