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In this last month, I’ve been reading Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. It is a book where the author tells us with great detail her journey as a trans woman. She mentions the obstacles, problems, and changes she had to go through during her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. She talks about the relationship she had with her parents, siblings, classmates, acquittances, and many other people she lived and interact with. However, besides sharing her life with us, she also mentions the many struggles that people like her (a person of color from the LGBTQ+ community and from a low-income family) have to face each day.
In the first part of Redefining Realness, Mock talks about how, even though she was born a boy, she always knew that she was different from her brothers and the rest of the boys. From an early age, she exhibited her preferred gender behaviors and roles just like many trans people whose stories she’s heard and read. However, when she and her younger brother Chad started living with their father, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend’s son, Dereck, she was treated harshly by her father for not behaving like a “normal boy. ” In consequence, she started thinking that there was something wrong with her for not liking and enjoying the same things as her brother. At that time, Mock felt that his father was against her, but now, as an adult, she realized that he loved her and that he was trying to protect her from her femininity because he didn’t want her to be bullied by others for being different.
A very important thing that she mentions in the first part of the book is that she was constantly molested by Derek. This happened until she was ten and for many years she though it was her fault. Mock says that she “later learned that the majority of sexual abuse offenses are committed by people who know the victim, including immediate or extended family members: a neighbor, coach, babysitter, teacher, or religious leader”. Which is true because according to an anti-sexual violence organization’s website “7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim”. She also he mentions that “gay and lesbian people are increasingly becoming more accepted, whereas transgender people, especially trans women, are still stigmatized”. This statement is also correct since, according to a survey of 1197 LGBT American adults conducted in 2013, “transgender adults are viewed as less accepted by society than other LGBT groups: only 3% of survey respondents say there is a lot of acceptance of this group”.
In this first part of the book, I can relate to Mock because I also knew since I was very young that I was different from most girls of my age. I didn’t like wearing skirts, dresses, or makeup; I didn’t like playing with dolls; and I didn’t like having long hair. Because of this, I would constantly be told to be more feminine, to act like a lady, to not do certain things because I was a girl. Sometimes, even my friends’ mothers would call me out for dressing “like a boy” and for not wearing makeup because, in their minds, I had to start acting like the lady I was, otherwise, boys wouldn’t want to date me. These “minor” incidents were what made me feel ashamed of my body and interests for my entire childhood and most of my teenage years. Just like Mock says, “it is often only people whose gender identity and/or sexual orientation negates society’s heteronormative and cisnormative standards who are targets of stigma, discrimination, and violence”. In the second part of the book, Mock tells us that she started living in Hawaii with his mother and siblings again after 5 years, however, her older sister, Cori, was the one who would take care of her since their mother would spend more time with her boyfriend. Besides having to deal with her mom’s absence, her and her brother Chad were discriminated and teased in Hawaii for being mixed black kids, which made them feel ashamed of their skin color. She also started behaving and looking like a normal boy because she thought that if she did that, then her mom wouldn’t send her away again. But, by hiding her true self, she felt isolated and hopeless, just like many other trans people who “struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts and actions, substance abuse, and a wide range of self-harming behaviors that make it that much more difficult to live healthy, thriving lives”. According to data provided by the website Psychology Today, 6. 7% of Americans suffer from depression, and 18%, from anxiety, however, about half of the people who identify as transgender experience these issues, further transgender Americans have attempted suicide nine times more than cisgender Americans. All of these issues arise “in response to the discrimination, stigma, lack of acceptance, and abuse [transgender individuals] face on an unfortunately regular basis”.
Mock also tells that she met Wendi in middle school, a girl who was trans like her. At the beginning, she avoided Wendi because she felt intimidated by her and decided that it was best to focus on her studies, but later, they became very close friends. Wendi lived with her grandparents and they accepted her as she was despite their neighbors’ bad comments towards her. She introduced Mock to her trans friends and all of them would always tell her that she was beautiful. However, it was difficult for Mock to accept that because she felt insecure of her body due to all the beauty standards she would see from the media and due to her body’s physical changes caused by puberty. And, when her and Wendi were in high school, Wendi started hormone replacement therapy and she would give Mock her pills so she could start her transition without her family knowing.
