One Late-Blooming Lesbian’s Take on the Janet Mock/Piers Morgan Controversy

One Late-Blooming Lesbian’s Take on the Janet Mock/Piers Morgan Controversy

janetmockbookcover.jpg.CROP.promovar-medium2Although I usually write this blog from the perspective of a mental health counselor who specializes in working with transgender clients, I’m going to switch hats today and share my thoughts with you as a late-blooming lesbian*. Specifically in response to the controversy stirred up this week when author and transgender-rights activist Janet Mock was interviewed on the CNN talk show “Piers Morgan Live” to promote her new memoir, Redefining Realness.

*A late-blooming lesbian, by my definition, is someone who currently identifies as a lesbian but did not come out to either herself and/or others until “later in life.” This is usually after having already attempted to repress her same-sex attractions by being in relationships with men, having children with them, living by appearances a “heterosexual life,” etc.

The interviews, in case you missed them…

If you haven’t seen the two Janet Mock/Piers Morgan interviews yet then take a few minutes to do so now. You can read as much as you want about this story, but you can’t really have the full understanding of what happened without having witnessed the exchanges.

JanetMock1Click image above to see the first interview

JanetMock2Click image above to see the second interview

Over the past week I have read and heard dozens of opinions and perspectives on what happened between Janet and Piers. And, as tempting as it was for me to comment on it as a “gender therapist,” a different perspective made itself known to me right from the start.

Within moments of watching the first interview I could see something going on with Janet that looked hauntingly familiar to me.

What was going on with Janet?

I sensed that beneath her calm exterior, she was shocked. And confused. And appalled. And that she was doing everything in her power to maintain composure. She confirmed this in the second interview when she was asked by Piers why she didn’t correct him during the first interview if she was feeling “dismayed” by the terminology he was using, saying,

“I did not because I was scared…And I wanted to be a cordial guest…It was my first major appearance as a young trans woman who wrote her first book…” – Janet Mock on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live,” 2/5/14

I imagined her leaving that first interview, her head still spinning from what had just happened. How, after having a chance to step away and process what happened, how the entire truth of what she had just experienced was revealed to her.

In an interview with SiriusFMProgress Janet was quoted as saying that she felt upset after she left the studio after the first interview, saying to her boyfriend,

“He called me a ‘man’ on TV — and I said nothing.” (Janet Mock, Transgender Writer, Discusses Piers Morgan Controversy, Book – Huffington Post, 2/7/14).

In the same interview she said that she “didn’t use my voice in the way that I should have used it.”

How Could I Have Known?

I grow emotional as I write this, even though it’s been several days since I first saw the interview. I am not a transgender woman, let alone a trans woman of color. Not to mention that I am not Janet Mock. Which means I could never assume the full experience of what she was going through.

But as a late-blooming lesbian, as well one who plans writing my own books, I was suddenly the person in the seat across from Piers Morgan.

And here’s what came to me next…

FADE IN:

“PIERS MORGAN LIVE” STUDIOS – February 2016

DARA (to herself, just before the interview): My first appearance on national TV! I’m nervous, I’m excited… This is such a dream come true. I’ve worked so hard on this book about my work as a gender therapist and am now I have the chance to share this with millions of viewers.

INTERVIEW WITH PIERS MORGAN BEGINS

PIERS (with great enthusiasm): I’m so happy to bring to you today Dara Hoffman-Fox. She used to be straight…and now she’s gay!

SUBTITLE ON THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN (WHICH DARA DOESN’T KNOW IS THERE UNTIL SHE WATCHES IT LATER): USED TO BE STRAIGHT AND NOW IS A LESBIAN!

PIERS: Dara, I have to admit that if I hadn’t known anything about your story, I would have NEVER thought you were a lesbian! You look so straight!

DARA: (nervous laughter, making “Mmm hmm” noises – thinking, “What the hell?”)

PIERS: I mean, let’s be honest here. Your story is so interesting and I’m sure many viewers want to know… Did you have sex with women before you got divorced, so you could prove to yourself that you were indeed not straight?

DARA: (trying her best to not cry or rip him a new a-hole, instead gives him somewhat of an answer while thinking, “Should I tell him this isn’t an okay line of questioning? He is so excited about finding out ‘the goods’ – would he even listen to me if I said something about it?”).

PIERS: You are so courageous! Wow. To have been straight for thirty years and then to get divorced and live your life instead as a lesbian. Fascinating!

DARA: So, although I do touch on that in my book it’s really moreso about…

PIERS: (interrupting) So, when you first started dating lesbians, after your divorce… You had this secret. That you used to be straight. When you told them the news, did some of them run a mile? Let’s go to a break and come back to that question…

WATCHING THE INTERVIEW DURING IT’S AIRING DARA SEES THE PRODUCERS EDITED IT TO LOOK LIKE SHE AND PIERS WERE LAUGHING TOGETHER RAUCOUSLY AFTER HE MADE THIS STATEMENT.

