Janet Mock – Interview

Jonathan Pizarro

The illegitimate child of Jack Kirby and Coco Chanel, this small town boy made good after his home planet exploded. He loves Aretha Franklin and hates missing the last train home. Follow him, or Rylan will sing at all your birthdays. @misterpalazzo

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Janet Mock makes me want to be a better person. She makes me tap into my best zen reserves to not feel jealous of her success and body of work. Seriously, the woman is everywhere this year.

I first stumbled upon Janet Mock while listening to her relationship podcast, Missing Piece. Janet and her boyfriend Aaron Tredwell delved into their everyday life together, analysed movies, talked about living in New York and what they both did at work.

Now here she is, on the New York Times list, besties with Laverne Cox (Orange Is The New Black), chopping down Piers Morgan a peg or two, and publishing her book, Redefining Realness. In 2011, Janet came out as a trans woman in a Marie Claire article. Realising there was space for improvement in the treatment and visibility of trans people, she founded the #girlslikeus movement and decided to tell her life story in her own words.

 

Vada: The original title for Redefining Realness was Fish Food, why the change?

Janet Mock: Fish Food began as a joke with friends. Engaging with the book, one understands the correlations between the terms “fish” and “realness.” Both are rooted in the trans women’s community and that was important for me to have a word of ours in my title. But the main reason why I changed the title was to communicate an action, the act of redefining what we deem is real, authentic and legitimate in our culture.

In Redefining Realness, you cite Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) as an influence. Who and what else inspired you while writing the book? Did you listen to any particular music?

Women writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde and all the women featured in This Bridge Called My Back were deeply influential for me as I wrote Redefining Realness. I found myself returning to their works as I wrote, and I also found myself returning to the music I listened to as a teenager as well, particularly Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, as well as Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

Did you expect the level of success you’ve had with the release of Redefining Realness?

My goal was not to debut on the New York Times bestsellers list, but it’s been a wonderful surprise to have the book received with such love and care by community members. I define success as having sat down and written the book…everything else is truly extra. I am deeply humbled that girls and young women who’ve read the book see themselves in my experiences. That is incredibly surreal to me, as someone who loves books, loves words and loves stories.

What’s been your particular highlight since the book was released?

The biggest highlight is meeting young women and readers who’ve shared space with Redefining Realness, who tell me that the book offered them a mirror, letting them know that they are not alone. I’ve received letters and emails from folks who have been moved and inspired by my book and that shines a bright light on the storytelling and storysharing process.

What’s next for Janet Mock? Have you consider writing fiction?

I hope to continue to make space for storysharing, to not only continue writing and publishing more books but to offer other people opportunities to share theirs stories as well. That’s why I created the I AM #RedefiningRealness project — so others who engage with my book can have a space to declare their truths as well. Additionally, I am also continuing to engage in conversations with other folks through my Google Hangouts (the next “Hangout” being on 3/26 with trans women writers!) and developing a web series for storysharing. As for future book projects, I do not have plans for fiction (though I’ve flirted with an idea regarding a YA novel or children’s book series) but am working on my next book project about beauty culture.

Janet’s autobiography, Redefining Realness, is released on 20 March 2014 and published by Atria Books. Buy it now.

Image: Aaron Treadwell