It’s tempting to hang all of our concepts of contemporary trans issues on Janet Mock’s shoulders. After all, she has become one of the few faces of the trans community because of her media platform and press following. What is so important about Mock’s message – as well as her wonderful book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More – is that no story is universal. Mock’s book tells the story of one woman’s life. And while it’s easy to burden the author with the title of Ambassador of the Trans Community, Mock’s story is compelling enough on its own, and doesn’t need to be a blanket, generic representation of trans lives as a whole.
Whenever cis folks approach trans issues, they inevitably focus on the physical, particularly genitalia, not interested in the fluidity of trans identities or the violence and prejudice that trans folks must face. Latching on to the physical at the expense of the issues of anti-trans bigotry allows for a reductive view of trans people, that often tips into sensationalism or misinformation (a quick YouTube view of the blundering way that Piers Morgan, Katie Couric, and Wendy Williams approached trans issues in interviews is a great illustration of this problem). With Mock’s Redefining Realness, readers will get a better understanding of one woman’s individual journey.
Mock was born in Honolulu, and grew up in Oakland. She had a difficult, but loving relationship with her parents. It would be a mistake to write that Mock was born a boy and then became a girl (yeah, I’m looking at you, Piers). Instead as Mock put it, “I was born in what doctors proclaim is a boy’s body.” She grew up affirming her right gender identity in the face of prejudice and confusion from those around her, including peers and family members. Mock writes of these moments with an unflinching eye for details, no matter how painful. She’s candid about her parents’ failure – her mother and father, while both written by a loving voice, are nonetheless taken for task at certain failures. It’s difficult to write about one’s parents critically, especially if those parents did their best. Mock understands that her parents failed because they’re human and have frailties and certain factors, both internal and external played a part in their failure. She writes of her parents with a refreshing lack of bitterness and she doesn’t indulge in self-pity.
When writing about herself and her struggles, Mock writes with the same clear, unadorned voice. She shares a lot of her experiences, some harrowing, and spares the reader little. She’s careful not to exploit the sadder elements of her life for pity, but instead includes them to present a well-rounded portrait of the woman she is today. And the quick wit with which she handles her interviews so deftly translates easily onto the page. She also has a great eye for detail, and paints a thorough picture of her surroundings – her take on Hawaii, especially are beautifully written, as is her coverage of sex workers, which shows off her journalistic flair.
While Mock’s book is important, it’s just one voice of many – and Mock takes great pains to make that point. She does not claim to have the universal experience of all trans women. But her book is key in beginning the dialogue about gender identity, race, and class – Mock does not ignore intersectionality, and points how how class and socio and economic inequality exacerbates the already-fraught world of many trans individuals (there were some major parts of her adolescence in which Mock and her family struggled with income inequality, financial instability, and economic insecurity). It’s also important to read Mock’s book in context to the epidemic of anti-trans violence, particularly against trans women of color (Mock herself writes about instances of violence, from harassment to physical assault). Redefining Realness is a must for any reading list for those interested in moving toward a world informed by social justice and equality.
Click here to buy Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More on amazon.com.