IN ACTUALITY SHE HAD NOT LAUGHED AND WAS ACTUALLY DYING INSIDE AND WISHING THIS GOD AWFUL INTERVIEW WOULD JUST END.

Let’s Break It Down

Was Piers being friendly, engaged, even downright thrilled to have me as a guest on his show? You bet.

But does that really matter? I was being blindsided by highly personal questions regarding my sexual orientation, on a major news network on national television. The interview was focused only on that, as opposed to the book I had written and other accomplishments in my life.

As Janet said in the second interview,

“Being offensive and being kind are not mutually exclusive things. I think we can have great intentions and be good people but also be ignorant and have a lack of understanding about these issues…”

Let me take it one more step, for those of you who are now thinking, “Well, how am I supposed to talk to anyone who is different from me without wondering if I am offending them?”

There is a difference between being asked these questions in, say, a bar and being asked them on national TV under the guise of professionalism.

Although the questions are intrusive no matter where they occur at least in a bar, or anywhere else where you are getting to know someone one-one-one, you won’t be as surprised to get them. You can privately discuss with them why the conversation is uncomfortable for you, and in the end have had a chance to educate them. And if they react defensively you can go your separate ways and that’s that.

What’s the difference, you ask? Let’s say that Janet had indeed said something to Piers during that first interview. Here he is, feeling so jazzed about talking to her, complimenting her looks, asking the “probing questions” that have been burning in his mind about transgender women (sound much like a slightly boozed up fella you might run into at a bar or an office party?).

And then she stops, mid-interview, and says, “You know, Piers, this line of questioning is very uncomfortable for me, even if you didn’t mean for it to be. I’d like the chance to explain why.” What would his reaction be?

Well, here’s a couple of guesses:

PiersMorgan1PiersMorgan2PiersMorgan3

Not to mention the way Piers, during the second interview, aggressively pointed out what a victim he was during this whole ordeal, interrupting her as she tried to explain what had been going on for her during the first interview. He said,

“I have spent literally twelve hours being viciously abused by the transgender community, egged by your own Tweeting that you were somehow very dismayed by the way the interview had gone.”

Yes, as a writer, Janet went to Twitter to let it be known she was pissed. She did not specifically target Piers Morgan, but the show “Piers Morgan Live,” giving him the benefit of the doubt that he was not the one who decided to sensationalize her story. But, as you can see, he took it very personally and made it clear that he actually found nothing wrong with the questions he asked during the first interview.

When he saw Janet’s responses on Twitter, were Piers’ feelings hurt? Did he feel true admiration to her, maybe even affection? Did this then turn to hurt and anger because he then felt rejected and betrayed by her when she let it be known, after the fact, that she felt very differently about their interaction?

Hm, does this scenario sound familiar to anyone out there?

Have you ever felt intimidated, confused, cornered, or uncertain in a situation with someone you weren’t sure you could trust, or who you didn’t know very well, and you gave a response different than the one you wished?

That’s exactly how I would have felt during that interview.

It was not Piers Morgan’s over-zealous, misguided line of questioning that I am criticizing here. It is the way he handled it afterwards. Just like I tell the couples who I counsel, our goal isn’t to avoid arguments. It’s to find better ways to process the argument afterwards, as a way to create a learning moment for everyone involved.

What You Can Take From This

I was able to use my perspective as a late-blooming lesbian, as well as an introvert who isn’t very good at spontaneous confrontations, to relate to what Janet went through. I am going to guess that a lot of you reading this can find ways to empathize as well.

For those of you who are either not a part of a minority group or, if you are, feel you would have handled the situation differently, remember that it is not always easy for persons who are not of the majority to speak up for themselves every single time something happens that makes them feel misunderstood. Especially if it is in a public forum.

Some folks are more used to doing that than others. Some folks have a personality that is more naturally inclined towards doing this (see Why Couldn’t Janet Mock Be More Like Laverene Cox? by Dr. Jillian Weiss).

Lastly, if you have never been in a position where you have felt like you’ve had to explain or defend who you are, what you do, or what you believe, then that means you are privileged. Which is fine – just don’t lose sight of that when you are encountering someone who is not.

And the reverse psychology of Piers Morgan saying he was a victim of cisphobia is not quite what I mean here.

Homework Assignment

Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt like you weren’t part of the majority? Be it your religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental illness, health, physical limitations, size, socioeconomic status. Try to think of a time where this may have happened to you, even if it was briefly, and reflect on how it made you feel. Did you hesitate to speak up, especially if you heard others speaking in ways that didn’t sit right with you? Did you speak up and end up in a confrontation? Have you had experiences where this resulted in productive conversation? Has it ever resulted in a hostile argument? What were the differences between the two sets of encounters, when it came to how they were handled by each person involved?

