By Jonathan Edmondson
Arts & Entertainment Editor
For most students, Thursday, March 12, was a pretty normal day. It included studying for midterms and packing for home, all the while anxiously awaiting the moment they could finally begin their respite from the College for a few days.
Others, however, had coffee with the New York Times bestselling author and transgender rights activist Janet Mock.
Mock, who visited the campus to give a lecture in Kendall Hall, met with students and faculty in the Biology Building Lounge prior to the event for a series of intimate conversations.
Donning stiletto heels and a trendy outfit, Mock walked into the room and was greeted with enthusiasm and smiles by inspired students clutching her book to their chests.
In February of 2014, Mock published her memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.” Many professors in the Women’s and Gender Studies department assigned Mock’s book to their syllabi this semester — a decision that was met with positive acclaim. Students were eager for the chance to talk to Mock one-on-one, including members of PRISM, who co-sponsored the event.
Later in the evening, Mock took the stage in Kendall Hall and was met with thunderous applause.
“Thanks for putting me ahead of ‘Shondaland,’” Mock laughed, referring to the Thursday night block of television that students were missing to see her lecture.
Mock’s lecture, “Our Bodies, Our Lives: Trans Women’s Legacy at the Intersections,” focused on Mock’s life and included a brief history of transgender rights activism.
Growing up in Hawaii, Mock faced conflicts with her community and family when she embraced her gender identity.
“It became a constant battle. It was something that went on from 11 years old until I was 16 or 17,” Mock explained in a private interview with The Signal before the lecture.
Yet the struggles she faced did not stop her from having success in her personal and professional life. Mock attended The University of Hawaii for journalism and later continued her studies at New York University.
“I think journalism became the track that I chose because it was a practical way to work as a writer,” Mock said. “I got internships at magazines that I read growing up and I guess People Magazine was my first major job, and I was there for a bit over five years working as a staff editor.”
While Mock enjoyed her time working for the magazine, she longed for something more substantial — a desire that led her to tell her own story.
In 2011, Mock came out publicly in an issue of Marie Claire magazine, which served as one of the her first major steps to becoming a transgender activist.
“Everyone that I loved in my own personal life knew my story, so I felt safe there … The next level was more of a political level,” Mock said. “Having worked in media so long, I never saw a story that represented me, that felt like me, and this was probably what also led me to writing my book. But it was Toni Morrison who said that ‘If there’s a story or book that you have never been able to read, then you should go out and write it.’”
Mock further explained that she wanted to publish her story specifically in Marie Claire because it is one of the smartest womens magazines on the market.
“I felt it was important that a transwoman takes up space as part of womanhood in a magazine that is for women, so that was vital to me. It was kind of the first step in me then being able to write my own story on my own terms in the memoir,” Mock said. “Journalism gave me really unique tools to make complicated concepts or life experiences accessible to people who may not have lived those same life experiences. My training as a journalist really helped me tell my story in a way that almost anyone who could read English could get.”
Publication of her wildly popular memoir was a catalyst for Mock’s success as both a writer and a trans-activist. After publication, Mock accepted a position as contributing editor for Marie Claire magazine. She also hosts a weekly culture show on MSNBC called “So POPular,” and is a correspondent for “Entertainment Tonight.” She has been featured in many publications, including being named one of the “12 new faces of black leadership” in Time magazine.
Yet even Mock admits that her success has been “exceptional” and outside the norm for most transgender individuals. This is why she continues to tour the country, speaking at universities in hopes to educate, spread awareness and give advice to anyone grappling with gender or sexual identity.
“My biggest piece of advice would be that nothing is wrong with you, that your experience of self, identity and community is valid and that you should surround yourself with people who validate you and affirm you,” Mock said.
After hearing Mock’s journey, it’s clear that she is living a happy and fulfilling life, and hopes for the same for those around the world.
“We need more spaces of affirmation — building that communal support and care that you need, whether it’s through friends, a GSA group or great teachers and counselors who kind of ‘get it,’” Mock said.
“I think that’s what we need more of — people who kind of ‘get it.’”