#editorsletter is an editor’s letter with a hashtag in front of it.
I’ve never really read autobiographies before. I read Sharon Osbourne’s autobiography when I was 11 – Dad got me a signed copy for Christmas – but other than that I’ve always seemed to steer clear of them. Not out of choice persay, more out of habit. I’ve always been a fiction kind of kid.
Nevertheless, I just read two.
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In the midst of mid-December last year I found myself reading something along the lines of ‘Top 50 Feminist Moments of 2014’. It included lots of great stuff but what stood out to me most was an interview between former CNN host Piers Morgan and best-selling author Janet Mock.
The interview was set up in response to the fact that, just a few days before it took place, Morgan had already interviewed Mock on his show. Mock happens to be transgender and in the first interview Morgan repeatedly stated that Mock was ‘born a boy’ and, when the interview aired, it featured the headline: ‘Janet Mock was a boy until 18’. Mock took offense to this and tweeted about it. Morgan then received Twitter abuse, as a result, and, having taken offense himself, organised this second interview.
I was shocked. Not only does Morgan shout at Mock but he does not listen to her.
Caught up in his own understanding of things, he does not consider Mock’s perspective. He ignores her. And, in doing this, he makes the interview about him not her. He professes that he is a great supporter of transpeople whilst dismissing the transwoman before him. He claims that Mock should be grateful to have been on his show, without considering that he should be grateful to have had her on his show. He spends the interview trying to argue that he is not offensive, instead of trying to understand why he is.
As people in the media, whether on a large scale like Morgan or on a small scale like PTL, it is important for us to take responsibility for the fact that our words and our actions can offend people. It is important to educate ourselves and it is also important to take responsibility for the fact that it is not for us to decide what offends others. In the words of Janet Mock:
Being offensive and being kind are not mutually exclusive things. I think that we can have great intentions and be good people but also be ignorant and have a lack of understanding.Janet Mock
In early 2014 Katie Couric interviewed the trans model, Carmen Carrera, and the trans actress, Laverne Cox. She offended many people for asking the two women personal questions about operations and genitalia. Like Morgan, she received a lot of flack. Since then, however, Couric has made an effort to publicly learn why these questions are offensive and, having done this, went on to interview Cox for a second time last year – more educated in what it means to be transgender.
Unlike Morgan, Couric listened to the criticism she received and used it as an opportunity to learn more about the trans community. Cox in fact went on to say to Couric: ‘I really commend you on being teachable because not everybody is.’ *piers take note*
As PTL has developed from its awkward beginnings in September 2013, I have learnt so much.
I have learnt what it’s been like for Ella Prendergast to grow up with a disabled sister [here]. I have learnt what it’s been like for Harrison Williams to make the move from school to college as a transman [here]. I have learnt what it’s been like for Jess Campbell to begin recovering from anorexia nervosa [here]. I have learnt what it’s been like for Ibby Arif to come to terms with his sexuality at university and within the Muslim community [here]. I have learnt what it’s been like for Hannah Oliver to grow up mixed-race in a society whose media depicts a negative image of black people [here]. The list goes on.
Perhaps most importantly, I have learnt not to profess stereotypes and preconceived ideas onto our contributors. It is easy, like Morgan, to not see past our own understanding of things – to be caught up in our own privilege or lack thereof and not expose ourselves to the realities of others which lay before us. Ultimately, regardless of how easy this may be, it is bigoted and harmful. In preventing people from claiming their own identities we prevent ourselves from truly responding to the needs of individuals.
With this in mind – allowing people to tell their own stories on their own terms has become paramount to the way we work at PTL. Whether someone is talking about their love of animé [here] or their experiences of misogyny [here] – it is important for us to allow them to do so as they wish. We edit stuff but we send our pieces back to our writers before publishing them to ensure that they approve of any changes we make to their work. We work together to produce the work our writers want to have published.
And that’s, I hope, where we in our lowly position within the hierarchy of website popularity – think Janet and Damien à la Mean Girls – single ourselves out from certain media. We do not believe that anyone should feel grateful to use PTL as a platform to share their stories. We are grateful for the people who are willing to be vulnerable, honest and open with us and use our platform to share their cultural interests, life stories and viewpoints. Our contributors make PTL.
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The two autobiographies I read this January were Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness and Steve Brookstein’s Getting Over the X. Both very different but both very interesting and both examples of people telling stories on their own terms and discussing things beyond what journalists and the media may limit them to in interviews. Mock through her own talents as a wordsmith and Brookstein via the help of a ghostwriter.
Unfortunately with articles it’s hard to cover as many topics as an autobiography – but I hope, as PTL unfolds in 2015, you will see, enjoy and maybe even learn from many a mini autobiography in our commentaries and features – whatever they concern. This #editorsletter has turned a bit serious face but PTL is now honing in on serious face stuff so booya.
With Black History Month in full-swing we’re dedicating our first week to various forms of racism black people face today. The PTL Team (with newbies: Anisha Müller, James Fyfe and Elizabeth Clarke – holler) have sourced some brilliant content and I can’t wait to publish it. As for the rest of the year, you’ll have to wait and see, but if you fancy writing for us, collaborating with us, or whatever, drop us an email on email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.
Sam is the Editor-in-Chief of PTL. He likes adapting surnames into brand names and pretending to be professional. His favourite novel is Cloud Atlas and he has Madonna marathons on a regular basis. Sam tries to make out that he has his shit together but more often than not can be found crying watching Desperate Housewives reruns. Some episodes are really sad okay.
If you’re interested in getting involved with PTL – drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Header image sourced from: www.cnn.com)
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