From this second part of the book, I can relate to Janet’s experience of isolation. When I was ten, I hid my true self for a about a year, because I felt that nobody understood me and I thought that there was nobody else like me. I didn’t want to be seen as the weird one in my school and family because I didn’t want to standout. However, by pretending that I was a “normal girl, ” I was hurting my feelings and my self-esteem. I didn’t feel comfortable wearing feminine cloths and shoes, and I felt awful when I had to pretend that I enjoyed dressing like that or doing the things that all my female friends liked to do. Fortunately, by the time I was in high school, I realized that it was time for me to stop being ashamed of who I truly was and decided to dress and act as I wanted. And thanks to my parent’s, older brother’s and friends’ “silent” support, I was able to that successfully.
In the third part of the book, Mock was given the nickname, Janet and she finally announced to her family and friends that she would only answer to that name and to she and her pronouns. Also, she was no longer “hiding her dress, makeup, and longer hair from her family. However, at school, her chemistry teacher would purposefully misgender her and call her Charles, her birth name, and her school’s vice principal would tell her that the way she dressed wasn’t appropriate for a boy. Mock says that if it wasn’t because of the support she was given at home, she would have skipped classes or dropped school, which would not have been rare since “LGBTQ students are twice as likely to say that they were not planning on completing high school or going to college”. Also, she asked her mom to take her to Wendi’s doctor so she could start the hormone replacement therapy, and her mom accepted. So, when her body began changing, people started treating her differently and received attention from boys, however, she was also “subjected to catcalls, whistles, and unsolicited phone numbers”. One day, she and her family started living in a motel because they didn’t have enough money and then they moved to the house of the friend of her mom’s partner. Because of the lack of money, Mock had to look for other alternatives to cover the fees of her treatment and survive, so, ultimately, she started doing sex work. When she was old enough, she contacted Dr. C, the doctor that performed sex reassignment surgery on one of her trans friends in Thailand. She was determined to get the surgery, so she also started earning more money by shooting for adult videos. She says, “systemic oppression creates circumstances that push many women to choose sex work as a means of survival, and I was one of those women, choosing survival”. To back up her statement, an article from the website health24 says that people start doing sex work because it is a job that doesn’t require skills or qualifications and it helps them improve their income. When Mock finally traveled to Thailand by herself and got her surgery, she met Genie, another patient. They became friends and Genie told her about the hardships she had to go through when she came out as a trans woman in her forties, from losing her son and wife to losing her job. And, when Mock came back to her home, she was able to have a better relationship with her mom and feel better with herself.
From this third part of the book, I can really relate to Janet when she said that once her body started changing, she was constantly getting unwanted attention from boys. I remember that, because of that, at the age of eleven, I began wearing hoodies, long sleeve shirts, and pants, even if it was extremely hot outside, to prevent people, especially men, from seeing my body and catcalling me in the street. It took me four years to able to feel comfortable with my body and wear short sleeve shirts and shorts again. Regarding being bullied in school for not being like the other girls, thankfully, I never experienced that. I was fortunate to have teachers and classmates that were mature enough to not judge the way I liked to dress or act, especially because we were a very close group since, in Peru, students are divided into classrooms depending on their grade, and normally, there’s only one classroom for each grade, so you see the same faces in the same room every day, and it would be very inconvenient to not get along with one another.
Janet Mock’s story has inspired me to not be afraid of being different and not give up on my goals. Thanks to her book, I learned about the hardships she had to go through to get where she is now, and I really appreciate her courage and determination. I also became more aware of the struggles that the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and people of low income have to face each day. Because of this, I realized that I had the privilege of coming from a middle-income household and having supportive and caring parents, siblings, and friends that accept and love me as I am. Now, I plan to use this privilege to support other people like me and Mock, make them feel loved and more comfortable with themselves, and let them know that they are not alone.
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