Back in 2008, Katelynn Cusanelli made "Real World" history when she became the first transgender cast member on the storied MTV program. The then-24-year-old's honesty about her gender identity on the long-running series is still making an important impact: Shortly after Caitlyn Jenner's stunning Vanity Fair cover, Chet Cannon -- one of Katelynn's Brooklyn roommates -- penned a poignant, personal message dedicated to both C and K.
"In 2011, I moderated a panel at the Reality Rocks Expo for @bunimmurray on which Bruce and Kris Jenner were seated," the Salt Lake City native wrote, along with the Instagram photograph above of him posing with the Olympian. "Afterward, Bruce approached me and introduced himself. We spoke for around 45 minutes, covering a range of topics: family, religion, and life. That day, I met a truly genuine and kind heart. Today, that same kind heart has revealed itself under a new name, @caitlynjenner."
The "Challenge" vet then reflected on his first introductions to the transgender community: meeting Beatriz "Bea" (who hoped to transition) during a missionary trip and later forging a special bond with Katelynn (who had already transitioned) seven years ago.
"Bea explained to me what it was like, wishing daily to be, as she put it, 'beautiful, with long, shiny hair,'" Chet writes. "So, in meeting Katelynn, I really didn't have any questions as far as 'explain this to me' because I already had an understanding. I haven't seen Bea in many years, but Katelynn, very graciously, attended my wedding last summer and bottom line, I see her only as 'one of the ladies.'
Chet continued his touching tribute by stating why he deeply cares about his erstwhile housemate and the E! star.
"What do I love about Katelynn? Honesty," he adds. "For fear of public scrutiny, a dip in social media stats, or any number of reasons, people are too scared to be truly honest anymore. Not Katelynn. In life, you like people because they're kind or interesting, and the adverse is true. The other stuff: religion, political affiliation, gender, sexual preference, etc. shouldn't persuade or dissuade a friendship. Spending time with Bea and having lived with Katelynn, quite simply, I get it. So, with respect to @caitlynjenner, the reason I like her? Forty-five minutes of genuine interest she gave me 4 years ago. That heart is the same."
Deservedly so, Chet's post received an outpouring of support -- and some nice shout-outs from some of his Big Apple pals.
"Beautifully said, Chet," Devyn Simone commented. "Welcome to a world of being yourself @caitlynjenner."
For a special "RW" rewind, watch Katelynn open up to Chet about her transition in the clip below -- and share your thoughts about Chet's inspiring words in the comments.