Additional Reading:
5 Things Piers Morgan Can Teach Us About Being Allies by Emily Timbol
What Not to Do When Calling Yourself a Transgender Ally by Jeff Krehely
Just Google “Janet Mock Piers Morgan” and hundreds of articles will come up
The Late Blooming Lesbian Blog – I created this back in 2008. Don’t get too excited, there are only six posts.

17 Comments
  • Megan

    February 10, 2014 at 10:02 AM Reply

    Sorry if this ends up looking odd grammatically, I’m typing from a phone.

    I’ve been out only a few months now, and the worst line of questioning I’ve gotten was in regards to the women’s restroom at my new place of employment. I’m severely introverted and moderately autistic (but quite intelligent) so I would more than likely break down into a crying fit in a situation like the one presented. I doubt I’d hold myself together as well as Janet Mock managed! I’m absolutely appalled by the amount of people I’ve run across agreeing with Piers Morgan. I’m tired if hearing “any support is good” when in fact spreading ignorance instead of facts in the guise of support is worse, in my opinion, than the blind hatred we face. One is very insidious as it gives the feeling to the privileged that it’s okay to treat the minority in question that way. The other can be recognized for the blind hatred that it is.

    • Ashley

      February 12, 2014 at 1:47 AM Reply

      Blind hatred and blind ignorance yield the same conclusion. We get the worse part even
      if ‘intentions’ were supposed to be good. You are definitely right.

      This guy probably did feel betrayed, but thats only because he had good intentions but was
      not connected with the story since he obviously did not have researchers or first hand
      experience to explain to him that people don’t want to drag old baggage across the eyes of
      10 million viewers. This is equivalent to ‘outing’ a person because it brings way to much
      focus on a past that does not exist and takes away her value of who she is NOW.

      I don’t object to his initial reaction. I object to his ‘victim’ status where he spent the
      entire interview defending his professional decision instead of using his second chance
      to connect with this woman on a ‘human/emotional’ level to clear the air that she was
      scared, intimidated, not used to speaking in public with a large audience. Lets face it,
      if she told him she was offended and cried or got angry, THAT would be the story that
      she handled THAT wrong. She chose composure. Good for her. He chose defending
      his title and proving that he can live in the ‘establishment’ and still not GET IT. Bad for
      him. Bad for us.

    • darahoffmanfox

      February 14, 2014 at 9:12 AM Reply

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Megan and Ashley. Really good points I hear from both of you!

  • Mia

    February 10, 2014 at 10:37 AM Reply

    on our side? ha! i don’t think so. i know a lot of admirers who act just like Piers and bring you down to a boozy level of hell. Piers needs to go back to his pub and booz it out. and get out of the interviewing business. research is the basis of a good interview. he didn’t.

  • Nicholas Gambeli

    February 10, 2014 at 5:16 PM Reply

    During your Piers/Dara interview you should have included more rude interruptions and talk overs from Piers.
    I can excuse some of his remarks as showmanship. However, considering the nature of the program is something of a cross between The Onion and Cracked, I do have to wonder how much locker room talk there was before and after both interviews.
    Janet was perfectly composed, Piers was an ass.

    • Nicholas Gambeli

      February 10, 2014 at 5:22 PM Reply

      Clarification… locker room talk between Piers and the producers.

    • darahoffmanfox

      February 14, 2014 at 9:13 AM Reply

      You hit the nail on the head Nico!

  • Adison Quin Petti

    February 11, 2014 at 12:43 PM Reply

    hasnt been a very pretty experience working with institutions or even some allies in the springs recently. mobilizing our stories and forefronting trans voices is really critical for our collective momentum now. locally and nationally. while allies congratulate themselves for slowly coming around left and right, trans people are still facing daily resistance at every step to access even the limited progress that is finally surfacing in mainstream consciousness. its been unbelievably exhausting– physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. im writing as someone 10 years in to this work , whose physical body literally /hurts/ right now after a years long battle and *another* title ix meeting today about this stuff, trying to address the unbelievable amount of invisible labor that trans folks have been forced to carry in order to reach this point, and are being forced to carry still even as top down decisions finally come to change laws or policy. we really need people to listen now. we’re still waiting to *feel* like there is reason to celebrate. that we do not face these barriers. that the weight has been lifted off. its hard when the news and our own experiences continually confirm what we’ve already known so long.

    • darahoffmanfox

      February 14, 2014 at 9:16 AM Reply

      Thanks for commenting Adison. I look so forward to working with you in the future on everyone getting on the same page with this.

