by Janday Wilson
Janet Mock first felt the stirrings of storytelling’s transformative power when she was a young girl in Honolulu stalking literary icons like Maya Angelou, Terry McMillan and Zora Neale Hurston in the Kalihi-Palama Public Library stacks: She knew she needed a notebook to capture the overflow of thoughts and feelings that the words elicited. Years later, after accomplishing her childhood dream of moving to New York and becoming a writer, she gained national and international attention when she shared that she is a transgender woman in a 2011 Marie Claire profile. Mock has since used that spotlight to give greater visibility to the devastating injustices faced by the trans population, availing herself of every opportunity to advocate specifically for young, low-income trans women of color.
Mock believes that the conversations facilitated by storytelling can deeply affect social movements. In 2012, her Twitter campaign #GirlsLikeUs gave trans women an open forum to connect and share their stories. Her recently released memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, is her ultimate act of storytelling thus far. “Creating this work taught me that [I am] enough, that [I] deserve to be heard and affirmed,” she said.
Mock’s recent appearances on Piers Morgan Live and the ensuing contentious debate about Piers Morgan and his show’s language regarding Mock’s trans background are a striking reminder of why she feels it is so important to educate the media and public at large about trans people. In an emailed statement about that incident, Mock told Mediabistro that, “The show framed our conversation with problematic language that showed their lack — and our culture’s lack — of understanding about trans people’s right to define themselves. It’s problematic for media professionals to use terms and words that we do not use to identify ourselves. What we must do is give people the freedom to declare themselves and define themselves.”
Read on for our conversation with Mock about her memoir and her mission.