Katie Couric brought on RuPaul's Drag Race contestant/model Carmen Carrera and Orange Is The New Black's Laverne Cox to her talk show on Monday. Earlier in the interview, Carrera politely dodged Couric's question regarding her genitals. Though Couric meant it to be an educational question for those who "may not be familiar with transgenders," it objectified Carrera, and consequently, the trans* community. Couric used transgender as a noun — a thing, rather than an identity that extends beyond the physicality of a trans* person and the various queer identities the asterisk in "trans*" represents. Thankfully, Laverne Cox was quick to educate the host after Couric tried to push the same question on the actress.
"I do feel there is a preoccupation with that," said Cox, flipping the script on Couric's query regarding the world's fixation on trans* genitalia. "The preoccupation with transition and 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 is that so often we are targets of violence." She then listed off various statistics regarding the elevated chances of homicide and unemployment a trans* person faces, using Islan Nettles, a trans woman randomly beat into a coma after her identity was discovered and later died, to drive her point home. "By focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination," she said. Jumping off of that, it's dehumanizing to approach a community this way. It makes those who are a part of it out to be the other.
Of course, questions, confusion, and misguided assumptions are bound to crop up, as the trans* community continues to assimilate itself into the daily vernacular. When a news story surrounding an LGBTQ topic breaks, the majority of the media outlets will tailor their stories toward the lesbian and gay members of the LGBTQ community — lumping the BTQ members under the LG umbrella. Thankfully, there exist people like Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera to lend a proper voice to the trans* community and offer some two cents on what it means to be trans*.
Now, as for the asterisk at the end of trans*: Without it, "trans" would refer to trans men and trans women; adding the asterisk, however, includes all non-cisgender gender identities (transgender, transsexual, transvestite, genderqueer, trans man, trans woman, genderless, genderfluid, and so on). You can read more on its origins here.