Transgender identities are a melting pot of complexities in search of multiple endings. This spectrum within a sexuality spectrum makes for gaps in understandings and easy false representations. The Janet Mock vs Piers Morgan feud brings up interesting matters about how (some) transgender people represent themselves.
Words & Illustration by Katlego K Kol-Kes, AFROPUNK Contributor *
If you’re anything like me, you will be confused as to the massive uproar that took place almost two weeks ago when Janet Mock- “fierce trans advocate” – took to Twitter for a Twitter war against Piers Morgan. I’ve been doing some reading around and I simply haven’t found anyone writing my reading of the fiasco, so here it is for us to mull over.
The long and short of it is Piers used some words and insinuations that are not ‘trans friendly’ yet not transphobic. There are some vital facts that have already been written about, such as the tag lines used, the sensationalisation of Mock’s being and Morgan’s recurrent mentioning of the fact that Mock was once a “boy”. I get all these, but there is something that we are missing out here which was made even more evident in watching the secondary interview before watching the first; what is Janet Mock’s case?
My issue here is: I think the pertinent matter at hand is the issue of TRANSecurity. (Yes, I’m a writer and I take liberties to coin phrases.) As a trans-woman myself, I cannot ever claim to speak for all trans-women, yet Mock used the fact that so many transgender people look to her to speak on their behalf by attacking Piers on Twitter without telling him he was just downright wrong. (She had many opportunities to do it; on air, during commercial, off air, over the phone, via his producer, via the line director, via direct message, via mail- you get the idea). The security of my identity is in the fact that I know myself and I know where I’ve been and where I’d like to go. In all of this, it’s about ME, so I can’t expect you to get it all without faltering. One of the flavours of being trans is being gravely misunderstood as something or someone else - to get over it is to be certain in yourself and educate those who would care to learn.
Piers’ opening statement, cloaked as a question, was definitely misinformed and if Janet didn't pause the interview to clarify the fact that his language is problematic, then how on earth was he to know that she didn’t care much for it? For one, he gave a disclaimer of being a “supporter” of gay rights (bla..bla..bla..). I was alarmed by JM’s statement in the follow up interview saying she was trying to be “polite”. Polite is what you are when someone accidentally bumps into you as you’re applying lipstick; you can wipe it off. You can’t be “polite” and “thankful” for the opportunity to have your story told yet allow the storyteller to go in the wrong direction!
Secondly, I think we (transgendered intellectuals and advocates) are going too far ahead of the population we are trying to educate (or at least we claim we are). If I can still meet gay people who ask me ‘Do you sit or stand?’ then how can I expect the heterosexual community to just “get it the f*k together”? I was offended that Mock would go so far as ganging up with another prominent advocate in a twitpic because that’s just using star power to rally the masses. For as long as we carry the ‘trans’ label, we will be educators unless we are fine with being “polite”.
One of Mock’s fans said it was Piers’ fault for not doing his homework as a journalist, he should know what you can and cannot say to a trans person. Should he? We are not all the same, are we? Our comfort zones are really quite different. I was on Team Mock and #girlslikeus from the moment I found out about her work, and I look up to her for that work, but she took me 50 steps back when she played the victim rather than owning up to the fact that she didn’t do enough to stop the interview from going in the wrong direction. That’s the way you handle interviews; either you answer or you say ‘I think that’s inappropriate’.
Mock’s response to the question about her being “born a boy” was unsatisfactory. You can’t be asked a gendered question and divert to “I was born a baby”. That takes away the essence of being trans, does it not? We can’t be proudly transgender if we don’t acknowledge that we were born into the system we live in. The nomenclature we inherit and continue to operate with is what Mock’s response failed to directly address. To be trans is to cross over from one assignment to another- whether physically or psychologically- and if there’s nothing to cross then we are not trans, we’re just human. Why then does Mock not call herself a human advocate? Our former physiological compositions matter to our understandings of our current physiologies, we can’t pretend that we were born as we become. We have missing pieces and we work to get those pieces in the right place, otherwise re-assignment wouldn’t take place.
Mock let Morgan use the term “sex change” which has been outlawed for years. Mock let Morgan ask her if she’d ever thought of going back to being Charles. Mock let Morgan go on without fully emphasising that for her the term ‘boy’ was not appropriate for her narrative and shouldn’t be used. These are all moments she could have set the record straight but said if she spent her time doing that then she’d never get to do her advocacy. I find this to be a lame excuse. She’s too popular to be “polite” because that harms our cause as LGBT advocates. We’re not to behave like Beliebers and instigate Twitter wars. We are not to bait would-be allies and then chuck them under the train to prove that “we are still misunderstood”.
I am a breast-less female with an Adam’s apple and facial hair. Yes, I am born of a special flavour. If these factors communicate something to you, I must help you understand that your understanding is incorrect. Let’s build better mechanisms for TRANSecurity across the board. Let’s talk and allow ourselves to be understood.
* Katlego K Kol-Kes is an ARTivist, writer, digital artist and performer based in Gaborone, Botswana