Looking Out: Transgender advocate Janet Mock criticizes Piers Morgan over interview

The Baltimore Sun

Another month, another dispute over a misguided media effort to put transgender lives in the spotlight.

This time, it was CNN's Piers Morgan in two separate interviews with well known trans rights activist Janet Mock.

The story begins Tuesday night, when Mock appeared on Morgan's eponymous primetime show to discuss her new book "Redefining Realness." Morgan, who apparently learned a thing or two watching Katie Couric's messy interview with Carmen Carrera last month, never explicitly asked the genitalia question. But it certainly hung in the air, given how often he referred to Mock's pre-transition identity and said she was "formerly a man."

Making matters worse: The lower third on screen that identified Mock as someone who "was a boy until age 18." Yikes. 

Mock wasn't happy with how the interview was framed, and she tweeted as much. Neither were other transgender advocates and allies, apparently, since Morgan tweeted he was "subjected" to "nonsense" from Mock's supporters.

In an effort clearly meant to defend himself, Morgan invited Mock back Wednesday night to discuss the controversy. They had a tense and not entirely productive conversation about Morgan's interview, Mock's objections and how Morgan felt attacked. And then Morgan invited a panel of guests to discuss Mock's life, transgender identity and her comments both on- and off-air. None of those commentators were trans. 

Discussing trans issues in front of a mainstream audience is complicated. The relative lack of trans visibility (even compared to other members of the LGBT community) means there's often little understanding of how to discuss gender identity. That producers and journalists want to set a baseline for their audiences about what being transgender means is understandable.

But there are ways to tell trans stories and focus on trans issues without focusing on transition itself, something Morgan needed to realize and something ThinkProgress' Zack Ford suggests the TV host learned by the end of the episode. (I'm not entirely convinced.)

Public arguments and controversies like these, while often cringe-worthy, can help further a dialogue about how to better represent transgender people. Morgan's interview was invasive and too concerned about pre-transition issues. Giving Mock another space to air her concerns was an important step toward addressing that.

But being dismissive of Mock's concerns and reframing her legitimate complaints against attacks against his character? That doesn't seem to connect with Morgan's self-professed status as a transgender rights ally.

Progressing forward to other news:


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