Please note: this review is a repost from a 2014 post on The Breathing Ghosts Series Blog– the official blog for my series of novels- and is in honour of Transgender Awareness Week 2016 (14-20 November 2016.)
Blurb from GoodReads:
In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock in which she stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. Those twenty-three hundred words were life-altering for the People.com editor, turning her into an influential and outspoken public figure and a desperately needed voice for an often voiceless community. In these pages, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged, and transgender in America.
Welcomed into the world as her parents’ firstborn son, Mock decided early on that she would be her own person—no matter what. She struggled as the smart, determined child in a deeply loving yet ill-equipped family that lacked the money, education, and resources necessary to help her thrive. Mock navigated her way through her teen years without parental guidance, but luckily, with the support of a few close friends and mentors, she emerged much stronger, ready to take on—and maybe even change—the world.
This powerful memoir follows Mock’s quest for identity, from an early, unwavering conviction about her gender to a turbulent adolescence in Honolulu that saw her transitioning during the tender years of high school, self-medicating with hormones at fifteen, and flying across the world alone for sex reassignment surgery at just eighteen. With unflinching honesty, Mock uses her own experience to impart vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of trans youth and brave girls like herself.
Despite the hurdles, Mock received a scholarship to college and moved to New York City, where she earned a master’s degree, enjoyed the success of an enviable career, and told no one about her past. She remained deeply guarded until she fell for a man who called her the woman of his dreams. Love fortified her with the strength to finally tell her story, enabling her to embody the undeniable power of testimony and become a fierce advocate for a marginalized and misunderstood community. A profound statement of affirmation from a courageous woman, Redefining Realness provides a whole new outlook on what it means to be a woman today, and shows as never before how to be authentic, unapologetic, and wholly yourself.
In 2011, Janet Mock- then a writer for People magazine in the US- publicly ‘came out’ as a trans woman. Redefining Realness followed soon after, along with the launch of Mock’s #GirlsLikeUs social media project, encouraging trans women to live more visibly, (read more about it here) and a profile in HBO’s ‘The Out List.’ I read Redefining Realness because, ever since introducing my own trans character (Dolly) within the framework of The Breathing Ghosts Series, I’ve been researching and finding out more and more about trans experiences- particularly those of male-to-female trans people (like the fictional Dolly, and the very much real, brave and talented Janet Mock.)
I think it is crucial that trans people gain more public visibility, and greater understanding from our often too judgmental, too discriminatory society. So I downloaded the book on my Kindle, and expected it to be an interesting and thought-provoking read. Two days of furious reading later, I finished the book and exhaled ‘Wow.’ Interesting and thought-provoking, yes, but also gripping, moving and lyrically written.
Mock’s way with words is effortless, her imagery imaginative and flowing, describing with panache the personalities, appearances and quirks of her family, friends, and her fragmented life in Honolulu. Yes, her home life was difficult, and at times traumatic- she recounts her experiences of prolonged sexual abuse, her mother’s suicide attempts and neediness for a man that clearly dominates her, her father’s drug addiction, and her own descent into sex work, and yet at no point did it feel too harrowing or upsetting to read. (Although some parts- particularly her story of sexual abuse, and how her mother wasn’t there to comfort her after her sex-change operation- did feel profoundly moving.) Instead, it felt as though I was reading the manifesto of a survivor, a courageous and creative woman who- whilst facing the grim realities of street work at night and a (in my opinion) neglectful mother- also won a prestigious University scholarship, aced her grades and started taking hormones.
It seemed to me that she took her life in her own hands, even when circumstances within threatened to spiral out of control. Mock, an attractive woman from a multicultural background and a large family, describes her background as growing up young, black and at times poverty-stricken within Hawaii and the US. She talks honestly and movingly about the seediness of her own experiences as a sex worker, and gives useful statistics and information about her actual sex-change operation, and the discrimination faced by trans people. She also gives statistics of their (unfortunate and shocking) likelihood of falling into sex work or drugs in the process of saving up money for costly operations and treatment. A little smattering of references to pop-culture (Beyonce, Janet Jackson, TRL) make the memoir even more real, and brings it home that Mock’s experience could be, in some respects, every trans woman’s experience, for every trans woman is undoubtedly a modern-day survivor of an everyday battle to be respected, seen and heard.
This Book in Four Words: Moving. Poignant. Brave. Provoking.
Read if you enjoyed: ‘The Female Eunuch’ by Germaine Greer
Overall rating: 10 out of 10. Brilliant!
f you’d like to find out more about transgender issues, please check out the links below. (There are also links to transgender resources and charities on my website.) Stay safe, stay happy, stay brave and above all be yourself!