Flawless Trans Women Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox Respond Flawlessly To Katie Couric’s Invasive Questions

On Monday, transgender model Carmen Carrera and Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox made a daytime TV talk show appearance on the ABC show Katie hosted by Katie Couric. What was advertised as a platform for these two talented and charming ladies to talk about the projects they are working on and transgender issues, quickly devolved into an awkward inquisition about their genitals led by the host. Both women stepped up to the challenge, though, and turned the interview into a triumphant verbal parade by both Carrera and Cox on what it’s like to be trans, what it’s like to have people ask you about your genitals on a regular basis and what issues are really important to the trans community.

credit: Disney/ABC

credit: Disney/ABC

Things started to seem a little odd when the viewers kept being reminded about Carrera’s transition by being shown pictures of her in bandages and mentions of her transition at every chance. Later when Couric introduced Carrera, she said that “she was born a man and that’s why she’s on our show,” making it very clear that she’s only interesting because of her transition. Couric continued to focus on that part of Carrera’s life when she said that after being on Rupaul’s Drag Race, Carrera “realized she was done acting like a woman and wanted to become one.” However, the real trouble started when Couric started to ask Ms. Carrera if transitioning was painful because of all the surgery that she had to go through. Carmen looked a little confused and responded by talking a little about her nose job and breast augmentation and that’s when Katie pounced. She immediately asked if Carmen’s “private parts” are “different now” and if she’s had that surgery yet. Carmen Carrera responded perfectly. First she literally shushed Katie Couric, trying to get her to stop asking such a private thing. Then she told her “I don’t want to talk about it, it’s really personal” and she told Katie that there’s a lot more to get than her genitals. She said, “after the transition there’s still life to live, I still have my career goals, I still have my family goals.”

credit: Disney/ABC

credit: Disney/ABC

After the break, Couric brought on Laverne Cox who, at first was talking about her role on Orange is the New Black. They talked about her character Sofia Burset and how her twin brother played pre-transition Sofia on the show. Cox was absolutely killing it, saying she doesn’t see herself as a “role model,” she prefers the term “possibility model” (a term I’m totally going to steal). She says that she’s not arrogant enough to think that people should model their life after her, but she likes the idea that she is showing other people that it’s possible to live your dreams.

Unfortunately, that’s when Katie got back on the surgery track. Couric explained that she just wants to be educated and that a lot of people are curious because they’re “not familiar with transgenders.” She told Cox that Carrera had “recoiled” when asked about surgery and said that cis people are preoccupied with “the genitalia question.” Couric wondered if Cox felt the same way about that question and about cis people’s attitudes towards trans women. As soon as Cox started telling her that, yes, she keeps her private parts private and that cis people do have an obsession with trans women’s genitalia, she really started picking up steam. Cox said that the preoccupation with genitalia and transition objectifies trans women and distracts us from the real issues.

Cox was absolutely brilliant as she brought up how trans women, and specifically trans women of color, disproportionately face violence and discrimination, even compared to other LGBTQ people. She brought up the case of Islan Nettles, a black trans woman who was brutally murdered after the men who were cat-calling her realized she was trans and beat her to death. There is still no justice for Nettles, as the charges against her murderer were dropped. Cox brought up the facts that trans women face absurdly high lives of homelessness, violent crime, discrimination and poverty. Then Cox hit it out of the park when she said, “by focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”

Throughout all of this, both Carrera and Cox remained ridiculously charming. They both appeared to be so happy to be on the show and to be able to talk about the work that they do. They were completely tactful and kept on talking about how much they love each other and are proud of the things the other is doing. It was great seeing two successful and thriving trans women of color showing so much love for each other and then completely bringing it when they were asked inappropriate questions about their bodies. I’m extremely tired of every story about trans women focusing on their transition, so when both Carrera and Cox spoke out against that line of questioning, I was cheering at my TV. Hopefully, as more and more resources are available, people won’t feel so comfortable asking strangers about what surgeries they’ve had and what their genitals look like. Trans people are more than just our bodies, and these two women showed that in the absolute best way possible. If you want to watch the whole thing, you can check out the interviews at Katie online.

