Laverne Cox Returns to “Katie”, Shows How to Do a “Teachable Moment” Right

Today Orange is the New Black star and transgender activist Laverne Cox returned to Katie, the daytime talk show hosted by Katie Couric, for the first time since her infamous January appearance where she and transgender model and activist Carmen Carrera had to put up with a barrage of questions about what surgeries they had had and what their genitals were like. Cox and Carrera were able to turn the conversation around and the whole thing turned into a lesson on how to not interview trans women. This time, Couric had already been through a teachable moment about how to talk to trans women, but as we’ve seen before, not everyone learns their lesson.

From Laverne Cox's last appearance on Katie

From Laverne Cox’s last appearance on Katie

I went into today’s episode hoping that Couric had listened to Carrera and Cox and learned her lesson, but my hopes weren’t very high based on how others have done. Both Cox and Carrera brought to light a really great conversation about how to respect trans people and treat them like human beings. It seemed like some good actually did come out if it as we had a real talk about what not to say and many news channels and websites did seem to alter the way they do things (although Wendy Williams didn’t quite get the memo and asked Cox a few uncomfortable questions like, “You’ve got breast implants?”). Plus, Cox got to talk about the violence and absurdly high prison rates that trans women of color face on a daily basis.

It takes a woman of infinite grace and patience to constantly be turning problematic and even offensive appearances into positive things. Cox’s Time cover story definitely has its problems but she is using it to make a difference. Even when people insist on asking her inappropriate questions during interviews, she turns it around and makes something good out of it. Not only is Cox a brilliant actress, able to create some of the funniest, saddest and most touching moments from each season of Orange is the New Black, but she’s also a brilliant speaker and activist, able to be calm and understanding when she’s asked invasive and offensive questions. Now, I’m not saying that she should have to be respectful or put up with these questions — Janet Mock’s tweets after being disrespected by Piers Morgan were some of my favorite things ever. I’m just impressed with the ease that she seems to do it.

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The conversation this time started with Couric sending some deserved praise Cox’s way. She celebrated Cox’s work on Orange is the New Black and talked about her recent Time cover. Cox said that being on the cover of Time brought her to tears and that she hopes the cover, like her character on Orange is the New Black will inspire trans people everywhere and help them see new possibilities for their lives.

Then Couric moved on to what a lot of us were waiting for. She told Cox, the “last time you were here, I got a lot of flack because I asked about the physical process” of being trans. She then admitted that the “flack” was appropriate, and she now understands that it’s troubling for trans people to hear those kinds of questions, because too often it’s the focus of all conversations they have with cis people and that for many trans people, the physical aspect isn’t really that big a deal. She wanted to show that you can learn to do better and to allow Cox to highlight the trans issues that are actually important. Cox said that she appreciates Couric’s “willingness to learn out in public,” that “we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and not always right” in public. Couric agreed and said that she wants to use her last show with Cox as a teachable moment only for herself, but also for others. Then Couric really stepped up and instead of asking inappropriate questions, talked almost exclusively about important trans issues.

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Cox had a lot more to smile about this time.

After spending some time talking about Cox’s life and her journey towards self-acceptance, they announced that Cox would be coming back after the break to talk about CeCe McDonald. You heard that right. On ABC during a show that often gets millions of viewers, they were dedicating an entire segment to a trans woman of color talking about CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman who defended herself from racist and transmisogynistic attackers, was sent to prison for it, and now is an trans rights and prison abolition activist. They first showed a clip of footage from the upcoming documentary Free CeCe (which Cox said they hope to release at the end of 2015) and then had a real discussion about the harassment and violence that trans women (and especially black trans women and other trans women of color) face all the time. Cox hammered the point home by saying, “Walking down the street is a contested act for trans people” and “I don’t think anyone’s lives should be in danger because of who they are.”

Chase Strangio, Tiq Milan and Laverne Cox

Chase Strangio, Tiq Milan and Laverne Cox

Then, to my very pleasant surprise, Couric announced that they would be back with Cox to talk even more about some important trans issues. When they did, they were joined by Tiq Milan, the GLAAD Senior Media Strategist and Chase Strangio, a lawyer with the ACLU, both trans men. Couric then basically served up a bunch of topics for them to talk about, with her only stepping in to move on to the next one. Literally half of the show was spent talking about trans issues, and I don’t think I heard a single question that I rolled my eyes at. This was the kind of interview I love to see.

Cox was able to talk about the intersectionality that surrounds violence against trans women — she said that the reason trans women are so often the targets of violence isn’t just that people are uncomfortable with the way they challenge ideas about gender and sex, but also because of racism, misogyny and classism. Instead of focusing on surface-level things like last time, this time she dove headfirst into talking about everything from CeCe McDonald, to homelessness, to transgender healthcare to Jane Doe, the trans youth who was thrown in jail even though she committed no crime.

