Because Janet Mock is part of the media, she has an uncommon authority when explaining to other journalists for the hundreth time why some questions are just plain wrong to ask her and other transgender women.
Mock was working as a staff editor for People.com, then only 28 years old, when she publicly revealed herself to be transgender in a May 2011 Marie Claire profile. To that point in her life, her identity and history as a transgender woman was known only to a few select individuals.
Her coming-out brought with it a number of people questioning her authenticity as a woman. Others accused her boyfriend of being gay, and through it all, she was forced to confront the antitransgender bias that permeates society. She still confronts it, often with an audience watching.
In February, while on a media tour in support of her New York Times best seller Redefining Realness, Mock appeared on Piers Morgan Live to promote the book. What ensued became emblematic of all that is wrong with how trans people are treated by the media at large. The now-infamous interview overwhelmingly focused on Mock's personal medical history and all but ignored the book she was there to promote.
"You used to be, yourself, a man," the show's eponymous host added at the tail end of a question about disclosing one's trans status to romantic prospects. On the night the pre-taped interview aired, what seemed like one poor word choice by Morgan was amplified as an on-screen chiron appearing under Mock's image, reading, "Was a boy until age 18," and the show's Twitter account tweeted, "How would you feel if you found out that the woman you are dating was formerly a man?"
Mock then angered Morgan by tweeting, “‘Was a boy until 18.’ @PiersMorganLive get it the f*k together. #redefiningrealness.” Her tweet launched thousands more from users all around the world, criticizing Morgan’s lack of tact.
Ever one to make the best out of a bad situation, Mock agreed to appear on the show the following night in hopes of discussing why so many people were so upset by the prior night’s show, and to clarify that no, she was not "a man" or "a boy" up until the moment of having genital reconstructive surgery at age 18. Sadly, Morgan appeared less than open to having a true dialogue with Mock; instead speaking over her, and later using his Twitter account to rail against transgender viewers who were angry with him.
In April, Mock teamed up
with Fusion TV's Alicia Menendez for a faux interview to illustrate how uncomfortable and invasive questions and comments like Morgan's can make trans people.
"What's so amazing is if I were to look at you, I would have never not known that you weren't trans," Mock said to Menendez in the lighthearted and informative flipping of the script. "Do you have a vagina? Do you feel like your idea of self, your cisness, holds you back in any way?"
The faux interview took a creative approach to addressing many of the unsettling and frustrating questions trans people find themselves asked during interviews.
The latest big news for Mock came recently when Marie Claire, where she'd once published that life-changing essay, announced that it's hiring her on as a contributing editor. The 31-year-old New York City resident is one of the world's best-known trans individuals, having appeared on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, in the HBO documentary The Out List, and often on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show. In 2012 she founded #girlslikeus, a movement to celebrate trans womanhood.
Now her profile is higher than ever, and in the six months since Redefining Realness came out, trans issues have begun gaining steam with mainstream America.
“The biggest advancement [during those six months] has been a hunger in our nation to have and advance the conversation about trans people and our diversely lived experiences — beyond the body,” Mock tells The Advocate. “For decades, the media only spoke about trans people in the framework of what we do to our bodies, rather than what it means to exist, live, and dream in our bodies.”
When asked what she’d like to see another six months from now, she answers, “I’d like that conversation [go on] to enact change, ensuring that our bodies are given shelter, safety, employment, greater agency and freedom from policing, profiling, and incarceration. I want our bodies to be even more centered in collective liberation.”
This is one of eight profiles that The Advocate released this week for the annual "40 Under 40" list. From now through Friday, August 8, readers are asked to vote on who you think should be on The Advocate's digital edition cover. Then the remaining 32 honorees will be released in August along with the new cover. Go to Facebook to vote now!