…her interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox.
…and learns nothing from her own so-called “teachable moment.”
Reprinted from the Huffington Post
Posted: 01/14/2014 1:19 pm
Producer and host, ‘TransMilitary’;
member of the Board of Directors,
National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association
Katie Couric totally missed what she referred to as the “teachable moment” in her interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. Sadly, what she did do is reinforce the reality that society as a whole has a long way to go in coming to understand who they know themselves to be.
Couric’s questions said more about her — and her audience’s — ignorance of what is it to be human than it did about their lack of knowledge of being transgender.
At the crux of the situation is that sex does not equal gender. When we’re born we are assigned a sex based on what genitalia is seen between our legs. The error occurs when we make assumptions on someone’s gender based on that sex assignment label.
Assigning someone as female at birth does not mean their gender is female. Assigning someone as a male at birth does not mean their gender is male.
Gender can been seen with three different elements: 1) Who you know yourself to be, 2) how you express yourself to the world, and 3) how the world sees you.
Sex organs do not define gender. Regardless of what we have beneath our clothes our gender is defined in ways beyond our body. Further, the gender we know ourselves to be is a deeply personal experience — if we have the courage to explore it.
No one would ever ask, “Katie, what does 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?
Asking about sex organs is a) inappropriate and b) shortsighted to understanding the experience of being transgender.
If Couric was more aware of her own gender she would never dare view Carrera as a person who should have to describe the anatomy between her legs. While it may be very personally pertinent to how Carrera feels as a human being, it is no one’s prerogative to use her genitalia or state of transition to make a judgment on her gender. It’s simply not relevant to how we should see Carrera.
With class and compassion Carrera and Cox seized upon the “teachable moment” themselves, highlighting the horrific violence, oppression and discrimination transgender people face. But what doubled the disappointment was that Couric did not listen. She had a list of questions in her head and could not lead the dialogue appropriately. She hadn’t even bothered to learn correct vocabulary, making her use of “transgenders” majorly cringe worthy.
Nonetheless, whether we are transgender or not, why should anyone care what anyone else’s genitals look like? We are all born with what we have and the only reason someone may assert that our body is ‘wrong’ is if that body doesn’t meet the expectation placed upon it. Remove the expectation and allow that human being to just be. Only we know what it’s like to experience being ourselves. Neither Carrera’s nor Couric’s genitalia define the “correctness” of their bodies.
People who are not transgender, who do indeed identify with their sex assigned at birth, are known as cisgender. I would make a guess that Couric is cisgender.
The cisgender obsession with transgender people’s sex organs indicates that cisgender people don’t really know enough about what defines their own state of being. Quite frankly, if as Couric says, “it’s still a mystery to some people,” then go read a biology book or Google it. Stop and think about what defines your own gender. Does Couric really think that it’s her own vagina that makes her a woman? If you’re curious as to the pain level of gender reassignment surgery (GRS) imagine the pain level of any other surgery. Or ask about the fearful pain of isolation due to cisgender lack of self-awareness and awareness of others.
If Couric wants to give a platform to raise awareness and understanding of what it is to be transgender, then she should help her audience come to understand gender dysphoria. Help them understand what it is like for the world to tell you that you’re somebody who you know deep down inside that you’re not. She should ask what it is like to find the courage to realize this. Then ask how you find the incredible bravery to share those thoughts and feeling with another person. Finally, in spite of transgender people facing massively higher rates of murder, rape, unemployment, homelessness, and many other terrors, ask how they find the valor to be who they authentically know they are.
After all of this, Couric’s response to the outcry was this is a “teachable moment.” Yeah, thanks to Carrera and Cox who made the lemonade! Okay, Couric’s train wreck did get people talking, which is always a good thing. But there was no apology. And how much did she, her employer, or her audience learn when today there’s a link on her website to “Meet the Children Who Feel They Were Born in the Wrong Body”? Really? If anything had been taught this should read, “Meet the Children Who Do Not Identify With Their Sex Assigned At Birth.” And again, there was no apology.
