How to be/not to be an ally

I am no expert on trans rights, but over the past several years, trans activism- blogs, videos, magazine articles- has taught me a lot about my privilege as a cis-woman, and how to be a good ally to those who are not.

Among those great teachers are Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and TransGriot.

A few weeks ago, Cox and Carmen Carrera were on Katie Couric’s talk show, Katie. As Sunnivie Brydum wrote on Advocate, they were subjected to Couric’s “spurious line of questioning wherein the host seemed fixated on the trans women’s genitalia, and the details of what gender-confirming surgeries the women may have undergone.”

Both women explained why it was harmful to trans people to constantly fixate on their “private parts”, rather than on real issues that affect the community. Cox said:

There’s a preoccupation with that and I think that the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with the real, lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average. If you’re a trans person of color, it’s four times the average. The homicide rate in the LGBT community is highest amongst trans women. And when we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.

Couric reacted exactly how an ally should- she left the moment in when she aired in what she called a “teachable” moment, and thanked her guests for the correction, saying “You’re so well-spoken about it. That’s very well put. Laverne and Carmen, thank you both so much for being here.”

By contrast, Piers Morgan demonstrated exactly how not to be an ally when Janet Mock was a guest on his show, Piers Morgan Live. After her appearance, Mock sent out three tweets expressing disapproval with the way the show said that “she was born a boy” and that she “used to be a man.” Morgan then invited her to return to the show to explain.

Morgan made the second interview entirely about himself, how he had done nothing but support the LGBT community, how he had told Mock that she looked like Beyonce, how Marie Claire had run an article about Mock called I Was Born a Boy and therefore Mock had no right to object to being misgendered by his show. Morgan is now calling himself a victim of “cisphobia,” something that’s so absurd as to be laughable. Trans people do not have power over cis people, and the idea that an underprivileged community can pose any kind of a threat to a member of the most privileged one (white, straight, cis, upper-class, male) illustrates exactly how much Morgan has no desire to learn.

Something that Couric, Morgan, and many cis people (including me!) have in common is that we all have to shut up and listen if we really want to understand issues that affect trans men, trans women, trans POC.



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