CNN’s Piers Morgan vilified for amazingly pro-transgender interview

CNN’s Piers Morgan is on the defensive for a reportedly horrific “sensationalized” interview he did with transgender woman, and advocate, Janet Mock on the release of her new book about her life journey.

janet-mock

After the interview, Mock accused Morgan of “sensationalizing” her story, and claimed that Morgan had repeatedly offended her by the questions he asked, and by the way he referred to her life story.

I just watched Morgan’s 15-minute interview with Mock, which I’ve posted below, and it was easily the most pro-transgender interview that I’ve ever seen. Morgan was not just a gentleman, he practically gushed over Mock, repeatedly calling her “remarkable,” “gutsy,” “brave,” and praising her “courage.”

Morgan’s interview helped the transgender cause immensely.  And he’s now paying a price for it.

First a little background on what transpired during the interview.  But later I’m going to get into this larger issue of whether we, on the left, have a tendency to sometimes use a nuclear bomb to swat a gnat that wasn’t even bothering us in the first place.  And in this case, a very friendly gnat at that.

Here’s how Piers Morgan began the interview:

Janet Mock has a remarkable life story. Janet was born a boy, and at the age of 18, she took the extraordinary step to become the woman she is today.

Sounds good so far, no?  You’d be wrong.  We’ll get to that in a moment.  First a few more quotes.

At one point, Morgan talks about how, had he not been informed Mock was transgender, he’d never have guessed, “which makes me absolutely believe, you should always have been a woman, and that must have been what you felt when you were young.”

Again, sounds pretty good.

Here are a few more quotes from Morgan:

“it takes such guts”

“you’re obviously an incredibly gutsy person”

“Not many people have come out and been quite so brave… helping the American people and other countries come to terms with this as being a perfectly normal thing.”

“I can’t think of anyone better to be out there promoting all of this than you.”

I watched the entire 15 minute interview, posted below, and Morgan’s comments I quote are illustrative of the entire interview.  It was gracious and supportive to excess.

But those comments earned Morgan a multi-day harangue online, and utter evisceration from trans-right advocates and Mock herself.

You really have to watch the video for yourself, to fully appreciate just how pro-trans, and softball, the interview really was:

Now, let’s look at a few more specific complaints about Morgan’s interview.

Morgan ended the first segment of the Piers Morgan Live interview by saying that Mock at one point had to tell the man she was dating that “you used to be yourself a man” — although Mock has never identified as a man.

The on-screen description of Mock was that she “was a boy until age 18,” although she was identifying as a girl in high school, and the Piers Morgan Live Twitter account posed the question during the interview, “How would you feel if you found out the woman you are dating was formerly a man?”

To make things even more confusing, Mock repeatedly refered to herself as having been "born a boy" in an autobiographical piece in Marie Claire.

To make things even more confusing, Mock repeatedly referred to herself as having been “born a boy” in an autobiographical piece in Marie Claire.

Except that, most viewers, and most people reading this article, would have said the same thing – that Mock did used to be a man, and was a boy until age 18.  What exactly was wrong with what Morgan said, and how is this “sensationalizing” Mock’s life and experience, even if it were somehow incorrect?

And to make things even more confusing, Mock repeatedly referred to herself as having been “born a boy” in an autobiographical piece in Marie Claire back in 2011.

“Though I had been born a boy…”

“I loved them because they had long hair, and they were the only “dolls” OK for me, a boy, to play with.”

“In fact, I even found other boys like me there…”

“I was once a big dreamer who happened to be born a boy named Charles”

“I calmly said. “I was born a boy.”

And the title of the piece, though editors sometimes mess up titles, is “I was born a boy.”

I suspect what’s going on is an issue surrounding whether trans people “become” the other gender, or whether they were always one gender.  Meaning, I suspect trans people would say that they are not born male and then become female – rather, Mock, for example, was born a female in a male’s body.  Thus, when Morgan said “you used to be a man,” he was inaccurate, since Mock has always been a woman, even if her body was male at birth (however you want to define that).

Though honestly, I have no clear idea what Mock objected to.  Did she mean that she was always female from birth? Or did she mean that she should be referred to as female from the dat at which she started to self-identify as female, which was well before she was 18?  We don’t know because Mock never raised the concern, nor tried to explain, which was why she was there in the first place – to explain to people who know nothing about trans issues, what it is to be transgender.

Regardless of the explanation, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Piers Morgan sensationalized anything.  I’d have made the same mistake, and I suspect 99% of the public would have, or has, as well.  I’m sure most of us have written the same about Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning – writing that she used to be a man.  And because Mock didn’t explain this point, I’m still not sure how to describe what gender Bradley Manning was before he self-identified as Chelsea.  And while that perhaps means I’m uninformed on the complexities of trans issues, it’s hardly worthy of villification.

