Interview: Janet Mock, A Transgender Advocate

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Janet Mock is a writer who broke into the limelight in 2011 with a GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) nominated profile on her remarkable journey to womanhood in Marie Claire. In a society that is still grappling with same-sex marriage and full acceptance of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. Janet’s decision to come out as a trans woman of color was courageous. Too often trans women — especially those that live at the intersection of gender identity — and race are relegated to the shadows and margins of our society. With her social media project #GirlsLikeUs aiming to raise visibility for her stance, and upcoming memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and so Much More set for an upcoming February 4 release, Janet is defying stereotypes of trans women and shifting culture.

Storytelling is a powerful tool. Acceptance, love and respect are steeped in our ability to listen and recognize our individual journey.  Janet provides a beacon of hope to young transsexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. Her “no regrets” bold attitude also promotes that the struggle will get better — because incredible women like Janet are paving the way for them.

We had the opportunity to take five with Janet and learn her take on coming out, living with purpose, and the responsibility of public figures.

Two years ago you came out as a trans woman in a very public way after living a fairly private life.  What prompted your decision to come out?

Janet Mock: Simply put, I shared my story because not enough of our stories are told. I believe that when we see ourselves reflected through storytelling we can know how better to live and to dream, as Barbara Smith once wrote. Growing up, I wished that someone who looked like me would step forward and tell her story so I would not feel so alone. After more than twenty years of wishing, I decided that I guess I needed to be the story that I wished I had growing up as a brown trans girl.

While I believe that coming out is a very personal decision what responsibility if any do you think public figures have in coming out? 

JM: It is a deeply personal decision with political and social ramifications, no matter your level of celebrity. I would never push someone to disclose that they are trans if they are not ready to or are not in a safe enough space to do so. Our society has yet to fully recognize trans people as people and continually discounts the womanhood of trans women so it’s a hostile place for a young women, especially one from low-income and/or people of color communities, to step forward as trans. What I’d like to see is a world in which we can all be ourselves freely, without judgment, stigma or violence.

What advice do you give to trans women about coming out given that it’s not always safe for trans women to live openly and unapologetically?   

JM: I try not to offer advice because I am limited by my own experiences with privilege and oppression. All I can do is lend my story and my experience as one possible example. I choose to live openly as a trans woman of color because I find nothing shameful about who I am. My hope is that by living visibly, I empower other young woman, whether they are trans or not, of color or not, poor or not, to own who they are and hopefully find a comfortable enough space in their lives to share themselves – wholly – with those they love.

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Photo Janet Mock

Hot 97 DJ Mr. Cee recently admitted to having sexual relationships with trans women.  In response to his admission you wrote and incredibly powerful piece on your website.  How do you think his admission will expand the dialogue around trans issues in the black community?

JM: I think his “admission” (I hate that being attracted to trans women must be seen as an “admission”) raises visibility of the heightened stigma our community has in regards to trans women specifically. I’m glad that he was able to have support from his colleagues and the wider hip hop community to share his sexuality, but at the same time I have been deeply disturbed by his and others’ lack of knowledge and education about the women he desires. Trans women are women, we are not wearing a costume, we are not pretending to be something we are not. It’s quite simple and I hope that we continue to elevate the conversation beyond this man and his sexual preferences. Trans women are not here merely to operate as secret, shameful sexual objects; we are people.

What steps do we need to take to continue an open dialogue about acceptance, love and sexuality in our community?

JM: We need to truly embrace and educate ourselves about diversity, which does exist in people of color communities. We, people of color, are not the same. We are not identical. Many of us, especially trans women and queer people of color, carry multiple identities in our bodies, therefore black communities must open up their minds about the idea of blackness, and embrace and learn from all of our siblings, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Learn more about Janet Mock and her work at www.janetmock.com

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