Towards the end of Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness, she quotes Oprah Winfrey, saying “Your past does not define you. You can step out of your history and create a new day for yourself. Even if the entire culture is saying, ‘You can’t.’ Even if every single possible bad thing that can happen to you does. You can keep going forward.” So it only makes sense that on her journey as a writer and trans advocate, she would eventually end up sitting across from the very woman she quoted, taking even more steps to create that new day for herself.
Much of the conversation was spent discussing things from Redefining Realness, about Mock’s young life and how she navigated her girlhood as a girl who was told that she was supposed to be a boy. She told a story of being in kindergarten and seeing a cubby hole painted blue with her birth name on it, and how she just wanted to be able to change the name and color on that box, and how she knew that society was telling her those feelings were wrong. She talked about how knowing that she was really a girl was her first conviction, it was the first thing she knew for sure about herself. They talked about Janet being a young girl and making her father proud by playing “smear the queer,” because that’s what a boy was supposed to do. They talked about how for a while, neither she nor her parents had the language to describe who she was.
Oprah also admitted that she didn’t have all the language to talk about trans people, and asked Mock for help with that. Oprah said that she became comfortable talking about sexuality as a spectrum a long time ago, but she, and much of society, still isn’t caught up on talking about gender the same way. When Mock told her that no, she didn’t really used to be a boy, and she definitely wasn’t born a boy, Oprah was openly confused. But this wasn’t like what we’ve seen before with other interviewers being confused about how to talk to or about trans women recently. This was an honest, open and vulnerable conversation where Oprah was invited to make mistakes and ask questions, and most importantly find answers. Mock told her, “Because of the appearance of my genitals I was told that I needed to love a woman and be masculine. As I gained agency in my life, I was able to rebut that.” She was able to say that she was a girl and assert that identity no matter what other people thought she looked like. I really liked the way she put it, “what becomes fact? Was the truth I felt as a child fact, or is what society says a fact?”
Maybe my favorite moment of the entire interview was when they talked about Janet’s friend Wendi. If you recall from the book, she was the first person to acknowledge that young Janet was a trans girl, introducing herself by asking, “Mary! you mahu?” (using a Hawaiian term that can be loosely translated to ‘transgender.’) Watching Janet Mock tear up and say “At twelve years old I was given the gift of having a best friend who saw me,” was enough to destroy my heart and force me to pause the interview because I was crying too much. She talks about what a pivotal moment it was to have this friend who reflected who she was really was when everyone else was trying to deny that, and it was beautiful.
We’re lucky to have someone like Janet Mock as such a vocal advocate for trans people. She talks openly about her “pretty privilege” and how that makes her life safer and makes some parts of being trans easier. She’s very specific about how she tells her story, and she also makes sure to point out that it’s only hers. While she sees herself as having always been a girl ever since she was able to name herself, she points out that others might not identify that way. While she had surgery, she points out that there are plenty of women who are fine with never doing that. The main message that she sends is that, in a world where there’s so much that other people say that we are, we need to find our own truth and our own “most authentic self.”
As always, Mock was at the top of her game, mixing real education and information about trans women with incredibly moving stories from her personal life. There’s a moment where Oprah has to pause and take a little moment for herself before continuing on to say that she now realizes what the message of Mock’s book is. She says she had an “a-ha” moment and that she understands that the trans struggle is a universal one, that the message of the book is “I want you to see me for who I really am.” So many people are struggling to figure out a way to wrap their minds around trans people, and here Oprah and Janet Mock are able to boil it down to this simple sentence.
While the news media is still buzzing about another recent interview with a trans woman, Janet Mock sat down with Oprah and delivered one of the best discussions about trans issues I’ve ever seen on television. Oprah said, “Redefining Realness is the beginning of a new way of thinking about sexuality and gender,” and that Mock is a “trailblazing leader of this movement,” and I couldn’t agree more. This interview is a must-watch for anyone who wants to understand more about trans people, anyone who wants to be inspired to live their truth and anyone who wants to see an interview with a truly amazing, powerful and world-changing woman named Janet Mock.
You can watch the whole interview here.