Trans woman activist/writer Janet Mock had her first interview on Tuesday with Piers Morgan this week to promote her new memoir Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. After being asked about her genitalia in the interview and seeing herself identified as someone who “used to be a man,” Mock took offense to the conversation that aired and tweeted her concerns, mentioning Piers Morgan show’s Twitter account, which Piers said set off a “firestorm of verbal abuse” on social media from Mock’s followers, supporters and trans individuals.
Mocks’s Twitter followers responded in and Piers snapped back, noting his “disappointment” that this was blowing out of proportion since he was on “their side.”
Morgan had Mock back on the show a second time Wednesday night for a follow-up conversation about the tweets. The conversation ultimately ended with Morgan giving Mock advice about handling national mainstream television appearances.
“You’ve just given me advice that I perhaps also feel like I don’t need, but I took it with good grace, so let me tell you some advice. Next time you’re doing a big, high-end profile with a television interviewer, you feel that the interviewer is miscategorizing your identity or your gender, my advice and, I say this is a nice, respectful way is, ‘say something.’ Don’t pretend it all gone very well and shake that to his hand and thank him and then go off 5 days later and ignite a social media firestorm of abuse in his direction because that isn’t fair either, so I don’t try to equate my story with yours I’ve had it pretty easy by comparison, your book remains a great, inspiring book, I remain a great supporter of the transgender community. I hope we can both move on from this and I appreciate you coming back on the show tonight.”
Many outside of the trans community don’t understand why Mock took offense to the conversation or why she didn’t say anything during the interview. There are reasons why Mock didn’t take the interview well, but in order to understand why, you have to temporarily disregard your definition of gender as either “male” or “female.” You have to think of genders not as separate, not as either/or, but as fluid and complex. This way of thinking can be used to move our social conversation to issues that trans individuals go through that matter, issues of violence and discrimination and lack of healthcare; topics relatable to any minority, including Black. This way of thinking isn’t resolved with saying that “it is what it is.” Truly, it’s not. “It” was defined by someone else and learned by us.
Looking at the tweets, Mock wasn’t pleased that Morgan referred to her as someone who used to be a “boy” or that CNN mentioned she “used to be a man.” But, she had male genitalia and was born a “boy,” right? No. Technically, she was born a human with blood, bones, and flesh. She was labeled as male. It may be hard to remember right now, but all of us were told by doctors — who study terms in historical medical texts and articles written and defined by others on how to operate on humans — that we were of the “male” or “female” sex and would, one way or another, grow as a “boy” or “girl.” They weren’t labels we asked for. They certainly weren’t labels we negotiated with our mothers about before we took in our first breath. They were terms given that we, referring to men and woman, ultimately identified with.
I can’t remember not feeling like a girl, but I can remember how excited I was when I could wear a dress and how my parents’ affirmation for my clothing choices — “Baby, you look pretty!” — made me feel good. The confusion for many comes in when an individual is born, told they are “male” or “female” who would grow as a “boy” or “girl,” but don’t ever personally identify with their given label. The ones who don’t ever identify with just being a “male” or just being a “female” choose to grow or transition into their own identity. According to Webster’s Dictionary, someone who identifies as transgender relates “to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or clearly female.” If a person identified as someone who was never “clearly” a male or female, their identity (and the way they express it) is fluid. Referring to a trans woman as a “boy” only implies that they once “clearly” identified as one. Mock was never a “boy” (under 18) who could eventually grow into a “man” (over 18) in the first place, since she never identified as “clearly” being one.