"So, if I saw you undressed, you would look like a woman to me totally. Yes?"
Those were Barbara Walters' comments in a recent interview with a transgender person and just part of the fodder in Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight in which John Oliver takes on the media and its less than adequate coverage of transgender people.
Yes, there have been major victories for transgender rights of late, in part spearheaded by public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. But as for how the media reports on such matters, they fall short on things as simple as basic respect.
Oliver argues that asking transgender people about their genitals is just as inappropriate as asking a cisgender person about theirs. In both cases, the individual is human, so the same rules apply.
Oliver suggests the inappropriate questions and commentary may be, in part, because of confusion over the nature of transitioning and what exactly it entails (not that it's an excuse). Though some transgender people undergo a physical transformation, others do not.
This ignorance is both a symptom and a reinforcement of the way the country has an institutional bias against transgender people. The episode shows examples of transgender people at the DMV being forced to represent themselves as men, their biological sex, for their license photograph.
There is also an interview with a transgender male soldier who said being in Afghanistan was "like a vacation" compared to the U.S. because he could be his authentic self, whereas at home, he was identified by the army as a woman.
The military still has restrictions on "defects of the genitalia" and "psychosexual conditions," which can essentially be applied to all transgender individuals. Refusing entrance into the military to an individual who has, for example, altered genitalia is no more appropriate than refusing a cisgender, straight man based on the size or shape of his genitals.
"It is not a great sign for how we treat transgender people that Afghanistan is a place where you can be yourself. That is the least likely tourism slogan for Afghanistan," Oliver says regarding the transgender soldier's interview.
While America has made strides in LGBTQ issues, the country still has a long way to go. Learning how to talk about transgender individuals like any other humans would be a good start.