This Is How (and How Not) to Talk About Trans Issues

Yesterday on Katie, Katie Couric hosted trans activists Laverne Cox (of Orange Is the New Black) and Carmen Carrera (the model most famous from her stint on RuPaul's Drag Race). The women's discussion on trans issues was productive and eye-opening, but not without the occasional — and major — misstep.

As Mey Valdivia Rude points out over at Autostraddle, Couric spent far too much time discussing Cox and Carrera's physical transition into women, which is an issue both ladies expressed discomfort talking about primarily because they feel that the cultural fetishization of trans bodies only distracts from bigger, more dangerous issues in the trans community.

Mey writes:

...The real trouble started when Couric started to ask Ms. Carrera if transitioning was painful because 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."

Later, after Laverne Cox had been introduced, Couric brought the questions round to surgery again, directly referencing Carrera's discomfort and asking how cisgender people should ask these questions and become educated. Cox — rather than pointing out that a.) she is not an item in a curiosity shop, b.) it's up to cisgender people to educate themselves in their own private time and c.) hasn't anyone in this room fucking heard of Google before — gave an eloquent and well-rounded answer as to why it's so hurtful to trans women (and the community at large) when you choose to only focus on their surgery.

"I feel like the preoccupation with transition and with surgery objectifies trans people," Cox replied. "And then we don't really get the lived experiences and reality of trans people's lives. 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 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."

Again reminding the audience how very real and scary these issues are, Cox brought up the case of Islan Nettles, the 21-year-old woman who was beaten to death after the group of men cat-calling her realized that she was trans.