In a video that has gone viral, Katie Couric made one giant mistake on her show, “Today”—she assumed she could get away with objectifying her guests simply because they were transgender women.
I can’t really blame Couric for her mistake; up until just last year, transgender representation in the media was minimal, and shows that objectified the transgender experience by making a circus out of our particular human experience were the norm.
You were more likely find a transgender woman on “Jerry Springer” (is that show still on?) where her physicality was put on display for people to gawk and jeer at, than you were to find her on the “Today” show talking to Couric about her role in a major hit show.
That would have been only two years ago, but in the age of internet media and cultural critiques via Twitter and Tumblr posts, we’ve woken up to a time where Laverne Cox deftly and concisely shuts down Couric’s invasive line of questioning.
In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I’ll recap: Couric invited two prominent transgender women, Carmen Carrera, and Laverne Cox, onto her show to speak about their upcoming projects. Carrera is currently leading a campaign to become the first transgender Victoria’s Secret Angel, and Cox is starring in one of the most wildly successful shows of last year, “Orange is the New Black.”
But after asking a few questions about the projects, Couric went in for (what I can only guess was) the meat of her transgender buffet: what about what’s in your panties?
If it had been two years ago, she may have gotten away with it, I’ll grant her that, and for that all I have to say is sorry Katie, but you should have done your homework.
Laverne Cox is an outspoken transgender activist who uses her cultural capital to promote the issues that affect the transgender community. She certainly was not having any of that old school objectification.
And why is it objectification, you might ask?
It’s quite simple: is there any reason, other than your fascination with someone’s transition and your objectification of their body, to ever ask a person you have just met what they have in their pants on national television?
I seriously doubt it.
What transgender people have between their legs is not something that is up for public discussion, just like what cisgender people have between their legs is also not up for debate.
When you reduce people to nothing more than their genitalia, you are objectifying that person. That is, you are ignoring the fact of their humanness and of the complexity of their character and choosing instead to focus on their difference.
And Laverne Cox was not having it.
“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 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.”
So don’t do what Katie did. It’s 2014. Get with it.