Janet Mock: Transgender Identity and the Notion of “Passing”

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, and community.”

Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness, stated this in personal memoir, or as she calls it, her “coming out story,” where she shares intimate details about her childhood and journey to becoming a woman. I absolutely love Janet Mock, and I met her during my freshman year when I was a student at the University of Virginia. She came to lecture about her new book, and one of the topics that really grabbed my attention was her discussion on “passing” and being real in the trans community.

Before reading the book, I knew that transitioning to a different gender was more than just changing body parts, but I also thought that transgender men and women were most concerned with passing as the gender they wanted to be identified as. I learned that realness is not being able to pass as just trans but it is embodying a feeling of power, freedom, and comfortability in your skin. Mock rejects the notion that trans womanhood is inauthentic. Realness is more than just a performance and being undetectable to cisgendered people.

As Janet notes, “I am a woman. I live my life as a woman, and that is how I should be perceived. I’m not passing as anything, I’m being myself.” Passing comes across like you’re trying to deceive or trick someone.

“Anytime I walk on the street, my gender is visible. People see me and take me as a woman, and that is not passing. That is me just being. Once I disclose that I am trans, things change. I become an object, and then my humanity and womanhood is then checked and is put into question.”

Being a cis woman, I have to recognize my privilege and realize that I am fortunate to not have to deal with being constantly gender policed, questioned, or even attacked. Sometimes when I’m in public, I worry about what people will think of how I look, but I never imagine how it would feel to constantly worry about harassment.

Mock taught me that the best way to be an ally and support trans individuals is to make them feel valid. People have multiple identities and come from various backgrounds, so boxing someone into a category is belittling and only perpetuates the ideals of the dominant culture. Everyone has their own path to developing their identity, and we should embrace people with love and support. This book enlightened me, changed my perspective, and inspired me. I was amazed that Mock wrote in a conversational tone that was so relaxed yet so powerful and genuine.

As Janet notes, “No one can destroy one’s past. You can try your best to cover it up, edit it, run away from it, but the truth will always follow you.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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