Piers Morgan has become the latest liberal supporter of transgender rights to run afoul of the very community he’s advocating for. Last week it was “American Horror Story” actress Gabourey Sidibe. Last month it was Katie Couric. It’s part of a troubling trend whereby some in the transgender community and their allies vilify anyone who strays from what they consider to be acceptable dialogue and terminology about transgender people – even if that person is on the side of their cause.
I am on that side because I believe in transgender rights and equality. As a country, we have made great progress in this area, but still have room for improvement. A big reason why is because many Americans simply don’t know what it means to be transgendered. But a time when transgender activists should be seeking to educate the American public and having a discussion that appeals to the widest possible audience, they instead engage in vitriolic attacks on those sympathetic to them. By painting Morgan, Couric, and Sidibe as the faces of transphobia, or at least as people who are unforgivably offensive to transgender people, transgender advocates only preach to the choir. As cathartic as a good public shaming can be, it won’t win anyone over. Worse, it will alienate people who would otherwise be inclined to support them.
The savaging of Morgan after his interview with author Janet Mock was especially striking. Morgan interviewed his guest for a 10-minute segment to promote her book about transitioning, and was highly praiseful. Mock nonetheless took umbrage on Twitter at Morgan’s assertion that she had been born a boy, and was so until age 18 when she underwent reassignment surgery. Predictably, Morgan was flooded with angry and even hateful tweets.
A follow-up interview with Mock on his show helped clear the air somewhat, but did little to placate transgender advocates.
Couric received similar flak for her interviews with actress Laverne Cox and model Carmen Carrera. The latter “shushed” Couric on her own show for asking if she had had reassignment surgery because the question made her uncomfortable. That’s certainly fair enough, and Couric moved on. She later revisited the issue with Cox, asking her if she felt the same way. Cox did, and the three appeared to have a cordial discussion.
Whether the questions and comments of Morgan and Couric were offensive to transgender people is certainly a conversation worth having, but conversation is hardly the word for what’s been taking place in the liberal blogosphere.
What’s taking place are public floggings driven by the kind of self-righteous outrage that’s in high demand on news sites and blogs on both the left and the right. Not content to condemn actual, harmful, transphobia, some transgender advocates seem to gleefully seek out supposed enemies within. If Rush Limbaugh says something transphobic, an article hitting him from the left is hardly novel. But if Katie Couric can be exposed as an insensitive ignoramus, then there’s an unexpected scoop. And if there’s anything better than outrage-clickbait, it’s outrage-clickbait nobody’s expecting.
Not that it will matter to her critics, but here’s Couric last year featuring a six-year-old and her fight to be recognized as a girl. And here she is interviewing a transgender homecoming queen and asking “invasive” questions which the guest politely answers to help viewers gain a better understanding of the challenges that face transgender people.
Pro-transgender rights TV hosts shouldn’t get a pat on the back for providing transgender activists with a platform, but when those hosts misspeak or say something that many in the trans community think is invasive, a venomous backlash is extremely counterproductive. If the host is being a jerk, then by all means have at it, but in the cases of Morgan and Couric that is very far from what actually occurred.
After the completely unnecessary and unfair attacks on these two, booking producers might be inclined to think twice before inviting on transgender guests. It’s very clear that even one small but well-intended verbal misstep is enough to turn a transgender ally into just another hopelessly insensitive cisgender person worthy of all the hellfire that twitter and the blogosphere rains down upon them.