If you’ve been living all the way under a rock, there’s a slight chance you haven’t heard of Janet Mock and her new book Redefining Realness. In short, it is blowing up and bringing trans issues – particularly among people of color – to a much-needed place in the forefront of public discussion.
Recently, the eloquent, non-bullshit-tolerating, adorable (seriously, she smiles and we all melt into puddles of happy goo) Mock has been making the rounds on shows like Piers Morgan and The Colbert Report.
It’s worth noting that Janet Mock is – how do I say this – super fucking hot. Like, she’s gorgeous. I mention this because, as gross as it feels to admit, being attractive makes you a more viable candidate for TV. It’s shitty, but it is what it is, and in this case, it’s working out in everyone’s favor. Because there are a lot of trans activists would could (and do) speak generously and authoritatively on these same topics, but they don’t get asked to be on TV, which is a bummer. But finally, trans people and their allies have a champion who is breaking into the mainstream, and not wasting one second of that access.
But let’s be real: To get the attention of mainstream media, you have to appeal to them on their level, and largely, if you’re a woman, that means being nice to look at. I know – let’s all puke a little at the reminder of that reality, and then move on to being grateful that we have a powerful voice with incredibly valuable things to say who also happens to be pretty enough for primetime. This is very exciting shit.
That’s not to say that Ms. Mock isn’t bringing it in non-superficial areas – she definitely is. She’s smart, and articulate, and admirably gives a shockingly astute, well-presented voice to issues in a way that both represents the ideas accurately and makes them refreshingly accessible even to people who haven’t ever given much consideration to trans issues before. It’s impressive, to say the least.
Predictably, some of the media personalities who have recently interviewed Mock haven’t handled talking about trans issues correctly. They haven’t been able to refrain from sensationalizing the transgender experience, objectifying Mock herself, and demonstrating egregious privilege by asking the kind of personal questions they would never dream of asking any other guest. (Like, Katie Couric isn’t about to ask Gwyneth Paltrow how she keeps her pubic hair, but she doesn’t hesitate to ask Carmen Carrera about her genitals.)
On Feb. 6, Mock appeared on Piers Morgan’s nightly CNN show, and it didn’t go great.
After the segment aired, Mock (alongside fellow majestic trans unicorn Laverne Cox) expressed her feelings via this Twitter photo:
Backlash from activists on Twitter predictably followed. Piers got defensive, because, ya know, that always helps. The next night he had Janet Mock back on his show, which didn’t go much better; Morgan kept interrupting, arguing, making references to Mock “growing up as a boy”, and was generally defensive about the “abuse” he had suffered on Twitter following Mock’s first appearance on the show. Despite inhospitable conditions, Mock laid down some serious knowledge on Morgan and his audience:
“I think that we need to have a discussion about what gender is and gender expectations in our culture. I think that we are born and we are assigned a sex at birth — that is a matter none of us have control over. But we do have control over our destinies and our identities, and we should be respected. It’s not about the past. It’s not about what surgeries I may or may not have had. It’s not about how I disclose my gender to people.
It’s about who I am right now. I’m Janet Mock, I’m author of Redefining Realness, and I’m a fierce trans advocate. And I will continue to be exactly that. That’s what I was on this show to do. If I spoke out every single time that someone called me out of my name or labeled me as something that I’m not, I would not have time to advocate for the fierce and urgent issues in my community — issues of poverty and joblessness, of a lack of healthcare, of violence — verbal and physical violence — against trans women.”
Following the interview, Piers decided to encase himself in a bubble of validation by hosting a panel discussion (which included no transgender people) to analyze the conversation:
On Feb. 18th, Janet was a guest on The Colbert Report:
Piers Morgan, ever the classy gent, responded on Twitter, calling Stephen Colbert a “whining enabler”.
Regardless of the shocking fact that cisgendered white men in the media aren’t super in tune with the ins and outs of respectfully speaking to and about the experience of a transwoman of color, let’s focus on the very bright side to all of this: These conversations are happening. On prime time TV. In front of millions of people who might have not otherwise had their brains engaged on these issues at all. I’m not saying that’s good enough – it’s not even close to good enough. But as frustrating as these battlegrounds of lapses in understanding can be, and as much as defensiveness and intentional closed-mindedness can make bridging the gap feel horribly one-sided and possibly not fucking worth is, it’s also unavoidable. The first step to dismantling ignorance is to confront it, and in that tedious battle, there are a lot of strong voices doing incredible work. Janet Mock and her “Michelle Obama who?” arms are undoubtedly a among them.