Breasts, Penises, Vaginas and Why It’s Time to Look Past Them
You may have heard about Katie Couric’s interview with transgender advocates Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera.
I stumbled upon it via a Facebook post and read about it first in Madeleine Davies’ “This is How (And How Not) to Talk About Trans Issues,” on Jezebel, and then in author Mey’s “Flawless Trans Women Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox Respond Flawlessly to Katie Couric’s Invasive Questions” on Autostraddle.
Ms. Couric’s interview was to be a straightforward conversation about the issues faced by transgendered people. Unfortunately, she routinely sidelined what could have been meaningful discourse by pressing for details about the physical aspects of transgender issues. Breasts, penises, vaginas–don’t let anyone tell you we grow out of our fascination with them.
Mey was pretty harsh on Ms. Couric. Ms. Davies was less so.
But the COMMENT sections. Wow. People are missing the point, a point that even my ninth graders were able to grasp when a transgendered student transferred in. There was a lot of “not in my locker room” and “he/she/it” going on between classes, and students wanted more information. We discussed gender in the simplest terms, and they got it. Whatever their personal beliefs, students were, at least, looking at gender issues from an informed perspective.
The point is that the physical body is only one aspect of gender. If I lost all my “girl parts,” I would still know I’m a woman. If I accidentally had lower gender-reassignment surgery and found myself in possession of a penis, I’d still know I was a woman, just one with the wrong parts. I’m me no matter what my body looks like.
People of all gender identities, even the “simplest” ones, like someone who identifies as a woman, has women’s parts, and lives as a heterosexual woman, deal with gender-related identity and perception issues: how we see ourselves vs. how the world sees us; what we expect from the world vs. what the world expects from us. We all encounter differences in perspective and conflicting schemas.
Meaningful discussion of gender cannot happen when we stick to the most superficial aspect: the physical.
We must ask better questions: What is your life like? What challenges do you face? Does your identity help or hurt you in daily life? How? What do you wish others knew about you and people in similar situations?
I believe that it is for the best that Ms. Couric took these missteps (on her own or under pressure). Perhaps we needed Ms. Cox, Ms. Carrera, and other trans advocates–and you can add me to the list–to be displeased with superficial and perhaps even inappropriate questions and to say on prime time television: You’re focusing on the wrong thing.
If ninth graders can stop focusing breasts and penises and adopt a wider perspective, surely the rest of us can, too.
Comments always welcome