Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Why Couldn't Janet Mock Be More Like Laverne Cox?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | February 09, 2014 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Audre Lorde, ignorance, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, oppression, Piers Morgan, privilege

janet-mock-laverne-cox.jpgRegarding the Janet Mock - Piers Morgan controversy, I am seeing a divide within the trans community and the larger LGBT community.

Many people, with whom I agree, feel that Janet Mock rightly rejected the reductionist narrative offered by Morgan and spoke her truth, rather than being the obedient little girl responding to his meaningless flattery and prurient asides. Others wonder why Janet Mock couldn't be more like Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera in their interview with Katie Couric.

Ms. Cox and Ms. Carrera were graceful in the face of similar ignorance by Katie Couric. Ms. Cox explained, very patiently and simply, why it is humiliating and inappropriate to focus on the assigned sex at birth of a transsexual person.

Some feel that Ms. Mock should not have had any emotional response and simply corrected Piers Morgan's misunderstanding and ignorance. They are concerned that trans people will, as a result, be seen as "angry," "crazy," and "full of triggers".

I note that we have long been stereotyped as angry, which is largely a result of being kicked in the teeth by society on a daily basis. I prefer to see us, as Laverne Cox said, as "a fierce and resilient people."

The view of Janet Mock as inappropriately "angry" comes from an old stereotype, and particularly plays into a narrative used against people of color. "Why are they so angry?" innocently asks the society that crushes people of color, trans people, and many others under its bootheel.

Janet Mock was crushed, as she reveals in her book. My own story is not so different from hers, and it's luck and privilege that I wound up as a professor rather than a prisoner.

I think Audre Lorde called it in her essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House." There is a lot to be said for responding as a human being to being treated as "Other," as "It." It is permissible and appropriate to be angry when you are put down, even (and perhaps especially) when it is done, as with Mr. Morgan, in the guise of flattery.

Here is what I wrote in a law review article from 2001 about legal officials, but it applies as well to "allies" who suggest that transwomen are really "men," and use their pleas of "I'm ignorant, please forgive my failure to educate myself, and give me a pass on my offensive narratives in the guise of innocent questions":

There should be no need for transsexual people to "prove" beyond doubt to skeptical and disapproving legal officials that they are "scientifically" entitled to their claims of personhood and humanity.

Audre Lorde, in her essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," radically challenges how white people learn about racism, or how men learn about women: "Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns."

This quote means that it is oppressive to insist that they patiently prove their right over and over again to be treated with dignity and to spend their lives educating the ignorant about why they deserve civil rights.

piers-morgan-mock.jpgThe Piers Morgan interview came well after the Katie Couric interview and its attendant controversies, but within a few weeks. To the extent that Ms. Couric could claim that she was unaware of the problematic nature of her inquiries and statements, Mr. Morgan could not viably plead ignorance.

Furthermore, Ms. Mock is neither Ms. Cox nor Ms. Carrera. Ms. Mock is a journalist, not an actress or a model, and her life path is different from that of Ms. Cox and Ms. Carrera. Ms. Mock had no obligation to explain nicely. She was appropriately angry. And yet, even in her anger, she was composed and appropriate.

I suggest that most trans people know exactly why she was angry, and those who criticize her are doing so because they are angry at Piers Morgan and all the people like him, and hope that being nice will get us where we want to go.

Perhaps, and my own path would likely have been the nice path (okay, perhaps a bit of snark, maybe) -- but Janet Mock is my sister and compatriot and she told an important truth about what it's like to be on the sharp end of the stick because of obnoxious societal "ignorance" like that of Mr. Morgan, and the discrimination that crushes the life out of the trans community daily.

Yes, many non-trans people may be left wondering why she was angry. Some of those will find out, and be educated. That, too, is a form of education, and sometimes more effective than a simple rebuttal.

If you're not angry, you haven't been paying attention.

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