TW (video): transphobia, transmisogyny, red-faced cis white man being intimidating.
TW (text): discussion of transphobia, transmisogyny, violence against twoc, mentions of IEDs (solider injury) and cancer.
I think the fundamental thing that Piers Morgan does not, and perhaps cannot, get as a cis, straight, rich, white man is how difficult it would have been for Janet Mock, a trans woman of color, to openly criticize/’call out’ this person with much more power than her, both societally and in the context of the interview. When you’re in the middle of your first ever prime-time interview with someone who, in comparison with most people who have ever interviewed you, is being reasonably respectful, and it’s the biggest interview you’ve ever done, and you’re grateful for the opportunity to represent your community as well as you can, and this person has a great deal more societal power than you, cutting him off in the middle of the first sentence of the interview to correct his language is almost impossible.
Janet didn’t feel like she could correct Piers until she was safely out of the situation and had the backing of her trans sisters and brothers, and that is completely understandable. When you are a member of various oppressed groups (trans, black, female, etc.), you are constantly taught that if you want people to support you and listen to you and like you, you have to make compromises - you have to be nice, you have to answer all of their invasive questions politely, you have to let them off the hook when they misgender you; you can’t bring yourself to correct them when they describe you as being ‘born a boy’ even though you know that a boy is something you never were - you don’t have the right to be so demanding of this generous cis person! A lot of trans people would even then have chosen to just focus on the good parts of the interview and not address the ways in which he got it wrong. Had she called him out during the interview, the whole thing would probably have descended into the same frustrating loop that this second interview did of her trying to explain that she was female all her life, and him repeatedly asserting that she ‘became a woman’ when she had surgery at 18. She made the decision to try and get the most out of the interview that she could and critique it later, a decision which was reached as the result of a lifetime of being taught that any scraps of compassion you’re thrown are a blessing you should cherish, not something you’re allowed to criticize.
Throughout this whole interview, he goes on about how he’s always supported gay and trans and whatever rights as though someone should be bringing him a plate of warm cookies for believing everyone deserves human rights and respect. Good job, you’re a decent human being - now shut your privileged mouth for thirty seconds and get educated about what these groups you ‘support’ actually need from you as an ally (hint: it’s not a 15 minute tantrum about how you tried and therefore no one should criticize you). Let a member of the group in question explain to you the correct language to use, and apologize for getting it wrong. Or, better yet, read up a little before the interview so that you get it right in the first place!
To clarify, for any allies who are still unclear and are willing to learn: I was assigned female at birth because my body looked like the bodies of most people who are female. This has nothing to do with what my gender was at birth or is now or any of my life between. My gender identity developed gradually over the course of my life, and my awareness of my male gender fluctuated for years from knowing with certainty to having no idea and back again, because of the myriad and complex factors which affect how we see ourselves and how we present ourselves and how we are seen by others. By the age of around 20, I finally understood with clarity that I am and always have been male. I look back at childhood photos, and I can see very clearly that that is a little boy. I know this with the same clarity as I know looking at baby photos that I am looking at someone left-handed, even though I didn’t even know at the time what it meant to be left-handed, even though that aspect of myself wasn’t visible to those around me yet because I hadn’t yet learned how to write. I didn’t learn how to understand, accept, and articulate my maleness until I was 20 years old, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there, and it certainly doesn’t mean that until then I was ‘female’.
I did not ‘become a man’ when I started testosterone, surgery will not ‘make me a man’ any more than a soldier losing his penis to an IED becomes a woman, or a woman losing her uterus and breasts to cancer becomes a man.
When you refer to Janet Mock as having ever been ‘a man’, you are reinforcing the dangerous and incorrect idea that her womanhood is something she has picked out and put on like a costume. In reality she was born into a body which temporarily obscured her womanhood from herself and those around her, until she had the clarity and agency to tailor her body to match the womanhood which was always there.
When you refer to Janet Mock as having ever been ‘a man’, you fail to acknowledge the years of agony she went through trying to take off the word ‘he’, which grated against her womanhood like nails down a chalkboard.
When you nonchalantly announce Janet Mock’s birthname to millions of viewers, you are giving people the opportunity to call her by a name which she fought so hard to write over in her family and friends’ minds and replace with a name that fit.
When you decide to have a prominent member of an oppressed group for an interview, and you consider it unnecessary to read up beforehand on the language people from that group use to articulate their histories and their identities, you are failing as a journalist and as an ally.
When you refer to Janet Mock as having ever been a man, you are perpetuating the same narrative of trans lives which continues to make the world a disproportionately dangerous place for trans women of color. As Laverne Cox recently put it, “When a trans woman is called a man, that is an act of violence.”