Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Available for purchase here.

With the exception of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, memoirs were not my preferred genre of literature until I undertook this project. Mostly because anyone famous enough to have a memoir released is also famous enough for their Wikipedia page to read as a “best of” reel, but also because they are difficult to write without being either self-serving or blasé. If you weren’t a writer by trade, I didn’t trust you to straddle that line. And if you were a writer, how interesting could you be? Every witticism you had was immortalized in your previous work.

The introspection of smart, fascinating women that I’ve since discovered since embarking on my year among women has completely changed my mind, and none moreso than Janet Mock. Mock is turning 33 within days of this post, yet she has lived enough for a life 5 times as long. She grew up in profound poverty, with a childhood spent between Honolulu with her mother and California and Texas with her father.

She now lives in New York working as an author, editor, and activist, careers that are the result of her hard-won college education, a first for her family. In and of itself that would be remarkable, but her victory is all the more impressive since her rise from poverty was hampered by racism, sexual assault, and transphobia.

Mock describes her first experiences with with sex as an assault at the hands of her then-stepbrother before she had even begun puberty. She also reveals her teen years, spent engaged in sex work, two events that seem impossible to unravel from each other. She describes the first incident in horrifying detail, but the latter in almost exclusively a clinical, detached tone. As the book draws closer to the end, she reveals a horrifying occurrence that highlights just how dangerous a position she was really in. She also writes about her modern dating life in New York, where her sexuality is something she controls rather than something others commodify. Reading about her modern day romance with her now husband is tear-inducing–Mock has more than earned her happy ending.

Mock reveals the casual racism she grew up with in Honolulu, a result of her Black father’s heritage against the ethnicity of her Hawaiian neighborhood, proof of how widespread and systemic racism is. Even in circumstances that induce solidarity, people found a way to be divisive.

Even as a successful adult Mock writes about experiencing exclusion and divisiveness. Mock is exceptionally beautiful, and could easily “pass” for a cisgender woman. She’s heard this comment frequently, well-meaning in intention but flawed in the execution. The statement creates a false hierarchy of femininity, with ciswomen outranking transwomen. It also invalidates her experience as a transwoman, and contributes to the idea that a trans identity is something to hide, rather than a thing of beauty.

Mainstream feminism talks about the pink tax, the added cost of being a woman in modern society. A comfortable bra costs 3 times as much as an undershirt, seemingly gender neutral grooming and hygiene products cost more when marketed towards women (razors, soap, shaving cream), and most egregiously, tampons and pads are taxed, as though monthly bleeding is a luxury for those with a uterus.

Little is made, however, of the T tax. Mock used her sex work to fund her hormone replacement therapy and gender confirmation surgery, both of which were uncovered by health insurance. For people living with gender dysphoria, these treatments are a medical necessity, yet only trans activists are vocal about the need for insurance coverage for themselves and their fellows.

A sobering 41% percent of transpeople attempt suicide–we usually learn the names of the ones who succeed. Mock writes of her best friend Wendi, also trans, whom she met in high school. Along with the network of women who looked out for each other when they were selling sex, Mock appears to have escaped a violent fate because she had that which is such a fundamental human need–community.

It’s impossible to know, as someone assigned female at birth and always comfortable with that designation, how very isolating it must be to exist in a space where you alone are different. Transgender rights and issues have become more widely discussed than ever in modern society, but by and large anyone over 30 didn’t grow up with the words to describe the feelings of dysphoria. We, the cis majority, have a responsibility to the transpeople in our lives. To accept them, to love them, to celebrate them, most of all to listen to them, to not put our words in their mouths and tell them we’ve heard them.

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