Op-ed: With Friends Like Piers Morgan, Who Needs Enemies?
For the second night in a row, Janet Mock made an appearance on Piers Morgan Live Wednesday night. The interview, billed as a chance for Mock and Morgan to clarify statements that aired the night before, left much to be desired.
The primary point of contention was whether or not Morgan was in the wrong for using terms like "formerly a man," and "born a boy," to describe Mock. Morgan's tone was defensive from the first moments of the interview, as he focused on a 2011 Marie Claire feature on Mock titled, "I Was Born a Boy," to paint Mock as a hypocrite.
"This is the piece that I've got in front of me," Morgan stated. "It was the piece that made you famous. The headline is, 'I Was Born a Boy,' right?"
Mock pushed back, explaining that not only was she not responsible for that headline, but that she wasn't even the author of the piece at all.
"In [my book Redefining Realness], I talk about how that piece was so problematic, and it's problematic because we don't let trans women say who they are," Mock asserted. "We need to follow trans women and let them say who they are and believe them when they say that. That's what this is about."
Morgan continued with his defensive tone, bemoaning the "abuse" he'd suffered from Mock's supporters over Twitter since his initial interview aired Tuesday. Morgan repeatedly asserted that he's always been "supportive of all gay rights, gay marriage rights," prompting Mock to jump in and inform him, "Gay rights are not transgender rights." A seemingly frustrated Morgan asserted that he was about to get to the topic of transgender rights, chastising Mock for interrupting him.
Throughout the interview, Morgan stood by his belief that it is surgery that makes a trans woman a woman. "You're biologically a boy, and you then had gender reassignment surgery, and you became a woman," Morgan said, demonstrating a clear misunderstanding of what it is to be transgender. When Mock tried to explain the difference between sex and gender, Morgan talked over her and did not address the issue.
The segment continued with neither Morgan nor Mock making concessions. Morgan's comments at the end of the interview maintained that he had been unfairly victimized, while Mock left the show clearly still confident in her belief that she is a woman, regardless of what, if any, surgery she may have undergone.
Throughout the segment, Mock continued to try to explain that it was the entire presentation of the show — including the graphics labeling her "a boy until 18," and the problematic tweets from the show's official Twitter account — not just Morgan's words when they taped the first interview, that upset her. Morgan seemed unwilling to acknowledge these problematic aspects, insisting that Mock and her supporters were needlessly stirring up controversy and attacking someone who has "always been a great advocate" for LGBT rights.
Watch Morgan's interview with Mock below, then keep reading to find out how Morgan and his panelists treated Mock's appearance after her interview concluded.
Coming back from commercial, as I was about to change the channel, Morgan introduced a panel consisting of Amy Holmes of TheBlaze.com, Marc Lamont-Hill, and Ben Ferguson. The three of them, joined by Morgan, began discussing the previous segment — notably without Mock on-air to defend herself.
"It was really confusing to understand what the conflict was," Holmes said. "It seems like it was really more of a semantic issue here, because the one and only reason why she's on this show, has written a book, and is getting national attention, was because she was born with male genitalia, went through surgery, and is now female. And that's frankly a pretty sensational thing in life."
Marc Lamont-Hill, an author, journalist, and professor at Columbia University, was the sole member of the panel to come to Mock's defense and try to push back on the other panelists' blind instance that Mock was a man until she had gender-confirming surgery. Hill, a Ph.D. who won a GLAAD Media Award last year for Outstanding Digital Journalism Article for his in-depth coverage of trans woman CeCe McDonald's manslaughter conviction and subsequent incarceration for self-defense, made a visible effort to combat the obvious trans-ignorance of the other panelists.
Morgan, still incredulous, asked Hill to explain how Morgan "went from being a loud and vocal supporter of the transgender community, to the greatest villain in the history of the transgender community, within 24 hours."
Hill was gracious, acknowledging Morgan's frustration, but also challenging his privileged perspective. "This is one of the challenges of being an ally," Hill began. "I think it can be frustrating for communities when allies of that community, when they're questioned or challenged, or critiqued, say, 'Hey, wait a minute, don't critique me, I'm your best friend, I'm an ally.' It's like when white people point to the number of black friends they have, or men talk about the 'binders full of women' that they've hired."
As Hill attempted to make additional points about the distinction between sex and gender and explain how Mock could be a woman regardless of what her genitals looked like, conservative commentator Ben Ferguson jumped in.
"Let's deal with the facts here," Ferguson said. "She was born a boy and she was a man when she was born. Now, she can be in the head and say she refuses to accept that, but based on medicine and based on doctors, you come out and you're a man or you're a woman. If you want to change that, that's your decision. You can disagree with it, but doctors and science actually agree with me on this."
Hill rejected Ferguson's argument, explaining that, "Trans identity does not change upon surgery. You can have a penis and still be a woman, a trans woman." When Ferguson insisted that "doctors and science" agree with him about the fixed nature of sex and gender, Hill shot back. "You're confusing sex and gender," Hill said. "You should really read a book on this."
Ferguson, who has previously described transgender people as "sick," and parents of transgender children as "guilty of child abuse," nevertheless went on to accuse Mock of generating "fake outrage in order to sell books."
Holmes, while not endorsing Ferguson's accusation that Mock intentionally generated "fake outrage," did shift back to her original statement, contending that Mock's notoriety was solely based upon her trans identity. "There are lots of beautiful black women in the world. Lots in this building, at this very moment, and they are not sitting in a one-on-one interview with Piers Morgan during primetime on CNN."
Watch the panel discussion below, clipped by Equality Matters.
Holmes' accusation that Mock has only been successful because she is transgender is ludicrous. These are the same lines that people parroted in the wake of Katie Couric's interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. The fact of the matter remains: these women have succeeded despite their transgender status, not as a result of it. Being transgender doesn't give anyone an inherent advantage in life.
Following the broadcast, a number of people asked Morgan to apologize for the panel discussion, with Morgan responding with a simple, "no." Morgan got into a heated conversation with transgender activist and Trans 100 co-founder Toni D'orsay, calling her "part of the problem," and demanding that she "settle down, and quit the ludicrious hysterical rhetoric."
Later, Morgan tweeted a link to an article in conservative website the Daily Caller titled, "CNN's Piers Morgan Unfairly Gets His Nuts Handed to Him by a Tranny," before deleting the tweet, claiming he was unaware that the article contained a transphobic slur, apologizing.
Morgan claims he's "on our side," but really, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
Read the transcript from the Wednesday's episode of Piers Morgan Live here.
PARKER MARIE MOLLOY is the founder of Park That Car and works as a freelance writer. She has contributed writing to Rolling Stone, Salon, The Huffington Post, and Talking Points Memo as well as The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @ParkerMolloy.