You can watch Laverne Cox’s segment here:

And Carmen Carrera’s segment here:

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Mey is a lesbian Latina trans woman living in Idaho. Her areas of expertise include comic books, trans issues and pop culture. She has an English Degree, a cat named Sawyer, a tumblr that she uses a lot and a twitter that she only uses occasionally.

Mey has written 152 articles for us.

67 Comments

  1. Thumb up 8

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    I cannot overstate how much I love these two and the trans visibility they’re bringing. However, I worry that, especially in the case of Carmen, part of the reason that they draw so much attention to the community is because of how attractive they are. I’m just torn on whether the good thing or not- I mean, any positive visibility can’t be a bad thing, right? “Flawlessness” and “charm” are great, but…. I don’t know.

    Don’t get me wrong, I find Laverne Cox insanely talented and Sophia is one of my favorite OITNB characters. Her portrayal, acting, everything is just amazingly executed. I love that she’s a lesbian, giving love to the separation of sexuality and gender identity. She just also happens to be beautiful and I’m sure this hasn’t hurt her career.

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    I watched their interview together first and was SO impressed with how Laverne handled herself. I watched Carmen’s interview afterwards. I was so shocked to hear Katie actually directly ask about her “private parts”, maybe I shouldn’t be given the general treatment of trans people but to be so invasive. Katie got told though – so proud of these ladies!

  3. Thumb up 11

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    So so so proud of these ladies, and I love the term “possibility model!” I’m glad that they had the opportunity to really talk about the issues that trans women face and were not railroaded into answering the questions about their bodies. When I went over to the Katie website though, I did notice that they had a lot of resources on the LGBTQ community, especially trans* youth, which I found hopeful. That still doesn’t excuse the line of questioning that they both got about their bodies.

  4. Thumb up 12

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    I feel so grateful to have possibility models like these two amazing women. I love how they use their power with confidence and for the good of all. It takes a great deal of intelligence and courage to avoid and unspring the traps that are set for publicly visible trans* women even by people who should be allies. Those traps intentionally make us exotic others who can be marginalized and put on display, or divided against ourselves. Brava!

  5. Thumb up 4

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    I was amazed Couric asked Carmen that. I was literally speechless, then I was smiling so big and so excited when Carmen responded. She was so cute shushing Couric; then she threw down! And Laverne was marvelous; I never expected her to throw Carmen under the bus but it was still so great when she stood by her!

  6. Thumb up 25

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    this is amazing. carmen carrera literally shushing katie couric makes me infinitely happy. what if they did the whole daytime talk show circuit and just shushed and shut down everyone — kelly ripa, dr. phil, everyone. what then.

  7. Thumb up 9

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    Mey, thank you for this. I applaud these brave and capable women for their excellent work. I also appreciate the kind and supportive story.
    That said, I object to your first use of “flawless” in the headline. When you describe trans women that way, you imply a measurement of their erasure of masculinity, and a standard against which trans women are to be judged (and mostly found to be flawed). You also imply (without intent, I know) a commonly understood and accepted transphobia (only ‘passing’ trans women can be “flawless”). You also imply an unacceptable standard for femininity (only a certain type of beauty qualifies as “feminine”). “Flawless”, when applied to people, is an objectifying, dehumanizing term. Yes, their performance is fairly described as flawless. But to also describe them as flawless is to do us all a disservice.

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        Flawless has very specific meanings in the trans community. I’ve never heard a trans man nor non-femme trans person ever described that way and, yes, it’s almost always used in reference to passibility, extremely expressions of femininity and cis-centric beauty. Nor have I ever heard a person, no matter how cool or empowering they are, described as flawless if they weren’t also highly femme presenting and viewed as a traditional female beauty. It’s way more specific (and loaded) than ‘a great person.’

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        Cam, I get that the intent was friendly, and I’m not trying to be unfriendly. But the headline is being viewed on Facebook and elsewhere in a variety of contexts. Most people will see only the headline, and are not familiar with the way certain words have been used on Autostraddle. No matter how good the article that follows, the headline counts most.
        As a trans woman, I would be very disappointed, insulted, even, to be described – even on Autostraddle – as “flawless.”

