by Lux Cuellar
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock was released February 2nd 2014, two weeks before I began asserting my gender as a young woman. Essentially, the book came out right before I did. I was aching for shared experience, and Janet offered up her voice to be heard. This was the first narrative I read by a transgender woman written in the first person. It is a revolutionary voice for all the girls like us who are systematically denied a girlhood and humanity.
Redefining Realness provides an insight into trans womanhood free of the cis gaze. Unapologetic about the medical transition that she is often reduced to, Janet Mock reveals an honest portrayal of the harsh and beautiful reality about the womanhood of trans women of color. Though transition is a major part of the book and Janet’s life, there was not the sensationalization of hormones and surgeries that you may find in media where other people are telling the stories of trans women. She discusses her navigation of the medical side of transition, and the hoops she had to jump through.
For her, Mock says, “the number one thing is to liberate the girls.” Janet’s unwavering courage in telling her own story has encouraged many others to tell their own personal narratives that would otherwise be silenced. She writes in her book, “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.” Ayesha A. Siddiqi’s words come to mind when I think of Redefining Realness: “be the person you needed when you were younger.” Janet is being that person that she needed, and in the process of doing that, she’s become the person that I and so many other young women need.
References are a major part of the book. She refers to Their Eyes Were Watching God throughout Redefining Realness. Both books are about a path to womanhood, identity, love, and so much more. Pop culture references are also used. Mock compares herself to Britney Spears in one chapter, stating that she was “not a girl, and not yet a woman”. She also discusses how Beyonce empowered her as a young black woman growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii. The broad range of references the book contains, from Toni Morrison’s Sula to MTV’s The Hills, is all used effectively.
Janet Mock discusses issues that affect trans youth such as social transition in high school. Social transition is when a person begins to assert themselves as the gender that they identify with. This can include a change of name and gender presentation. Social transition can be treacherous waters to navigate as a youth. You often have to deal with not only opposition from students, but also faculty. When reading about what Janet went through, I saw a glimpse of my own high school experience.
Redefining Realness is a beautifully written memoir. I only brought two books with me to college, and this was one of them. In the fashion of a truly great book, you can read it over and over again and gain something new from it each time. It is a revelatory piece of work. I discovered things about myself and my identity after reading this. She helped me discover that my femininity was powerful. Mock states in her book, “[My vice principal] viewed my femininity as extra, as something that was forced and unnatural. Femininity in general is seen as frivolous. People often say feminine people are doing “the most,” meaning that to don a dress, heels, lipstick, and big hair is artifice, fake, and a distraction. But I knew even as a teenager that my femininity was more than just adornments; they were extensions of me, enabling me to express myself and my identity. My body, my clothes, and my makeup are on purpose, just as I am on purpose.”