On Tuesday evening, transgender activist and author Janet Mock visited campus to discuss her journey to self-discovery and recently published book, the New York Times bestseller “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More.”
Aside from being an author, Mock is also a contributing editor at Marie Claire and a former staff editor for People Magazine’s website. On Tuesday, Mock spoke at a panel discussion with Joseph Fischel, director of undergraduate studies for the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies department, and Daniel Dangaran ’15, whose academic and extracurricular work focuses on LGBT issues and AIDS research. The event largely consisted of panel members asking questions to prompt Mock’s anecdotes and reflections.
Mock spoke about her life growing up in a male body in her native Hawaiian community, the struggles she faced after becoming a trans woman and publicly coming out in 2011, and the complexities of gender and sexuality in general. Mock said she thinks her personal journey gave her “different access points” into the transsexual experience, and that it is not possible to come up with a singular definition of it.
“There is no such thing as the [singular] ‘trans experience,’” Mock said. “But as a writer, I am committed to speaking truth, and that’s why I chose memoir as a space to not only share my own very personal experiences, but also to do the manifesto, activist-y work of contextualizing those personal experiences.”
Mock compared her life and her memoir to that of Janie Crawford, the protagonist of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. Like Crawford, Mock tells her story in her book as if she was speaking to a dear friend. Specifically, Mock addresses her partner Aaron, and tells him about the journey by which she discovered herself.
Mock also talked about the concept of identity generally, comparing it to a kaleidoscope. She expanded on this fluid idea of identity during the question and answer portion of the event, when several audience members brought up the question of how to identify people of different genders.
“We should be more neutral in our usage of pronouns and how we brand people’s identities,” she said. “Everyone here is a person and a “they”, in my default interaction. Let’s check those assumptions and be more clear with what we mean.”
The stigmas carried by transgender persons are especially harsh on transgender women, Mock said, adding that they are often called “fake women.” When asked about the specifics of her own transformation, Mock said she had strict boundaries and would not share details about her operation because they would be taken out of the full context of her story.
She added that when she originally came out to the press, she left out details about her days as a sex worker. However, in her book, she said, she shares those details openly. People tend to tell parts of their stories when they feel it is most appropriate, she added.
Audience members interviewed commended Mock’s personality and attitude.
New Haven resident Eric Rowe said he was impressed by how candid and open Mock was.
“It was great that she is a straight-talker, and a lot of people were able to come here and ask questions on a very personal level because she was open enough to share about herself,” Rowe said.
Aaron Berman ’16 said Mock was strikingly down-to-earth and accessible.
Nneoma Adaku ’15 said it was important that Mock called out audience members for making assumptions while using gender pronouns, because it reminded people to be conscious of these issues.
Tuesday marked the fifth day of Transgender Awareness Week in the United States.