Mock talks about ‘Redefining Realness’

Janet Mock spoke at Carnegie Mellon about her recently published book and her life as a writer and openly transgender woman. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Janet Mock spoke at Carnegie Mellon about her recently published book and her life as a writer and openly transgender woman. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“Own it.”

That’s the advice that Janet Mock had for those trying to reconcile their sexuality and gender identities.

Mock spoke at Carnegie Mellon in Porter Hall’s Gregg Hall as part of her spring book tour after publishing Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More earlier this year.

In 2011, then-editor of People magazine, Mock revealed in a Marie Claire profile that she is a trans woman. Mock’s new place in the public eye let her speak openly about her experience; Mock is often seen as an advocate for trans and LGBT rights.

She wrote Redefining Realness to tell the story of her upbringing in Honolulu and transition — Mock flew to Thailand alone at the age of 18 for gender reassignment surgery — and the lessons she can give to trans youth and others like her.

The book talk was moderated by associate professor of art Suzie Silver and assistant professor of communication at the University of Pittsburgh Shanara Reid-Brinkley.

Mock spoke about her memoir, as well as current issues surrounding trans and LGBT rights and identity, responding to questions from both the audience and the moderators.

Earlier this year, Mock received media attention for her responses in a Piers Morgan interview that opened with him saying, “This is the amazing thing about you — had I not known your life story, I would have absolutely no clue that you ever would have been born a boy. A male.”

Morgan’s interview with Mock sparked outrage on social media and across the internet until Mock returned to Morgan’s show and corrected his perspective on what it means to be trans.

When an audience member at Mock’s talk asked about the experience, she explained how she coped, as well as how she responded. “I unplugged,” Mock said. “I didn’t engage in social media; I let that all go ... before the second appearance I prepared myself. I was talking to people all day, having conversations about this. I knew I was walking into the lion’s den, so I was prepared for that — I had my battle-ready dress.”

Mock also addressed recent controversy surrounding RuPaul’s use of the word “shemale” in an episode of the show RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which contestants had to guess whether pictures of various body parts were “female or shemale.”

Mock acknowledged RuPaul’s role as a drag icon and advocate in her own adolescence, but encouraged a conversation about the blurred lines created by the appropriation of anti-trans slurs. “I lived for RuPaul growing up,” Mock said. “I liked seeing this big, black, blonde drag queen on Mac billboards and counters as a 12- or 13-year-old; it was revolutionary for me and my idea of myself and what gender was.... But I also think there needs to be more conversations and engagements with [the drag] community about their celebration of terms that are used violently toward trans women.”

Another audience member asked Mock how to deal with the intersection of race, and gender and sexual identity. Mock spoke about the grassroots organizations — many run by people of color — that she works with, such as the Audre Lorde project, which according to its website is a New York City-based “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color community organizing center.”
“I think those [organizations] are models to celebrate and speak up,” she said. “In terms of ‘why aren’t people paying attention to this,’ it’s because they don’t care, and I think that oftentimes people in power just don’t care.”

Maureen Meyer, a junior professional writing major, was interested by Mock’s narrative. “I enjoyed the idea of naming yourself as being empowering; I thought that was an interesting conversation,” Meyer said.

“I’m also taking a class on the rhetoric of narrative this semester, and the construction of identity and retroactive significance of everything to constructing identity was interesting to me.”

Mock ended her talk by discussing what’s next for her. After appearing on a HuffPost Live segment about trans activism, Mock said she wants to create more content and make more appearances, as well as continue writing — she is going to a month-long women’s writer’s residency in August to work on her next book, which will focus on the “aesthetics of beauty culture,” Mock said.

Mock’s talk was organized by the Garden of Peace Project, an organization meant to “increase the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of all people, including the most vulnerable, marginalized populations, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression of Southwestern Pennsylvania,” according to its website.