Katie Couric’s interview with transgender model Carmen Carrera and transgender actress Laverne Cox has been getting shared hither and yon all over the series of tubes lately. I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but today three things came together and happened and I realized I need to weigh in about them.
1. Katie Couric is a twit. Yes, everyone is saying that now, because of her sensationalist, insensitive treatment of Carrera and Cox, and that’s good. But I don’t want anyone to forget that she has always been a twit, a bad journalist, and not a terribly good person. One thing I will never forget is her reportage of the death of Richard Jewell in September of 2007, when she anchored CBS’s evening news. Here are her exact words (which I found online at multiple sources):
Back in 1996, the FBI investigated Richard Jewell, an Atlanta security guard, in connection with the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. Richard Jewell died today of complications from diabetes. He was 44. Jewell was never charged with any crime.
If you’d never heard of Richard Jewell, you’d listen to that and think he was somehow involved in the Olympic Park bombing, and not the hero security guard who found the bomb before it went off, shooed people away from its proximity, and then alerted the authorities.
Yes, he was briefly suspected of involvement in the bombing. He was investigated, treated very badly by the press, and then completely exonerated. Religious nut Eric Rudolph was later caught and convicted of the Olympic Park bombing and several other bombings in the Southeast (a couple of lesbian bars and an abortion clinic were among Rudolph’s other targets). This rather important fact was left out of Couric’s obituary of Jewell. Because she’s horrible, and could not leave poor Mr. Jewell alone even after his untimely death.
2. The second thing is, the version of this story that’s getting shared the most is from Autostraddle (the one linked above), which it seems is one of those clickbait and listicle websites everybody likes to share from nowadays. This is the headline:
Flawless Trans Women Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox Respond Flawlessly To Katie Couric’s Invasive Questions
“Flawless” is a term used in the drag community. It’s used to describe drag queens (or drag kings, I guess) who “pass” undetectably as cisgender women.
It’s not a polite term to use for transpeople, since it implies that transwomen who “pass” have some sort of legitimacy not achieved by transwomen who don’t. This certainly isn’t the case. Not every transwoman cares how well she passes. The ones who do try as hard as they can, and it’s a gratuitous and mean-spirited insult to suggest they’re in any way “flawed.”
The writer of that Autostraddle story is a transwoman herself. I asked her on Twitter (@lunchinthepark) if she also wrote her own headline (they’re usually written by editors). She hasn’t confirmed that she did, but she hasn’t denied it either. I’ll be disappointed if I learn she did; she should know better.
3. A friend of a friend, a cisgender woman commenting about this story, expressed amazement that Carrera and Cox are much prettier than she is. This observation carries with it the presumption that transwomen by default are expected to be hideous, I’m guessing. God forbid that we could be individuals, I suppose.
Now, folks, I know it’s still novel to see transpeople sitting down at the cultural table and taking part in society just like anyone else. I know most of you are still used to seeing us only in circus sideshows, or in Doc Robbins’s morgue on CSI, or throwing folding chairs on Maury Povich. We’re glad to cut you some slack while you get up to speed.
But get a move on, would you? You’ve known since the 1970s not to say of an African-American that he is a “credit to his race.” You don’t ask Jews “do your people eat oatmeal?” You no longer speak more slowly to Asians in case they don’t understand English. You get that these people are just people, like you, and want to be treated the way you’d treat anyone else. Transpeople want that too.
You all need to start learning not to be so stupid about us. Don’t ask us what our genitals look like. Don’t be amazed when we don’t look like bell-ringing monsters. Don’t praise us just for being ordinary people.
Just do your thing, and let us do ours, okay?
Vandy Beth Glenn is a transwoman who won a historic federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia after she was fired from her job as an editor at the General Assembly when she told her boss she was transitioning. She’s a past GA Voice Person of the Year and blogs at www.vandybethglenn.com.