Can Media Please Stop Focusing on Trans People’s Bodies?

From The Advocate:

In interviews with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox, Katie Couric displayed a lack of understanding of trans issues that is too common in media.

BY Parker Marie Molloy
January 09 2014

Monday’s episode of Katie was billed as an opportunity to discuss trans-specific sociopolitical issues, but it quickly took an all-too-familiar detour toward a singular, overplayed topic: genitals.

Katie Couric is a celebrated journalist whose previous accomplishments include time as evening news anchor at CBS and cohosting the Today show on NBC for 15 years, but the world of daytime television has a reputation for sensationalism in pursuit of an audience. Monday’s episode rode the line between being objective and exploitative.

It featured Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. Carrera is best known from her time on RuPaul’s Drag Race and, more recently, for an online petition to make her the first transgender Victoria’s Secret Angel. Cox stars in Netflix’s breakout hit Orange Is the New Black, in which she plays Sophia Burset, a character who, like Cox, is a transgender woman.

In the lead-up to Carrera’s introduction, Couric displayed various photos of the beauty queen in bandages, preparing the viewer for what was sure to be a “shocking transformation.”

As is often the case when I watch a ratings-driven show portray a transgender person in this way, I cringed. My stomach turned in knots, as I knew what would come next. Sadly, my intuition was spot-on: Couric continued down the trans-as-science-project path, introducing Carrera with the words “she was born a man, and that’s why she’s on our show.”

Right from the start, the words “born a man” evoke so much ignorance about trans people. Why is it that only when describing trans people, others feel the need to treat us like we were born fully grown adults? Carmen Carrera wasn’t “born a man,” she was born a baby.

With Couric’s announcement that Carrera was on the show first and foremost because she was born male, my heart sank. This was going to be another one of those episodes. The sole reason for this show would be to pique the curiosity of those who see trans people as freaks, as anomalies. Maury, another show hosted by a respectable journalist-turned-carnival barker, used this tactic time and again in his “Woman or Man?” episodes, in which he’d parade out a line of women and ask audience members which ones were “men.”

Finally sitting down to chat with Carrera, Couric dove in, asking a line of questions that I couldn’t imagine her asking a cisgender (nontrans) person, specific to Carrera’s genitals. In an attempt to broach the issue, Couric asked Carrera whether she experienced physical pain as a result of transitioning, on account of “all the surgery” she needed to undergo. Skillfully, Carrera spoke briefly on the topic of breast augmentation and rhinoplasty, intentionally avoiding any discussion of her genitals. For whatever reason, this wasn’t enough to tip off Couric to the fact that Carrera wasn’t particularly interested in answering questions regarding that particular surgical procedure.

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