Yesterday on the eponymously-named daytime talk show Katie, Katie Couric interviewed trans advocates Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera. Cox, who stars in Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, and Carrera, who appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race, were on Couric's show as "transgender trailblazers" to discuss their careers and issues important to the trans community.
However, before long the conversation turned to genitalia, surgery, and "private parts." Mey Valdivia Rude writes at Autostraddle:
"[The] real trouble started when Couric started to ask Ms. Carrera if transitioning was painful because of all the surgery that she had to go through. Carmen looked a little confused and responded by talking a little about her nose job and breast augmentation and that's when Katie pounced. She immediately asked if Carmen's 'private parts' are 'different now' and if she's had that surgery yet.
"Carmen Carrera responded perfectly. First she literally shushed Katie Couric, trying to get her to stop asking such a private thing. Then she told her 'I don't want to talk about it, it's really personal' and she told Katie that there's a lot more to get than her genitals. She said, 'after the transition there's still life to live, I still have my career goals, I still have my family goals.'"
Watch Couric's invasive questions and Carrera's poised response:
The body questions continued after Couric brought Cox into the conversation.
The first part of Cox's interview was spent discussing her career and her character on Orange Is the New Black. Soon, though, Couric circled around and again asked about surgery, this time directly referencing Carrera's discomfort with her previous question:
"I'm curious, because... I think all of us want to be educated, and Carmen... sort of recoiled a little bit when I asked her about her transition, and she said that people who are not educated about this or familiar with, sort of, transgenders [sic], they're preoccupied with the genitalia question. And I'm wondering if you think that's true, and if you have the same feelings about that that Carmen does."
(You know, not to put you on the spot or anything, but...)
Cox responded flawlessly, acknowledging society's profound lack of knowledge about trans people and trans issues, while at the same time pointing out that society's fixation with anatomy harms trans people -- and trans women of color in particular -- because it objectifies them and distracts from the real issues the trans community faces, including violence and discrimination:
"I think that the preoccupation with transition and with surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don't get to really deal with the real lived experiences The reality of trans people's lives is that so often we're the targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average -- if you're a trans person of color, it's four times the national average. The homicide rate in the LQBT community is highest among trans women and when we focus on transition, we don't actually get to talk about those things."
Cox then brought up the tragic case of Islan Nettles, a woman in Harlem who was murdered after a group of men who were catcalling her found out she was trans.
"This is the reality of so many trans people's lives in this country, trans women of color, whose lives are in danger simply for being who they are," Cox said. "And we're looking for justice for Islan's murder, and we're looking for justice for so many trans people across this country. And by focusing on bodies, we don't focus on the lived realities of that oppression and discrimination."
Couric asked for an education from these two amazing women, and she got one.
All in all, it was a candid segment that drew attention to society's general ignorance about trans people (through Couric's well-intended but misplaced and cringe-inducingly invasive remarks) and hammered home the crucial point that trans people -- like all people -- are far, far more than just their bodies.