The Right-Wing Media’s Obsession With Objectifying Transgender Bodies

From Media Matters For America:

January 8, 2014

Transgender actress Laverne Cox made waves with a recent appearance on Katie Couric’s syndicated talk show, where she pushed back against Couric’s fixation on the genitalia of Cox and fellow guest Carmen Carrera, a transgender model. In decrying the objectification of trans people, Cox highlighted a problem that plagues right-wing media coverage of transgender issues.

On the January 6 edition of Katie, Couric repeatedly focused on her guests’ gender transitions, introducing Carrera by stating that “she was born a man and that’s why she’s on our show,” before inquiring whether Carrera’s “private parts” are “different now.” Carrera challenged Couric’s line of questioning, saying the issue was “really personal” and that “after the transition there’s still life to live, I still have my career goals, I still have my family goals.”

Couric pursued the matter further when Cox joined the segment, asking the Orange is the New Black actress for her take on Carrera and Couric’s exchange. Cox responded that fixating on trans people’s bodies detracts attention from the realities of transgender lives:

COX: The preoccupation with transition with 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’re targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the [LGBT] community. … [B]y focusing on bodies, we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.

Compelling as they were, Cox’s words fell on deaf right-wing ears. The Media Research Center’s Tim Graham responded by mocking Carrera and Cox’s handling of what he called “those uncomfortable wiener questions” and “the bulge issue.” Graham derided the “two men” for believing “[i]t’s possible to pretend to be a woman and use a urinal.”

Graham’s transphobia dovetails with the right-wing media’s approach to transgender coverage, characterized by willful ignorance and expressions of derision and disgust. After Army Private Chelsea Manning announced her gender transition in 2013, Fox News mocked her transition as “confus[ing]” and “bizarre.” Fox & Friends ended a segment on Manning’s transition by playing Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),”while one Fox host cautioned viewers not to be “deceived” by Manning’s announcement that she’s a female.

Fox’s response to Manning’s announcement fit its pattern of transphobic coverage, which has featured persistent emphasis on trans people’s genitalia. After Chaz Bono struggled with a knee injury on Dancing with the Stars, the hosts of Fox & Friends joked about “the one part of Chaz that hasn’t been operated on.” Commenting on a transgender beauty contestant, Bill O’Reilly declared in 2012, “She wasn’t born that way; she bought all that.” Fox News contributor Stephen Crowder, meanwhile, published a column in 2013 calling transgender female MMA fighter Fallon Fox a man who liked “beating up women,” before snarking that “Fallon Fox has been using steroids for decades. They’re called testicles.” Fox “Medical A Team” member Keith Ablow’s commentary on trans people hasn’t been any less ignorant. Disregarding the expert consensus on gender identity, Ablow has depicted transgender youth as simply confused. In a 2011 appearance on the network, he misgendered a transgender female child, remarking that “We have two women raising a child. He’s adopted. And he’s come to believe that he too is female.”

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