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Cox, Milan and Strangio were able to make so many great points about the issues trans people face, where those issues come from and some ways we can try to change things. Towards the end of the episode, Cox talked about her hopes for the future. She said that we need to have gender self-determination for all people, and that we need to make sure that we’re not “stigmatizing, objectifying, sensationalizing or criminalizing” anyone for taking control of their own gender.

A part of me thought about making this article just be a list of Laverne Cox quotes from this interview because she says that many brilliant things. Where Cox was able to turn the conversation around and get in some great talking points last time, this time she was given free rein to talk about important issues for a full half hour. While the last episode of Katie featuring Cox was an example of what not to do, I feel like this one was an example in what to do. Couric let Cox, Milan and Strangio talk about important issues and say as much as they wanted to say, she didn’t ask them invasive or insensitive questions, she admitted that in the past she made mistakes and that she’s trying to learn from them and perhaps most importantly, Katie Couric listened to trans people and didn’t make assumptions. For any other TV host looking to reinvite a trans guest they’ve disrespected in the past: this is how you learn and grow from a teachable moment.

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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 171 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    I never thought Katie Couric was anything other than simply being dumb in the first interview and that seems obvious now. We have to take advantage of our wonderful new spokespeople to teach the media and understand their limitations. We need to begin anew. It’s so wonderful that people like Laverne and Janet have appeared right now. I am so proud of both of them!

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    We’re petitioning Laverne Cox to next camp right right right. She’s so amazing and I’m glad to hear that Kate actually did some good and turned the last shitshow into something worth watching this time. Learning!

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    YES! I’m sure that being human, she isn’t actually perfect, maybe, I guess? But there’s no question in my mind that she is an actual goddess, sent here to bring us deliverance. Services held weekly at your local trans-friendly watering hole. This week’s sermon, Laverne’s Trans 100 Keynote Address, followed by discussion of last week’s reading assignment of her Time cover story.

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    Katie Couric learned, listened and evolved and for that I give her big props. I wish other people in the media with big egos had the humility and empathy to do that *cough* RuPaul *cough*. Let’s hope she’s able to keep it up when it’s a trans-related topic which doesn’t involve someone as amazing as Laverne. Now the only thing I’m grumping about right now is how Laverne’s character has been totally marginalized and made into a token in OITNB Season 2.

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    Wendy Williams is Wendy Williams. She is completely classless so I expected her to be inappropriate and intrusive with Laverne Cox. Just as she is with all of her guests really. Especially the ones she thinks she has “dirt” on. Lets not forget that Williams got her start hosting the radio equivalent of the National Inquirer and tried to out Portia De Rossi at a red carpet event years before she actually came out. So when I heard Cox was doing the interview I told myself I wouldn’t watch as to not raise my blood pressure. I just expect this type of behavior from Williams.

    Katie Couric is totally different. Did she make mistakes with the first interview? Absolutely. I also naturally expected as I expect most journalists who either aren’t trans or haven’t talked to many would make those mistakes. However, having practically grown up watching Katie Couric on variety of things I knew she didn’t mean to offend and I was pleased to see her do another interview with Cox where she has corrected her mistakes. I wish more people would follow her example.

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    This was an excellent interview. I was really impressed that Katie owned up to her mistakes & gave Laverne a second chance on the show to talk about what matters. Laverne is a brilliant spokesperson and I admire her so much.

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    Laverne is an amazing advocate and definitely a role model for me – she consistently manages to discuss complex issues in a way that is clear and straightforward without being reductive, which is a rare skill. She’s also really good at calling people out for their mistakes in a way that is both forceful and kind, which is even rarer. And while this is of no importance compared to her work as an advocate and an actress, she is incredibly beautiful as well! I’m really excited to be seeing more of her in the media lately.

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    I can’t believe this article only has like eleven comments whereas the article on Couric’s first interview had like, what, a few hundred? I teach music and if I’m giving a kid a clarinet lesson where I spend 90% of the time criticizing the kid for playing something incorrectly and only 10% praising the kid for playing something right, then there’s a very good chance that’s going to be our last lesson. If we want journalists like Couric to do more long respectful interviews about relevant trans issues – if we want to make them very aware that our community needs and actively wants to see this kind of journalism – then our voice of inclusion, celebration, and pride for the times when the press does something right has to be just as loud if not louder than our voice of criticism when they do something wrong.

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    The first interview was so cringe-worthy and this interview is so spectacular. Also, Laverne’s makeup is FLAWLESS but also she’s FLAWLESS, she is so eloquent and intelligent and I am so in awe of everything she continues to accomplish. I love her.

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