To understand more about being transgender we need to talk more about being human. We’re all assigned a sex at birth, but we don’t all agree with the gender that is associated with that original label. Some courageous people actually have the wherewithal to speak up, do something about it and live their life authentically, which is a lot more than many cisgender people do in the world.
Follow Fiona Dawson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fionajdawson
- Being Transgender Is Not About Surgery (transcister.wordpress.com)
- Watch Two Trans Advocates Take Katie Couric To School (bilerico.com)
- Op-ed: Can The Media Please Stop Focusing on Trans People’s Bodies? (advocate.com)
- What Katie Couric Could Have Asked Her Transgender Guests Instead Of ‘The Question’ (thinkprogress.org)
- Laverne Cox shuts down Katie Couric when asked about her genitals (thegrio.com)
- Breasts, Penises, Vaginas and Why It’s Time to Look Past Them (bethlandau.com)
- Laverne Cox flawlessly shuts down Katie Couric’s invasive questions about transgender people (salon.com)
- Katie Couric Responds To Controversy Over Invasive Question About Transgender Guest (kiramoorescloset.wordpress.com)
- Katie Couric responds to controversy with Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera (rollingout.com)
Star Laverne Cox responds perfectly to Katie Couric’s preoccupation with genitals.
First, for anyone who considers my posting of this article to be “appropriation” of transgender issues:
Get off your ass and quit your damned whining. I’m your fucking ally and at least I’m doing something instead of sitting around bashing cis people. I am posting the words and deeds of a transgender person. If one cis person learns something from my blog, then I’ve made a difference. If one trans person is not raped, tortured, murdered and her body mutilated because I happen to say the right thing to someone… or someone who’s read something I’ve written says something to someone, or someone who’s read something I’ve written says something to someone who says something to someone… then I’ve made a difference. WTF kind of positive impact do you think you’re having on the world when you sit around with your head up your ass spewing “die cis scum” when people are trying to be helpful?
My sincerest apologies for this brief digression to the 99.9% of trans people I have encountered who have bent over backwards to be nice to me. ♥ I offer no apologies to cis people because many are, in fact, “cis scum.”
Reprinted from Salon
TUESDAY, JAN 7, 2014 04:11 PM EST
“The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people,” the actress explained to Couric
Transgender model Carmen Carrera and “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox sat down on Monday with Katie Couric to discuss their careers, upcoming projects, and their experiences as high-profile transgender women using their platforms to bring issues of trans justice to national attention.
But Couric, it seems, was mostly interested in talking to both women about their genitalia, in order to “educate” others who may not be “familiar with transgenders.”
After her clueless deployment of “transgenders” as a noun, Couric referred to an earlier segment during which Carrera had (rightly) deflected her invasive questions about surgery and trans bodies (“I don’t want to talk about it, it’s really personal,” Carrera said in reply), then pushed the issue again to Cox, whose response was absolutely perfect:
I do feel there is a preoccupation with that. The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans peoples’ 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.
Cox then turned her attention to the recent murder of Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old trans woman, and the staggering rate of violence against trans people in the United States. “By focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination,” she concluded.
Gender Identity Disorder? Gender dysphoria? What is all of that about?
sex (def. 1); see also gender identity and gender role.
gender identity disorder a disturbance of gender identification in which the affected person has an overwhelming desire to change their anatomic sex or insists that they are of the opposite sex, with persistent discomfort about their assigned sex or about filling its usual gender role; the disorder may become apparent in childhood or not appear until adolescence or adulthood. Individuals may attempt to live as members of the opposite sex and may seek hormonal and surgical treatment to bring their anatomy into conformity with their belief (see transsexualism). It is not the same as transvestismgender dysphoria gender dysphoria [jen´der] [dis-for´e-ah] (Gr.) unhappiness with one’s biological sex or its usual gender role, with the desire for the body and role of the opposite sex.
