Three new cable television shows portraying transgenders in a positive light debuted this summer and a leading cultural expert says this is clearly the latest step in convincing people, especially children, to approve of the lifestyle.
The most highly promoted program is E!’s “I Am Cait,” tracking the life of former Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner as he now identifies as a woman named Caitlyn. In addition, TLC recently launched “I Am Jazz,” featuring a a 14-year-old biological male who lives as a girl named Jazz Jennings. In June, “Becoming Us” premiered on ABC Family. Produced by Ryan Seacrest, the program centers on to boys coming to grips that both of their fathers are transitioning to women.
The transgender debate has exploded in recent months, particularly after Jenner went public. Family Research Council Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg says the timing of these shows is no accident.
“I think the sensational aspect of it is something they think will bring them ratings, but I think there is an ideological aspect too, where they think they can transform society and transform social attitudes,” said Sprigg.
“I Am Jazz” and “Becoming Us” both focus on children. Sprigg says that is also intentional because that is the target audience for this movement.
“Certainly that is part of the agenda in terms of creating sympathy. There’s going to be more sympathy for a child as a character in one of these shows than perhaps than there is for an adult. If you are trying to change attitudes then it’s the attitudes of children that you want to change,” said Sprigg.
While “I Am Cait,” is the only program of the three that does not center on kids, Sprigg says Jenner’s interactions with his children suggest young people struggle mightily when their parents make such a radical change.
“People would say, ‘Oh, is family is very supportive of him.’ But if you actually watch the show, you would find that his daughters and his step-daughters seem to me to be devastated by the whole situation. I think what we see in reality may be something that doesn’t necessarily serve the transgender movement,” he said.
The ratings for these programs can be interpreted two very different ways. “I Am Cait” debuted to one of the largest cable audiences of the year, with 2.7 million viewers in the initial broadcast. “I Am Jazz” burst on to the scene as the tenth most watched show in all of cable on it’s first night, suggesting considerable demand for this genre.
However, in it’s second episode, “I Am Cait” drew less than half of the audience it attracted the first week. “I Am Jazz” dropped from tenth to twentieth to twenty-fifth in it’s first three weeks. “Becoming Us” premiered only in 81st place and for the past two weeks hasn’t even registered in the top 100 cable programs on the evening it airs.
Sprigg chalks up the strong early ratings to “curiosity” and “novelty”. He also believes having multiple shows focusing on transgenders makes each of them less intriguing.
“This is the irony. When you’re the first transgender reality show, there’ll be a lot of curiosity. When you get to the point where there’s a half a dozen of them, it’s like, ‘Ho hum, another transgender show,'” said Sprigg.
Sprigg says the onset of these programs is another reason for parents to maintain vigilance over what their kids see on TV, including the use of filters. However, he encourages parents to be ready to address transgender issues and to be up front about it.
“I think we have to be honest that there are some people who want to be or feel like they are the opposite sex from their biological sex but we shouldn’t assume that that’s the right way for them to be. In fact, their biology, the anatomy of their body is a more clear indication of their sex than their subjective psychology,” said Sprigg.
“While we should have compassion for these people, we shouldn’t be affirming them in this confusion. We should instead be encouraging them to find the kind of psychological counseling that might help them to become comfortable with the body that God gave them,” he added.
The transgender movement has made significant strides in recent months, with governments and school districts changing policy to accommodate adults and children who identify as the gender opposite of their biological sex. However, Sprigg is not convinced the movement will get as far as gay and lesbian activists.
“Homosexuality is basically an invisible characteristic for the most part. If you encounter someone on the street you don’t necessarily know that they’re homosexual. With the transgender issue, if someone is presenting themselves as the opposite of their biological sex, often it’s very unconvincing and disturbing to other people,” he said.
As a result, Sprigg suspects Americans will be less swift to embrace transgender accommodations.
“I think they’re going to have a much harder time getting people to accept and feel comfortable with this than they do with someone saying, ‘Just leave us alone and don’t worry about what we do in private’ because cross-dressing is inherently a public activity,” said Sprigg.