Seriously? After all that? All we get is “To be continued”?
E! has been teasing the Great Kris Jenner Confrontation of 2015 with such a you-can’t-afford-to-miss-this-episode! frenzy, you’d think that Kris might actually drop by Caitlyn’s place to reveal who really killed JFK. But when we finally do get to see Kris step into the house, things are pretty cordial. There’s some polite chitchat. Cookies are exchanged. And then…AND THEN?!? Well, nothing much happens. The scene gets cut short. We’re promised that we’ll see the actual conversation in next week’s finale. The credits roll. It’s hard to imagine a less suspenseful cliffhanger than Kris Jenner telling Caitlyn, “Nice shoes!”
Granted, it feels a little strange to actually wish for a more suspenseful ending. E! has been extremely careful not to turn I Am Cait into an exploitative reality TV show that gawks at one woman’s transition or feeds any salacious tabloid rumors surrounding it. From the very beginning, it has been clear that this thoughtful show isn’t just about Caitlyn—it’s about the transgender stories that don’t often get told. First, that meant focusing on transgender people who aren’t as privileged as Caitlyn: teenagers who’ve been bullied in school, transgender women who’ve been forced into sex work, activists who’ve been fighting for transgender rights behind the scenes. Now, it means giving a voice to the partners who get left behind whenever we talk about the triumphant journey that transgender women go through.
Tonight, we got to hear from Jenny Boylan’s partner, Deedie, who reminded us that people who transition get to be giddy and celebrated by friends and family, while their partners are sometimes forced to deal with sadness and confusion all alone. Next week, we’ll hear from Kris. And I really hope that Caitlyn and Kris show just as much kindness and empathy for each other as Caitlyn has shown for the wonderful transgender people she has met throughout this show.
It’s interesting that this week’s episode seemed determined to test the transgender community’s empathy for Caitlyn, who’s still not aware of the full extent of her privilege. Not every transgender woman gets to make her first public appearance at the ESPYs with help from Angelina Jolie’s stylist, Jen Rabe, as Caitlyn does here. And not every transgender woman gets to hire upscale interior designers to help her decorate the first mansion that she bought after her transition. It’s not surprising that later, when Caitlyn and her assistant Ronda discuss whether or not Caitlyn should officially change her name, they’re talking about the name she will use on an application for a luxury golf club.
That’s not to say that Caitlyn’s struggle isn’t legitimate. It’s heartbreaking that she wants to go by “Bruce” on the forms and considers using the men’s locker room at the club, just so that she won’t upset the club’s conservative members. Candis has to tell her straight up: “You can’t play both sides of the fence anymore.” Still, it’s refreshing when Chandi puts Caitlyn’s problems in perspective. By inviting Caitlyn to Blush, a support group for people who are gender nonconforming, Chandi exposes Caitlyn to more immediate problems faced by transgender people who haven’t officially changed their names. It takes a year to make that change legally, and in that time, it’s often hard for transgender people to get jobs, because their IDs don’t match who they are. Many of them are harassed by the police when they’re pulled over for traffic violations and forced to show their driver’s licenses, revealing the names their parents gave them. One woman remembers a cop forcing her to answer intimate questions about her body. Yes, it would hurt to get the side-eye from the society women at a golf club. But it’s also important for Caitlyn — and the rest of us — to imagine what it might be like to be humiliated by the police.
Another way that Caitlyn is fortunate is that she has such a supportive family. Her sister Pam confesses that she was always proud of Bruce, but she’s even prouder of Caitlyn. Their mother, Esther, accompanies Caitlyn to the ESPYs even though she just broke her hip. “What an ornery old girl!” Caitlyn says, proud of her mom, who’s quickly becoming a favorite on this show. While pre-gaming the ceremony with a round of cocktails, Esther asks Chandi and Candis some personal questions about being transgender, but they know Esther is asking out of love for her daughter, so they answer her patiently and honestly. “For the first half of our lives, our parents teach us,” says Caitlyn’s friend, Zackary. “And then we teach our parents.” Well said.
We get to see highlights from Caitlyn’s speech, including the touching part when she says, “I always wanted my children to be so proud of their dad.” But the most moving scene doesn’t even involve Caitlyn. It comes when Candis gets Chandi a beautiful dress for the ceremony, and Chandi gets choked up, because no one has ever cared about her enough to do something so kind. It’s definitely this week’s Make You Cry Moment™.
When the ESPYs are over, Caitlyn says she was sad that Kris wasn’t there, even though Caitlyn failed to invite her. Apparently, they haven’t really talked in a year. Deedie reminds Caitlyn that, for the family of the transitioning person, there’s a period of real mourning the loss of your mate or your father or your partner. But Caitlyn doesn’t sound like she’s ready to sympathize with Kris just yet. “Kris can be very strong, very opinionated,” she says to the camera, ready to poison the audience against her ex. When they finally talk on the phone, Caitlyn starts the conversation from a place of blame rather than opening things up to the possibility of forgiveness. “There’s been a couple of things that have come out that have not been very nice,” she says, sternly, to Kris.
Finally, we get to The Big Stand-Off. Kris arrives, marveling at how good Caitlyn looks. Caitlyn nervously fiddles with the cheese plate. And that’s when we get to those final three infuriating words: To be continued.
Then again, maybe that cliffhanger shouldn’t be so infuriating. Maybe it’s just the show’s way of getting us to slow down and ask ourselves what we want from next week’s episode. Do we really want Kris to break down in tears? Should we really be so excited about witnessing an epic fight? Let’s remember that I Am Cait started with Esther showing support for Caitlyn’s transition. Throughout the season, it has featured the mothers and fathers and siblings of transgender teenagers, all showing unconditional love for their family. This whole show is about compassion. As we wait for next week’s finale, hoping that some kind of painful breakdown will make for good television, maybe it’s important to ask: Haven’t we learned anything about being compassionate ourselves?