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      Agreed.

      I get that Autostraddle likes to call folks they admire “flawless humans,” but folks who aren’t familiar with the site and/or its culture are getting the wrong idea about it. Outside of the Autostraddle bubble, “flawless” is a really loaded term and not everyone is going to assume best intentions and read the (excellent, by the way) article despite being turned off by the title.

  8. Thumb up 5

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    I was so uncomfortable watching Katie interview Carmen. I’m so glad these two women spoke up and articulated beautifully why these questions were invasive and refocused the conversation on the important issues at hand.

    I hope younger generations of journalists will learn how to interview LGBTQ individuals and educate themselves before they ask really ignorant questions. I mean, even Katie, a seasoned journalist should know to do her research before interviewing anyone.

  9. Thumb up 14

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    Yes, I agree with the comment about “flawless=objectifying.” Again, too much emphasis is put onto trans women for ‘flawless’ to be code for cisnormative-looking. This emphasis on putting only those trans women out front (like Janet Mock, Carmen or Paris Lees) who can pass as cis-pretty is a sad road to go down, no matter what other qualities those women possess.

    Carmen and Laverne are both great, but I think the entire “Carmen should be a Victoria’s Secret Model” ‘issue’ is idiotic. It wasn’t started by her, she didn’t ask for it, it was projected onto her by others (including Katie Couric). Enough already. IMO, it’s a non-issue (mostly promoted by gay cis men) while there are so many life and death issues in the trans community still being ignored.

    I’m glad they didn’t answer Katie’s inane, offensive questions about their bodies, mostly because it makes a statement that, yes, we have permission, even on mainstream media, to say “it’s none of your **** business.” Just understand how media, if they don’t get the answer they want, will just go out and find someone who is willing tell them what they want to know or communicate. It’s that simple.

  10. Thumb up 9

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    Your article was so thorough I didn’t think I needed to watch the original clip but I mainly did to see if Katie Couric used the word “cis” (she didn’t), but I’m glad I did anyway because the look on Carmen Carrera’s face when Couric still pressed the “genitalia question” was priceless. Laverne Cox was, as always, amazing. Thank you for writing this, and I’m so glad these two women exist.

  11. Thumb up 8

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    Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox were both so incredible here! Laverne Cox in particular never ceases to amaze me – in every interview I’ve seen with her she manages to impart so much important information clearly, concisely, and persuasively. She consistently uses her popularity as actress to help others, which is really impressive to me.

    I wish I could be surprised by Couric’s line of questioning, but sadly it was pretty much standard fair. Almost every interview with a transgender woman that I’ve seen (with the exception of the wonderful Melissa Harris Perry) has had the same focus on genitals and medical transition. The excuse that cis people just want to be educated about these issues is ridiculous – everyone viewing knows that some trans women have sex reassignment surgery, and I’m pretty such everyone knows that recovering from surgery typically isn’t pain-free. Questions about an individual person’s surgeries do not educate, they simply objectify transgender people and reinforce the idea that the most important aspects of a woman are her breasts and her genitals.

  12. Thumb up 5

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    im happy to see role model’s like these 2 women that’s out here showing that transwomen are people to. its wat our community need’s at this time. And to make the public aware of the killing that are going on in the Black community and the discrimination of hiring of transwomen of color its bad. so we need more role models like these women to come out and speak up.

  13. Thumb up 3

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    I really like that term, possibility model, it gives me some hope and comfort. These women are just amazing and glad they are here to be possibility models to people around the world.

    On a side note, didn’t realize Lavern had a twin.

  14. Thumb up 3

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    Watching those interviews had me absolutely cringing. The idea that someone could think they have to privilege to ask another person (trans* or not) about their genitals on national television just floors me. When will people get past the questions of genitalia and transitioning?
    But I am amazed by how these women handled themselves. I love that Laverne Cox took the opportunity to flip the conversation to actual issues. I am so excited to hear her speak this May!

