Over the weekend, transgender advocate Janet Mock drew a large crowd—that included several GLAAD staff members—for the first public reading of Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More, her memoir that will be released today, February 4.
"Can you imagine writing a book that gets praise from bell hooks?" Lauren, GLAAD's Administrative Assistant, said to me, as we held our newly autographed copies in our hands. Just below the title is a quote from bell, the infamous advocate, in which she refers to Janet's work as "courageous," and "a life map for transformation."
By my count, somewhere around 150 people filled the seats and lined the aisles to hear Janet read from her book and speak with the crowd and moderator Michaela Angela Davis. Janet was surprised that more than "25 or 50" people showed up, but I think she was the only one. Her unrelenting yet accessible honesty kept us all engaged throughout the event (literally—at one point, Michaela said it was time to start wrapping up, and the crowd sounded like kids whose favorite TV show was unexpectedly turned off in the middle).
— Janet Mock (@janetmock) February 2, 2014
I was particularly struck by the way in which Janet consistently delivered candid assessments coupled with loving intentions.
When Michaela said Janet embodied the American Dream for achieving success despite growing up with no privilege, Janet challenged it. She pointed out she did have privilege—she's always been read as feminine (and "cute," to use her word), she is able-bodied, and she had a loving family. She also was clear that not everyone can escape disadvantages in the same way; sometimes, it takes luck, on top of everything else.
When an audience member asked a poorly-phrased question about why Janet "felt she needed to turn to prostitution," Janet was quick to explain the importance of language in discussing difficult topics, in the differences between prostitution and sex work, and the community that was built among trans women in her field.
And I think that—telling hard truths with love—is what makes her stand out, what makes her listeners and readers crave her words. To be fair, it may have also left those she was challenging with a moment of pause, but that's what a good advocate does—challenges you to examine yourself, challenges you to evolve.
Despite everyone's tendency to celebrate Janet, the author always turned the conversation back to the bigger picture—to the lived experiences of trans people of color, to building community, to making spaces for trans youth to be heard and feel less alone.
When it was my turn to get my book signed, I will admit that I didn't act very "cool." I rarely do, to be fair, but I felt a little intimidated, and it showed. Janet was friendly and giggled along, perhaps empathetically, with my nervousness. As I left the line, I noticed her hugging the multiple people saying to her, "You probably don't remember me, but…", engaging in dialogue about advocacy, and taking the time to learn everyone's name.
That's how she redefined realness. Janet was harnessing her "power," as it were (it was, after all, an event dedicated to her earned accomplishments), to create a space in which pertinent conversations were welcomed, otherwise marginalized voices were encouraged to be brought to the forefront, and where the power in that room was never allowed to be tightly concentrated, but was instead distributed.
While serving as an editor at People.com is, in itself, a major achievement, Janet has established herself as an LGBT advocate through a number of continuous efforts. A former GLAAD Media Awards nominee and co-chair, among her most notable benchmarks are the #GirlsLikeUs campaign to unite trans girls on Twitter, standing up against bullying and in support of LGBT youth as a #SpiritDay ambassador for GLAAD, contributing to NCTE's "Voting While Trans" PSA, and calling us to remember those we've lost to anti-trans violence, including Lorena Escalera, whom she spoke about at the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards. She has been honored by the likes of many, including OUT and the Sylvia Rivera Project. She galvanizes people to do as she does in using social media and modern technology as venues for advocacy. Her brand of realness, redefined, has taken hold.