Cait vs. Kate vs. The Kids: How Kate Bornstein is Out of Touch with Today’s Youth

On S1 E4 of I Am Cait, Kate Bornstein labels the trans community "Freaks"

Episode Four of I Am Cait was called “Family Interference where “Cait better understands her family’s reaction to her Vanity Fair article. Candis invites Cait over for an all-girl sleepover, and Cait visits a support group for families with Trans kids.”

So the official E! Trailer should have given the viewer an idea that there would be Kardashians this week, and Kardashians there were. Kim accuses Caitlyn of bashing the family on her way up and states, “You’ve got the fame, but you are losing your family.” Khloe is equally upset over the same article and tearfully cries how Caitlyn “doesn’t know how she [Khloe] feels” and finally gave Cait the approval to transition by saying, “We don’t care if you want to transition.” Want? OK Khloe.

What’s not listed and seemed to be a surprise to most was the appearance of “Gender Theorist” Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw and Queer and Present Danger. The appearance of Kate was brief, and after some harmless flirtation on both sides, Cait and Kate sat down to talk what one would assume to be about gender; what happened seemed to be a co-opting of the conversation by Bornstein towards the negative.

533“You and I share timelines, we go like this” Bornstein says making a crisscross sign with her arms before she says, “Well, you’ve joined the club, your mind must be fried.” Although we were never told what club Caitlyn suddenly belongs to, but if one assumes the queer or transgender community, then what are the qualifications must one meet to get in to this so-called club? Pain? Suffering? Multiple Suicide attempts?

Although Kate Bornstein’s visits was only a few minutes of the show, Kate happened to mention or refer to the transgender community as “freaks” no less than six times.

“Have you been dealing well with the freak factor? Because that’s a fact” Kate says before she continues with, “We are freaks to a lot of the world.” Jenner’s response to this sudden barrage of name-calling was on point when she said, “I really feel like what we are trying to do here is to kind of normalize this as much as we can.”

Surprisingly, Bornstein minimized Caitlyn when she verbally slapped back, “Part of the reason you want to [normalize this experience] is because you don’t want to be a freak…And who does?” Kate Bornstein continued, “The only way I’ve gotten through it is to accept the freakdom.”

Another half a minute is spent explaining that Bornstein doesn’t really believe in allies, a point we both agree on, and another minute is spent talking about the mythical “second puberty” theory that all trans people experience when they begin to transition.

“One word of warning: you’re entering an adolescence Bornstein says, “You’re going to go through everything you went through in adolescence before — it’s going to happen again. This happens whenever someone takes on a new identity. It’s all about, ‘Oh my god, they’re looking at me. What am I going to do?’

The “second puberty” theory* is nothing more than an infantilization of the transitioning process that allows some people an excuse to distance themselves from the selfish actions they find themselves doing during the first few years of hormone replacement therapy and has been discredited by most gender physicians.

Fast forward a quarter of the show and Caitlyn meets up with Chaz Bono and the parents and children of Transforming Families; an organization that offers a safe space and support for transitioning youth. This segment of the show will prove to be the most powerful.

535“For the longest time I’ve wanted to talk to Chaz,” Caitlyn says. “Your transition, which obviously I was watching and everybody else was watching, I know it’s been a lot of hard work, but you’ve done a very good job and I was really glad to see that.” Chaz, having transitioned in 2008, is intelligent, positive, handsome and  no doubt has had an influence on Caitlyn and her transition.

“I’ve had the privilege of seeing the kids come in,” says Chaz proudly of the program, “in a kind of difficult place sometimes because their parents are just not getting it or accepting it and we get to see through the kids the transformation that happens with the parents and suddenly the kids are doing much better, the families are doing better, they are happy and healthy, a different kid emerges.”

In a room full of shiny happy faces and rainbow colored hair, the viewer got to experience almost two generations of Trans people [kids and parents]. One youth with pink and blue hair [the colors of the transgender pride flag] bragged about his pronoun jar. Like a swear jar, every time he was incorrectly pronouned, you contributed one dollar to the jar; this earned him about a hundred dollars.

