Jen Richards on helping queer trans women come to light on “I Am Cait”

 AE: No. Wow, so were you nervous? You’re dealing with reality television, your first experience with it and hoping it’ll come off okay. I assume you were in her actual house, so that’s kind of nerve wracking to be a guest in her home, or did you sort-of settle in?

JR: No, I guess it should have been more nerve wracking, but I mean I didn’t care enough for it to be nerve wracking, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just that Cait is just another trans woman to me. I had never seen Keeping Up With the Kardashians, I wasn’t following all that stuff, so she was just a newly out trans woman that I was going to have a conversation with along with some other really cool trans women. You do kind of forget that the cameras are there. And then the crew of the team are probably the nicest people I’ve met in my life, I had so much fun with them that it so very quickly never felt like television, it just felt like hanging with friends. Then dinner went well, then they asked me to go on that road trip with her, then they asked me to be a series regular. 


AE: That’s really great! I also noticed that you are very good on the show at elevating the conversation in a gracious way. You have a way of, I don’t want to say “correcting,” but you have a talent for guiding the conversation if Caitlyn says something that maybe she didn’t quite think through. 

JR: [Laughs]


AE: You have a very gentle way of being like, “Did you mean really mean this?” For example,  I was watching episode 3 and Caitlyn said something like, “I think I would wait to have sex with a man until I have the right parts.” And then you said, “You mean the parts you both are comfortable with?” And she goes, “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I meant. The parts we are comfortable with.” I thought it was the most amazing, gentle, guidance–and here we are watching her learn in real time! So do you find yourself in that role, sort of realizing that she’s learning from you as you guys are hanging out?

JR: Yeah, absolutely. She had never met a trans person before the show. She met her first trans person two days before she met the rest of us. So it was completely new to her, she had never been a part of that community or had those conversations. So a lot of it is very much a learning curve and learning with her, I’m just lucky that I’ve had a lot of practice in having those conversations. And because of social media and the ways in which language and ideas and implications and consequences are so carefully scrutinized, I had a lot of opportunities to practice those conversations where Caitlyn hasn’t yet.


AE: Right, and it seems that she’s genuinely interested and excited about learning and that seems to be the case.

JR: Yes, she has this sort of contagious enthusiasm.  She’s 65 and finally getting to be herself for the first time. She has the resources to really enjoy it in a way that most of us don’t get to, and she’s coming out at a time where it’s being celebrated rather than mocked, for the most part. So of course she’s excited.


AE: Before Cait transitioned, she loved things like golf and riding through dirt, so forgive me when I say that it  genuinely surprised me at almost at how high femme she’s goneshe’s like the sixth Kardashian! I thought for sure when she transitioned she’d be like me, holding it down for the butch lesbians

JR: [Laughs] You know, I did the exact same thing.


AE: You went high femme?

JR: [Laughs] Well yeah! You know me, I’m not exactly butch…


AE: No, you are not!

JR: I was a very masculine guy, just like Caitlyn was before she transitioned. I don’t think it’s uncommon. I think it’s partly that when you’re male and you’re interested in women, I think its encouraged to play up your masculinity as much as possible and diminish your femininity as much as possible. But then you also kind of develop this heteronormative sense of gender roles. So, for me, I went from being a masculine man who dated feminine woman, to becoming a feminine woman dating masculine men. I flipped the dynamic. It was the same dynamic, I Just went to the other side of it.


AE: Oh wow.  Yeah.

JR: I don’t know that it’s really uncommon. It didn’t surprise me, but it makes sense to me that she’d do it that way. Now where she’ll end up two or three years from now, who knows.


AE: Right.

JR: I think we feel like we have to work so hard to establish the legitimacy of our womanhood in transition, so if you come from a heteronormative background that means adhering to traditional feminine roles. I came from a southern family where ladies are ladies and I very much adhere to that. But as more time goes on, I am more comfortable with letting certain aspects of my personality come to the foreground. Cait is a little more bold with that than I am, because she loves–you know, she’s not going to stop shooting guns and riding motorcycles and playing whatever sport she’s into at the time. I kind of admire that about her that she’s not letting all that go.

AE: Yeah that’s great.

JR: But as far as her presentation goes, she’s also a woman who Diane von Furstenberg is like sending dresses to, and she’s a part of the Kardashian family.