I Am Cait Star Ella Giselle Gets Real About Transitioning in High School
When I Am Cait returns to E! on March 6 for its second season, there will be a new face in the mix of Caitlyn Jenner's growing girl brigade — Ella Giselle, an 18-year-old Southern California native who only just graduated high school in 2015, transitioning between her junior and senior years.
Ella, who seems wise beyond her years while we chatted with her ahead of the I Am Cait season premiere, the dark days that led to the enlightening realization that she wanted to transition, and whether or not she's had the chance to educate Kendall and Kylie Jenner on the trans community.
MIMI: How did you first link up with Caitlyn?
Ella Giselle: "When I was very young, my dad dated Caitlyn's best friend/assistant Ronda [Kamihira]. Ronda was in touch with Caitlyn at the time as well. I never met Caitlyn at the time, or any of the Kardashian family, but I knew that she knew them. My dad and her went their separate ways. I ended up transitioning the end of my junior year [of high school], going into senior year. At the same time as me coming out as trans, Caitlyn came out and her Vanity Fair cover came out. I had no idea Ronda was Caitlyn's assistant at this point. It was just weird to think that she was in the middle of these two people who didn't know each other but kind of transitioned at the same time. We texted Ronda to tell her what's going on with me. She texted back and said, 'I'm with Caitlyn right now and Cait says you look fantastic and she'd love to meet you.' Thus the journey began."
What was it like transitioning in high school?
"I had previously been presenting as a gay male since probably 8th grade. That was never a problem. It wasn't like I was holding anything back. I like to write music and during junior year I was very inspired by Lady Gaga and David Bowie. For some reason I was very attached to their kind of freeness, especially David Bowie being very androgynous. I bleached my hair, my eyebrows. came back to school in full leather and bedazzled all of my clothes. For the first time in my life I felt liberated and I didn't even know what I was liberated from. I just knew that I felt free. For that week I was the laughing stock of the school. That week was a defining moment of my life. At the end of the week I had fallen into this really dark place because of how everyone reacted. As much as I felt liberated I struggled with not knowing what I was running from. My mom knew something was up and she was really scared. I told her I'm not gay, I'm a girl. She didn't know what that meant but she knew at that moment I was depressed and that it could go one of two ways. She just embraced me from that moment. I started growing out my hair and I started living my authentic self that summer. Senior year I came back and I remember that first day of walking into school and it was the most 'Oh my God, I'm doing this' moment. It was scary, exciting, and overall just crazy. The school reaction, from what I saw from the inside looking out, people were very kind. The thing that saved me in high school was the drama department. At the time it was my safe haven. It was the one place where people didn't feel like they conformed. I definitely found my safe spot. I actually had three classes in a row in the drama department and I made sure I set that up because I knew I would need to spend a lot of time there."
On the show you join Caitlyn and her friends on a cross-country bus trip, were you only visiting with the transgender community or were you also trying to educate others?
"It was a little bit of both. That was one of the struggles on the trip. We had a set amount of time in each city. What is the thing we can do in this time that will benefit it most? In Chicago we met with Chicago House. There's a lot of housing problems for the black trans community there. Caitlyn raised money for them. We met with some of the black trans women who were living at one of these houses. They take in trans women, which is what we need. It's insane how terrible the housing problem is in the community. We tried to meet with as many trans people as possible and get their stories heard because that's the importance of this show. But in Lamoni, Iowa at Graceland University where Caitlyn graduated from college we actually spoke to the school."
Did they react warmly?
"You know, I've seen this change. Caitlyn has changed the way people view this, the way they ask questions, and the way they're all of a sudden wanting to know more but taking it seriously and realizing that this is a thing, it's not something to joke around about. We're still trying to really make it so that this is a valid issue and it's normal. A year ago when I first went into senior year of high school and Caitlyn wasn't out yet, people probably would have been interested, but in a different way. I was pleasantly surprised by talking to that group of kids who are our future and they were so respectful and they wanted to learn. There was a mix. There were some questions that might have been questionable. Maybe it was just Caitlyn Jenner being on the stage but I'll take it."
Since you're so close in age to Kendall and Kylie Jenner, have you had a chance to offer them a perspective on the trans community from someone in their demographic?
"I did meet Kendall and Kylie. Actually it's funny because when I was young I met them. They were the only family members I met when my dad was dating Ronda. That was before I transitioned obviously. I met with them at Cait's house. They stopped by and, no, we didn't get to have a one-on-one talk. It would be interesting me being their age and kind of understanding in that sense and knowing about how society is kind of progressing. It's just that young understanding. But, honestly, I was very proud of them. Just to see how confident they were that their parent was trans and how they stood by Caitlyn. That was really awesome. That's also what we need. We need accepting parents and accepting children of trans people. That's something I really do applaud them for of being that example. So often it could have gone the other way. We talked a little bit but not much. But they're really great."
What do you want to clear up about the trans community?
"I was talking to someone and they said, 'You're pretty cool. I can relate to you. But I have some other trans friends and I just think they're flamboyant and doing it for attention.' That was shocking to me. I think the best thing I can tell people is that, yes, the trans community just so happens to have this different type of soul, whatever it may be, that made us this way, and we may have this going on that separates us from the general population, we may be different, but in the same sense we're all different form each other. We're all people. We all have different likes and different aspirations in life. There's diversity within diversity. I think that's what people need to understand. There's no one way to be trans. There's no better way. We're people and it comes down to human rights."
I Am Cait's second season premieres on E! on Sunday, March 6 at 9 p.m. ET.