On February 5, Janet Mock, a 29-year-old trans activist of color and author of Redefining Realness was interviewed on Piers Morgan Live. Throughout the interview, he continually referred to her past identity “as a man,” claiming that she “was a boy until 18” and that she was “formerly a man.”
Though Mock did not respond directly during the interview and admitted later to her fears around critiquing his questions in seeking to fill the appropriate role of the polite guest, she did engage in a Twitter response when the interview aired.
“I was not formerly a man,” she wrote upon watching it back. “Pls stop sensationalizing my life and redefining women.” And then, a few moments later: “‘Was a boy until 18’… Get it the f*k together.”
Mock’s stance declared boldly that she would no long recede into polite acceptance. That she would no longer endure mere toleration, as fraught with ignorance as outright rejection. Mock’s stance became a call to arms.
And this is for very good reason: the reality is that ignorant support is perhaps more dangerous that transphobia—or homophobia, or any ism—in its plainest form because it expects a smile and a nod. It expects to be welcomed with open arms as a kind of charitable contribution, and yet undermines the real, lived experiences of trans (and other minority) individuals.
Of course, Piers Morgan’s retaliation was angry and unapologetic, as he tweeted a series of responses such as, “Oh, stop it. You ‘get it the f**k together’…seriously,” and “As for all the enraged transgender supporters, look at how STUPID you’re being. I’m on your side, you dimwits.”
When she returned to his show to address the problematic nature of his comments, he complained to her that he had been unfairly attacked, falsely accused of transphobia and demanded to know if she denied being “born a boy.” Her response was as follows:
“I was born a baby who was assigned ‘male’ at birth. I did not identify or live my life as a boy. As soon as I had enough agency in my life to grow up, I became who I am. And this did not start at 18, when I went to Thailand to have surgery. It started when I was six years old and my parents saw me for who I am and allowed me to live my life.
That’s a lot of nuance and it’s hard to communicate that in 30 seconds or even in a 140 character tweet. That’s why I’m here right now. I want this to be a learning and teaching moment for all of us. Just as much as you were vilified, as you say, from my supporters, that’s actually my community who are vilified every single day. And misunderstood. And driven to isolation. And told that who they are is incorrect and wrong and should be under investigation.”
Though Morgan centered his questions on her surgery as the defining moment of a “transition” from male to female, as if the physicality of this operation should be the focus of Mock’s gender identity, in the second interview Mock refused to fade simply into the shadows.
She has never defined herself as “ex-male.” She has never been a boy. And marking a moment of transition from male to female based on a surgery both sensationalizes and undermines her experiences as a trans woman. Her identity is neither built on what she has never been nor on the physicality of a so-called “transformation.”
Mock’s activism—the story central to the text of her book, largely dismissed by Piers in their interviews—bears a powerful promise for the future, one which refuses to be sidelined by ignorance and misgendering.
By moving from polite guest to demanding respect, Mock has made the statement that support does not demand sacrifice. Mock has proven that ignorance is unacceptable in any of its forms and that support does not come with exceptions.
Faced by a man who made her misgendering and his oppressive ignorance about himself and his own “vilification,” she told him, albeit more kindly: we have suffered every day of our lives because of people like you.
As the world looked on, Mock said, We deserve better.