As you know, trans women have been enjoying some pretty exciting mainstream media attention lately. The flipside of this attention is that they’re often forced to educate not only a public that’s still catching up but also the journalists that are giving them a platform. Just recently, we’ve seen Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera school Katie Couric on how the preoccupation with transition objectifies trans people. And we’ve seen Janet Mock call out Piers Morgan for sensationalizing her story and mis-gendering her on his show.
Now Mock continues her heroic work on this front with this instructive segment with Fusion’s Alicia Menendez. In order to show just how dehumanizing many of the questions journalists regularly ask trans women really are, she flips the script and interrogates Menendez on what it’s like to be a cis woman.
“Interrogate” is really the right word. As Mock points out after the exchange, what’s really behind all these questions – ”Do you have a vagina? When was the moment when you felt your breasts budding? When you were going through puberty, did you feel trapped by the changes your body is going through?” — is an attempt to get trans women to prove their womanhood in a way that would just never happen for cis women. Menendez admits that they’d written similar questions and didn’t realize how invasive they would feel. And, of course, the reality is that being interrogated about your cis gender identity for a few minutes in a culture that otherwise accepts it — and privileges it — as the default cannot truly compare to trans people’s experience living in that culture day in and day out.
And the exchange also reveals just how much that default setting is assumed — so much so that Menendez cannot really even conceive of her own cis gender identity. While trans people are expected to be able explain, over and over again, how they knew they were trans, Menendez admits she has “never been asked, or felt the need to tell anyone, I was cis.” When asked if she felt like a girl, she says, ”I don’t even know what that would feel like. Because I was told that I was.” Jos has argued before that cis people should be asked, “How do you know you’re not trans?” because “everyone should get the chance to figure out their own gender identity on their own terms.” (The Questioning Masculinity Tumblr pulls a similar trick by “asking cisgender men the questions usually posed to trans* people.”)
I’m pretty sure the world would be a way better place — for everyone — if cis people spent less time and energy interrogating trans people’s gender identity and a little more interrogating their own.
If anyone has time to write up a transcript, I’d be so grateful.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.