“Imagine waking up in the morning and discovering that you had a penis… and testicles. How would that make you feel?” That is how I typically describe gender dysphoria to a cisgender woman who doesn’t seem to “get it” in any other way. Similarly, “Imagine waking up in the morning and discovering that your penis is gone,” is how I generally describe it to clueless cisgender men. Granted, this is an over-simplified explanation of gender dysphoria and not strictly accurate, but it comes close and is better understood by cisgender people who don’t seem to “get it” any other way. I really don’t like reducing people to genitals—it just adds to incorrect stereotypes that already abound about TG/TS people, but it’s a good place to start. Furthermore, describing the experience of being a woman as “lacking” a penis is quite sexist, not only in its androcentrism but in its phallocentrism. But, again, for people lacking in the ability to think abstractly, it works.
In case you’ve noticed, my blog is biased somewhat in favor of trans women. I try to give equal time to trans men, as I know that trans men, having often been mistaken for “butch” lesbians have historically been “invisible,” hence the erroneous almost universal belief that that most trans* people are MTF (male to female). Most of my interaction and experience has been with trans women and to be honest, I don’t really “get” some trans men. For the most part, my interactions with trans people have been “up close and personal:” The very experience of being TG/TS is very emotional and personal… the way women tend to interact with each other. Trans men are, well… men… and their communication style (in my thus far limited experience) seems to mirror the patterns of (most) cisgender men, and while I get along with a lot of cis men on a certain level, I find that many of them are quite limited in their communication skills, particularly surrounding emotional issues. I am not claiming to know for a fact whether this is nature or nurture, but I suspect that it is a combination of both, with emphasis on nurture. When you think about it, trans men having communication styles mirroring that of cisgender men is pretty amazing, considering that they were socialized as girls.
Then there is the issue of male privilege. I don’t know how they manage it, having been socialized as girls, but some of the trans men I’ve run into have mastered the arrogance and condescending derision towards women (unconscious though it may be) that goes along with male privilege. Some act as though they are the authority on every subject, interrupting and talking over women. Granted, they may have always acted this way, but that air of “male superiority” that most women recognize when they encounter it is part of some trans men’s behavior and I don’t like being around men like that, whether trans or cis.
As a clinical social worker and a longtime observer of people, it would be fascinating for me to watch a group of cis and trans women and cis and trans men interact, both with and without everyone knowing the gender status (i.e., cisgender or trans*) of the other participants. I wonder whether male privilege is so engrained that the trans men, having spent years socialized as girls, would defer to the cis men. I do believe that the trans men would dominate the cis (and trans) women, but this might depend upon whether or not everyone is aware of each other’s gender status. Of course, no absolute conclusions could be drawn from a single observational study and it would be unlikely that adequate sample sizes could be obtained to replicate the results to determine reliability, but it certainly would be fun to watch!
One instance of the arrogance of male privilege came up on a TV documentary series about trans people. There was a trans man who applied to, was accepted and admitted to Smith College, a small, private liberal arts college for women and one of the Seven Sisters while he was living as a girl and had not yet come out. During his time at Smith, he came out and began his transition. Having graduated from Bryn Mawr College, also a small, private liberal arts college for women and another of the Seven Sisters, I felt resentful that this person—a man—had the arrogance and audacity to believe that he should be permitted to remain at Smith despite his identity as a man (Smith did let him stay, perhaps fearful of a lawsuit.) I know that if this happened at Bryn Mawr, I would be outraged, while I would fight for the right of a trans woman to attend and would adamantly protest against anyone who challenged her right to use the bathrooms (after all, men were permitted to use bathrooms, even in the women-only dormitories.) A woman’s college is a woman’s college–why should a man have the right to attend? Women’s colleges exist for a reason–to provide education for women. I think that a trans man expecting the right to attend a woman’s college smacks of male entitlement and constitutes the expectation of “special rights.”—NOT transphobia. Any thoughts on this?
