In 2014, the Huffington Post interviewed Janet Mock in regard to her childhood and growing up as a transgender woman. The interview revolves around questions pertaining to Mock’s struggles to portray her femininity as a child. She always knew that she wanted to express herself as a woman, and as feminine, but she was not always able to due to pressures to conform to the stereotypes associated with being a young boy. For example, instead of playing football, Mock preferred to dress up in women’s clothing and pretend to be her female alter-ego, Keisha. In the interview, Mock recognizes that parents often have a hard time allowing their children to openly express themselves. Although her mother and other family members allowed Mock to express herself openly while she lived in Hawaii, her father did not allow her to act feminine while she lived with him in the mainland United States.
Mock explains that her father is a Southern, Baptist man who did not want his children to act like “sissies.” She explains that her father’s constant reminder of her acting like a “sissy” was one of the first labels in which she was exposed to, which, in turn, numbed her to the more severe labels that people would use to describe her in the future. In essence, Mock believes that his gender policing was a way of showing his love for her; her father did not want Mock to be ridiculed by society for acting differently than most boys. Mock also reflects on the letter that she sent to her father upon telling him that she was a woman who wanted to be called Janet. In the letter, Mock explains that she couldn’t talk to her father anymore if he didn’t accept her for who she was truly was. Much to her surprise, her father responded that he will always love her, because that is his job as a father. Although it took time for Mock’s father to adjust to this change, he now does outreach within the black community in which he lives. She notes that her father’s community, and many others like it, have not been taught about transgender issues. For example, Mock recounts that her father had to explain to her uncles why Janet is a woman. By being educated on transgender issues and out of love for his daughter, Mock’s father was able to transform his views. Through education and first-hand accounts of the struggles that transgender individuals face, Mock is hopeful that society as a whole will learn to fully accept transgender individuals. She emphasizes that individuals must learn of transgender individuals’ stories directly from the source and not through a filtered media story.
Janet Mock was constantly criticized by her father when she was living under his supervision. She was unable to truly express herself, which resulted in feelings of uneasiness. As previously mentioned, Mock notes that her father’s gender policing was his way of showing that he loved her. Despite the fact that this was his way of protecting her, it is dangerous for parents to police their child’s gender. In Mock’s case, her father was attempting to force Mock to act and look like someone she was not. Consequently, these attitudes limited Mock’s ability to express herself freely and without fear of disproval and backlash from her father. She felt as though she could not share her physical and emotional struggles with her father, which, as described in her memoir, heavily impacted her perception of herself. For instance, in Redefining Realness, Mock recalls an encounter with her father following his discovery that she had a female alter-ego named Keisha:
My father’s thoughts filled the car: My son is an effeminate boy pretending to be a girl in front of other boys, so he must be gay right? Uncertainty rode shotgun in our conversation. As a tween, I was living in the murkiness of sexuality and gender. I knew I was viewed as a boy. I knew I liked boys. I knew I felt like a girl. Like many trans people, I hadn’t learned terms like trans, transgender, or transsexual – definitions that would have offered me clarity about my gender identity…Regardless, gay was foreign enough to my father – a proud black man raised in a Southern Baptist home – that I can’t imagine proclaiming I was trans would’ve put him at ease (Mock 80).
Given his background, Mock understood that even if she fully grasped her gender identity at the time, stating that she was trans would not have assuaged her father’s concerns. He was uncomfortable about the fact that she may be gay, so it is not likely that he would even fathom the idea of Janet being trans. Out of fear and a desire to please her father, Mock would only express her femininity in environments that were not surveilled by her father. By hiding her true identity, Mock was not able to live openly as her true self under her father’s supervision.
Also, it is important to analyze Mock’s concluding comments in the interview regarding education through first-hand accounts from transgender people. With transgender people taking on the role of being educators, they can relay their struggles and accomplishments to the public in order to promote a more accepting society. The media tends to insert biases into their news segments on the experiences of transgender people, which can positively or negatively skew the intended message. Additionally, some media sources promote strong feelings against transgender people through blatant disrespect. By having transgender people provide first-hand accounts of their lives, the cisgender majority will likely realize that they are not inherently different than their trans counterparts. In turn, this will pave the way for more cisgender people to become allies with transgender people.
Mock, Janet. Redefining realness: My path to womanhood, identity, love & so much more. Simon and Schuster, 2014.
“Janet Mock Opens Up About Her Dad’s Gender Policing.” uploaded by HuffPost Live, 12 February 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1YbgeJsckI.