You’ll note in the video that Mock did not correct Morgan over this point.  She could have simply said, “actually, Piers, it’s a common error people make about being transgender, thinking that we change genders – in fact, I’ve always been female, whether or not I was born with the body of a male, and whether or not I’ve had sex-change surgery.”  I think that would have been a fascinating point to make and explain, and it’s clear that Morgan would have been receptive to it, judging by how gushing he was throughout the entire interview.  But it never happened.  A teaching moment was lost.

One other point that Mock got upset about, and it’s a point that’s come up before, including when Katie Couric was attacked for doing a different interview with a trans woman that was, again, incredibly supportive.  Morgan asked Mock about her sex-change surgery.  It’s a sore topic among some trans people, I suspect because it feeds a false perception of someone who “used to be a man, but then post-surgery ‘became’ a woman.” It also risks separating trans people into allegedly “real” trans people who have had surgery, versus those who have not.

In fact, that was part of Mock’s criticism of Morgan:

The on-screen line that she “was a boy until age 18” reflected “bad judgment” and “reductive thinking about gender,” she said.

“What they’re saying is, ‘Only until I got the surgery, then I was a woman,’” she said.

Janet Mock appears on Piers Morgan's show a second time to explain why she was upset by the first interview.

Janet Mock appears on Piers Morgan’s show a second time to explain why she was upset by the first interview.

But that’s what a lot of people think is the case, that when you have gender reassignment surgery  your gender is reassigned, that you change from male to female, or female to male.  Mock is putting herself out there as a transgender advocate, who has just written a book about being transgender, and is going on nationwide prime time television to provide the American people a much-needed education about what it is to be transgender, a topic most know little to nothing about.  I’m not sure she’s doing her cause complete justice by complaining about the way an obviously supportive interviewer phrased his questions, or about the topics he inquired about, when they are the questions and topics that most Americans would ask on this subject.

At another point, Morgan discussed Mock’s relationship with her boyfriend, Aaron, who designed the cover of her book, and who she writes about in the book. Mock objected to this topic, after the show:

“My book is not about Aaron or my relationship, but that’s the most sensational thing they want to pull out,” she said. “They’re not talking about my advocacy or anything like that, it’s just about this most sensationalized … meme of discussion of trans women’s lives: ‘We’re not real women, so therefore if we’re in relationships with men we’re deceiving them.’ So, it just feeds into those same kinds of myths and fears that they spread around, which leads to further violence of trans women’s bodies and identities.”

I didn’t find the topic sensational at all.  I found it empowering.  Not to mention, her book is very about Aaron as she included him in the book.  Morgan raised a seemingly valid interview question.  He asked Mock how she approached coming out as transgender to the man she is currently in love with, and how he reacted.  I think it’s a fascinating and relevant question, and it gives us a window into society’s perception and reception of trans people.  You’d ask a gay person what it was like coming out, why not ask a trans person the same?  And in any case, if it’s a sensational topic, then why include it in the book in the first place?

One final point some trans advocates are raising: That Morgan was impolitic in his tweets about Mock after the show.  In fact, here’s his first tweet after the interview:

piers-morgan-tweet

And here is Mock’s first tweet after the interview:

janet-mock-tweet

Here’s the problem.  And I’ve seen this on gay issues, but also on issues of race, and beyond.  There seem to be this notion that there are questions one should and should not ask, and it’s not always clear to the interviewer what those questions are.  I know gay people who get offended when they get asked what they see as “stupid” questions about being gay, such as “who’s the husband and who’s the wife?” when two gay people get married.  And if the person is supportive, and genuinely curious, and not asking with malice, I don’t take offense. I answer their question.  And if I’m unclear as to what they really mean, I might inquire further, “do you mean sexually, or do you mean that you think men and women have different jobs in the home?” And then we discuss that topic.  They have expressed an interest in knowing more about my being gay, in understanding me and learning about me and my people.  I’m not going to rip their heads off no matter what question they ask, so long as the question is asked sincerely and without malice.

America does not know transgender issues.  At all.  It’s only gotten to know gays in recent years – and that education has taken decades.  I’ve noticed a tendency to criticize anyone who attempts to discuss trans issues and then gets any small point incorrect – whether it’s using the wrong pronoun or asking about reassignment surgery.  And that criticism risks not simply alienating people like Piers Morgan who are clearly allies, but it also sends the message that perhaps it’s not safe covering these issues if even a staunch ally like Morgan is going to be eviscerated for giving a softball interview to someone he clearly admires.

There’s nothing wrong with educating people on your issues, and even correcting them when they get something wrong.  But when America knows very little about you, and someone who is clearly sympathetic invites you on their primetime network show to tell the world about your story, and then gushes over you for 15 minutes (one-third of his entire show), ripping his head off is certainly one approach to winning over the hearts and minds.  It isn’t mine.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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