I get it when trans women talk about boobs—breasts seem to symbolize womanhood in our culture and talking about them is a normal part of adolescence, which is what hormone therapy essentially creates in trans women. Vaginas, labia, clitorises… I “get” them. But getting excited about hair growing on the face and other weird places on the body, guidelines for choosing a binder (a garment worn under a shirt, used to “bind” the breasts tightly to the chest in order to conceal them, and the benefits of various types of packers (prosthetic penises and testicles worn inside the underwear to create a bulge in the pants; different types have, uh… additional functions—functions that are accomplished by a penis in a cisgender man… oh, FFS, use your imagination or google it, I am NOT going to draw you a picture!) are things I just cannot relate to, no matter how hard I try. And I certainly cannot relate to the desire for a real penis!
If you’re cisgender, have you ever even thought about these things? Probably not—you probably take these things for granted because you have “cisgender privilege.” Trans* people have to consider all of these on a daily basis.
30+ Examples of Cisgender Privilege
Use public restrooms without fear of verbal abuse, physical intimidation, or arrest.
Use public facilities such as gym locker rooms and store changing rooms without stares, fear, or anxiety.
Strangers don’t assume they can ask you what your genitals look like and how you have sex.
Your validity as a man/woman/human is not based on how much surgery you’ve had or how well you “pass” as non-transgender.
You have the ability to walk through the world and generally blend-in, not being constantly stared or gawked at, whispered about, pointed at, or laughed at because of your gender expression.
You can access gender exclusive spaces such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, Greek Life, or Take Back the Night and not be excluded due to your trans status.
Strangers call you by the name you provide, and don’t ask what your “real name” [birth name] is and then assume that they have a right to call you by that name.
You can reasonably assume that your ability to acquire a job, rent an apartment, or secure a loan will not be denied on the basis of your gender identity/expression.
You have the ability to flirt, engage in courtship, or form a relationship and not fear that your biological status may be cause for rejection or attack, nor will it cause your partner to question their sexual orientation.
If you end up in the emergency room, you do not have to worry that your gender will keep you from receiving appropriate treatment, or that all of your medical issues will be seen as a result of your gender.
Your identity is not considered a mental pathology (“gender identity disorder” in the DSM IV) by the psychological and medical establishments.
You have the ability to not worry about being placed in a sex-segregated detention center, holding facility, jail or prison that is incongruent with your identity.
You have the ability to not be profiled on the street as a sex worker because of your gender expression.
You are not required to undergo an extensive psychological evaluation in order to receive basic medical care.
You do not have to defend you right to be a part of “Queer,” and gays and lesbians will not try to exclude you from “their” equal rights movement because of your gender identity (or any equality movement, including feminist rights).
If you are murdered (or have any crime committed against you), your gender expression will not be used as a justification for your murder (“gay panic”) nor as a reason to coddle the perpetrators.
You can easily find role models and mentors to emulate who share your identity.
Hollywood accurately depicts people of your gender in films and television, and does not solely make your identity the focus of a dramatic storyline, or the punchline for a joke.
Be able to assume that everyone you encounter will understand your identity, and not think you’re confused, misled, or hell-bound when you reveal it to them.
Being able to purchase clothes that match your gender identity without being refused service/mocked by staff or questioned on your genitals.
Being able to purchase shoes that fit your gender expression without having to order them in special sizes or asking someone to custom-make them.
No stranger checking your identification or drivers license will ever insult or glare at you because your name or sex does not match the sex they believed you to be based on your gender expression.
You can reasonably assume that you will not be denied services at a hospital, bank, or other institution because the staff does not believe the gender marker on your ID card to match your gender identity.
Having your gender as an option on a form.
Being able to tick a box on a form without someone disagreeing, and telling you not to lie. Yes, this happens.
Not fearing interactions with police officers due to your gender identity.
Being able to go to places with friends on a whim knowing there will be bathrooms there you can use.
You don’t have to convince your parents of your true gender and/or have to earn your parents’ and siblings’ love and respect all over again.
You don’t have to remind your extended family over and over to use proper gender pronouns (e.g., after transitioning).
You don’t have to deal with old photographs that did not reflect who you truly are.
Knowing that if you’re dating someone they aren’t just looking to satisfy a curiosity or kink pertaining to your gender identity (e.g., the “novelty” of having sex with a trans person).
Being able to pretend that anatomy and gender are irrevocably entwined when having the “boy parts and girl parts” talk with children, instead of explaining the actual complexity of the issue.
