One Late-Blooming Lesbian’s Take on the Janet Mock/Piers Morgan Controversy
Although 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.
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…
“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:
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.
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?
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.