An HBO Documentary, two best-selling memoirs, pop culture cover stories, beauty columns, speaking engagements, essays, social media—Janet Mock is doing it all. And at the same time, she's eager to expand beyond her personal experience and share the platform that she has built with others in her community who may not be as fortunate. Janet is arguably one of the most influential transwomen working in media and is using every tool available to her to tell the stories that shift and challenge preconceived notions about what is possible for transpeople. This episode of It's A Long Story is hosted by Marc Fennell.
The books that changed me
"I loved Goosebumps as a series. I like to scare myself before I went to bed. I got my first library membership at like 12, with my mum ... I felt very adult. Like, these are my books. This is my stack, so I'm taking all of these home and I'm going to return them late.
"I remember sneaking out Waiting to Exhale ... There was just something about the world that Terry McMillan created around these black women who were having these romantic entanglements but then also these friendships and deep conversations about self-worth ... And I think that probably was the first time when I really saw a book go beyond just entertainment but to really enable you to see yourself.
"The first book that really meant everything to me, one that I defend to this day, one that I didn't even write, but I feel like I wrote ... it was Their Eyes Are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It's a book that follows black female protagonist named Janie Crawford ... she writes this story that opens with Janie coming back from burying the dead in the muck in the Everglades. And she is wanting to tell someone her story. She tells her best friend her story and that's the entire kind of plot ... I kind of ripped that whole thing off and wrote my first memoir, Redefining Realness using that same kind of structure."
"There's also a space within the native Hawaiian culture called māhū, which is an identity which speaks largely to children and people who are assigned male at birth, who kind of took on gender roles that were really fluid. Māhūwahine, which loosely translates in our colonialistic western sense of the term as ‘transwoman’.
"The first transwoman or māhūwahine that I ever met was in the seventh grade which was my hula teacher, my dance teacher. She was paid by our middle school. She was someone that was trans and transgressed, you know, the binary and had her own life and contributed. And no-one really looked at her strangely. She was a part of our every day as kids. And so I think growing up as I was coming to consciousness about my own identity as a trans girl, seeing her, it was like “oh, this is normal.” I didn't have to go to the television or to books to read about myself. To see myself."
"Their experiences and remembrances complicated what I thought was the truth and what I felt to be my truth."
"Keisha was the first iteration of me being able to express openly and outwardly who I knew myself to be—specifically, my gender identity. I think that for so long I was able to express my gender and my femininity in small, safe circles. I was able to do it around my aunts. I was able to do it around my grandmother. And so when I was spending a spring break with her, when I think I was about 11 years old, this character of Keisha kind of emerged.
"Keisha was my safe space of being able to express my gender and be the girl that I couldn't be in my father's home. And so I remember that spring break Keisha went outside for the first time. And she was able to, you know, have a little crush on a boy and swim with him and go on the swings with him and this little, you know, sixth grade, very innocent romance that had nothing to do with any kind of physical touching. It was like this little thing of being around someone that admired me and thought I was cute. So Keisha was the pathway for me to first express myself and who I really knew I was."
Truth and Redefining Realness
"I really took on writing Redefining Realness not just as my own sitting with myself telling my own story, which I think there's great power in that and can be cathartic for some people. But I think the other layer of that was to figure out what the truth was.
"And so I interviewed my father. I interviewed my mother. I interviewed my brother Chad. I interviewed my best friend Wendy. And their experiences and remembrances complicated what I thought was the truth and what I felt to be my truth.
"One of the biggest surprises that I had was my father's framing of me as a very outspoken child. I don't remember rebutting my father when he scolded me about liking feminine things, when he scolded me about acting like a girl, when he policed my gender. He says that I spoke back, that I said no, I'm going to do this anyway. And so it's interesting, I think, that you can have these similar experiences with someone who you're very intimate with and have takeaways that are different. And so I think that in my father's experience, I was this loud, very adamant child. In my experience, I thought that I was this quiet, meek child that was this little victim. And I think the truth is somewhere in the middle."
"People who often were first-time activists, were finally activated, were finally in their safe spaces."
The Women's March
"I think I literally started the speech with: 'I am here'. And that was not written. It was just because I had to really think about the fact that all of my life experiences, all of the things that I went through, all of the things I've learnt have brought me to this space and has brought us all here to this space.
“I think there was mass disappointment that Americans were going through from, you know, election night in November to seeing, just the day before, Donald Trump be inaugurated. And to see the Obamas, specifically for me as a black American, to see them leave ... I was deeply saddened. And so I felt great joy seeing this mass of people. I wish that the masses of people were a lot more diverse though. It was a lot of white folk.
"People who often were first-time activists, were finally activated, were finally in their safe spaces and coming to a space where they saw masses of people feeling moved. And so my job, as someone who had five minutes on stage, was to address this audience and give them language and to ensure that the umbrella term of ‘women’ was unpacked. That we're also talking about anyone that's oppressed by gender. We're talking about undocumented folk. We're talking about disabled women. We're talking about trans and gender nonconforming women. We're talking about queer women. We're talking about sex workers rights. We're talking about all of these things."
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