Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More by Janet Mock Atria Books; Reprint edition (February 4, 2014) February 4, 2014

In Redefining Realness Janet Mock, born Charles Mock tells the story of how she bridged the chasm between boy and girl. We begin with her falling in love and grappling about when and how she’ll tell her new love the story of herself, where she came from and who she is. We can all relate to the anxiety of meeting new people, but there is something more serious about disclosing your status as a transgender person. As she details in the book, transgender women, especially those of color suffer mortal danger when their personal reality comes in contact with the fragile ego of a violent man. We begin with her in Hawaii as a young boy and travel with her through her formative years to college and to and through her Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS).

This is real stuff. Real and raw and heartbreaking and triumphant and I just wasn’t ready for it all. It’s engaging, but this is no fairy tale. This woman forged herself out of fire and it is a real indictment on how hard it is for low-income kids to create a life of their own choosing. Janet wasn’t born into means and she was one of five children who suffered varying levels of neglect from their mother and father. That neglect was at times a result of personality quirks, drug addiction, and housing insecurity. That she’s even telling this story from is a blessing and has as much to do with determination as it has to do with sheer luck and it would be just as amazing if she weren’t a transgender woman because of the level of poverty she was able to crawl out of.  It really is an exploration of class, race, sex and more. Neglected by her parents with very little money and very little supervision she was able to walk the streets of Hawaii at all hours of the night, learning what it is to define yourself, but also learning how to turn tricks to survive.  This education was a double edged sword that allowed her to build the confidence she’d need to make her own decisions and learn to be responsible for herself (something that many people never learn to do) but it also put her in immense danger. She could have been murdered at any time as many sex workers often are, but that work also made it possible for her to get the surgery she so desperately wanted and pay for the hormones she desperately needed. Note what she is saying about our current health care system. She paid for her medication and doctor’s appointments with trick money because there was no other way it could be done. This is also an indictment on our legal employment pathways in our society that pay little more than change. When given the opportunity to work at the mall for forty hours over two weeks to the tune of $200 or ride in a few cars with men for exponentially more she chose what her adolescent mind thought was the most logical.

When Janet stands there on the cover, beautiful, safe, healthy, wealthy and accomplished she is a… Click To Tweet

I want to say that it is an adult book, and it is, but most of the more horrific parts of her story happen when she’s underage and if a child can live a horror than they at least deserve to read a story about another child who lived it and survived it. This is the philosophy I apply to book collection for my students. I work with low-income kids of color just like Janet used to be. Many of my kids have been molested. Many of my kids do things illegally for money or know other kids who do. Many of my kids deal with food and housing insecurity. This could be their story. For some of them, this is their story but for a few changes here and there. When Janet stands there on the cover, beautiful, safe, healthy, wealthy and accomplished she is a testimony. She is better than a middle class teacher with good intentions rubbing your back and telling you that it will be okay. Janet is proof that you can and will overcome and that is wildly important.

 

This book is perfect for:

  • Anyone who works with teens of color and/or those in low-income communities
  • Victims of sexual assault
  • Anyone who is interested in transformation and personal change

Discussion Questions

  1. What things were you told you could not do because you were born a girl/boy?
  2. Would Janet have been able to make her transition in Texas? What benefits/drawbacks did Hawaii give to her ability to define herself?
  3. Desperation plays a big part in some of the events surrounding Janet’s life. Discuss how desperation played a role in her mother’s, father’s and her own life.
  4. Do you think it’s important for teens to read this story? Why? Why not?
  5. Chrysalis provided Janet with the first real life images of trans women living and working in the daylight “real world”. Could or should these programs be duplicated nationwide?
  6. Janet discusses the hierarchies at play when anyone is presented to the world. How might her experiences have been different if she were white or middle-class or if she had transitioned older or weren’t as beautiful?

Soundtrack

The soundtrack for this book will be Velvet Rope by Janet Jackson, the icon from which Mock adopted her name

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