  15. Thumb up 2

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    I don’t know if Carmen or Laverne read autostraddle, but if they somehow find this all I have to say is WOOOOOO YEAH!! Unrelated- if I ever see Laverne Cox anywhere, I supremely hope she doesn’t mind my fangirling all over the place.

  16. Thumb up 5

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    To ask such questions….I’m sure Katie would defend it by saying that the topic is what the general public would want to know. But you would never see her ask the President what his privates look like, or ask Adele what kind of shape her lady bits are in after having a baby.These women handled it with colossal class. I hope that someday we can indeed live and behave with the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr-that we don’t judge each other by our outward appearance, but by the content of our character.

  17. Thumb up 2

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    This kind of exposure for transwomen is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s nice to see a few with a degree of success be spokespeople, but unfortunately, it becomes a measure that the rest of us get judged by. You’d think for a talk show, someone should have asked questions ahead of time to figure out what would be appropriate, and what wouldn’t… it’s not like they were just chatting in a livingroom with no one listening, or in a corner of a bar.

  18. Thumb up 2

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    wonderful article and i am so happy to see to amazing women being interviewed and talking about important issues. I am glad they told Katie about it being wrong to ask such private questions. However it was disgusting to me how Katie did not even apologize but instead straight away used and excuse and then had the nerve to ask the question again to Laverne hoping she would answer and make it seem like there was nothing wrong with Katie wanting to know. As well as using the word recoiled to state Carmen’s reaction as if it was wrong and unnatural that Carmen would not feel comfortable answering such a question. If only she could have though for a second that she would never ask a cis person about their private parts. Also saying cis people want to know because its such a mystery is pathetic what will knowing about Carmen’s private parts tell them. It angers me that so many journalists can’t even spend 30 minutes doing a little research about the correct protocol and educating themselves at the same time.

  19. Thumb up 3

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    I haven’t gotten to see the video yet, but so proud of how well these women handled themselves and didn’t allow themselves to get pushed into a corner in the interview. Sounds like they did an amazing job, thanks for the run down Mey!

  20. Thumb up 4

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    As a trans woman and also a physician, I would love to go on Katie’s show and explain the differences between and gender identity, anatomy, and sexual preference. This is why, to the true TS living the gender identity we were born with, is more important than pretending an identity that is more suited to the anatomical aberration that was obvious at our birth. Society has tried to change our gender identity but it’s been found that the anatomy can be changed and gender identity cannot.
    I would be happy to explain this to anyone interested.
    Dr Jacalyn Ann

  21. Thumb up 1

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    Laverene Cox brought Islan Nettles to all the people watching Katie Couric. That is cool. And Slate rightfully called your critique excellent!

    I can definitely see how “flawless” is objectifying. I kind of took the headline as a reference to Beyonce’s “***Flawless.” I hear that song as a somewhat contradictory, ironic struggle with all the sacrifice it takes to measure up to patriarchal standards while living your own life and trying to make yourself happy in a world that is cruel and wants to squash you, and what it means when you derive some of your power by winning at these bullshit games.

    And I LOVE “possibility model” too!

  22. Thumb up 3

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    Word score for Katie Couric for using out of touch, tasteless terms “private parts” and “transgenders”: -2

    Word score for Laverne Cox for coining the phrase “possibility model”: +200

    Mey, I really appreciated reading your excellent and detailed analysis of this interview. I had only seen the clip of Laverne, not the Carmen part, and your commentary here is really illuminates why this genatalia-centric line of questioning was especially problematic to keep bringing up.

    You are a possibility model. Way to throw down.

    P.S. Did you see Salon hat-tipped you in their much less comprehensive article?

  23. Thumb up 1

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    Really love your posts, definitely. Thank you! I have to say, and you won’t be surprised to hear me say this, but a really intensely American list (kinda like the Trans* 100 vibe — wonderful idea, insular optics). We’re limited by language access: I don’t expect, for example, non-Japanese readers to follow the brilliant strides may there …) — But even some of the major Eastern European politicians and solicitors who came out these year — facing the worst of institutional discrimination — they’re my trans woman heroines. Masha Bast, you are truly strong.

