Another day, another brand-name journalist botching an interview with a transgender advocate. Last night, CNN’s Piers Morgan hosted Janet Mock, a journalist and activist who began publicly identifying as transgender in 2011 and recently published a memoir, Redefining Realness, with the hopes of reaching transgender teenagers who are a suicide risk.
Morgan’s questions overemphasized Mock’s transition and how she disclosed it to various boyfriends over the years. Morgan assured Mock that she’s so pretty — she reminds him of Beyoncé, he said — that he would have had no idea she was born male. He added that this makes him “absolutely believe” that Mock was truly supposed to be a woman. The chyron read, “Janet Mock: Was a boy until age 18.”
When the pretaped segment aired last night, Mock tweeted a reaction-shot selfie with transgender actress Laverne Cox from her book party across town.
Mock told BuzzFeed that Morgan had sensationalized her story by implying that she wasn’t a woman until she had undergone gender-reassignment surgery, even though she had been living as a woman and dating men for years prior. Still, she had no regrets about the appearance, writing off her unnuanced treatment off as one of the hazards of doing mainstream media outside the “safe bubble of social justice.”
But is there any excuse for not knowing how to interview a transgender author in 2014? If mainstream Morgan and his producers couldn’t figure it out on their own, Grantland’s tragic treatment of Dr. V and Katie Couric’s bombed interview with Cox and Carmen Carrera offered recent, viral examples of what not to do, spawning lengthy debates that ought to have clarified a few points. For example: Asking Mock if she ever second-guessed her decision to become a woman delegitimizes gender dysphoria — the condition that explains why Mock was never, as Morgan claims, a man. And asking Mock if her transgender status sent any of her boyfriends running reinforces the myth that trans women trick and emasculate straight men, often cited as the cause of their too frequent murder.
Plus, Morgan exhausted any goodwill he had earned for his interest in Mock. Rather than, say, treat the flop as an opportunity to learn how to be a better interviewer, Morgan threw a tantrum on Twitter, whining about his “disgraceful” treatment at the hands of the “churlish” Mock and her “pathetic” supporters, whom he accused of drumming up controversy in order to sell books. (But his decision to host a beautiful woman who “was a boy” had nothing to do with ratings!)
Predictably, Morgan stooped to charging Mock with the cardinal sin of transgender women: deceiving him, a straight man. Not, in this case, about her gender, but about whether she liked him or not.