Thursday, February 6, 2014

La, La, La Means I'm Not Listening To You

By Kara Tucker

It have been should be a shining moment for the community, shining a light on the lives of trans people, of trans women, of trans women of color -- not as stereotypes, punchlines, tropes, but as fully realized human beings.
Janet Mock, is an author, speaker and trans activist.  She has written a book, "Redefining Realness,"  which came out Tuesday that talks about her life to this point.
Mock was booked for an appearance to talk about the book, a standard promotional appearance that was hardly standard. Trans women don't get such bookings regularly, trans women of color, even less.
To do the interview requires someone who does not possess intelligence, but sensitivity and a desire to learn, not pruriently, but as a decent human being. It requires someone who views a woman like Mock as a woman, not a concept or curiosity.
That's the interviewer a story like this requires. Instead, Mock got former U.K. tabloid journalist Piers Morgan.
Well, you can take the man out of the tabloid, but you can't take the tabloid out of the man.

Morgan interviewed Mock five days prior to it airing on February 4, after the plans to have her appear live were changed by news events that week.
The interview made Morgan look like a man who had not read the book. It made it look like whoever was supposed to read it for him and supply question points hadn't read the book.
Morgan's interviewing betrayed a level of understanding of trans issues that seemed decades out of date.
He seemed to have the notion of her being a boy or a man, when Mock has made it clear that she was not. That she was assigned male at birth, something she had no control over.
Morgan betrayed an ignorance of the process of transition, referring to Mock "living as a boy" until she went to "Thailand for the surgery."
Mock pointed out that it was an ongoing journey over many years, with her true self emerging from a very young age.
Morgan tried to be, in his view, complimentary. He said, "This is the amazing thing about you- had I not known anything about your story, I would have had absolutely not a clue that you had ever been a boy, a male, which makes me absolutely believe you should always have been a woman.”
This was not a compliment, any more than it would have been if he'd said, "You know. When I heard you speak, before I saw you and knew your story, I would have never known you were black. You're so well-spoken."
It was not complimentary to Mock like he thought and it was downright insulting to trans women overall. The implication is that, if you're passable, you are truly trans.
Passability varies and is relative. It is something that can often require a lot of work, even additional surgeries, to achieve. It can come down to luck. It also doesn't have a damn thing to do with whether a person is actually trans.
I'm no fashion model, but I realize that the level of passability I do have is due to genetic luck. I have exactly the same facial features as my mother. If I had the same (and much less feminine) facial features as my father, would that make me any less trans? No.
Being trans is who we are, not how we look.

He used Mock's former name more than once as well, furthering the assertion that she was "male" before. He asked about telling her boyfriend, Aaron, about her trans history. That could have led to at least a mention of the larger issue of how men are often shamed for their attraction to trans women, a shaming that can lead to violence against a trans women.
Instead it felt more like it was forcing the "used to be a dude" narrative.
Trans people face disproportionate risk of violence of suicide than the general population. Trans women of color are even more at disproportionate risk of violence at the hands of others. Discrimination on housing and and employment are very real issues.
Two segments is not enough time to touch on those issues in depth, but to not mention them at all was a disappointment.
The interview felt like something that could have been seen on "Donahue" in 1982, with less sensitivity and depth.

There were moments where you could see that Mock appeared to be less than 100 percent pleased than the interview, but she kept focused and maintained the higher ground.
Mock was less pleased on seeing how the interview was presented. The most egregious part was the fact that someone in the production room insisted on slapping this graphic onscreen for the entire length of the interview.

That's right, although, Morgan was quick to compliment Mock her fitting his version of womanhood appearance-wise, the graphic stayed on screen to undercut the message that she is a woman. She was misgendered the whole time.
All in all, the interview showed that Morgan and the producers possessed a certain level of ignorance. That's unfortunate, but it's something that could be a teaching moment.
That graphic prompted the first of three tweets from Mock once the interview aired Tuesday night.
It read, ""Was a boy until 18." @PiersMorganLive get it the f*k together. #redefiningrealness"
A second followed, saying, "@PiersMorganLive I was not "formerly a man." Pls stop sensationalizing my life and misgendering trans women. #redefiningrealness"
One more tweet came a short time later, this time with a picture of Janet Mock and Laverne Cox from "Orange is the New Black."

