Sunday, February 23, 2014

to join (yourself) with another person, group, etc., in order to get or give support

Ever since my roommate brought her TV to our apartment we've begun a nightly ritual. At 10pm we turn on Comedy Central for the Daily Show and watch straight on through the Colbert Report and @Midnight. I've never before followed this weekday lineup, but it's quickly becoming something I look forward to. We all have our favorite parts, and I'm definitely partial to the interviews (though the puns are a very close second ^.^). This past Tuesday, Stephen Colbert interviewed Janet Mock, an advocate for trans women and author of the New York Times bestseller  Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Watching the interview, I immediately began composing a PfP blog post about the effect of satire on social justice education. While this topic is hasn't gotten any less interesting, researching Janet Mock brought up feelings on allyship that were much more immediate. (I encourage everyone to watch the Colbert interview anyway here).

Before Ms. Mock was on the Colbert Report she appeared in two controversial segments on Piers Morgan Tonight. The first segment can be seen here where she was interviewed about her memoir and her life as a trans woman. In the interview Piers Morgan repeatedly mentioned that she "was born a boy" and focused most of the interview on the experience of her transition. Portraying to Mr. Morgan that everything went well in the studio, Ms. Mock later used twitter to express her disappointment of the sensationalist treatment of her story and of Morgan's misgendering her. With Mock's tweet came a torrent of backlash against Morgan from her supporters. Piers Morgan fought back, also via twitter, and eventually invited her back to the show. 
"Come back on my show again tonight @janetmock and let's debate my supposed 'offensiveness' live on air."
Rather than pointing fingers at who was right and who was wrong, this second segment is what I really want to talk about. Piers Morgan starts the interview by defending himself, citing his support for "gay rights, gay marriage rights, and transgender rights" and asks Janet Mock to explain "why I've had to go through this" ("this" being the twitter "abuse"). And then he proceeds to defend himself for another minute and a half (an extraordinary amount of time in the 8 second sound bite world of TV) before he lets her answer. The rest of the interview goes downhill from there. It's obvious that Morgan is way more interested in defending his position than listening to Mock, repeating the same statements again and again regardless of what Janet Mock is actually saying. This tweet of his nicely summarizes his portion of the interview: 
"As for all the enraged transgender supporters, look at how STUPID you're being. I'm on your side, you dimwits. @janetmock"
Ever since I started my social justice journey I've learned about taking up space. I've learned that to be an ally to any community is to let that community speak for themselves. They get to define their goals, their needs, and their direction because these are choices that will affect their lives, not yours. I've learned that to be a good ally is to listen and to watch the amount of space you're taking up. I've always loved the idea of listening; I tend to be a quiet person that likes to collect different perspectives and I would think that the most pertinent perspectives in being an ally are those for whom you are showing support. After all, they're the ones who either feel supported by you or don't. 

Now, I understand that everyone makes mistakes, and it's important to accept those mistakes with grace. What could have been a teachable moment ended in a verbal sparing match that was very difficult to watch. Honestly, what struck me most about the interview was Morgan's insecurity. He was so worried about his reputation as an ally that he let his relationship with the transgender community deteriorate. In other words, he was so worried about losing his 'ally card' that he embodied the exact opposite of what an ally represents, or as Merriam Webster defines, "to join (yourself) with another person, group, etc., in order to get or give support".   

To read up on Janet Mock and her work here is a link to her website.

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