After receiving backlash from a recent interview, Piers Morgan’s claim that he has fallen victim to ‘cisphobia’ is not a satirical response from an Onion article, but a startling display of how not to be an ally.
Following an interview with transgender writer Janet Mock on his CNN talk show, Piers Morgan Live, Morgan faced a barrage of twitter critiques from the trans community, due to Morgan’s insensitive headlines.
Allegedly, this made him feel victimized and abused. After the unexpected backlash, he then invited Mock back for a second interview. Unfortunately, this was not to learn from or acknowledge his mistakes, but to harangue her about past articles, which he believed ‘proved’ that he spoken correctly, and to repeatedly reiterate that he was an abused but steadfast supporter of trans rights.
The issue with this narrative is that it is almost entirely focused on Morgan and his experience as a cisgender male. Like his producer’s choice of headlines, he frames his experiences with gender identity and transgender issues specifically from a ciscentric perspective. He takes up an inordinate amount of space in this discussion, often interrupting and speaking over Janet, in a conversation that should not have been about him in the first place. His ignorance was apparently not his fault; in fact, according to Morgan, he did not display any ignorance whatsoever.
As supporters, we must seek to first listen to those whom we aim to act as allies for. We must listen and heed complaints about the language we use when we speak of each other’s identities. We must refrain from equating these one-on-one encounters with the entire spectrum of similar identities. We’ve got to check our privilege, discern our different stances, and acknowledge when we’ve reached the breaking point of being able to be a supportive ally.
If not, we’ve reached the limits of allyship.
Morgan’s objective in inviting this remarkable woman to his show does not appear to be the promotion of transgender activism, but the immodest elevation of his own standing as an open-minded supporter.
Morgan has largely been criticized for continually referring to Mock as having been a boy, with the on-screen script reading “Was a boy until age 18.” This once again places the focus on transgender surgery and transition, invalidating Mock’s experiences and self-expressions before her gender reassignment surgery, and presenting surgery as the transition moment in which a transgender woman becomes a ‘real woman.’ Morgan’s problematic phrasing insinuates that gender is reduced entirely to the body, propagating the view that biological sex wholly predetermines gender. Morgan asks, “Was there a moment, was it immediately afterwards, was it a month, a year?” A lifetime in the making, Mock patiently answered that the preceding journey was “a bigger validation.”
Trans activists have criticized Morgan’s focus on genitalia, surgical reconstruction and what this all means for Mock’s current partner. These criticisms have resurfaced in Katie Couric’s uncouth interview with Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera, where Couric remains engrossed in the pudenda of trans women–not in the struggles of the trans community. Even for binary transgender people it can be problematic, for, as Mock elucidates in her interview, it was the journey towards that decision that was of most personal importance, rather than the date of the surgery itself.
Not only that, this decision was one of many to affirm her sense of girlhood and later womanhood. Morgan’s approach to when trans women “become women” privileges binary trans people, because it enforces the prerequisite of surgery for trans people’s gender identities to be considered valid, real, legitimate and authentic. For if a trans woman is not a ‘real woman’ until the completion of gender reassignment surgery, this leaves out those who choose not to, cannot afford to, or are not able to alter their bodies surgically. It also assumes that the only way to “truly” be trans is through bodily modification, which discredits the numerous other trans* expressions of gender nonconformity. Many experiences of those in the transgender community are thus further invalidated by Morgan’s view on transgender bona fides.
Morgan appeared comfortable with Mock in part because she is assimilable to his idea of what a woman ‘should’ look like:
“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 always have been a woman.”
This implies that Morgan was comfortable around Mock because she now looks like what he believes a woman should look like. And it is this external appearance that makes him “absolutely believe” that Mock was indeed meant to be a woman. If Morgan would have been able to detect any traces of masculinity, would her identification as a woman have been up for debate? Morgan openly states that Mock’s feminine appearance is what convinces him of her true womanhood. This serves to silence many in the trans community that do not conform to binary gender identities or appearances. Indeed, who is Piers Morgan to validate the authenticity of her gender identity; that, because of her current appearance, he can claim that she “should always have been a woman”?
Ignorance persists today despite extensive efforts by trans activists to dispel the damaging stereotypes and misinformation about trans people. Yet a complete unwillingness to humbly learn from such ignorance in the wake of mistakes and misrepresentations is inexcusable.
In Morgan’s own (tweeted) words:
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. CNN 9pmET.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 5, 2014
He was not willing to learn, listen and then engage in dialogue; he states: “Explain to me, let me learn something here,” and then does not let Mock reply or speak for another 76 seconds, again privileging his own voice and perspective, dominating the discussion.
Morgan sought only to argue for his own image and reputation as a supposed LGBT supporter, perceiving himself to have been “vilified.” He interrupts Mock constantly, repeating that he has “always been supportive of all gay rights, gay marriage rights, equality, transgender rights” – to which Mock interjects correctly that gay rights are not transgender rights. Morgan’s charming reply? “Don’t interrupt me.”
It is frustrating that Morgan took away such an opportunity for a transgender writer and activist to advocate for her community, and instead made the conversation entirely about his apparent abuse and vilification, rerouting the narrative from her poised response about the state of transgender people in America to his own affronted ego.
The conversation was not even focused on transgender genitalia, it was not focused on transgender relationships; in fact, it was not trans-focused at all. It was a lot of Piers Morgan ardently proclaiming that he is an ally and now a victim, and, as such, precluding the true issue of transgender justice at hand from the space it has yet to receive in mainstream media.
Just to clarify: cisphobia does not exist. Cis people are not killed because they are cis, but trans people are killed because of transphobia.
You can check out Janet Mock’s recently published memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More, to learn more about her struggles with identity, gender, race, class and love in America.