Mighty Real: Janet Mock

With her new memoir, ''Redefining Realness,'' Janet Mock shares her journey as a transgender woman with honesty, eloquence and without apologies

Janet Mock

Janet Mock

(Photo by Aaron Tredwell)

MW: Do you think about becoming a mother yourself?

MOCK: I remember when I was a teenager talking with my mother and my doctor, and he was talking about the risks of all these things I wanted to do with my body. He brought up infertility and I thought, “I don’t really want [children].”

My brother Chad is having a baby in a couple weeks. He’s having a baby, and I realize my book is my baby. That is just as valuable. What we produce out of our art is just as valuable as what we produce out of our bodies.

I don’t know. I’m 30. I don’t know yet if that’s what I want, so [my dog] Cleo is fulfilling that for me. But I do have a family. Aaron and me alone is a family, and that’s just as viable as people who have children too. For me, that’s enough right now.

MW: In high school, when you began to better express yourself, you chose the name Janet. I figured you would’ve used “Keisha,” that name you gave yourself when you were much younger and briefly presenting as a little girl with your curls.

MOCK: That’s funny. [Laughs.] Keisha just popped up in my mind on the phone. That was like my first storytelling, as Keisha. That’s when I thought, “Oh, I guess I’m a pretty good storyteller.” I’d be on the phone just making up tall tales about what my day was like at the mall with my girlfriends. I let Keisha go because the haircut was so traumatic. It literally cut Keisha out of me. It was a sharp ender. The Keisha chapter of my life was over. She was someone who died with that haircut.

Then, in my adolescence, when I really started discovering who I was, Janet was something that other trans women started calling me. “Oh, my God, Baby Janet.” They’d talk about my smile and my cheekbones and how I looked like Janet Jackson. And I was obsessed with Velvet Rope at the time, so it fit.

MW: Was Janet Jackson a hero in the way you wrote that Beyoncé was a hero?

MOCK: It shows the intersection of how pop culture for me was so vivid and vital to my understanding of self. At the time, she was so open and raw. She was talking about her sexual fluidity. She was talking about access and elitism with the velvet rope, who gets to come in, who doesn’t. She was talking about domestic violence. All of these things within this album. I think I was in the 10th grade when it came out, and my mind was blown. I couldn’t believe someone was talking about all of these issues that were paralleling my own life. I think the Beyoncé album came out a year and a half after that. So, luckily, I did not name myself Beyoncé. [Laughs.]

MW: While you made the choice to come out as a transgender woman, you’re also straight. What sort of kinship do you feel with the L, G and B?

MOCK: There are so many similarities. I’ve always put it together as the idea of “gender expectation.” If you’re assigned “male” at birth, you’re supposed to love women. If you’re assigned “female” at birth, you’re supposed to love men. We’re all navigating this very rigid gender system. That’s why I always see the commonality between it. It’s also just the right to determine what your life is going to be for yourself.

That’s what I always talk about: the gender expectation that we all have. And, at the same time, the right to realize what we want our lives to be and to define it for ourselves. It is a kinship for me. Also, when I was 13 I didn’t know what “trans” was, but I knew what “gay” was. That definition may have been limiting, but it also gave me a sense of identity. I can understand where people get confused, the conflating of sexuality and gender identity. That’s where I think “LGBT,” the brand, becomes a little confusing. But there’s so much relationship there. There’s not a need for me to separate it at all. But even though we have this united acronym, we also need to be cognizant that we’re not a monolith, that there are different experiences within that.

MW: What about transgender men? Is that a different sort of familiarity?

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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