Last week, Piers Morgan interviewed Janet Mock, a transgender woman and activist, about her experiences and her new book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. What seemed like a cordial interview was, in reality, riddled with offensive misgendering. Fans of Morgan rushed to support him as an alleged advocate of trans rights. While this may be true, there are certainly lessons to be learned in examining how Morgan dealt with subsequent criticism.
The initial interview went seemingly well – Morgan did indeed portray Mock’s story as inspiring and important – but Morgan’s most offensive error was repeatedly reinforcing the idea that as a trans woman, she was “born a boy and at the age 18 … [became] the woman she is today.” Likewise, he referenced Mock’s dead name, or the name she was assigned at birth. Many believe these statements to be innocuous, but these people are misinformed.
These comments neglect the nuance involved with gender identity: Mock is a woman and has always been a woman, despite being assigned male at birth. Further, he insists that she was not a woman until she received gender reassignment surgery. Gender is not genitalia, and conflating the two is dehumanizing.
Additionally, referring to her dead name is extremely offensive. As a major news network, CNN ought to have better practice than that.
Following the interview, there were several Twitter exchanges between Mock and Morgan. Mock took issue with CNN’s caption “Was a boy until age 18,” and rightly so.
Likewise, she responded to a promotional tweet from @PiersMorganLive that asked, “How would you feel if you found out the woman you are dating was formerly a man?” Mock appropriately called out this comment on Twitter as “sensationalizing [her] life and misgendering trans women.”
Morgan did not take this lightly, believing he was being ridiculed in spite of supporting her. Additionally, he responded to the criticism from the trans community with an apology not for his actions but for its “ignorance.”
Mock eloquently addressed this on Feb. 5 when she reappeared with Morgan to settle the online confrontation on air. Morgan claimed she should have brought the idea up during the initial interview and that she had referred to herself as being “born a boy” in Marie Claire. She had not, however, and she discussed the issue in her book, which evidently he had not read, in the first 10 pages.
Morgan felt vilified by the unfair “abuse” he received as an ally for trans rights, repeatedly emphasizing his kindness. Succinctly, Mock noted in the interview, “Being offensive and being kind are not mutually exclusive things.”
Mock emphasized that her criticism was directed at the framework of the show. She courageously admitted that she did not mention it because she was scared, as it was her first large interview – something we can surely sympathize with.
Sometimes, allies like Morgan believe that by virtue of their support, they are exempt from criticism. On the contrary, the best way to be an ally is to listen to those you are supporting above all.
Morgan responded to criticism by placing himself on a pedestal for being an “ally” as he degraded and spoke over those he claims to support. By comparing his hurt feelings to the one in 12 transgender people murdered in America, he showed nothing but his disturbing ignorance.
From this exchange between Mock and Morgan, we can certainly take away the lesson of how not to be an ally.