At the beginning of I Am Cait’s premiere Sunday, we see Caitlyn Jenner sitting in bed. It’s 4:30 a.m., and she looks a little (expectedly) ragged — or like “crap,” as she says. But she shrugs off that thought and appears anxious — unable to wait to document what she’s thinking. She talks to the camera about her journey and the responsibility she feels in representing the trans community and advocating for rights. “I just hope I get it right,” she says. “I hope I get it right.”
With that, I Am Cait — the eight-part E! reality series documenting Jenner’s gender transition — thankfully establishes itself as something more than tabloid fodder or a chance to get a glance of Kanye. Jenner has the opportunity to do something so much greater than the average reality TV show with this platform, and she isn’t taking it lightly. “I feel tremendous responsibility here because I have a voice, and there are so many trans people out there who do not have a voice,” she says at one point. “I can’t speak for them because everybody has their own experience, but I am an expert on my story.”
We shouldn’t take I Am Cait lightly, either. She knows she lives a privileged life — “It’s not this way for everybody,” she says. “There are so many people that have struggled with family, who struggle with friends, who struggle with ridicule or not having the financial resources.” Think what you will about Jenner’s family and their series and the E! network; the show marks an important moment for TV and for the lives of trans men and women struggling to find acceptance. If it encourages only one person, it is more than worth it.
For its occasional realty TV trappings — at one point (but I only counted one) ramping up tension before commercial breaks to invent drama that might not have been there all along — the show mostly plays things cool. The premiere shows Jenner revealing herself as Caitlyn to her mother and two sisters as well as to several of her daughters, and the moments are moving and not entirely smooth. Everyone is processing their thoughts and feelings in front of the world, which here proves more cathartic than exploitative. If her Vanity Fair cover started the conversation, then this series is keeping it going.
What makes I Am Cait so watchable is Jenner, who comes across as kind and thoughtful and filled with purpose. She’s at ease with herself and others, notably the family of Kyler Prescott, a 14-year-old transgender boy who committed suicide in May. He had a loving a supportive family — they even had his birth certificate corrected to reflect his name and gender — but was still met with resistance in his community. Kyler’s mother, Katharine, told Jenner that despite reports of Kyler being bullied by his peers, what he actually struggled with was the lack of acceptance and understanding from older generations. The premiere ends with Jenner attending a memorial service for Kyler with the boy’s family.
The visit isn’t a gimmick. A 2014 study from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute found 41 percent of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide in their lives. Jenner was almost part of that statistic. “I have been in my house with a gun and said, ‘Let’s just end it right here,’” she says. “‘No more pain, no more suffering.’ That struggle — it’s real, and I’ve been there.”
Caitlyn Jenner appears to be doing her best to finally live in her reality and to share it with others. She’s using her time in the spotlight to advocate for acceptance and dignity for all. That makes I Am Cait worth celebrating.
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. You can find her on Twitter.