How not to talk to trans folks, starring Kris Jenner
Since the advent of I Am Cait, the docuseries in which Caitlyn Jenner explores what it means to come out and be out as a transgender woman, Kardashians and Jenners have found ways to appear on the show. Already in Season 2, we've seen Kim, Kylie, Kendall and, on last week's episode, Scott Disick (at this point, he's more or less a Kardashian, depending on what day it is).
On Sunday's episode, Kris Jenner, Caitlyn's ex and momager of the Kardashian/Jenner empire, joined Cait and her friends in New Orleans. Cait was super nervous about seeing Kris, considering how long it's been since they talked and how things went when they did — and when they did meet, things were weird on multiple levels. There was the inevitable gang-up on Cait about her conservative politics and how they irritate and confound almost everyone she knows, plus her less-than-stellar ability to listen to other people when they talk. It was uncomfortable to watch Kris pick at Cait, and yet, when Kris talked with Cait's friends about being trans, everything got worse.
Before I go any further, a couple of things: First, I am 93 percent certain that the producers had something to do with the questions Kris asked and with the way Cait's friends responded. Second, the way I feel about how all this went down has much to do with the fact that I think that a cisgender person seeking to engage meaningfully with trans folks has to do a lot of their own work on trans issues and identity in advance and not rely on trans folks to educate them, in the spirit of not treating trans folks as though they were zoo animals or aliens.
Kris misgendered Cait a few times during the episode, and once, after she said she was going to kill "him" after dinner, Jenny Boylan called her on it. Kris apologized and said, "You've got to keep correcting me." No, Kris, it's not actually Cait's or Jenny's job to remind you to use correct gender pronouns — that's on you. Using the right gender pronoun doesn't get you a cookie; you do it because it's how your friend/ex-partner asked to be identified. Fix it and move on.
Earlier in Sunday's episode, the ladies discussed genitalia and the question of surgery. There were different opinions, of course, because transgender folks are individual and complicated just like everyone else, not a monolith. Chandi said she didn't mind if people asked about genitals as long as they did so with manners (i.e., not the first time they met her). Candis said she thought it was always inappropriate to ask, since it's no one's business.
At dinner in New Orleans, though, Kris thought it would be cool to ask about "the bits and pieces that are below the belt." Cait responded with "Oh my God," and the rest of the crew looked horribly uncomfortable. Kate Bornstein explained to Kris that genitals have very little to do with identity, and Chandi patiently clarified that not all trans folks feel the same way about surgery. I'm sure they have each had to answer this question about a million times before.
One of the motivations for the team's road trip in this part of the season is to bring into focus issues that trans folks are facing across the country. Cait and her friends have taken it upon themselves to educate people about being trans, but there was something deeply disconcerting about Kris asking about surgery and being given an answer when she could have easily done some work in the form of individual conversations. It would have meant that the dinner scene wouldn't exist in this episode, but I think we all would have survived. The questions ensured that the focus was on Kris, not on Cait and her friends and their experiences — but then again, the whole point of Kris being in this episode was to bring attention to her, and so she was going to act as inappropriately as possible. In other words, this episode was in no way a model of how to have a conversation about identity. Consider it an example of what not to do.
Did you think Kris was out of line in this episode? Could she have done better? Tell us in the comments!
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