Redefining Realness (My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More): Part 1/ Intro to Chapter 6 – Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)

48.78% (18)

Overview

In the intro, Janet Mock introduces herself in her own terms and prepares you for the journey ahead.

Review (with Spoilers)

Let me first say the following things: I am not transsexual so reading this book is a journey for me in order to gain some sort of, for a lack of a better term, “understanding.” With that said, realize that Mock’s story isn’t universal, as she says, and though she is giving a view of her world and life, she, from what it seems, isn’t giving you “Trans 101.”

Now, with that said, I know of only four people who are transsexual. The woman who was on Dirty, Sexy, Money; Chaz Bono; Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black; and now Janet Mock. So while they are visible to me, often times they are playing a character who, before Cox’s role, were trying to pass. And as for Bono, he was just someone who would randomly pop up on a talk show I was watching and then would disappear from my media viewing for years at a time. So, this book is really my first, and perhaps yours as well, real look into a Trans person’s life. And seemingly, like Maya Angelou’s biographies, Mock seems to be trying to tell her story as fully as she can and with that, let’s go over the intro.

Characters & Story

In the intro, we don’t touch the story yet, but Mock goes over her “Coming Out” when one Kierna Mayo wrote the Marie Claire article “I was born a boy” in 2011. Now, for those of you familiar with Mock’s appearances on Piers Morgan, she paints her reaction to the situation in a similar manner to how she reacted to Piers. With putting herself out there, to Mayo in this case, she opened up about one of her vulnerabilities since she was passing at the time and only intimate friends and relations knew she was trans. So, upon seeing the article, there wasn’t outrage over the title, seemingly, but more a weird mix of being glad she spoke up, but at the same time wondering who is this person being painted?

And this complex of trying to speak your truth, and yet society painting you as “other” seems to be what maybe the running theme is going to be. For, as she notes, while she speaks on her trans identity and seeks community, she is ostracized as an other, but not in a negative way. She is an other like Barack Obama is an other. Her “otherness” is an exception. She is a passing transgendered who fits all the check list of being respectable in White society. She can speak well, is well educated, dresses appropriately, and seems non-threatening. But, even with the privileges she has, Mock seems to want to venture in this journey on how despite where we see her as now, things weren’t a golden road with rose petals and money all abound. No, the Janet Mock you see today took decades to evolve into, and that is the person who we will see, not the mock in her present state, but the Mock who struggled to find herself in a world which refused for her truth to be fact.

Things To Note

I’m not sure what you would call my writing style or voice, but if I say something problematic, do tell me. If you don’t call people out, they end up thinking what they are doing is acceptable.

Also, rather than have this be a weekend feature, I’m moving the book, chapter by chapter, overview/ reviews to Thursday. And, as of now, it will be this book then the Game of Thrones series.


New York, 2009

Overview

Not since reading Maya Angelou’s biography have I been so visually captured by someone’s story to the point of seeing every movement and action play out like cinema.

Review (with Spoilers)

In “New York, 2009” we are still flirting with the presentation of Janet Mock. For, as of now, she is giving us surface level information. She tells us she is insecure, but we don’t know fully why yet. We see her in love, but am not sure if her being Trans is why she fears intimacy with Aaron, her secrets, or perhaps past relationships. And while she goes into Aaron’s personal stories, yet has to be revealed of her’s. But, at the end of the chapter she signals, that it is time for us to really get to know her.

Characters & Story

The focus of this chapter is her romance with boyfriend Aaron. He is described as her dream man who has the look which can’t be penned as neither Dominican nor Brazilian. He dreams of living a life in which he owns horses and perhaps has a similar life to the one he had in North Dakota on his family’s farm. And meanwhile, Mock is just so taken by him, both visually, and perhaps emotionally, that even with the fear of him leaving when her secret is revealed, she decides it would be better to live in the dream as long as possible. But, after 3 weeks, and almost having a sexual encounter, she feels it is time.

And all together, Mock seemingly is prepping us for a story which perhaps is a reiteration of what she told Aaron, but with additional thoughts, quotes, and details. For, in my opinion, the way she speaks in the book is very intimate. In comparison to Angelou, when Angelou spoke I felt like, while she was being open, her book was more about telling her story from an elder’s point of view, and her openness was all a lesson to be taught. Mock, on the other hand, I won’t say she speaks to you like a friend, but more so like an acquaintance who she is slowly testing.

