Janet Mock is one of the most pivotal transgender activists in the country, perhaps most notably for launching the Twitter hashtag #girlslikeus, which has rallied trans women to be open and proud about their identities. Mock’s critically acclaimed new memoir, Redefining Realness, was published Tuesday, paving a way for more trans women of color to feel empowered to tell their stories and stand up against the rampant discrimination they still experience in society. To promote it, she agreed to her first mainstream primetime interview — with CNN’s Piers Morgan — and it didn’t go as well as it could have.
After the interview aired Tuesday night, Mock took to twitter and BuzzFeed to object to the way Morgan and his producers “senationalized” her life. She felt as though they defined her identity only by her body: “Only until I got the surgery, then I was a woman.” Referring to his show as “info-tainment,” Mock told BuzzFeed that Morgan “doesn’t really want to talk about trans issues.”
Indeed, though direct questions were not asked about it, Morgan’s entire interview seemed to focus on Mock’s genitalia. He repeatedly referred back to her given name, suggesting time after time that she “used to be a man” and was “formerly a man.” The chyron run by producers didn’t help, suggesting Mock “was a boy until age 18,” referring to when she had sex reassignment surgery, and defining her story as a “path to womanhood.” Morgan actually opened the interview with a superficial reaction to Mock’s appearance:
MORGAN: So 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 have always have been a woman.
Morgan then dedicated much of the second segment to probing Mock’s experience about disclosing her identity to the man she was dating. Only during the last two minutes of the interview did Morgan actually ask Mock about advocacy, even though that’s largely what her book is about. Watch the segments:
Morgan responded very defensively on Twitter, claiming that he was disappointed in Mock’s tweets and accusing her of “deliberately, and falsely, fueling some sense of me being ‘transphobic.’” After BuzzFeed published its post highlighting her criticisms, he concluded that he’d “been played in a disgustingly cynical manner,” adding, “I’ll deal with you tomorrow night on air @janetmock.”
Morgan has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT issues, particularly marriage equality, on his show. He frequently challenges his guests’ anti-gay views, like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Kirk Cameron, and the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson. Indeed, his intentions in interviewing Mock and helping her promote her book were probably sincerely good, but that doesn’t mean he handled it well.
Falling into the same trap as Katie Couric did when interviewing trans model Carmen Carrera and actress Laverne Cox, Morgan unfortunately defined Mock’s experience based on her life leading up to her transition and not much of her life since. This had the effect of dehumanizing her, reducing her to her body while diminishing the significance of her struggles, her accomplishments, and her goals. Had Morgan taken the time to consider how best to respect her dignity and privacy, he could have conducted an interview that focused on the change she is working to make in the world fighting trans discrimination, instead of the changes she has made to her body.
If Piers Morgan follows through on his promise to “deal with” this situation on Wednesday evening, he could admit that he missed a perfect opportunity to learn something about the transgender community and the steps fierce advocates like Mock are taking to make the world a safer place for all people.
Janet Mock has agreed to return to Piers Morgan’s show Wednesday evening to address the controversy of Tuesday night’s interview.