As I patiently awaited the arrival of my copy of Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness, I decided to tune in to an interview on Piers Morgan Live. I had heard that she was on the show on Tuesday night and would be on again. A two part interview? I thought, he must be really interested in her book! After watching the interview, it seemed that Piers Morgan was much more interested in himself (see the interview here).
In the first interview Morgan had misgendered Janet and focused more on her transgender identity than on her activism or the actual contents of her book. After the show, Twitter erupted with comments about the way he sensationalized her life. So, Piers Morgan, who identifies as a trans ally, invited Janet back to his show for a second interview. At this point, Morgan could have done something very simple to make things right, something a true ally would do: apologize.
Instead, Piers invited Janet back to his show, not to educate himself and his viewers, but to debate her (citing articles written about her rather than her own book that he claims to have read) and yell at her about how great of an ally he is. So great, in fact, that he can tell her how she identifies and demand that she defend her identity on national television. In doing so, Piers Morgan showed us exactly what type of “ally” he is–or isn’t.
Morgan goes on to claim that Janet Mock is only famous because she is transgender and continues to say that she was a boy until she had a “sex change operation”–despite Mock’s attempts to educate him on gender identity. Piers Morgan was not being an ally. He was trying to belittle Janet– to silence her and replace her story with his privileged perspective. After the second interview, he invited a panel of cisgender people to discuss it and continue to shout that Janet was a boy until she had surgery.
What Piers Morgan told us last night is that he is more concerned with protecting his “reputation” as a transgender ally than with actually respecting transgender people. Let me be clear: Piers Morgan is not an ally– at least not to trans people and not to Janet Mock.
A true ally is able to see people as whole– not just the sum of their parts. Piers Morgan failed to see Janet Mock as more than just a transgender woman who refused to be eternally thankful to him for his “support” (which appears to amount to nothing more than a belief in equality). He criticized Janet for not speaking up about her discomfort during the first interview, but we live in a world where a person like Janet can face terrible consequences for speaking up and defending herself–a world where transgender people and people of color (CeCe McDonald and Trayvon Martin, for example) cannot defend themselves because even the “justice” system isn’t on our side. Damn right we are scared. But Janet came back to the show to set the record straight. She showed more courage than Piers Morgan can even fathom. He repeatedly stated that he does not understand what he did wrong while refusing to listen. Real allies have the courage to listen, even when it is difficult and even when they are being challenged. Piers Morgan has a lot to learn.