The following is a repost of a piece I wrote three months ago for Believe Out Loud about trans activist Janet Mock’s book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.
Be sure to check out my thoughts at the end on what this piece has meant to me since publishing, and a reflection on where we are today as a society in protecting our trans brothers and sisters.
07 April 2014:
“We need to give trans people space to tell their own stories, and we should follow the lead of people who are out there and being visible, and actually advocating for these rights.” –Janet Mock
Over the past few months, transgender women and men have been in the news a lot. From Laverne Cox and Carmen Carerra’s interview with Katie Couric (where the two had to brilliantly check Katie on her invasive questions), to the legislative wins for transgender equality, 2014 is becoming a year where the “T” in LGBTQ is getting the national respect, justice, and admiration that has been long overdue.
Today’s trans icons are not the first generation of individuals who have spoken out on the injustices facing the trans community.
Today’s heroes add weight to a fight that has been going on long before I was even born. Yet over the past three months, there has been one trans woman who has permeated through my daily thoughts, becoming a new shero in my life. Her name? Janet Mock.
I was first introduced to Janet after seeing her now well-known spat with Piers Morgan on his since-cancelled CNN show. I was blown away at how this black woman was able to stay so classy and respectful despite dealing with blatant ignorance and disrespect on such a national level.
As an openly gay Black male who has been fortunate enough to live and travel to many countries abroad, I have encountered my fair share of ignorant, racist, and homophobic comments where I have had to check myself from going off, before turning it into a learning moment—like how Janet so greatly did on the show.
Yet to see someone do what I have always done in my life on such a public and national level ignited a spark in me.
As LGBT people of colour, Janet and I share the individual lived experiences of having to defend our self-identity to the white, heteronormative, and patriarchal majority. Couple this shared experience with her proclamation of living for Beyoncé—something anyone who knows me would say is how I live everyday—she became a new definition for me to why Black Girls Rock!
Shortly after Mock’s CNN appearance, I began doing what any product of my generation does with a new popular culture idol—sit on YouTube for hours watching any video I could find of her. I couldn’t get enough. Her ability to speak so eloquently on important trans social justice issues—like how 53 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 were of trans women of color—while also casually joking and throwing shade with whomever she is talking to is what I envision myself doing as I continue to build my professional career.
Yet nothing prepared me for the emotions I felt after finally reading Janet’s New York Times’ bestselling book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.
Written as a memoir—I should note that Mock received her Master’s degree from NYU, and is a former staff editor for People.com—Janet allows you to travel back with her to the Hawaiian islands where she was born and raised with her single mother; to the impoverished and drug-filled streets of Oakland, California, where she spent time living with her single father; to the moonlit parking lots of Hawaii where she met her ‘dates’ as a young sex worker; to the hospital recovery room in Bangkok, Thailand, where she would travel to at the age of 18 for a surgery that was not to become a different person, but to enable her “to more fully inhabit [her] authentic self.”
Janet’s writing has enlightened me even more to the realities trans women face in our society, which continues to objectify and vilify our trans sisters.
Janet Mock is not the first trans person whose story has been shared with me—I am very proud of my diligent LGBTQ student leadership in college that cultivated the passion I have for social justice, as well as my work with Believe Out Loud—but it is her success as an author and trans advocate that has positioned her into a shero spotlight for me of complete respect, honour, and—if I’m being completely honest—just a little bit of worship.
Over the past three months, the admiration, respect, and love that I have grown to have for this fabulous woman comes only second to that of my mother and Beyoncé. Janet’s book is a testament to the harsh society that trans women, particularly trans women of color, must face everyday while still dealing with the journey of self-identity, something we all go through. As Janet so fiercly states, the book is “about authenticity and owning our stories in a world that tells us who we are is wrong, shameful, and should be kept secret.”
Janet’s book is reshaping the narratives that are shared in our society about transgender identity, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.
I thank Janet for courageously telling her honest story, and I thank everyone who continues to show me the only true way to living a happy and wholesome life is by authentically living who you are, despite what anyone may expect of you.
I am proud to be a trans ally, and I hope these words inspire many of you reading this to pick up Janet’s book to begin exploring what it means to be one too.
09 July 2014:
Wow, I still take a deep breath after I finish reading this.
When I began writing it, I didn’t exactly know what I was hoping to accomplish. I had literally just finished reading Janet’s book, and knew I needed to put into words what it did to me as an individual. I wanted more people to know of the realities the trans community face, and how much we need to actually listen to trans individuals and let their stories be accepted honestly and with love. With that said, this piece continues to mean so much more than I can explain, and I thank you all for reading it.
Since it was originally published, I have been fortunate enough to meet, talk, and become (somewhat) friends with Janet herself (shout out to Barnard College and ELIXHER Magazine). I won’t try to brag and say we’re besties who text each other all the time, but I will say that each conversation we have shared has been integral to liberating myself to get to where I am today—putting my thoughts about social justice into words for the public to consume. And for Janet, her star has continued to rise—from being a host for HuffPost Live to being featured on BET, and much more—informing more and more people on issues facing the trans community.
And she is still totally needed.
I write this at a time when despite advances like Laverne Cox being the first trans person to cover TIME magazine, the harsher realities for trans people—specifically trans women of colour (twoc)— are still extremely prevalent.
Last month, four twoc (three Black and one Latino) were murdered across the country. I hold back tears right now when I think of these four beautiful women whose lives ended short for what all seems to be because of being their authentic selves. To add insult to injury, the media misgendered (referencing them using male pronouns instead of female) these four women while framing stories about their past in ways you do not ever see for cisgender murder victims. Not cool.
Yet I still believe in change, and will not stop using my voice any way I know how to bring attention to this issue. OUR TRANS SISTERS NEED PROTECTION!
I leave you all with a quote from the fabulous Laverne Cox accepting her Logo Trailblazer award last month. With the advancement of many states passing marriage equality, many people in the LGBTQ community and beyond believe the fight is almost over. It’s not. Just because two white gay men can get married and live comfortably in their Chelsea townhouse, doesn’t mean that there are not others in our community who can afford the same privileges. We must continue to think about how we can fight for equality not just for ourselves, but everyone under the sun.