Reviews||||

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

20th Mar 2014

★★★★★
janet-mock-book-cover
In many ways Redefining Realness is the flip side to Janet Mock's now famous Marie Clare piece, which retold her pathway to womanhood in simplistic, cis-centric terms; the classic A-B, male-to-female story, complete with the dubious headline 'I was Born a Boy'.

Perhaps, it was the limits of this model, and the gaping absences you inevitably find when your story is put in another woman’s mouth, which propelled Janet to tell the tale of her girlhood in its fullest terms, so she may be seen not as a cut out character in a picture book, but as a whole.

Storytelling is kinda tricky when your life ping-pongs between secrecy and spectacle. When the politics of respectability and the pathologisation of trans* bodies make it necessary to project your life as a happily-ever-after fairytale, often condensing your life into “I always knew,” erasing your infinite complexities to eliminate any possible ambiguities. And for that, amongst so many other things, I am beyond grateful that Janet Mock’s story is out there in the world.

This is not a simple transition memoir; Janet may be a girl, but she is many other things besides, she is a woman of colour, she is dual-heritage, she is a poor girl, whose family life did not always live on the firmest foundations, she is a Janet Jackson fan-girl, she is so much more than the crude formula of trans stories or the bylines the media placed her under, the trans girl who made it out. And she knows this. This is why the cover reads, so boldly, ‘Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More’.

This is not a simple transition memoir; Janet may be a girl, but she is many other things besides, she is a woman of colour, she is dual-heritage, she is a poor girl, whose family life did not always live on the firmest foundations, she is a Janet Jackson fan-girl...She shares that which society tells us to keep secret – childhood abuse, her experiences as a teenage sex worker – and uses it not only to strengthen herself, and empower other girls (girls in sex work, fellow survivors, girls that have had to fold themselves up like a little camp bed, so they may be more portable, more accessible) but also to educate. She breaks down theory into simple accessible terms, helping girls like her find the words to say the things they need to say so desperately, whilst also developing the consciousness of cis women, who may not have experienced these things, helping them understand, empathise and advocate for the rights of their sisters.

The importance of this story being from a poor-raised, trans* woman of color cannot be emphasized enough. In so many queer communities, trans* has become shorthand for white, upper middle class, trans masculine folks, with publications like the New Yorker presenting it as a super fun subculture for the privileged elite. Janet’s story reminds us that living visibly, living truthfully, as a trans* person is not a privilege, it is an urgent, God-given, right.

by Bethany Lamont