Morgan, who's engaged in feuds with celebrities before, most notably Madonna, did not take kindly to Mock's criticism.
His attitude was one of, "I put you on my show! You should be grateful!" He misgendered her again and took to criticizing people who brought up the problematic issues in the interview. He accused Mock of falsely fueling a sense of him being transphobic when, it fact, it was the interview as a whole that led that sense. He accused her of treating him in "a disgraceful manner" and that he was "played in a disgustingly cynical manner."
Pot, meet kettle.
Of course, Morgan didn't acknowledge that, by tweeting his opinion, others would feel free to express blatant 100 percent transphobic opinions in support of him.
For example...

Of course, rather than listen to why Mock, or a lot of other trans folks were displeased, he immediately painted himself as the aggrieved party.
Morgan tweeted, "As for all the enraged transgender supporters, look at how STUPID you're being. I'm on your side, you dimwits."
Yes, nothing says "being a good ally" like failing to listen to the person and then insulting those who point that out.

Wednesday, it was announced that Mock would appear on Morgan's show to discuss the controversy and the issues raised.
During the day, however, Morgan showed that sleeping on it didn't change his mind any.
In fact, most notable, was this tweet -- "I fear I am now a victim of 'cisphobia'."
Morgan was clearly moving from simply ignorant into willfully ignorant.

The host was not, and is not, a victim in anyway. "Cisphobia" is not a thing. Trans people didn't suddenly gain power overnight. No one has been forced to salute your new trans overlords.
Yes, Piers Morgan, you, are a victim of "cisphobia." It must have been so difficult to lose your job and home because you're cis. It's awful that you were the victim of violent crime because you're cis. It's a shame that you lost your friends and family once they found out you were cis.
It was a faulty tweet, but one that clearly played into the narrative Morgan was going to push on Mock's return appearance. In his mind, HE was the wronged one, tweeting, "I agree there should be an apology made re my interview with @janetmock - and I expect her to make it to me on air tonight."
Sure enough, Morgan asserted that he was "targeted for vicious abuse." Piers Morgan is The Victim, ladies and gentleman.
The host missed the disconnect between saying that he was a big boy, he can handle it and spending a good 15 minutes or so of the show on the topic because he couldn't handle it.
Morgan also blamed Mock for the negative response he'd seen, because in his mind, three tweets was "egging on."
I hate to break it to Mr. Morgan, who's probably now enrolling himself in a support group for victimized talk show hosts, but people are capable of watching the segment and making up their own minds. We are not some hivemind waiting for Janet Mock's direction.
I'm not Janet Mock and I wanted to throw something at my television because of the constant presence of the "Was a boy" graphic onscreen.
Morgan also seemed obsessed with a piece in Marie Claire, written in May 2011, in which Mock came out publicly. The headline, which she didn't write, read "I was born a boy" and in a couple of instances, Mock made reference to that.
She also has written since, on more than once occasion, that the "was a boy" references in the initial piece were not an accurate reflection of her journey. In fact, all Morgan and/or the show staffer had to do was read Mock's introduction to her book, where she talks about it.
Or, put another way, as she responded when Morgan asked who she was born as -- "I was born a baby."

In addition to painting himself as the victim, the host seemed perplexed that he was being questioned at all on trans issues. He said he still supported Mock and trans rights, although he mentioned trans rights AFTER he mentioned gay rights and gay marriage rights. He seems to be very proud of his support of gay rights.
Morgan has supported marriage equality, vociferously at times. That is true. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have more to learn and it doesn't automatically make him, as one person who he retweeted Wednesday night called him -- "Piers is the Greatest advocate we LGBT community have."

