I bought Redefining Realness after I saw Janet Mock get interviewed by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. I thought, “Who is this brilliant, engaging woman?” I loved watching her speak, and thought, “Shit, I want to sound like her.” She was so self-assured and eloquent–I had to know her story. (This is how my mind works when I see smart women, by the way. I want to be like them.) She was there to speak about her new autobiography, Surpassing Certainty, but of course, once I saw that she’d written another book before that, I had to get them both.
Redefining Realness is a gripping, honest, heartbreaking, mind-opening, and uplifting memoir about a girl who has courage and resilience that I admire greatly. Janet Mock’s life story is one I identified with in some ways, and one I learned greatly from, since her reality is one that I’ve only recently been seriously exposed to these past few years (because of my own blindness and our shallow environment.
Janet Mock’s story begins in New York, 2009, when she meets a man, falls in love with him, and then decides to tell him her story. It then flashes back to Hawaii in the 80’s, a time when she was Charles, growing up in a broken family, being raised by an “alpha-male,” black, Texan dad who always put himself first, and a Hawaiian mom who always put her men first. Janet’s early childhood was one spent watching her father betray her mother, and her mother turn to desperate measures to get his attention.
Redefining Realness is an emotionally gripping read, but the earlier chapters were harder for me to handle, as I had to see Janet struggle with confusion about her identity since she was considered different because of a multitude of reasons. She was black in a place with hardly any black people. She was born and assigned the gender of a boy, and knew early on that didn’t fit. In many ways she displayed behavior that went against societal expectations, and she was always slapped down. But, she was resilient. Add to that the fact that her family was poor, her parents were selfish, and she always had to overcome abandonment as she was never rooted to one place or person.
After those first few years, the only years when she lived with both her parents, Janet spent a period of time with her father and little brother in Oakland, California. Mock explains how this period was particularly difficult because she didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere or to anyone, as her relationship with her father was malformed, from years of disappointing him because she wasn’t the son he wanted, and him disappointing her because he couldn’t be a man she respected. The memories Mock recalls from the years she spent with her father are gut wrenching, as she experienced what no child, no one, should experience.
But, like I said, she’s resilient. Redefining Realness then follows Mock to when she returned to Hawaii, a place where she was still an outcast, but able to live in a world where being transgendered wasn’t quite the unforgivable act as it was in so many other places (though it still wasn’t embraced). Mock admits that she was lucky in many ways. Her parents (particularly her mother as she started to express herself openly) were neglectful, so she was able to plan her life and execute it without interference. Janet was desperate to be who she wanted to be, and no one stopped her. Many aren’t as fortunate. The latter part of the book tells how she was an A-student by day and a desperate and lonely transgendered teen by night, engaging in dangerous behavior simply because she didn’t have a choice. Being who the world expected her to be was not an option.
“The dream is the truth,” Zora Neale Hurston wrote. So I would go to “act and do things accordingly.” And she does, she chases her truth.
Janet Mock is a goddess. In Redefining Realness, she tells her truth–all of it, and it is beautiful in all its complexity, darkness, and light. This book is an education on the spectrum of different identities that encompass our world, and Mock challenges the reader to expand their mind and think about how we think and behave, and what ideals we’re perpetuating. Her personal account is one of many and I tried to embrace it without judgment, and you should too.
I got a brief glimpse of Janet Mock when I saw her on TV, and now that she’s told me her story, I can say that my initial assessment was fucking spot on. She is smart, she is open, and her story is important. If you’re looking for a good biography, then give this one a try. It is a revelation, but it is also simply a story about discovering who you are, accepting who you are, and living a live that is true to who you are.
Audiobook notes: Janet Mock narrates her memoir, and of course she does a great job. I listened at 1x speed, which I don’t typically do, but she speaks at a good clip for me. She doesn’t infuse a lot of personality in the narration, so it felt like I was being read to sometimes, which caused me to lose focus occasionally, but only rarely.
Book InfoRedefining Realness by Janet Mock
Format: Audiobook, Paperback
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In her profound and courageous New York Times bestseller, Janet Mock establishes herself as a resounding and inspirational voice for the transgender community—and anyone fighting to define themselves on their own terms.
With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another—and of ourselves—showing as never before how to be unapologetic and real.