What Katie Couric's "teachable moment" missed.
Katie Couric totally missed what she referred to as the "teachable moment" in her interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. Sadly, what she did do is reinforce the reality that society as a whole has a long way to go in coming to understand who they know themselves to be.
Couric's questions said more about her -- and her audience's -- ignorance of what is it to be human than it did about their lack of knowledge of being transgender.
At the crux of the situation is that sex does not equal gender. When we're born we are assigned a sex based on what genitalia is seen between our legs. The error occurs when we make assumptions on someone's gender based on that sex assignment label.
Assigning someone as female at birth does not mean their gender is female. Assigning someone as a male at birth does not mean their gender is male.
Gender can been seen with three different elements: 1) Who you know yourself to be, 2) how you express yourself to the world, and 3) how the world sees you.
Sex organs do not define gender. Regardless of what we have beneath our clothes our gender is defined in ways beyond our body. Further, the gender we know ourselves to be is a deeply personal experience -- if we have the courage to explore it.
No one would ever ask, "Katie, what does your vagina look like today? You've given birth twice, right? Has it lost any elasticity?" So why should she ask Carrera what status her genitalia is currently in? How is that Couric's or her audience's right to know? And how is that relevant to the gender Carrera knows or expresses?
Asking about sex organs is a) inappropriate and b) shortsighted to understanding the experience of being transgender.
If Couric was more aware of her own gender she would never dare view Carrera as a person who should have to describe the anatomy between her legs. While it may be very personally pertinent to how Carrera feels as a human being, it is no one's prerogative to use her genitalia or state of transition to make a judgment on her gender. It's simply not relevant to how we should see Carrera.
With class and compassion Carrera and Cox seized upon the "teachable moment" themselves, highlighting the horrific violence, oppression and discrimination transgender people face. But what doubled the disappointment was that Couric did not listen. She had a list of questions in her head and could not lead the dialogue appropriately. She hadn't even bothered to learn correct vocabulary, making her use of "transgenders" majorly cringe worthy.
Nonetheless, whether we are transgender or not, why should anyone care what anyone else's genitals look like? We are all born with what we have and the only reason someone may assert that our body is 'wrong' is if that body doesn't meet the expectation placed upon it. Remove the expectation and allow that human being to just be. Only we know what it's like to experience being ourselves. Neither Carrera's nor Couric's genitalia define the "correctness" of their bodies.
People who are not transgender, who do indeed identify with their sex assigned at birth, are known as cisgender. I would make a guess that Couric is cisgender.
The cisgender obsession with transgender people's sex organs indicates that cisgender people don't really know enough about what defines their own state of being. Quite frankly, if as Couric says, "it's still a mystery to some people," then go read a biology book or Google it. Stop and think about what defines your own gender. Does Couric really think that it's her own vagina that makes her a woman? If you're curious as to the pain level of gender reassignment surgery (GRS) imagine the pain level of any other surgery. Or ask about the fearful pain of isolation due to cisgender lack of self-awareness and awareness of others.
If Couric wants to give a platform to raise awareness and understanding of what it is to be transgender, then she should help her audience come to understand gender dysphoria. Help them understand what it is like for the world to tell you that you're somebody who you know deep down inside that you're not. She should ask what it is like to find the courage to realize this. Then ask how you find the incredible bravery to share those thoughts and feeling with another person. Finally, in spite of transgender people facing massively higher rates of murder, rape, unemployment, homelessness, and many other terrors, ask how they find the valor to be who they authentically know they are.
After all of this, Couric's response to the outcry was this is a "teachable moment." Yeah, thanks to Carrera and Cox who made the lemonade! Okay, Couric's train wreck did get people talking, which is always a good thing. But there was no apology. And how much did she, her employer, or her audience learn when today there's a link on her website to "Meet the Children Who Feel They Were Born in the Wrong Body"? Really? If anything had been taught this should read, "Meet the Children Who Do Not Identify With Their Sex Assigned At Birth." And again, there was no apology.
To understand more about being transgender we need to talk more about being human. We're all assigned a sex at birth, but we don't all agree with the gender that is associated with that original label. Some courageous people actually have the wherewithal to speak up, do something about it and live their life authentically, which is a lot more than many cisgender people do in the world.