Katie Couric’s interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox is all over the net right now. Katie choose to ask both women questions about their transitions, and the state of their bodies, and this choice has caused some righteous anger. And unsurprisingly so. It is incredibly reductive and dehumanizing to be reduced to a single part of your body because people feel as though they have some innate right to know (kind of like when people ask lesbians ‘how’ they have sex. ANY WAY THEY WANT JUST LIKE YOU OBVIOUSLY.) Laverne responds eloquently:
“I do feel like there is a preoccupation with that. And I think that the preoccupation with transition and with 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… We are looking for justice for so many trans people across this country and by focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”
Watch the full video here.
She is, of course, 100% correct. Focusing on bodies and difference makes it easy to put distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and it also makes it much easier to shrug off violence and discrimination against the other we create. But what fascinates me most about the cultural preoccupation with surgery and transition is that, at the core of this fascination is an assumption that all hetero/cis/not-LGBTQ folks have normal bodies and normal genitalia and normal sex. Because our culture is saturated with images of ideal bodies, everyone thinks that the ideal is the norm. The same is true with sex. Pornographic images and films are rampantly available, and this is how we learn what naked people and sex are supposed to look like. All of those images, however, do not come close to representing the vast array of people and bodies and sex that exist. Plenty of cis/hetero folks have bodies or genitalia that fall outside of what the culture thinks is ‘normal.’ When I worked as a sex educator, this insecurity was the one I heard most often, and it was expressed mostly by female presenting folks. Women afraid that their bodies were weird, that their needs were too much or outside the boundaries of what was acceptable. But all needs are acceptable (when satisfied consensually), and all bodies normal. And we should never ever make assumptions about a person’s gender or sexuality or body. Because even if you think you have the best ‘gaydar’ in the world, at the end of the day it is that person’s choice to share or not share with you and it isn’t the most important thing about them or their life and it’s none of your god damned business. Their body is their own, and their sex/intimacy life is their own and their choice.
I am hopeful we are moving towards the day when our obsession with sex, which is currently unhealthy and fraught with guilt and immaturity and lots of prejudice, can subside to something more mature and laissez faire. Once we can deal with sex like adults, we can stop othering folks for all that LGBTQ stuff. It is not the whole of a person. It’s not even the most important stuff. It is just another piece of our puzzling selves that contributes to our beautiful, unique, and worthy selves. The point isn’t that we are all alike. The point is that our differences do no separate us.
PS, Authors Note: I have attempted to use the most respectful and neutral terms that I know of to describe diverse bodies and folks and sexualities. It is my hope to be able to talk about gender and sexuality with openness, honesty, and a little humor. If you feel as though I’ve made any large missteps, please do not hesitate to point those out.