Mock explained why she didn't say something to Morgan during or after the first interview. Aside from not seeing the constant "was a boy" graphic, she said she was scared and that she "wanted to be a cordial guest."
Morgan seemed unwilling to address his privilege, aside from one acknowledgement that he had been fortunate in his own life. He took what should have been a story about more important issues and made it all about him.
The sad part is that he is not unintelligent. He is capable of being a good ally and he does have the platform to do so.
But what he lost is the idea that being an ally does not automatically mean he is not above criticism, that being an ally requires listening and, let's face it, getting out of the way so that those you're an ally of can tell their stories.
Towards the end of the interview, things took an unfortunate turn when Morgan decided to lecture Mock a little, saying, "let me give you some advice."
She immediately responded, "I don't need advice. I don't need advice."
That didn't stop the host, who told Mock that the next time she was on a show like that and she was dissatisfied to speak up immediately after.
So, there you have it. The potential teaching moment ended with a wealthy, white cis man lecturing a trans woman of color how to behave like a proper talk show guest.

That could have been all, except Morgan decided to continue talking about the story with Mock no longer present. After all, it's easier to discuss a trans woman's feelings and actions when she's not on the set. In fact, when there are no trans people on set.
The three panelists were all cis. Amy Holmes, anchor for the Blaze Hot List, political commentator Marc Lamont Hill and conservative host Ben Ferguson.
Of the four, only Hill seemed to get it, pointing out that trans identity doesn't rely on surgery. He also pointed out how Morgan's defensive stance made him sound, saying his protestations sounded like “when white people point to the number of black friends they have."
Holmes said that Mock shouldn't have been upset because being trans itself is sensationalistic, thus negating any other aspect of Mock's life. She, bizarrely, added, there were "plenty of black women in the building who'd be glad to be on (Morgan's) show."
Was Holmes implying that somehow Mock didn't know her place? Was she implying that other African-American women wouldn't be offended if Morgan had acted in similar fashion to them?
Holmes was nothing compared to Ferguson, who has established his transphobia, calling treating trans children as who they are, with respect and dignity, "child abuse."
Wednesday, Ferguson did his level best to dehumanize Mock, basically yelling a variation of "She was a man! Doctors agree! Science! Boy! Boy! Boy!" to deny her identity. He called Mock's response "fake outrage."
For the most part, he shouted down the others and his views were unchallenged.

Viewers were left wondering why there was no trans person at all on the panel and why, after claiming how supportive he was of Mock, Morgan let Ferguson spew his fact-free (hint: doctors and science as a whole do NOT agree with the him, not anywhere close) views without countering them.
It was hard to escape the belief that Piers "I support gay rights! I'm a good ally" Morgan had sandbagged Mock.
That's a shame because, even as uncomfortable as it could be to watch, Mock held her own. In the right show setting, she could have gotten more points.
In fact, she already had, on the Melissa Harris-Perry show the previous weekend.

But instead, Janet Mock became just another part in the declining journalistic fortunes of CNN. There's John King's "brown-skinned man" report, there were Upworthy-style teasers for stories about rape and murderthe misgendering of Chelsea Manning (complete with a panelist's joke about Manning being raped in prison) or the fact that somebody at the network thought this was an actual topic to debate during the George Zimmerman trial.

Hint: It's the one you can't use in your graphic, CNN.
As much as this story should have been about "Redefining Realness," it instead showed more about the ongoing Redefinition of CNN.
That's a shame, but Mock is undeterred. A lot of other folks are undeterred. More stories out there will be told. More voices will be heard. People will hear more and more of the full spectrum of who trans people are like, that they are more than their genitals or the name they used to have.
Even if two days' worth of appearances of Piers Morgan's show represent somewhat of a missed opportunity, it will not be the only opportunity.  One only hopes it's soon.
And one can only hope that the next opportunity has a host better equipped for the task.


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