BEING TRANSGENDER — 1 Butterfly Dead, 2 Women Physically & Sexually Assaulted but Survive… This Time.
Normally I just post news items like these on my Civil Rights pages. But learning about 2 such incidents in a single day got to me…. (To view the Civil Rights page click on CIVIL RIGHTS—duh!—at the top of my blog and select the continent, country and US state—as applicable—you are interested in.)
Thanks to Suzan for bringing these 2 unfortunate incidents to my attention on her blog Women Born Transsexual , and to Lexie, from whose blog The Guerrilla Angel Report the translated version of the Swedish story was copied.
Oh, be sure not to miss the questions I posed at the end of the post; comments welcome and encouraged as always. 🙂
A transgender D.C. woman alleges in a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service that she was improperly placed with male prisoners after a 2009 arrest.
Patti Hammond Shaw of Southeast Washington said she turned herself in to officers at the Sixth District station on June 18, 2009, after she received a letter that stated there was a warrant for her arrest for filing a false police report. Shaw claims that she showed officers her identification that proved she was legally female, but they placed her in a cell in the men’s section. She further alleges that male prisoners “asked to see her vagina, breasts and buttocks.” CONTINUE at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2012/07/03/transgender-woman-sues-d-c-police-u-s-marshals/
Note: The original of this article was written in Swedish; this translation was obtained from “Lexie The Guerrilla Angel Report.“‘ blog
THE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT — Örebro (Sweden) District Court Judge Dan Sjöstedt acquitted the rapist because the transwoman had no vagina, the planned rape would have been impossible to carry out. [I’m constructing this from a Swedish translation into English]
The attacker brutally beat the victim and ripped off her pants in an attempt to rape her. A witness rushed to the scene and intervened. The police came and arrested the attacker. CONTINUE at: http://lexiecannes.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/rapist-freed-in-sweden-because-intended-female-victim-turned-out-to-be-transgender/
- Were the actions of the police in the first article right or wrong? Why? Does the fact that Patti provided documentation stating that she is legally a woman make a difference? Why or why not? Does the fact that Patti underwent sex reassignment surgery 10 years before the incident make a difference? Why or why not?
- Assuming the translation was accurate… Was the District Court right’s decision right or wrong? Why or why not? Does the fact that the unidentified victim has no vagina make a difference? Why or why not? What do you think about the concept that rape is not possible without a vagina? Does the fact that the victim is undergoing hormone therapy (and probably has for some time, as her body has likely gone through significant changes, e.g. breast development etc. After all the attacker did mistake her for a natal woman.) make a difference? Why or why not? What if she had not yet started hormone therapy? Would that have made a difference? Why or why not?
- What is a “woman”?
- Go back to your response to #3 and I have a question for you: “Says who?”
As I am cisgender, once again this is written from a cisgender perspective, with me sharing my own real experiences with real transgender people. Cisgender readers may appreciate this because they will be able to relate to the cisgender perspective and this may serve to normalize their thoughts and feelings. Some transgender people may become angry when they read about some of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors I have chosen to share. But, in the interest of increasing awareness of transgender issues and transphobia, and creating more understanding between transgender and cisgender people, I am willing to be completely honest about some past behaviors that I am not proud of.
Philadelphia Lesbian & Gay Task Force
In the first 50 years of my life, I actually knew several transgender people. CORRECTION: I knew several people who I was aware were transgender because I was told that they were. I did not personally examine their genitals nor did I personally discuss this issue with them. I was introduced to (but cannot say I “knew”) Kate Bornstein, who has been well-known in the transgender community for decades; this was back in the 1980s when I was doing volunteer work for the Philadelphia Lesbian & Gay Task Force (PLGTF). I took a picture of her at a protest in Philadelphia, but I seem to have misplaced it. Click here to view Kate’s blog.
I spent an afternoon with another transgender woman at a protest organized by the PLGTF; I vaguely recall her mentioning her gender status to me (I already knew) but I clearly remember my discomfort and not knowing what to say to her. CONTINUE…