Books

With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.

Janet Mock: Redefining Realness

Janet-Mock--Wendi-collage

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Transgender autobiographies are dominated by whiteness. There's no need to set out a list, suffice to say that since the trans memoir began with Lili Elbe's Man Into Woman (1931), publishers have sought out the safest, most marketable kind of representation of trans to a white, heteronormative majority. This makes Janet Mock's autobiography Redefining Realness (2014) a confessional of special significance. Read next to Sarah McBride's white-picket-fence account of living the American Dream, Tomorrow Will Be Different (2018), I would put Mock's work up there as a parallel piece of essential trans-confessional reading in the 21st century.

Which isn't to say that Mock's personal journey is operating as some kind of binary opposite to McBride's. For one, Mock is privileged with stunning beauty: cis-gendered female-model good looks, perhaps partly due to the hormones she began taking in adolescence before puberty could masculinize her physiognomy. Notable too is her seriousness as a student: like McBride, she's a stellar scholar throughout childhood, eventually earning the scholarship that will take her to the prestigious New York University. As someone who drifted through adolescence in detached mediocrity and wistful window-gazing, can't-be-bothered withdrawal, I'm both impressed and surprised by the narrative of the precocious and super-focused trans student.

Mock's journey, however, is evidently also one of a determined independence as well as defiance against her own material poverty. Raised in low-income households where crack cocaine and crystal meth were a feature of her parents' intoxication, Mock also suffers sexual abuse from a surrogate sibling over a period of years. A watershed moment is her move to Hawaii in early adolescence to live with her mother. There, Mock becomes aware of Hawaiian society's own trans-gender community, the Mahu, with one school friend in particular, Wendi, becoming her lifelong soulmate. "Are you Mahu?" asks Wendi in a first encounter that will slowly open the floodgates to Mock's self-repression. It is through Wendi that Mock takes hormones and begins presenting as female at fifteen, adopting the name of her favourite singer Janet Jackson. One tender experience involves Wendi's plucking of Mock's eyebrows for the first time, but later, it is also Wendi and Mock who together enter the red-light world as sex-workers, with Mock desperate to save up money for sex-reassignment surgery. Such experiences, in communities where sisterhood and passing can mean the difference between life and death, underline how online communities are not a part of Mock's trans awakening. In the tradition of Marsha P. Johnson in the 1960s, community is a lived-in, day-to-day experience, not a virtual world of posts and videos, and this makes Redefining Realness noticeably different to many white trans confessionals.

On the issue of her ultimate success, however, with a successful career in journalism in New York City that reminded me of Sex In the City, Mock's introduction carries a warning that her life journey is not typical for trans women of colour especially. Writing on the importance of community, Mock notes how she has 'been held up consistently as a token, as the "right" kind of trans woman (educated, able-bodied, attractive, articulate, heteronormative). It promotes the delusion that because I "made it," that level of success is easily accessible to all young trans women. Let's be clear: It is not' (xvii).

Mock therefore cuts a complex figure. Her life story is an example of the American Dream, of overcoming the disadvantages of poverty and family instability to emerge as a beautiful, probably rich lifestyle figure, with handsome lover in tow. Concurrently, in a recent interview in The Guardian, Mock spoke about her determination to represent African-American trans experience, with her contribution to a new TV show with African-American trans actors, Pose. The interview was interesting in how Mock distances herself from the white, middle-class trans representations of Transparent (2014+) on Amazon Prime, finding those intersections not to be of interest to her. This opens up the question of what it is to be trans, of how intersections of ethnicity, income and nationality can make trans seem fragmented, and perhaps this is a reflection of how identity is constructed, and how identity is hardly as inclusive as those of more privileged positions like to imagine.
Excluded by Julia Serano
Trap Door
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Guest
Monday, 15 October 2018

Captcha Image

What's On This Week

My Latest Posts

First Man
October 14, 2018

First Man

October 14, 2018

First Man

First Man In an age of flag-waving white power, this film could have been a Trumpian Triumph of the Will , a paean to American greatness. But in focusing on Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling), his associates and his family, First Man is a curious thing: a gaze at the tree, rather than the forest, in a way that feels substantial. From the ...
October 08, 2018

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born Before the film review, my background focus on its star. I love the work of Lady Gaga, up to and including the fluorescent brilliance of her album Artpop (2013). It coincided with an important period in my life, a year of upheaval when I realized I wouldn't live to please the norms of others anymore. Gaga's album was a sci-fi or...
October 06, 2018

The Whiteness of LGBT+ Spaces

The Whiteness of LGBT+ Spaces I'm not writing this in a fit of white self-hate. I've noticed recently that as a transgender white person, I inhabit mainly all-white spaces. I unconsciously select the company of those I'll have things in common with – company that's identifiable to me, company that feels unconsciously familiar. I may not like this p...
September 30, 2018

Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain

in Books

Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain As someone whose childhood was in the 1980s, I remember the decade with rose-tinted glasses: as a child in Wales, you knew that Thatcher(ism) was evil, and you heard about mass unemployment and factory closures – including in my home town with the closure of the local steel plant and coal mines – bu...
September 23, 2018

Resisting Whiteness

Resisting Whiteness (Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh) Organized by a collective of queer and trans people of colour in Edinburgh and Glasgow, yesterday's Resisting Whiteness combined both conference and safe-space for people of colour to discuss generally (but not only) LGBTQIA+ issues seldom if ever discussed in white-majority spaces. A sell-out thre...
BlacKkKlansman
September 16, 2018

BlacKkKlansman

September 16, 2018

BlacKkKlansman

  BlacKkKlansman In an age of the absence of subtlety, BlacKkKlansman is arguably the perfect movie to tackle the issue of racism in America. It presents a black-and-white world of good versus evil, of racism and its opposite, in a clear-cut binary relationship. The cops – with one clear exception – are reasonable, anti-racist people, while th...
The Other Slavery
September 09, 2018

The Other Slavery

in Books

September 09, 2018

The Other Slavery

in Books

The Other Slavery by Andres Resendez My first feelings about the Native or First Nation Americans come in waves of visualizations. The names different tribes gave to the months: Geese Flying Moon; Strawberry Moon. They conjure up colours and movements come alive upon infinite midnight plains. The cruelty of European settlers intervenes. My reading ...
Fragments
September 02, 2018

Fragments

September 02, 2018

Fragments

  Fragments Yesterday evening I completed my move across town from one apartment to another. The experience was, and continues to be, disorientating. I guess everyone needs a place to call home. I start from scratch, again. I woke up from an anxiety nightmare early this morning. Soon after, was lying on the floor doing stre...
August 31, 2018

Forbidden Androgynies

Forbidden Androgynies Growing up in the 1980s, I remember particular cartoons that seemed indispensable and which even today seem impressively cool in their inventiveness. In no particular order, these include the disturbingly Satanic Thundercats with female icon Cheetara , as well as the more gently uplifting Dungeons and Dragons – with the wonder...