If you pay any attention at all to LGBT news, you’ve probably already heard that Katie Couric recently featured two trans women on a recent episode of her daytime talk show. One was Drag Race alumnus turned female supermodel Carmen Carrera, and the other was Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox. You probably also know that the trans community was not exactly thrilled at the fact that Couric wanted to talk about the physical process of these women’s transition process. A recent op-ed on Advocate.com, written by Parker Marie Molloy, sums up this perspective pretty succintly…
“Her use of “transgender” as a noun aside — it’s an adjective, please and thank you — her bizarre interest in the genitals of these two women is not justified by a need for “education” on the topic. Her obsession with that single aspect of the trans experience shows just how ignorant the longtime journalist was on the subject.”
I’m going to preface the following commentary by saying that I do not watch Katie. I have far more important things to do with my time (I mean, my Tumblr dash isn’t going to scroll through itself…). I did, however, take a look at the two clips that Molloy included with her commentary piece, which I will embed below…
Again, I didn’t watch the entire episode, so I’m not sure how much more there was to these interviews that I haven’t seen. But when I read some of the commentary, I was expecting a Fox-News-esque level of ignorant and invasive questions from the former Ms. Nightly News. What I saw instead was a line of questioning that was far less sinister. If anything, it had its moments where it was a bit misguided…but it never seemed to me that Couric meant to mock or ridicule these women. Throughout both clips, she seemed as though she was trying to create as vivid a picture as possible of the struggle that both of these women had to endure. Did she go about it the right way? Probably not. But did Couric seem to have any malicious intentions? Definitely not.
I’m probably going to catch a lot of flack for this, but I don’t really blame Couric for asking these women about their transition process. Even if Couric herself happens to be well-acquainted with the process (not likely, but let’s just say for the sake of argument), a vast majority of her viewers are not. And as a journalist/host/TV personality, it is part of her job description to ask questions that are lingering in the minds of her viewers. Again, that is not to say that Couric didn’t make any mistakes in her execution of the discussion. And yes, if Katie and company really want to, they can take to the web and learn pretty much anything they want to know about the transition process. But that’s not really something that your average, middle-aged housewife feels compelled to Google (everyone out there has had a Google search that’s taken a turn for the disturbing). All I’m trying to say here is that any mistakes made by Couric and company were born out of ignorance, not hostility. And we often times stigmatize ignorance a little too much. What is the definition of “ignorance”? A lack of education. If someone hasn’t been taught how to properly address a certain subject, isn’t it unrealistic for us to expect them to not make any mistakes?
This is why I am absolutely thrilled at the way that Carrera and especially Cox handled the situation as gracefully, articulately, and as beautifully as they did. In moments when someone commits a social faux pas with regard to how to properly discuss LGBT issues, the goal should not to be to attack or ridicule them. The goal should be to educate them, and that’s exactly what I think these two women tried to do. They didn’t lose their cool (even when Carrera clearly looked like she was a bit uncomfortable). They clearly and articulately stated their point of view, and seized the opportunity to steer the discussion in a previously-unexplored direction. I harp on this a lot (much to the chagrin of some)…name-calling, ridiculing, and attacking does nothing to benefit your cause. Sure, you may have every reason in the world to be angry, but that anger will almost always do more harm than good. That’s why Carrera and Cox can truly be seen as role models (or “possibility models”) for the cause. They educate instead of alienate.
I’m not going to be so bold as to say that the bi male experience is the same as the trans female one, but I do think we share a common struggle in that both are often badgered with inappropriate and invasive questions. Sure, there is a bit of voyeurism at play, but it’s also people just being genuinely and innocently curious. I’ve lost count of the times an anon has submitted a question to me on Tumblr about my sex life or my sexual preferences or my sexual experiences. Sure it gets annoying when people ask the same question over and over and over and over again. But when you put yourself out there as an advocate for the cause, that unfortunately comes with the territory. And it is extremely important not to lose your cool and alienate a potential ally. If someone has an innocent curiosity about your experience or your struggle, then they are a potential ally. Sure, if they’re saying inappropriate things with the wrong intentions, you have every right to let loose and make that person feel all kinds of worthless. But that didn’t take place here. Which is why Carrera gets an “A” in my book, and why Cox gets an “A++”.