Living for Real
BY RYAN HOWE | As she swept into Café Pick Me Up in the East Village, Janet Mock’s floor length gray maxi dress swayed as she maneuvered through the maze of tables and chairs. It was one of the first hot days of summer, and the writer, advocate, and New York Times bestselling author was trying to fight off the heat.
“I walked outside in something else and had to turn around and throw this on,” she explained as she situated herself in a chair at the small round table. “It’s going to be a hot summer in the city.”
Even though the temperature and humidity are rising, the summer is giving Mock time to cool off. Coming off of a book tour to promote her recent memoir “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More,” released in early February, Mock is taking the summer to relax as much as she can as she prepares for a second leg of the tour.
Of course, there is busy work to be done, and a few appearances, including a trip to San Francisco on Sunday to be the celebrity grand marshal alongside Ross Mathews for that city’s 2014 Pride celebration.
“I’m excited to take most of the summer off because I was traveling extensively from the end of January until the end of May. I was in 40 cities in three months, so this summer should be pretty mellow for me,” she said with a chuckle.
Growing up in Hawaii, Mock met a trans girl named Wendi in middle school and began wearing lip gloss and makeup. She started hormones when she was 15.
In high school, she was an honor student while she worked as a prostitute, saving money for gender reassignment surgery, which she travelled to Thailand for. After graduating from the University of Hawaii in 2005, she moved to New York where she earned a master’s in journalism at New York University and worked as a staff editor for People.com.
In 2011, she came out publically as a trans woman in Marie Claire magazine, though that wasn’t originally her intention. By the time the article came out, Mock had already been working for a year on “Redefining Realness.”
Her book recounts her coming of age as a trans woman, intertwining her stories of poverty, prostitution, transitioning, and finding love in New York City.
“I always thought I would share my story through the book and not a magazine article,” she explained as she picked through her chicken salad. “The article just kind of forced me to hurry up and write the book.”
Since then, she has been a very vocal advocate for the trans community. Mock sits on the Arcus Foundation board, helped create programming for New York City trans youth at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and started the Twitter hashtag “#GirlsLikeUs” that is used across many other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook.
“#GirlsLikeUs” started in March 2012, when Canadian Jenna Talackova was disqualified from Miss Universe for being trans, during Cece McDonald’s sentencing for fatally stabbing a man who attacked her in Minneapolis, and in response to a rash of murders of trans women of color. After talking with the youth at Hetrick-Martin and finding out the young trans women didn’t identify as ‘trans’ but as ‘girls’ — which caught her off guard — Mock was inspired to start the movement. The hashtag also gave trans women a place to connect to one another, and it remains in daily use today.
“The reason it has its own life and power now is because it gives a fuller portrait that’s not just about one aspect of you,” Mock said. “You can use it and mean anything. It gave women on social media a label that they could proudly put on their profile.”
Mock will be back on the road once college campuses start filling up again and she starts a second tour, as a lot of her work focuses on college lecturing. Her book has also been adapted for different courses at universities, including Rutgers University where it will be a part of a women’s study course “Politicizing Beyoncé.”
“Redefining Realness” reveals that Beyoncé was most responsible for “shifting” how Mock viewed herself as a woman of color.
“I love Beyoncé,” she said. “I also just love pop culture in general, so the fact that my book is being read beyond just the trans and gender aspect, but read in a complete sense with an engagement in pop culture and media means that people are getting what the book is. It’s not just a transgender memoir to people, and that is so awesome to me.”
Mock plans to keep bringing trans issues into the light of mainstream media through her appearances on TV and through her writing. She doesn’t see that ending any time soon.
“I’m glad I had the experience with the grassroots organizations, but it’s not where I am best suited,” she explained. “My gifts as a writer and storyteller are helping raise those voices to a national level. It’s a different kind of advocacy.”
REDEFINING REALNESS: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More | By Janet Mock | Atria Books | $24.99; 288 pages