Why You Shouldn't Ask About Transgender People's Genitals

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Jan. 7 2014 5:07 PM

Katie Couric Offers a “Possibility Model” for How to Conduct a Really Offensive Transgender Interview

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Ignorance trolling, exclusively done.

Still from KatieCouric.com.

Here’s the ideal approach journalists should use when interviewing an LGBTQ person: Acknowledge that person’s sexual or gender identity upfront since it is an important part of their lives, but then only focus on that identity to the extent that the individual seems interested in talking about it. Some people will find their queerness supremely salient and want to discuss it in detail; others, not so much. The important thing is to treat individuals as just that, and to back off—as a decent human being should in any situation—when it’s clear that certain lines of personal questioning are meandering toward undue discomfort or outright disrespect.

To see what happens when journalists don’t abide by this model, endure with me for a moment Katie Couric’s tone-deaf interview on Monday of Elite model and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera and Orange Is The New Black star Laverne Cox. (Carrera announced her transgender—not to be confused with drag queen—identity in the years after the show.) Carrera and Cox, both transgender women, are enjoying a great deal of success in their respective careers, and that happy situation understood in the context of a gender identity that still faces a great deal of discrimination and violence is worthy of discussion. The acknowledgement of that struggle would seem to have little to do with Carrera or Cox's individual bodies, however, and yet we somehow arrive at a point where Carrera needs to literally shush Couric as she stutters out the insightful and highly relevant question: “Your, your, your private parts are different now, aren’t they?”

Mey, a writer over at Autostraddle, has posted an excellent critique of the whole encounter that’s well worth your time. But the way these women handled themselves (charm and poise for days) almost makes critique unnecessary—they've got it under control. So here, we’ll just offer a selection of lightly annotated stills that capture the ridiculousness of the segment. This, folks, is what ignorance trolling looks like:

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Congrats on all that, but, like, does cosmetic surgery hurt at all? (Cause I have no idea...)
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I mean, it's surgery, so I guess, but I don't really see how that ...
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No but what's REALLY going on down there?
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Wow. I think I'm actually more embarrassed for you.
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Let me just cis-splain at you for a minute about how my totally prurient curiousity isn't actually prurient.
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Even after all that, I guess I still had to come out of the green room?
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You're really going to double-down on this "private parts" game, huh?
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Oh yeah, because people who are not me, TOTALLY NOT ME, are, like, really preoccupied with your genitals. And journalism!
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I see. Well, let me break it down: This is not a freak show. Your preoccupation gets people killed. Stop being so basic.
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Annnnd on to the next ...

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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