  24. Thumb up 1

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    Mey, thank you for watching this so I don’t have to! Carmen and Laverne are indeed amazing people and I’d like to support them, but I cannot stand Katie Couric and listening to her stupid, offensive questions would have been too rage-inducing. Glad to see Carmen and Laverne lay out just why such shitty questions are unacceptable for the entire audience to hear, but I just hate that they had to face these questions in the first place.

  25. Thumb up 1

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    Re: questions about the downstairs parts: I have done plenty of Qs and As with people all of walks of life and this is always come up. We can sit here and pretend it doesn’t matter but it does. Katie C didn’t ask in a way that was remotely tactful and that’s my main issue. Plus she “lingered” far beyond the point of it being appropriate.

    Re: flawless: lets call a spade a spade, neither of these people would be in their current roles if not for their physical appearance. So why not just be open and honest about?

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      Rugby:
      I agree with you Carmen Carrera (while having a lot of media poise and thoughtfulness) is basically another glamour girl who happens to be trans. A lot of the reason for her PR is because gay media has always taken to her. Laverne has been a respected activist in the trans community long before appearing on tv, so I don’t think she’s all about the looks. But that more cis-normative looking trans people are put out front both by straight and gay media and even by the trans community is a disturbing trend. The trans community (especially trans women) get the narrative of “cis-normativity equals authenticity, larger culture relatability, and even validation of a trans narrative” pervasively in our lives. That we’re seeing a whole bunch of icons and ‘activists’ who fit this model is just, IMO, internalizing mainstream culture’s eff’d up messages about us. I’m not saying those women (or Autostraddle’s Annika, or Paris Lees or Kim Petras) don’t have a lot of value beyond their attractive, passable looks, but there are very tangible reasons why they’re being put front and center as trans spokeswomen, gaining acceptance and media coverage by cis people and how it sends a very ugly message to trans people who don’t fit into the magic world of cis-normativity. The trans community can either buy into this model (which is still part and parcel of what’s been used to oppress us for years) or we can say, as Laverne and Carmen did, you don’t get to define us and which of us you’ll even deign to talk to.

  26. Thumb up 3

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    Every time a journalist uses “transgender” as a noun, I die a little inside. Hopefully people outside of queer communities watch these interviews and learn from Katie’s mistakes. Wonderful commentary as always, Mey!

  27. Thumb up 0

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    Kudos to these two strong women!

    I feel everyone, male,female, gay, bi, trans,human, animal should have the ability to love, be loved and express themselves. What is life with out these things?

    I’m so happy to see women build each other up like these two againtist discrimination and generalizations about the LGBT community.

    As a straight white female I may not know what these two women went through but I do know its time that women started supporting each other, putting down the gossip magazines and stop tearing each other apart.

    I mean we already have to deal with pressures of society, lower pay, yada yada yada.. you get where I’m going.

    You ARE beautiful, you ARE worthy and you ARE special. Everyone deserves this.

    For Katie, I expected more from her but not from her audience…

  28. Thumb up 0

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    I was very happy to see how Carmen and Laverne handled the line of genital questioning in a way similar to how Chaz Bono handled the ABCs Dateline question about his genitals, which was basically, “my genitals are none of your business.”

    Unfortunately most of television is about advertizing the sensational and the interviewer, prompted by their producer, staying on certain subject lines. Katie was following script, which would have been more excusible, except almost a year ago she had a whole show where she interviewed transpeople. Apparently she learned little or cared even less about educating herself.

    Unfortunately, as has happened to me, the cispublic is enthralled with our genitals and orientation when speaking with transpeople. I am not sure when that mindset is corrected but transpeople must educate, educate and educate to turn the tide.

  29. Thumb up 1

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    Why would anyone think asking someone such a personal question is ok? Would it be ok to ask a male guest about his penis size? Or a cis woman about her box? It’s like, “Hey, Katie. How’s your pussy today?” How utterly ridiculous. That line of questioning is something you might hear at a high school sleepover, not from a respected journalist.

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