538One father named Jed, grinning ear to ear with pride over his child said, “If you have a transgender kid, you are living with a unicorn, an amazing human being. To be next to someone so brave, so cool and so close to themselves, the reality is that Avery has been so on-point from age 2” while other parents, Caitlyn and Chaz laughed and talked about how inspiring these kids are to them. There was no prejudice in this room, no ingrained transphobia and most importantly, no freaks.

Julia said she was, “completely lost two years ago…seeing Elliot become Elliot has changed the way I perceive myself. How I perceive the world and what I think is important.”  Offelia stated that her role model was her child Zoey because, “I learned from her to move forward and do what she needs.”

During the show, we witnessed multiple generations of trans people ranging from Kate Bornstein and Caitlyn Jenner to the parents and children of trans youth. The generation presentation in the show now begs the question: Why is the Bornstein generation so trans-negative and the younger generations so trans-positive?

Bornstein is a person who is transgender that believes in self-identification, as we all do, but takes it one step further by using the word tranny, freak and other harmful words to label transfolk. The constant labeling of the trans community as “freaks” on I Am Cait is Kate’s prerogative, but if you believe in self-identification as we all do, then what one antiquated trans person says on TV should not be applied to the entire community.

Kate Bornstein transitioned and grew up in a time when these words were used by the Drag community. Pride was taken in being a tranny or freak, but times have changed and tranny is considered a slur by most of the transgender community and to see the community labeled a “freak” by someone who doesn’t believe in identifying others while later seeing trans youth growing up feeling empowered comes down to a massive generation gap that could swallow a town.

528During the show, I tweeted this observation to #IAmCait and it was met with an immediate sarcastic “HA!” by Kate Bornstein who immediately blocked me on twitter.  Not what I was expecting from someone who claims to promote open gender dialogue.

 

Bornstein then began to tweet during the show how tranny was a fun slang and that somehow it meant “family.”

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During the second airing of I Am Cait, Bornstein came back with the question: How would you best define the word #tranny?  For that I will default to GLAADS definition of the word.

530“These words dehumanize transgender people and should not be used in mainstream media. The criteria for using these derogatory terms should be the same as those applied to vulgar epithets used to target other groups: they should not be used except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted. So that such words are not given credibility in the media, it is preferred that reporters say, “The person used a derogatory word for a transgender person.” Please note that while some transgender people may use “tranny” to describe themselves, others find it profoundly offensive.”

When you have an audience of 2.7 million people, knowing that the children of Transforming Families is watching, the viewer should begin to wonder if our trans youth want to hear that they are “freaks.” I have to wonder out loud if this is the Kate Bornstein that Caitlyn Jenner was expecting and how much did she know of Kate’s negative labeling of an entire community Bornstein participates in.

Caitlyn had it right when she said, “I really feel like what we are trying to do here is to kind of normalize this as much as we can” because most of us have stated that we want to be accepted and not the exception, so when it comes to the “Freakdom” Circus Bornstein chooses to identify with, she should leave us out because quite honestly, The Kids are Alright.

 

*   The non existence of the “second puberty” theory is the opinion of the author.

** The author also believes in the right to self identify as one chooses.

Claire-Renee Kohner

My name is Claire-Renee Kohner and in January of 2014, I came out as transgender. My family fully supports my transition and, along with the Minneapolis trans community, my transition has been extremely positive. My journey should be fun, so keep your arms and legs inside the cart, it's going to be a wild ride.

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5 Responses to Cait vs. Kate vs. The Kids: How Kate Bornstein is Out of Touch with Today’s Youth

  1. Maddy Love August 19, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Great article Claire, a very positive piece on what could have went in a much more negative direction. Thanks for writing this and sharing.

    • Welcome August 2, 2016 at 11:04 pm

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  2. Summer September 2, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Here’s my fave way to point out the world’d view on the word “tranny” go to google images. Run an image search for “Trans woman” look at the results. Then run a search for “tranny” and compare.

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