Transgender ignorance has come into the spotlight again, as Piers Morgan made several mistakes during – and after – an interview with Janet Mock, a transgender advocate and author of the book Redefining Realness.
During the primetime interview on Tuesday, Morgan made mention of Mock's having "been a boy" and referenced the name she was given at birth. To add insult to injury, he alluded that her gender 'transformation' happened when she had sexual reassignment surgery – not when she came to self-identity as a woman.
The banner at the bottom of the screen read, "Exclusive. Janet Mock. Was a boy until age 18."
Cue the twitter firestorm.
Mock accused Morgan of "sensationalizing" her life and he responded saying he was respectful, but that "she now wants to sell books pretending otherwise."
I was really looking forward to seeing Piers Morgan's follow-up interview with Janet Mock on Wednesday. I thought for sure Morgan would allow Mock to explain why she (and others) were offended and offer suggestions on how he could have handled things better. (And, I was hoping Katie Couric planned to tune in, too.)
Instead, he gave her little opportunity to explain that she was never a boy or share her thoughts on how he could have done better. He put her on the defense and then had a jury critique her and back him up.
As Kat Haché, transgender advocate and writer explained to me over the phone, "If an entire community of marginalized people is saying that there’s something wrong with the way you’re talking about something, then there’s probably a good reason for it. So, if you’d take a step back from your initial reaction to that criticism, putting aside your initial emotional response and be willing to listen to the people who have been affected by what you’ve done, then maybe you could learn something and conduct yourself better."
Most of the segment following the second interview with Mock was cringeworthy, except for the points CNN political strategist, Mark Lamont Hill, was able to make:
"For me, Piers, the bigger issue isn't that use of language. It's the fact that so much of [Tuesday's] interview centered around the sensational aspects about genitalia. There's so much more about trans life, trans experience that I wanted you to cover."
So, where do we go from here? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this will undoubtedly happen again unless interviewers – and everyone else – learn from this teaching moment.
Here are three of the biggest takeaways from the entire debacle. If we can all get these, we might avoid looking like jerks and – more importantly – unintentionally offending someone.
1. How to truly be an ally.
One of the most important things you can do as an ally is to listen more than you speak – especially when you're unfamiliar with what you're talking about. While it's not shocking that Morgan doesn't know how to discuss transgender issues, it's disappointing that he has decided to play a victim of 'cisphobia' and use a 'But, I'm an ally!' argument as his defense. (That's like saying, "I'm not racist, my best friend is black.")
“We have dehumanizing stereotypes in entertainment, so it’s no surprised that we’re dehumanized in the news," Haché said. "I think it’s about controlling our own narratives. [Being an ally] means taking a step back and letting us dictate the terms of our own identity.”
2. That we shouldn't talk about transgender people and issues without including their voice.
Morgan could have given Mock the opportunity to speak (without defensive interruptions) and bring on a panel of transgender advocates to explain what he did wrong so we could ALL learn from his mistake(s). By inviting a panel of cis-gendered commentators to once again share misinformation, he took away Mock's voice. And, I want to know why he felt it necessary to refocus the conversation to a male cis-gendered perspective when the goal was to allow a trans woman of color to tell her story.
3. The difference between sex and gender.
As Hill said, "You're confusing sex and gender. You should really read a book on this." If you're low on time, watch this.
Hopefully this has been a learning opportunity for Piers Morgan and others like him. Then again…