IDAHOT: please stop asking if she has a vagina
On the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), it is fantastic to see the LGBTQIA community and so many of its allies come out in support of this amazing cause and to help show that the world is becoming more accepting of sexual and gender minorities. It is also a day to remember that homophobia and transphobia still exist, in all the corners of the world. Many LBGTQIA advocates spend their hard won time in interviews exposing the atrocities that occur against members of the community. However, it seems that no matter how hard they try talk to about living as a minority, interviewers want to take the conversation elsewhere. For instance, their genitalia.
Earlier this year, the daytime talk show Katie, hosted by Katie Couric, caused controversy during an interview with actress Laverne Cox and model and reality star Carmen Carrera. The two trans women were invited to discuss their upcoming projects and their achievements in their respective fields. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go that way. Carrera’s interview was supposed to discuss the popular petition to sign her as the first trans* Victoria’s Secret Angel. It started out well, but quickly devolved to discussing “when [she was] still a man” and how she “decided to fully transition and become a woman.” Carrera seemed happy to go along with it — she was very public with her transition after all, since it happened after her time on RuPaul’s Drag Race — until Couric started on about surgery, and got to the real point of the interview: “Your private parts are different now.”
This is when Carmen Carrera straight up shushes her host. “It’s really personal. I’d rather talk about my modelling stuff,” she says. When Cox comes on minutes later, Couric asks her if she agrees with Carrera’s stance, saying it’s just that they want to be educated. I don’t know what Couric expected, but not only does Cox say she’s proud of Carrera for her response to Couric’s invasive questioning, she properly educates everyone: “I think that the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans* people and then we don’t get to really deal with the real, lived experiences.” Cox discusses the high rates of discrimination, unemployment, and homicide, and points out that in all of these cases it is worst for trans people of colour. “By focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”
In response to her own invasive questioning on CNN, New York Times bestselling author of Redefining Realness and trans rights activist Janet Mock turned this style of interview around on her cisgendered interviewer, Alicia Menendez, in this video. The faux interview finishes and the two women discuss just how uncomfortable they were, both asking and being asked those questions. Menendez immediately recoils from the camera, “That was awful. We wrote a lot of these questions and I didn’t realise how awful, even when we were roleplaying them without you, I didn’t realise how awful and invasive some of them would feel…I feel like a token.” Mock laughs and nods. She gets these questions all the time. “When I was asking you the questions,” she says, “I came from the space of entitlement, of saying you need to prove to me that your identity and your body is real. And I’m going to ask you these questions because I need to investigate.”
It’s a great video, where both sides learn, unlike the CNN interview Mock is responding to, where Piers Morgan called her a boy, made reference to her birth name, and added to the myth that trans* women are not ‘real’ women until they get surgery and that they are deceiving men by not being ‘real’ women.
As in the cases of Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera, when society focuses on the bodies of trans* people, it takes away from their personhood, their identity, and their experiences. A trans* person is not their anatomy, and the continued objectification of trans* people takes the focus away from the real problems that they can face.