Laverne Cox has done it again folks. After writing about all of the life lessons in liberty that I gained from her speech a few months ago, I now get to write about the badass wisdom that she gave about identity politics to Katie Couric.
In response to Couric’s invasive questions about surgery and physical transition, Carmen Carrera, the transgender model who appeared in the segment preceding Cox, responded that it was a private matter that she did not wish to discuss on national television.
When Couric questioned Carrera’s reaction later in the segment, Cox defended her. Her response was poignant and beautifully informative: Focusing on the private, surgical details of trans* people’s lives reduces them to their genitals. This focus ignores the rest of their experience which allows for the cis community to focus on their perceived spectacle of gender transition rather than the very real issues that many trans* people face.
Like all I can think is f*ck yeah!
Not only were both Cox and Carrera respectful in their response to a question that would have received a societal endorsement were they ciswomen (think about it, if Katie Couric asked you to describe your genitals in detail on national television knowing that they are used in a manner to demean you would you be that polite? Hey dude hows your dick appearing today?), they brought light to major issues for trans* identified people to a mainstream news source. While I sometimes prefer methods of identifying privilege that are a bit more sarcastically satirical or honestly annoyed about impact, I think Cox did seize an amazing opportunity to reframe the conversation about trans* issues in the mainstream media.
As Cox explained, reducing a person to their genitals takes away from the more important issues at hand – such as the abuses of personal liberty and choice by violating the non-aggression principle. Fear of physical harm is a threat to personal liberty, and this threat is oftentimes reality for those of us in the QUILTBAG community, especially trans* women of color. As Cox pointed out in her response on Couric’s show, trans* women of color face higher rates of unemployment and violence than almost any other group. I don’t care if you think that queer identities are a choice, no one should have to face violence for living the way that they want, feel is necessary, or choose. Because a group living with the fear of physical retaliation or loss of life threatens the most basic principles of liberty for us all. There is a reason that life, liberty, and property were arranged in that order.
I think that a great way to avoid further perpetuating this violence against trans* folk is for cis people to check their privilege and their assumptions. As a great quote from an article on questions that interracial couples receive eloquently states: “seemingly innocent questions [can] have deeper, darker implications.” The first privilege that I think cis people exercise when asking a trans* person about their physical transition is that they assume that they have a right to know.
Last time I checked, the only people who have a right to know the private details of my body are me, my partners, and my doctor. The second privilege that often comes with these situations is an underlying assumption of neutrality to the question. Before you ask a question of a person with an identity other than yours about their experience, ask yourself why you are asking the question. Sometimes it might even be a good idea to preface the question with why you are asking it. If you are trying to educate yourself so that you are a better ally to a certain community, or so that you don’t offend someone with a similar identity or experience in the future, then express that. However, if you are simply curious, ask yourself if your relationship with that person is strong enough that you would be comfortable with them asking the same or a similar question in return.
Simply put, I think that Cox’s response was beautifully crafted and offers an opportunity to examine the ways in which we interact with those whom are different. Check your privilege and assumptions because privilege can unknowingly and unintentionally perpetuate and permit violence against a group.