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Image credit: Eva Reign Thomas

Surpassing my own certainty: What happened when I met my hero, Janet Mock

March 8, 2018

I spent all of my childhood waiting for someone to save me. I wasn't sure who I was, and I didn't know if I wanted to find out. I thought that I could walk the line of who I knew myself to be and who the world expected me to be. I ran myself ragged walking the tightrope back and forth, unsure of where to go. Many of us LGBTQ kids expect for someone with all the knowledge to hold up a mirror and show us that piece of ourselves that we are too frightened to discover alone.

My first few years in college were spent trying to fit the stereotypical, hyper-masculine ideals desirable to gay men or worthy of approval from men in my family. At one point, I seemingly achieved these ideals. I had been working out, ridding my closet of clothes not “manly” enough, and keeping a fresh, crisp haircut. My brother and I actually began speaking to each other on a regular basis, and my stepfather said he was proud of me. 

I was pushing myself to conform, yet I gravitated more and more to these strong women who defied cisnormative, Eurocentric expectations. I knew who I was meant to be, but I remained cautious for quite some time. This internal struggle led to nearly flunking all my classes last spring, isolating myself from more and more friends, and avoiding my family for the better part of six months.

My freshman year, Laverne Cox came to my campus. I didn’t know why I was so drawn to her, but I knew something about her was special. During her speech, Laverne referenced her friend, Janet Mock, and mentioned Janet’s then-recently published memoir, “Redefining Realness.” After the event, I immediately ran home and bought a copy on iBooks.

That night, I sat in the darkness of my dorm room, alone. The only sound I heard was my own heart going a mile a minute while I read the first few pages. As I read Janet’s descriptions of her childhood experiences, something in me cracked. I felt an intense outpouring of emotion, confusion, and, ultimately, revelation.

Her reflection on displaying femininity and outlining the ways in which she was reprimanded by non-LGBTQ people for her behavior not fitting society’s norms felt too familiar. I questioned why I was able to relate strongly to these words written about a trans woman’s life. Just four years ago, I had come out as a gay man to my friends and family. That was supposed to be it for me.

Growing up, I did not have many images or stories told by or about people like me. I did, however, feel a connection to "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston. In "Their Eyes Were Watching God," the main character Janie confided all of her struggles and secrets in her best friend Pheoby. Janet described in "Redefining Realness" that she too had a friend she could confide in, Wendi Miyake, that made all the difference. I didn't have a Wendi or a Pheoby... But when I turned to Janet Mock's books and got to hear her story I finally felt that I had someone, a confidant who knew how I was feeling and made me feel safe when I was scared.

When I finished reading Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness,” I felt empowered and seen—maybe for the first time. I spent three years reading the first third of her memoir over and over again before reaching completion. Just last year, I finally buckled down and accepted my truth: I am a trans woman.

As the summer came to a close and I managed to improve my grades, I saved up some money and began hormone replacement therapy. I confided in several close friends and began my transition. That same day, I took my first estrogen shot, and I was granted another blessing: I received my free copy of Janet Mock’s “Surpassing Certainty” from a Facebook sweepstakes. It was fate. Everything was falling into place.

The months that ensued were no cakewalk, though. I walked through campus receiving a multitude of confused and condemning looks from many of my peers. While some people saw my Facebook post “coming out” as Eva, many did not, and even those who did were not necessarily receptive. Nonetheless, I forced myself to get out of bed, day after day, and finish my education. I even began saying an internal chant naming Black trans women I admired most, including Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Angelica Ross, Leyna Bloom, Maya Mones, Monica Roberts, Ashlee Marie Preston, Munroe Bergdorf, Juliana Huxtable and the iconic Tassandra Crush (a St. Louis legend and an old friend).

A few weeks ago, I met Janet Mock for the first time. I still have no words to describe the experience. While she never knew of me prior to that moment, and I never knew her, aside from her writings and interviews, I felt seen. I felt like I was meeting a long-lost friend.

Our conversation was short, but it was fulfilling nonetheless. It truly was a full circle moment. I went from being that girl hidden under the covers in her freshman dorm room to being out in the open, standing beside her hero. Not many girls like me are able to reach this journey as easily. Many others are out struggling each day outside of the institutional walls of higher education. I have been able to access necessary information that many others don’t have the same access to.

Black trans girls deserve to be represented, but Janet's stories give us more than representation: they give us hope. This experience has been my savior. Many girls like me dream of a savior. We dream it before even telling the world who we really are. We crave reflection. We yearn for validation. We ache for understanding. I am fortunate enough to have gotten even a small piece of this, but this did not come in the form of a knight in shining armor. I got a role model through the power of literature and the power of representation, and that is priceless.

Eva Reign Thomas is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and senior at the University of Missouri studying Graphic Design. She has worked for her university in Student Affairs, Residential Life, and the MU LGBTQ Resource Center. Eva advocates on behalf of her communities through creative means including inclusive marketing and advertising and student programming.

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