Janet Mock Breaks Through the Isolation for Transgender Women of Color

In a Q&A with The Root, Mock talks about being a trailblazer, why “passing” is a gift and for whom she wrote her book.

Janet Mock speaks onstage at the AdColor Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sept. 21, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.  
Janet Mock speaks onstage at the AdColor Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sept. 21, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.   Mike Windle/Getty Images for AdColor

If you can’t leave your home, you can’t go get your ID changed, you can’t go apply for a job. It can even go beyond silencing. I have seen women on the street be told, “Well, she looks like a dude anyway.” When engaged in street harassment and the woman does not respond, a way to cut her down or get a reaction from her would be to say something as outlandish as that to invalidate her identity as a woman. It’s one of the tools of patriarchy.

TR: Now that Redefining Realness exists, do you think it might help to change some of the issues with trans-misogyny, erasure and isolation facing trans women of color?

JM: I hope so. It opens doors to say that people are hungry for these stories and they want to read them. My fear is that they will say it was a fluke. That it was an accident. That it wasn’t because of my hard work and my great writing. It was because “some white man paid attention to her and argued with her on TV, that’s why her book succeeded; that’s all it was.”

My community showed up for me. Black women, women of color, trans women, queer people who have been following my work and read my essays said, “You know, I want to hear what Janet has to say about her experience and her story. This is something I want to invest my $20 in.”

The next level is: Do I—as Janet Mock—have the freedom to write what I want to write next? Will that get published and received in the same way? Or are people going to want me to be trapped by my “trans-ness” and only talk about that?

TR: What is the nugget that you want to share from your book that says, “You’ll get through it, it’ll be OK. It’s hard, it’s tough, but you’ll get through it”?

JM: I wrote this book for the seventh-grade girl that I was who didn’t see reflections of herself anywhere in the library. She didn’t have a complete mirror. She had composites, this mosaic, that then showed her herself. It mostly came from black women writers’ work. I saw them as the image of myself one day.

The isolation is real. The isolation can make you feel captive and like you have nothing else to do. The book has always been to let girls see themselves and to feel liberated in that sense of not being alone anymore.

Jenn M. Jackson is a writer, mother of three, educator, politics scholar and recovering misanthrope. Follow her on Twitter and read more at jennmjackson.com.