Earlier this month, legendary journalist Katie Couric shocked fans and viewers during an interview with transgender icons Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox on her syndicated talk show. In the interview, the women displayed visible discomfort at Couric’s invasive line of questioning; Couric’s focus on genitalia and surgery left viewers cringing, and Carrera and Cox with the daunting task of directing the conversation elsewhere. Ever since the episode aired, many have pondered Couric’s intent: was the seasoned journalist attempting to open up a greater dialogue about how transgender bodies are perceived in our culture, or is she just completely ignorant to trans issues?
As journalist Fiona Dawson explains, “No one would ever ask, ‘Katie, what do your vagina look like today? You’ve given birth twice, right? Has it lost any elasticity?’ So why should she ask Carrera what status her genitalia is currently in? How is that Couric’s or her audience’s right to know? And how is that relevant to the gender Carrera knows or expresses?” Dawson’s reaction to the interview was reminiscent of how many viewers felt about it – angry and frustrated. A person’s genitals simply do not invite questions or assumptions about their gender, and when we focus too much on the physicality of trans* individuals, we lose sight of the injustices and oppressions they face.
Carmen Carrera, best known for starring on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, producer, and LGBT rights advocate, remained poised and positive throughout the invasive interview. Cox flawlessly transitioned into talking about more pressing matters that face the transgender community, such as the violent murder of African American trans* woman Islan Nettles. Many agreed that Cox and Carrera both handled themselves perfectly, patiently explaining to Couric why it’s important not to focus on transgender folks’ bodies, but rather, their experiences. To this end, the show became a successful platform to discuss transgender marginalization and the intersectional of racial and gender-based issues. Couric’s audience may not have had access to this kind of transgender-based discussion otherwise.
As Cox explained on her Tumblr page after the interview aired,
“It is my dream that by highlighting the deep humanity of trans people’s lives in the media, elevating actual trans voices to speak the truth of our lived experiences in ways that don’t sensationalize and objectify us, those human voices and stories can be a part of the disruption needed to end the disproportionate injustices that threaten so many trans people’s lives, particularly the lives of trans women of color.” Indeed, when the media objectifies transgender folks, it takes away from their experiences and the plight of the trans* community. Cox also mentioned that she was happy to have been on “The Katie Show.”
In response to the controversy surrounding her interview questions, Couric says, “Even if some thought my question was off base, I wanted to make sure my question and Carmen’s answer stayed in the show as a teachable moment for me, as well as our viewers. I’m really proud we were able to spotlight such an open and honest conversation with Carmen and Laverne Cox, who are both terrific, about the myriad of struggles that this often maligned, marginalized, and misunderstood community faces.”
The entire situation is very enlightening; it speaks to the battles that lie ahead for the transgender community in terms of gaining societal acceptance. Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera are strong leaders that are fighting hard for other marginalized individuals, but their battle against the way that the media often objectifies trans* individuals is indicative of a larger, ongoing struggle.
What do you think about Couric’s line of questioning? Was it designed to open up a greater dialogue, or just plain ignorant?
Images: lavernecox via Instagram