On Monday, model Carmen Carrera and Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox were interviewed by Katie Couric in a vein focused largely on their experiences as transgender women and their efforts to use their success to bring attention to issues faced by other transgender individuals. Unfortunately for Couric, she could not leave alone what she herself called “the genitalia question.” Carrera evaded inappropriate, probing questions, but finally when pressed again Laverne Cox elegantly told the celebrated host to shut it.
“The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people,” Cox said. “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 are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”
You can watch the entire clip here:
Kat HachÃ© has a great essay about her own experience with this kind of scrutiny of trans people that is very much worth the read. She writes:
This sort of thing happens all the time. And it’s not just our genital configuration. People ask how we use the bathroom, how we have sex, and all manner of embarrassing, invasive questions in the name of “curiosity”. This isn’t curiosity though, this is entitlement. Our society, which privileges cisgender bodies, has a systemic entitlement to bodies that deviate from the norm. It is seen as fair game to interrogate us, dissect us, and put us on display to gawk at our Other-ness, not as a means of truly understanding and accepting us, but as a way of justifying their own oppressive beliefs and separating us from the status of “normal” people. It reminds us that we are in a subordinate status, we have no consent to access to our bodies. We are not in control of our own bodies. It tells us that the wages for daring to transgress society’s prescribed norms are consumption and ridicule.
Most people that I interact with have no clue that I’m transgender, unless I tell them as much. Outside of my activism, it’s hardly relevant, and it’s not a detail that I see necessary to divulge in the great majority of my relationships unless I am very comfortable with a person and I find it relevant to the subject at hand. Yet, as soon as it’s known, people feel entitled to inquire about the status of my genitals, as if when admitting my trans status, my entire body became an acceptable topic of public discourse. It is as if when I open my mouth, my clothes are stripped and I am made to parade around until others feel an acceptable level of “understanding”. It’s demeaning, and no one would think it acceptable to demand that of a cis person, especially a cis man (although cis women do face a similar kind of public dissection â€“ see the obsession with female celebritiesâ€™ bodies for an example). I don’t mind people knowing as much as I used to, but the option for discretion is important. As I’ve mentioned, I have no idea how anyone that I tell will react when I tell them. I have no idea if they will embrace me fully as I am, or if they will decide to no longer speak to me, or worse — and that “worse” is tragically an all-too-real reality for trans women.