In January, Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox and transgender model Carmen Carrera sat down with Katie Couric to discuss their blossoming careers, future pursuits, and their experiences as high profile transgender women. After just a short moment of talk-show-interrogation-style questions, Couric hit a knowledge barrier. Although the intent of Couric’s questioning was to “educate” the public about the trans community, her misuse of the word, “transgender(s),” as well as her inquiry about the physical aspect of the transition process was immediately met with rightful resistance.
In response to Couric's query about what she referred to as the, "genitalia question," Cox eloquently explained that:
The preoccupation with transition and 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 are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.
After Cox expressed this critical point on the daytime show, Couric indirectly became an example of how often the preoccupation with trans bodies instead of, "the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination,” diverts attention away from achieving new stages of consciousness.
Yesterday, Couric brought Cox back onto her show for another, more productive, conversation.
Couric begins the show by acknowledging her "mistake" in asking anatomy-focused questions when, in fact, "anatomy has very little to do with gender identity."
Cox then responds by commending her willingness to discuss these important issues on her show and, more importantly, her ability to "learn out in public." Here, Cox explains how the process of recognizing mistakes and then unpacking them is a crucial part of, "modeling how [to] have difficult conversations across difference and how [to] create safe spaces on both sides to have those discussions."
Our society's inability to discuss issues of race and gender is not a point of contention that silently looms above us. It is buried deep beneath the ground, in the roots, breathing life into every conversation initiated. Instead of acknowledging this discomfort, its presence is denied, ignored, and often overruled at all costs. By what you ask? Shame.
Too often do we see people approach controversial conversations about race and gender on the defensive, rejecting a dialogue before realizing its constructive potential. Laverne Cox is one of the most admirable activists today because she understands and advocates for a precision of dialogue; meaning, she is constantly pinpointing and thus, demonstrating how to talk about difference in an empathic way. She is also aware that bringing issues, like trans justice, to a public consciousness is a process that requires constant education extending far beyond statistics. It also entails learning how to talk about social issues respectfully and effectively. It is this skilled empathy that provides safe spaces for safe discussions.
The moment shared between Couric and Cox is a beautiful example of how easy it actually is to safely and effectively attain new stages of social consciousness. Unlike other talk show hosts, such as Piers Morgan, who instead of learning from his mistakes, was all too quick to defend his "morality," Couric does a wonderful job embracing the vulnerability of "not-knowing." Rather than perpetuating discrimination caused by disavowed discomfort, Couric (with the help of Cox's teachings) transforms an invasive kind of curiosity into a respectful and valuable "teachable moment."