Edit: Some of the more uncomfortable, deeply personal questions that were responded to in this article were not included in the first video clip. Below is additional footage from the interview, which gives more complete context to the analysis.
Katie Couric’s interview with Orange Is The New Black‘s Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera from RuPaul’s Drag Race started out just as you would expect a daytime talk show interview with TV stars to go – lots of talking about success and characters and anecdotes from behind the scenes and casual allusions to all famous people being friends and hanging out all the time without you, and humble-bragging about recent honorable press mentions. You know, the yoozje. Laverne and Carmen come off like the kind of really likable, disarming, confident people who make an interview a piece of perfectly-coiffed cake.
But of course, Katie Couric, being the reliable beacon of white, hetero-awkwardness that she is, found a way to make shit weird. And by “weird”, I mean “offensive, objectifying, and repeatedly cringe-worthy”.
As Couric pummeled her Cox and Carrera with a series of questions about their transitions, including intimate questions about surgeries, her guests responded with a kind of restrained patience and comfortable authority that reminded me that people of all colors and genders have one common thread that unites us: the unwavering belief that Katie Couric is a wretched douchebagette.
One of the many, shiny knowledge gems the Cox drops: “That preoccupation [with our physical transition]…objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people lives is that so often we’re targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community and our unemployment rate is twice the national average…When we focus on transition, we don’t get to talk about those things.”
Watch the video above to see the entire collision between ignorance and eloquence. Some notes to ponder:
a) Katie begins the abrupt change of direction by saying “we all want to be educated” like the shameless prying she’s about to do is a benevolent act. And a desire to learn more, especially about the experiences of others, especially if you’re a member of a privileged group and you’re trying to raise your awareness of the lives marginalized or discrimination groups – fucking fantastic. You should do that. And you should get that info from the plenty of people from those groups who willingly, voluntarily offer up the personal details of their lives for the benefit of your (our – I’m talking about myself too) education. It is a kindness. It is a gift. Katie completely failed to understand that she and her audience are not entitled to get that deeply personal information from the women she’s interviewing.
b) Katie’s tone and words convey a heinous, doe-eyed ignorance; She doesn’t have a clue how to treat her guests as anything other than novelty objects and it shows in everything from her presumptuous digging into their personal lives to her obvious, self-satisfied giddiness at talking to them “like, omg, almost as if they were, ya know, real people. TOLERANCE AND EDGE: I HAS THEM.”
c) Before things got messy, the three ladies were discussing role models: how the pressure that comes with being labeled as one, how it’s a term thrown around maybe too often, and Laverne gave her refreshingly healthy perspective on her own appointment as a role model by the media. The irony is that as Carmen and Laverne are talking about being role models within the trans community, Katie Couric is simultaneously exemplifying so many Don’ts for being a ciswoman interacting with transgender individuals.
d) Hint: The right way to interact with a transgender person is to use the same criteria as you would anyone else; don’t be friends with assholes, and don’t be fake nice because you are afraid to look like a bigot because doing so makes you a bigot. If you want to make comments on anyone’s appearance, whether positive or negative, exercise all the same rules of being respectful and common goddamn sense you should have by now. In other words, the “right” way to interact with trans people is to engage with them based on the content of their brains and their interests and shit they do and say and feel, rather than the contents of their underwear. Of course, that is just the opinion of one ciswoman, but to be fair, none of my transgender friends has ever looked at me the way Carmen looks at Katie in the video, soooo…
e) Laverne Cox is made of pure GRACE and FACE. While Carmen’s body language recoils into a totally justified “what stinks in here, and also if I lean far enough back, do you think I can not be here anymore?” pose, Laverne immediately backs up Carmen’s original criticism of “the genital question” before seamlessly laying down some solid gold facts about the challenges of trans people. Katie’s inquiry was more of a request to objectify and investigate, but Laverne – with less bitch-slapping than I would’ve been capable of – brought the real education.