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Dear News Outlets: Stop Asking Transgender People About Transition Surgeries

Dear News Outlets: Stop Asking Transgender People About Transition Surgeries

Interviewers and newspeople, I don’t ask for much. But seriously, you have got to stop asking people who are transgender about their transition surgeries. Please. Just stop. Especially when it has absolutely nothing to do with what they’ve come to you to discuss.

I bring this up because Katie Couric has done it so, so wrong. She recently had Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox — trans* women who are a model and an actress, respectively — on her show, ostensibly to interview them about projects they are working on as well as trans* issues. So naturally the conversation turned toward what is in their pants!

You can read a good summary of the interview here, or you can watch Carrera’s and Cox’s interviews. Suffice it to say that Couric asked Carrera about whether her “private parts” are still in tact, and then revisited the issue of whether or not it’s something that should be discussed with total strangers during her interview with Cox. Carrera even tried to shush Couric when it became clear that the question was coming.

I hope that it’s self-evident why this type of question is super inappropriate. You wouldn’t normally ask people about their personal medical histories, and it’s not OK to do that when said medical history includes possible sex reassignment surgeries. Nobody owes you that information, no matter how public they are about their transition. It’s one thing if it’s information a trans* person wants to volunteer. It’s quite another for anyone to demand that the issue be addressed.

That’s not to say that people who ask those kinds of questions are doing it with malice. For most people, I think nothing could be further from the truth. I do think that it’s coming from a place of ignorance, with unfamiliarity with the process of transitioning and the many facets it can contain. However, it’s not up to trans* people to educate you. They can if they want, but it’s not their responsibility. There’s this thing called the Internet, and it’s got a lot of resources for you to read. And, for the love of Thor, if you want to ask about such things on your daytime talk show, be sure to ask your guest if it’s OK.

What Carrera and Cox put so elegantly in their interviews is that focuses on a trans* person’s genitals obscures very real issues facing the trans* community, especially trans* people of color. The amount of violence and harassment trans* people are forced to endure is appalling. Focusing on what type of genitals they have reduces complex individuals into one thing.

Furthermore, can such a focus be any more gender essentialist? What if someone born male wants to present like a woman and identifies as a woman, but for reasons that are no one’s but hers (remember how other people’s medical histories aren’t our business?), chooses not have that particular procedure? So what? Who am I, a cis-gendered individual, to tell this person that they are actually a man because they have a penis? The same goes for a trans* man who makes a similar choice. Your gender is much more than what you carry around between your legs. People are wonderful and complex, and no one should be treated like an interesting artifact. If you want to be seen as more than just your genitals, it’s only fair to give other people the same respect.

This is the point in the post where I encourage you to watch the interviews if you haven’t already, because these woman kill it. They are so perfect. And, really, they are who you should be listening to. This is their lived experience. Hopefully this is the awkward phase we have to go through before there is more complete transgender acceptance. And hopefully it will be short.

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Photo Credit: KatieCouric.com

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88 comments

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7:14AM PST on Jan 12, 2014

I am for freedom of speach.

4:19AM PST on Jan 12, 2014

ty

8:38PM PST on Jan 11, 2014

I don't see whats wrong with this, you are on TV to talk about yourself so of course there will be person questions and as the article said people are ignorant about the topic and very curious, hearing someone talk about their story is great and helps people to understand,

1:04PM PST on Jan 11, 2014

I think she's curious..that's it. It wasn't anything against trans people

10:31AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

I saw the interview, and saw no problem with Katie asking the question, or Carmen's response. What made me think more about it was the response given by Laverne Cox. She was very concise and to the point, "when you only discuss the body parts associated with being transgender, it takes away from all the other issues we have to live with."

The danger and hatred directed at transgendered people, and the hate and violence, is much more allowed and therefore severe beatings and death are far more common than is the regular "gay" community. I had never thought about it, but by watching that show, it educated me far more than any other show I have seen on this subject.

I think it did far more on an education level, even if Carmen was uncomfortable with the question, and so it did what Katie intended, and that was to educate and shine a spotlight on what being Transgendered is like.

8:41AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

As an "out" transgeneder person, let me add this to the conversation. I am out, therefore I am willing to discuss what it means to be trans, what a royal PITA it is to be trans - and *why* it's such a royal PITA, and the actual "mechanics" of transition. I don't even mind noting that I am "pre-op", meaning that no, I haven't had GRS (Gender Reassignment Surgery). That does not mean you get to ask specifically what *is* in my pants/skirts. That info is strictly between me, my doctors, and my partner. There is a limit to what you can ask.

Why am I willing to be this open about it? Because people who don't know about it and want to know need to be able to talk to someone who has been there. People who are undergoing transition themselves may want to talk to someone who is "more experienced" (for lack of a better term). And because I want people to realize that *everyone* is different, it's just that some of us a bit more obviously different than others, but at the end of the day, we're still people, and we would like to be treated no differently than other less obviously different people.

8:28AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

A very good point

3:53AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

ty

10:31PM PST on Jan 9, 2014

I agree, in part, with Karen H. These surgeries or knowledge of surgeries were fairly taboo and then it seemed more were coming out in the open about them seemingly to bring the facts in the open and get public awareness., My thoughts go to Chaz Bono. He was extensively interviewed about the processes. I found his matter of fact discussions of what he was going through very eye opening and appreciated the opportunity to understand. However, I do see where some would not want to be so forthcoming and prefer privacy on the issues. It should be up to the individual whether they want to go there or not.

10:00PM PST on Jan 9, 2014

How would Katie Couric feel if she were asked about her genitals??

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