Janet Mock’s recently released memoir, Redeﬁning Realness is a perfect manifestation of the Audre Lorde quote “If I didn’t deﬁne myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me and eaten alive”. Janet redeﬁnes what it means to be a “real woman” as experienced through her personal gender expression as a trans girl and trans woman. In doing so, she helps disintegrate some of the negative stereotypical images of transgender people as portrayed by popular media.
Due to circumstances out of her control, mostly that she was an infant, Janet was assigned male at birth. Her memoir tells the story of a young woman who never quite ﬁt the mold her family created for her as her parents’ ﬁrst born son, nor the invisibility mold of the trans woman of color created by American culture.
The book is framed as a self-revelation and disclosure to the now-love of Janet’s life, Aaron. She begins at childhood, and although she was born to loving and nurturing parents, they were also parents who were mostly ill equipped to advocate for Janet growing up, due to divorce, drug addiction, poverty, and often times, neglect. She encounters a few friends and mentors along the way, but for the most part endures the journey alone, surviving the trauma of sexual abuse as a child, supporting herself as a sex worker on the streets of Honolulu as a teen, and ﬁnally adulthood when she travels to Thailand to receive her gender reassignment surgery.
Although the person who is seen as different, the outsider never being able to check a box, is the trope that is often presented as universal, Janet makes it clear that the book “was not written with the intent of representation” and that “there is no universal women’s experience”. Instead she hoped the book would act as a tool of empowerment for trans women and girls, as well as other [marginalized] women of color, to have the courage to tell their own stories. Janet is only the latest, but not the ﬁrst young black woman to tell her story as an act of revolution.
Black women were essentially written out of humanity by our founding fathers, and ever since, the black literary canon has been populated by women with enough agency to write their way back into humanity. Janet never fails to acknowledge that in her work as a writer and an activist, she is standing on the shoulders of giants, quoting every black literary titan from Audre Lorde to Bell Hooks, and Toni Morrison to Alice Walker.
I would not only recommend Redeﬁning Realness to those living in the margins, craving a story that might reﬂect some of their own experiences, but I would also recommend it to anyone looking to educate themselves. In the bed of her raw and authentic prose, Janet tucks facts about gender identity, and truths about trans discrimination in America. The statistics she reveals are just enough to leave her readers intrigued, outraged even, but never satisﬁed, and hopefully compelled to go out and seek more knowledge on their own. In a sense, She is passing the activism torch on to her readers.