  • April Christie

    February 11, 2014 at 10:21 PM Reply

    We are a touchy lot it seems, we want the vanilla public to know how to treat and respond to us without first schooling them about how we wish to be dealt with. It’s the same for every minority out there, for instance we do not call African Americans colored do we. Why? Because we as people became sensitized to that groups wants and desires, we now treat that group as they wish to be treated. It is the same for trans people, when we express our needs to the general public and it someday it will finally sink in, maybe then we will get the respect we know we deserve.

    • Ashley

      February 12, 2014 at 2:05 AM Reply

      Not true.

      Using any demographic, race, political, economical or even in the GLBT; there is a pattern.
      The argument is not how we wish to be treated. It is how the NEWS outlets spread an idea
      that viewers latch on to as the ‘truth’. In the old days, when responsible journalism mattered,
      researchers and reporters were responsible for spreading half truths and their reputations
      were on the line.

      This woman could have said something during the break where he could have had the
      chance to correct himself. But so what if she did not. The responsibility of a news outlet
      or any show that tries to advocate for others, must take the lead on getting it ‘right’
      because it is instantaneously broadcasted to a large audience and it is impossible
      to undo a mistake. The argument was not about him not understanding, it was him
      defending his ‘title’ when he did not take responsibility for NOT RESEARCHING.

      Anyone who does not understand GENDER issues, can google and in 5 minutes
      can at least get the idea of what not to say…..

      We are not ‘touchy’. We want responsible journalism to give us a fair shake to explain
      why we are the way we are.

    • darahoffmanfox

      February 14, 2014 at 9:20 AM Reply

      Thanks for commenting, April and Ashley. I have heard from many folks who agree with April and many who agree with Ashley. I’m thinking what could be helpful, whether it be on smaller forums like this one or the bigger forums, is to give space where everyone can share their thoughts and feelings on it in the hopes of working towards a solution that gets us to where we want to get. It’s a bumpy ride though, ain’t it…

  • transiteration

    February 25, 2014 at 1:44 AM Reply

    I’m not agreeing with Piers, but I’m not agreeing with Janet either. I thought the initial interview went way better than I would’ve expected (ex Katie Couric’s recent interview). If Piers said something that was off, and she didn’t confront him then, that’s fine. It’s national television, kind of overwhelming, and you can explain later. But the way she handled it later was horrible. You didn’t really show any of the tweets that she posted directed at him, which were wholly unprofessional.

    People are going to talk about the past because it’s the whole basis of our identity. If we didn’t have a different gendered past, then we wouldn’t be trans! So when the whole (or at least part of the idea) of the interview with said person involves them being trans, people are going to ask questions and wonder because it is an important point of education.

    Non-confrontational “confrontation” is something that really peeves me, and it’s exactly what she did; it’s something that I feel uncomfortable being represented by as part of the community.

    Now I definitely agree that Piers was ridiculous in creating that panel, and the whole situation went downhill very quickly, but it could’ve been avoided if Janet had contacted him directly instead of spewing profanities through twitter at someone who was actually making an effort to be educated. We don’t have all that many willing people in the world, who actually want to learn about our issues and we can’t decimate them when we come across them.

    It’s up there with the intersexed golfer sports article, where it seems like the whole trans community started attacking the author for making a mistake out of ignorance. It’s so easy not to get everything right when you’re not immersed in the community, and it oftentimes has no malice. I talked with Caleb (the author of that article) and was lucky to find out how much he is aware now. He understands more than 99% of the people I have ever come across. People just need to realize that nothing is going to happen out of anger. Absolutely nothing. Yes, we have a lot to be angry about, but we have to learn how to deal with that in a way that will be productive. Change happens out of education, patience, love and forgiveness.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      March 2, 2014 at 10:05 AM Reply

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree that anger doesn’t help the cause in the long run, and makes understanding and education less likely to happen.

      I chose to focus my blog post moreso on the compassion I could feel for Ms. Mock during the interview, mainly because in the end I am not transgender and grow uncomfortable at the thought of offering an opinion on how she should or shouldn’t have handled things. Trying to find the “sweet spot” in educating folks about this is indeed a challenge, so I’m glad you made mention of what you did!

      Take care.

  • aimee martz dick, MA, LPC

    March 17, 2014 at 8:42 PM Reply

    Dara, This is the first time I have read your blog and am really thankful it exists. I have A LOT to learn and do not mind admitting my ignorance. I am desirous of kind and honest feedback anytime I step in shit- likely out of arrogance. I have learned the “base knowledge” of other populations I have worked with and understand that many subtle nuances (words, gestures) can be honestly misdirected, I look forward to working with you and many other wonderful people I have recently met so I may become a true ally, advocate, healer and safe place.

    aimee

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      March 19, 2014 at 9:34 AM Reply

      Thanks for stopping by the blog Aimee, I’m so pleased to hear it’s providing value to you. Looking forward to working with you in the future as well!

Post a Comment