JJ Vincent looks at why what one CNN host says matters to the GLBT community.
On Monday night, Piers Morgan (CNN) hosted Janet Mock on his show. The interview was to have been about her upcoming book, Redefining Realness.
Piers Morgan has been an advocate for the LGBT community. She had every reason to believe that this, her first mainstream primetime interview, would be a good place to talk about real issues.
Unfortunately, the interview went down the same paths that have kept the conversations about trans*people stalled in sensationalism, “otherness”, misunderstanding, and frustration.
Rather than focus on her advocacy, he focused on how she disclosed her background to her boyfriend. Rather than talking about issues that trans*women of color face, he referred to her former name and how she “used to be a man”.
CNN was complicit in this, using on-screen graphics that referred to her as “a boy until age 18”, which is not how she identified herself, and asking this question:
Piers Morgan Live Twitter account posed the question during the interview, “How would you feel if you found out the woman you are dating was formerly a man?”
Less than two minutes of the interview was given to her advocacy work.
This resulted in a Twitter firestorm, as #redefiningrealness took off with Piers Morgan being castigated for his treatment of her.
So why does this matter? Why should it matter to Good Men Project readers?
The public takes their cues from what people in positions of prominence and power do and say. Piers Morgan has a following. People listen. People follow. People repeat. That he was not mindful of this, or that if he was, he did a historically misunderstood and oppressed group a terrible disservice, is the take away.
Celebrity matters. Even news celebrity. Piers Morgan has almost 4 million Twitter followers, a percentage of which presumably watch him in real time, on DVR, on line, on youtube, etc.
In this interview, he had a chance to demonstrate education, advocacy, and how to give a person with a cause a voice. He could have asked challenging questions – no one is denying that – but those questions could have been about bigger issues, how she fits into them, how society handles these issues, why she does the advocacy she does, what’s really at stake. Instead he asked questions about disclosure and what are you and what were you, and while he states that he didn’t reference her genitalia, the implication is there when someone asks a trans* person about someone being a “real” man or woman.
Anybody stepping onto another person’s platform needs to take note. Morgan could have raised awareness, or at least the level of information. He chose not to. He fundamentally ignored her purpose for being there.
He could have changed the conversation. While he may have a history of defending and allying with LGBT people, in this case he has a chance to change the conversation for the better, to not follow the typical interview story line of focusing on a trans* persons body/sex life/history, but rather to focus on real issues facing trans* people and how Janet Mock is using her experience to raise awareness for not just herself but all trans* and gender non-conforming people.
The trans* community needs allies, especially those with a platform and the ability to shape dialogue, and his choice to pursue the sensational, and CNNs choice to use on-screen graphics that had nothing to do with who she is and why she was there, keeps things where they are.
Celebrity, misused, can damage the cause it seeks to help. Interviews and experiences like this may discourage other LGBT people from coming onto his, or similar, shows. Janet Mock herself said she felt intimidated. And his responses to being called out by Mock, her fans, trans* people, allies, advocates, etc., rather than engaging in dialogue or looking for a forum to discuss it, made him look defensive and petulant, which is unfortunate for himself and causes/people he would seek to represent.
Celebrity matters. People listen.