For those not plugged in to this corner of the ‘verse (and don’t follow CNN or Stephen Colbert), Janet Mock is a writer and advocate who focuses on “speaking about the struggles, triumphs and portrayals of girls and women like herself”. She created the #GirlsLikeUs movement to encourage and empower other trans women of color to live visibly and proudly. She’s a board member of the Arcus Foundation for Social Justice, she advises young people and trans youth programs, writes and speaks all over the internet and all over the country, and so much more. Earlier this month her first book and memoir hit the shelves and she embarked on an interview and book tour. In short order Redefining Realness has made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list.
Part of that book tour included an interview and book signing stop in DC at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library on February 13th but when the entire city shut down that day for a snow storm (as it is frequently wont to do) we were sad to see the event canceled. You can imagine, then, my excitement when it was rescheduled for yesterday, February 25th!
At 6pm Janet sat down for 2 hours with author Helena Andrews and discussed many things including her relationship with her parents, friendship and sisterhood, defining and living her truth, and actively defying the boxes others try to put her in.
I’m constantly fighting other people’s perceptions of me…People call me an ‘activist’ but I don’t identify as an activist. I’m a writer and I identify as a writer.
Seeing and listening to her speak, it was unmistakable that Janet was a woman completely in her power. She was strong and unapologetic, fierce, vulnerable, honest, eloquent, and completely aware of the complexity both within and without her. I would challenge anyone to leave that room uninspired.
In the introduction to her book, Janet talks about the 2011 piece in Marie Claire written by Kierna Mayo
It was a stranger’s story to me. It belonged to some brave girl who defied all odds, crossing sexes, leaving her past behind, making it to People magazine, and living to tell her story in a major women’s magazine…The fact remains that the girl in that article didn’t resonate with me because it wasn’t really my story.
In yesterday’s interview she described her book as two things “forgiveness and context”. Her experiences growing up poor, having a drug addicted father, coming out to her mother and unpacking all of her family’s emotions and healing those relationships, finding advocates and strong lasting friendships, personal trauma and dysphoria, empowerment and self-actualization, and many others have shaped the person she was and is today. This memoir is Janet’s way of getting across all the nuance and complexity of her experience that wasn’t included in that article for Marie Claire but which is generally regarded as her “coming out story”.
You may be expecting a recommendation about the book from me at this point – and don’t get me wrong, you would absolutely get one – but you don’t have to take my word for it:
— Laverne Cox (@Lavernecox) November 3, 2013
Courageous! Told with a spirit of raw honesty that moves beyond confession to redemptive revelation, this book is a life map for transformation—for changing minds. A heart-rending autobiography of love, longing, and fulfillment.
— bell hooks
What did attending the talk and signing mean to me? As a person who is intensely dedicated to social justice in general, and trans issues specifically, Janet has been a huge inspiration to me. Being in the same space, hearing her speak her truth, and feeling like I was a small part of her community surrounded by others who felt the same was a very powerful experience. As she was signing my copy of her book I told her that I was both excited and nervous to read it, however at the time I wasn’t sure how to articulate my nervousness effectively. I’m nervous about what Janet’s strength and complexity and bravery will reveal about my own fears and anxieties about being visibly and proudly non-binary. I fear confronting my own shame about not being as brave as people far more vulnerable than myself. I fear being moved and empowered because change, especially this type of change, is intensely and inherently frightening. But I’m also excited because, like she says, “our stories matter”. I’m excited that we live in an age where this book is a bestseller, where conversations – however clumsy they may be – and complex media representations are starting to happen, and where progress toward social justice is beginning to inch forward.
There are still some upcoming tour dates (some just recently added) so if you haven’t been able to attend one of these events check to see if there is one coming to your area! Janet has also uploaded a short YouTube playlist where she quickly talks about some of the themes in Redefining Realness, so if you’re unable to attend a live event but still want to hear her talk about her book in her own words check that out here.
You can also follow Janet Mock on: