What happens when a transgender activist gets to turn the tables and ask her interviewer to prove her womanhood?
In an April 29 segment for Fusion TV's AM Tonight, transgender activist Janet Mock grilled host Alicia Menendez about her identity, genitalia, and womanhood. Menendez answered a series of invasive questions like "do you have a vagina" and "when was the moment that you felt your breasts budding?":
The interview was a parody of typical media interviews with transgender people, with Mock asking Menendez - who is cisgender - many of the same questions she routinely has to deal with as a trasgender woman. The segment highlighted the way that even trans-welcoming media personalities can objectify and dehumanize their transgender guests by focusing on their bodies and medical histories.
In January, Katie Couric was criticized for an interview in which she asked a transgender guest whether she had undergone surgery on her "private parts." At the time, transgender activist Laverne Cox told Couric that "the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people":
I do feel there is a preoccupation with that. 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. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don't actually get to talk about those things.
And in February, CNN's Piers Morgan had a public meltdown after Mock criticized his invasive questions and sensationalist coverage of transgender issues.
In conservative media, the problem is significantly worse, with coverage of transgender issues focusing almost entirely on the physicality of transgender people's experiences or depicting protections for transgender people as unnecessary and dangerous.
At the end of the AM Tonight interview, Menendez remarked that, even though she had helped write some of Mock's questions, she "didn't realize how awful and invasive some of them would feel." It's an experience that transgender people are subjected to too often in the media, and it's a lesson that news outlets would benefit a lot from remembering.