If there was one thing Piers Morgan got right in his interview with writer Janet Mock last night, it was when he called her, “brave, frank, and honest” about coming out as transgender. Sadly, the interview sort of falls apart after that.
From almost the start of the interview, the header “Was a boy until age 18” ran across the screen, insinuating that Mock wasn’t truly a girl or woman until she had genital reconstruction surgery. That is not only incredibly reductive regarding gender, but missed the entire point of Mock’s new memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More about her road to girlhood, which began far earlier than one moment in Thailand at age 18.
Instead of treating the topic of disclosure with the nuance and sensitivity that it deserves, Morgan went straight for the sensational, wanting to know how the various men Mock has dated have reacted when she finally told them about being trans. He treated Mock, her body, and her past as a spectacle, rather than with respect as befitting the lived experiences of a fellow human being. (You can read the transcript here, although Morgan’s responses on Twitter are a better illustration of his blowhard behavior.)
“Othering” trans women isn’t a new phenomenon, unfortunately. While interviewing Laverne Cox and Carmen Carerra, Katie Couric seemed unable to avoid rather private and probing questions involving their genitalia, something I’m sure she doesn’t ask other guests about.
Here’s the thing. It’s really not all that difficult to interview or write about trans women and men. And yet, time and time again, the media has failed to treat the trans community with any respect. The information on how to talk about trans people is out there. All you need is a quick Google search to see that GLAAD has a handy guide for media outlets on how to handle trans related stories.
I have to assume that in preparing for their interview, Piers Morgan read Janet Mock’s book. In doing so, I hope he would have come away from it having a better understanding of the challenges, and sometimes very real dangers, involved with being a trans woman of color. I would have thought that he would have been a bit more sensitive in how his show described Mock in the chyron that stayed up throughout their interview. I would have liked to have seen him dig into the very struggles facing trans women — and in particular trans women of color — rather than attempting to reduce Mock to a sensationalized character.
I think Janet Mock herself – with the help of the fabulous Laverne Cox – responded best to Morgan via Twitter last night:
— Janet Mock (@janetmock) February 5, 2014
Now, if all of that still happened, and Morgan had read Mock’s tweets in response to the interview and had an “ah-ha” moment of how to better treat trans guests, then maybe we’d chalk it up as a learning moment and move on. Sadly, Morgan went on the defensive (spurring the amazing hashtag #PiersTears Tweets about “#pierstears”).
Through various tweets, Morgan claimed he was in no way transphobic and showed Mock complete respect. He refused to acknowledge her claims that he showed “reductive thinking about gender,” as well as not providing a safe space during the interview. Instead of taking these critiques to heart, Morgan balked, saying he’d respond tonight and then invited Mock back on his show to debate him.
So @janetmock has agreed to come back on my show LIVE tonight and we can debate our little disagreement to America. CNN 9pmET.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 5, 2014
While I’m certainly curious to see how tonight’s conversation goes, there’s one important thing to note: there’s no debate when it comes down to how to treat your guests with respect. It’s even more appalling when you have a guest on who lays out in painstaking detail within the book she’s promoting the best ways to engage and interact with trans women of color. Morgan didn’t even have to Google it. Reducing and sensationalizing trans lives, particularly when a guest is there to speak about affirming and supporting transgender individuals, feels like the biggest slap in the face. Refusing to own up to it and learn from it makes it even worse.
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto. She is the editor of The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, available now. Follow her on Twitter.