Book review: Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, by Janet Mock

Redefining RealnessMock, Janet. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Atria. 2014. $24.98. 263p. HC. 978-1-4767-0912-3.

According to Janet Mock, the media’s discovery of transgender people still is “erasing the presence of trans youth from low-income communities and/or communities of color.” She hopes her memoir will offer young trans women of color an experience closer to their own, while recognizing that each person’s story is unique and hers should not be taken as representative of any group. Even so, Mock’s reflections on her life thus far will be meaningful to a wide range of readers and provoke them to ponder how we look at gender, at women, and at what we mean by “real.”

Born in 1983 in Honolulu of Hawaiian and Black parents, Mock is very concerned for the fate of other transwomen who share her childhood disadvantages of poverty and racial minority. In her case, however, those disadvantages were balanced by some unusual advantages: having a teen friend who was also transgender, finding a sympathetic endocrinologist who did not make her endure puberty twice, and discovering support within Hawaiian culture for persons who are mahu.

The book is framed by Mock’s decision to share her life history with the man she loves. Chapters follow her life but include observations about the experience of others–generalizing the lesson. She describes parents with addictions and other problems who nevertheless love and do the best they can for their trans child. Her teachers varied from supportive to bullying. Her sexual experiences, from molestation by an older step-brother to earning the money for surgery as a sex worker, are related with searing honesty. “Being sexually available was how I validated myself in a world that told me daily that who I was would never be ‘real’ or compare to the ‘real’ thing.”

From her unique perspective, Mock observes that “femininity in general is seen as frivolous.” We all live in “a world that is hostile to it and frames femininity as artifice and fake, in opposition to masculinity, which often represents ‘realness.'” Even as a transwoman is treated as less than a cis woman, all women are likewise treated as less than real. While Mock’s current celebrity status will ensure interest in her memoir, there is much more here for readers willing to re-examine their preconceptions.

Reviewer: Carolyn Caywood, retired from Virginia Beach Public Library


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