What I mean is, I don’t know how many of you make friends, but I feel like Mock in this pursuit of openness and vulnerability is seeing what we can handle right now. We know she is Trans, used to just pass and wasn’t open about her evolution, and this almost vulnerable caution is her attempt at showing the more human side. For, as Mock said during her chat with Laverne Cox at the NYU LGBTQ Student Center, there are many sides to her outside of just being Trans. And while, yes, this is what has her name out there now, there is a multitude of layers to this girl from Hawaii. One who loved celebrity gossip, seemed to frame her ideas of romance based on movies, tv shows, and likely was disappointed every time a guy never met this standard. And, lest we forget, there is a story within her which needs to be told. And yes, part of that story deals with being Trans, but while that maybe what many have used for an enticing angle, I think, while she wishes to address that part of her story, I don’t think the idea here is to fully make that the be all to end all. Which will allow us to know Janet Mock the person, and not just Janet Mock the Trans, QWOC (Queer Women of Color – Assuming that applies), activist.


Chapter 1

Overview

Introducing the siblings of Janet Mock, and early childhood memories.

Review (with Spoilers)

Mock takes us to 1989, a time in which she was just a kindergartner, and accepted being called Charles. However, throughout the chapter, it is noted in little moments how she knew she maybe wasn’t properly assigned. Be it the fascination of the femininity of her mother and grandmother, be it their close, personality or actions, or just something innate which even after 30 years maybe can’t be properly explained, either way, though going by a different name, we get to know Mock and begin out journey with her.

Characters & Story

We begin with Janet, who rarely if ever will be referred to as Charles, when she was 5 years old. She is the middle child of her mother, one who had two children before her and seemingly two children after. She was her father’s 4th and mother’s 3rd, and though Mock names each sibling, it seems her 1 year younger brother Chad maybe the closest family member. Outside of him, though, a young Hawaiian girl named Marilyn plays her best friend. And through her Mock notes one of her many first experiments with womanhood which came from being dared to try on a dress.

And with this chapter, I feel Mock is trying to present what some may call “Edutainment.” With her story bringing you in, she interlaces a bit of knowledge in there as she explains gender binary, the terms cisgender and, as I said in an earlier overview/ review, ease us into getting to know her.

One thing I must note though is how I find myself finding her story familiar. In the last overview/ review I noted a comparison to Maya Angelou and with Mock’s story, I get a similar feeling. You have a mother who is graceful, beautiful, and the one person our writer wanted the most, but seemingly couldn’t keep the company of. You have a grandmother who was as much, if not more, of a parental figure than the mother, and then you have a father who certainly was cared about, but seemingly never grew fully out of his teen years.

Overall

But, as much as comparisons are easy, Mock is really driving us toward a story which differs from Angelou’s. After all, the backdrop and final destination is different. Mock’s story may have a similar foundation, but it is written as a retrospective and made to educate. Angelou, meanwhile, her story mixed in with the times and environment to the point each location was given a life of its own. As for Mock, she is the star and everyone else has strong roles, but it seems the background is made to just help pain the picture rather than create a 3D landscape.

Either way, I’m quite in love with the book thus far to the point I may increase the number of chapters done in a week for just one day alone feels like not enough.

Collected Quotes

“Truth or dare was more than a game; it was our way as kids to learn intimacy and trust.”

— Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 1 – Page 18


Chapter 2

Overview

Janet introduces us to her relationship with her father, and a boy who changed her life forever.

Trigger Warning(s): Child molestation

Review (with Spoilers)

The difficulty of reading a book like this is that not only is someone bearing themselves to you but doing so with such detail that it feels foreign. I mean, how often does a stranger open up to you about some of the darkest periods of their life? Sometimes, family members, and loved ones, hold secrets to their grave and never seek an outlet to reveal their story to someone, so at least someone has an understanding on why they act a certain way, say certain things, or have become the person they have become. But, based on this chapter, Mock seems willing and open about everything. And while the details aren’t graphic, they are vivid enough for a point to come across in a way where you can almost sense a still living sense of shame, even though she is the survivor now and not the victim.

Characters & Story

We pick up from where the last chapter left off and now Chad and the younger version of Mock are now living with his dad, his girlfriend, and her son. During these times Mock’s one solace was the fact she was smart. With this, she got praise in school and even at home. However, outside of this she seemingly got quite a bit of admonishment for her being, as he dad called it, “a sissy.” And with this, Mock begins to illustrate, once more, how gender norms are enforced at even an early age. Just looking at the TV at the time, being that she identified as a woman she saw the top echelon for herself being a secretary, though she admits she wanted to more so be Claire Huxtable.

