Janet Mock wants gender non-conforming individuals to be seen as more than 'sidekicks or martyrs' on TV

A 15-year-old trans girl stood before her high school classmates and grabbed the microphone to publicly present her true identity for the first time. Her name was Janet Mock.

“I acknowledged to my classmates and to my peers that I know you all knew me in a certain way in the 9th grade, but this is who I am now,” Mock tells MAKERS. “When I look back, that kind of self-assuredness still kind of stuns me. I couldn’t imagine being a 15-year-old standing on such a stage, going through these life experiences and telling people to respect my name, my pronouns, and my gender.”

That wouldn’t be the last time Mock would proudly share her story. After two best-selling memoirs, Mock is bringing her point of view and her passion to the FX series Pose. As the first trans woman of color to write and direct for a scripted series, Mock is working to redefine the narrative around gender non-conforming individuals not as “sidekicks or martyrs,” she says. “They are the heroines, and they are the heroines that I’ve been looking for.”

Growing up in Honolulu as one of five children raised by a native Hawaiian mom and black Navy Seal dad, Mock recognized early on that she was a girl.” All that I knew as a three-year-old was that I had an affinity to express my femininity and my gender in a world where, often times, I think that the people charged with my care weren’t equipped enough to think beyond the gender binary,” Mock says of her childhood. “I didn’t have language that told me that I was trans,” she says. “I didn’t have depictions or images of trans people.”

But with the support of her childhood friend Wendi and her mother, the summer after her freshman year of high school, “I finally began to socially and medically transition. I was going by Janet, I was taking hormones, I was living my life in my true identity and my true gender.”

After receiving her master’s degree in journalism at New York University, the writer believed she was well on her way to achieving her dreams of becoming Carrie Bradshaw writing celebrity profiles for People magazine. “I think I hid behind the stories of very famous people and telling their stories in a way to survive and not tell my own,” says Mock. But after a string of LGBTQ suicides started surfacing in the headlines, she felt it was time to talk about her journey in a personal essay for Marie Claire in 2011. “It shifted and changed my life when I decided to step forward for the first time as an adult and say that I’m a trans woman that made it,” she explains.

In her debut memoir Redefining Realness, she aimed to write a story she never found for herself. “I wanted to create a text that reflected the 12-year-old girl I was with my library card, wanting to see myself on the bookshelves, wanting to read about my story, and wanting a semblance of, ‘I see you and I hear you, and you’re deserving of being seen and heard,'” says Mock.

In 2017, everyone was listening to Mock as she stood on her biggest stage yet. Before a crowd of at least 470,000 at the Women’s March in Washington D.C., Mock unapologetically declared exactly who she was — a “trans-woman-writer-activist-revolutionary of color.” Mock called for intersectional feminism, demanding justice and liberation for all her sisters — no matter their gender, race, or sexuality.

Now she’s working behind the camera to deliver her message on Pose.

“I just knew that this is what I was supposed to do…that I should be in the writers’ room to write a series that, for the first time, centers trans women — not as a sidekicks or as the martyrs who die to teach the cis-gender characters what it means to be brave and to be oneself,” Mock says. “To sit behind those monitors and to watch them say words that I have always wanted to say, but never had the courage or the ability to say in that same way, is really inspiring.”

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