Piers Needs a Lesson in Trans* Issues

by Celeste Mora

Tuesday night, Piers Morgan interviewed trans* activist Janet Mock on his show and the two talked about her new book, Redefining Realness. Though his interview was meant to be inspiring and respectful, Morgan ended up revealing his ignorant weak spots about trans* issues. He started the interview by introducing Janet Mock as someone who "transformed from a boy, at the age of 18, to take an extraordinary step to become the woman she is today." He then continued to reject her claims that she identified as female when she was much younger than 18, and generally misgendered Mock throughout the show, using her birth name more times than her current name.

He continued on to make a cheap comment about her appearance, saying that if he hadn't known that she is trans*, he "would have had absolutely not a clue that you had ever been a boy, a male, which makes me absolutely believe you should always have been a woman" — essentially commenting on whether or not she "passes." Morgan enjoys the privilege that comes with being a cisgender straight, white, and wealthy British man living in the United States, and it's disheartening to see that he had no interest in using that privilege to educate the public or give an informed interview. Instead of elevating the dialogue, Piers stuck to the "she used to be a man" angle that most major news organizations find acceptable. Just see the "exclusive" ticker running at the bottom of the screen.

Following the interview, Twitter railed against Morgan for sensationalizing and misgendering Mock, and, yes, sometimes the tweets went beyond thoughtful rebuke into flat-out trolling. But after Mock posted a twitpic of herself and Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox giving Morgan the side-eye (accompanied by the tweet: "Me + @Lavernecox's reaction after @piersmorganlive tried it with the 'man' and 'boy' tag lines. #redefiningrealness"), Piers replied in a manner even more distasteful than his interview. Below, a sample of his reaction tweets, none of which try to engage in meaningful discussion of trans* issues:

There are differences between gender and sex, sexuality and gender expression, and before Morgan has Mock back on his show to further discuss the issues on Wednesday night, it's worth learning about them. Let's start with the word trans and its accompanying asterisk. Although Morgan used the correct term for Mock (transgender), he might not know that trans* also means all of these things (and probably a few more):

The trans* community is plagued with high murder and suicide rates and is all too regularly exposed to violence, often because the perpetrators of said violence think that those in the community don't "look" like the "gender" or "sex" people expect them to be. So Morgan's comment about Mock's appearance held more weight than he might have imagined, and it served to highlight the common inability of cis people (like myself) to understand the self-identification of gender and gender expression. If he is truly "100 percent" behind the trans* community, maybe he'll let them state their own gender history, and won't comment on whether or not they "pass."

To boot, all of his talk about how "the surgery" made Janet a woman shows that he doesn't really understand the difference between sex and gender. Biological sex refers to the equipment you're born with, which comes with plenty of factors — there are many conditions that can make people intersex.

Gender, on the other hand, is a fluid spectrum from man to woman to bigender to everything else in the above diagram that people choose to identify with. While your parts are biological, your gender pronouns are not — they were created by people, and they are chosen by people. Cisgender folks identify as the gender that is generally associated with their sex: I use "she" and "her" and present myself as a "woman," and I have entirely female sex organs. Trans* people identify as something other than the gender assumed by their biological sex, which can mean a number of things. They might have changed their name, they might not have. They might wear clothes generally associated with other genders, they might not. They might use opposite, gender-neutral, or non-gendered pronouns...and again, they might not. Watch this video if you're still confused, although it doesn't even scratch the surface on a few issues (like sex).

Also, trans* people may make biological changes to reflect their gender, but surgeries and hormones are not what make someone trans*. Piers assumed that the "sex-change" was the only thing that makes someone trans*, when in fact, it isn't — it is identifying as a gender that is different than your biological sex at birth that makes someone trans*. His assumptions, coupled with his mostly ignorant statements, are the reason why trans* allies on Twitter are enraged. Maybe Wednesday night he can redeem himself by letting Janet Mock define her own gender. We shall see.

Image: It's Pronounced Metro/Twitter