But, while Mock continues to educate us about the conflict of who she thought she was and what everything thinks she is, so comes the issue of his dad’s girlfriend, Janine, and her son, Derek. Janine is a maternal surrogate for Mock and she vicariously learns, once more, about femininity through a woman who isn’t necessarily trying to teach it to her, but perhaps taking pleasure in a sweet child who seems to only want the simplest forms of attention and affection. For Janine, she spent time with Mock in the form of Mock oiling her scalp and being the gentle soul who played the opposite to Mock’s father’s coarseness. Then there is Derek. Though a figure who at first seems rather aloof, due to the age difference and perhaps not being fond of some man he doesn’t know well living in his home, he becomes something more to Mock. No not a comforting older brother matching the sweetness of Janine, something worse. Something which seemingly marks many an important figure in this world, especially those who consider themselves women. Derek introduced Mock, who isn’t no more than 7, to sex. Though there is no penetration, there is a grinding and not enough details to make the situation vulgar, but enough details to make you feel disgusted with the image you paint of the scene. Perhaps the saddest part though is the guilt from the situation seemingly lives more in Mock, seeing this as punishment for her sissy ways, more than Derek. At least for now.

Collected Quotes

“I’ve heard parents say all they want is “the best” for their children, but the best is subjective and anchored by how they know and learned the world.”

—           Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 2 – Page 39

“[…] I felt that nothing in a classroom could conquer or deter me except my talkative manner and undying need to be told I was exceptional.”

— Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 2 – Page 37

“The crux of our conflict lay in the fact that we each couldn’t be who we wanted the other to be.”

—           Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 2 – Page 31

“’Sissy’ became one of the first epithets thrown at me with regularity. My father would say ‘Stop being a sissy’ with the same ease as he’d say ‘I love you, baby!’”

—           Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 2 – Page 31


Chapter 3

Overview

In this chapter, Mock talks in detail about her experiences with Derek and one of her first crushes.

Trigger Warning(s): Details of Sexual Abuse

Review (with Spoilers)

This was a hard chapter to read, especially considering the details involved. From her molestation by her older brother to her seeking validation and affection through sex at ten, to not be left a bit speechless is hard. But, with every story, there is a lesson and though the story portion maybe hard to get through, the lesson needs to be taught.

Characters & Story

The chapter details Mock’s experience with sex picking up right after Derek first preyed on her. From there, she was used on a nearly nightly basis as this young man used her vulnerability to his whim. And Mock explains how a child, knowing something perhaps isn’t right, will continue to do it. For her, it was the validation of her girlhood. Which I say with such an amount of uncomfortableness. If just because, it seems that alongside Mock’s schema of womanhood, at the time, meaning that a secretary perhaps is the best job for a woman, perhaps being a sexual object, because of Derek, also got written into the schematics.

I say this because, once Derek got tired of her and she had a crush on boy from the neighborhood, a few years older though seemingly not as old as Derek, she found sex to be a way to show affection. And with the story of that boy, named Junior, I feel she is foreshadowing to the many issues which come with emerging gay identity. Such as, Junior liked the fact Mock was giving him “favors” for a lack of a better term but didn’t consider himself gay, especially because he was on the receiving end. With that, I think we may venture into Mock’s relationship with men, possibly some on the down low, as well as others who may have had issues with their sexuality.

But, if there is one thing she wants to make clear after telling this story is that the fabled, “sexual abuse is what caused you to be ______” isn’t true. Her feelings of womanhood happened long before Junior and Derek, and as she notes, Derek, in the worse way possible, dragged her through a threshold, in which she discovered her sexuality a bit earlier than maybe she should have. However, she notes that her sexuality and gender are two different things and goes into the complexities of the two to a science. Leaving us, as always, educated, and I would say entertained but just the idea of associating entertainment with someone’s story of abuse sounds horrible. So let’s say, instead, enlightened until a better word appears appropriate.
Collected Quotes

“I was prime prey. He could smell the isolation on me, and I was lured into believing the illusion that he truly saw me. I was a child, dependent, learning, unknowing, trusting, and willing to do what was asked of me to gain approval and affection.”

— Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 3 – Page 47

As a survivor of sexual abuse, I developed a belief system that shaped how I viewed myself: I can gain attention through sexual acts; my worth lies in how good I can make someone else feel, even if that means I’m void of feeling; what I do in bed is shameful and secret, therefore I will remain in the dark, a constant shameful secret.”

Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 3 – Page 46-47

 


Chapter 4

Overview

Mock refocuses on her dad, and her relationship with him, as he begins to take away her rose colored glasses view of him.

Review (with Spoilers)

Unlike most of the chapters in this book, this one didn’t feel like it was a story paired with a lesson. It seemed more focused on Mock reminiscing about her father and trying to, perhaps, repair the image we have of him. I say this because, thus far, he seems like one of the first people to really have affected her in terms of her understanding her gender and, through him putting her in the environment with Derek, he also was the catalyst for many other things which had a strong effect on her life. With that said, let’s talk about the story.

Characters & Story

It has now been two years since Mock and Chad have moved to Oakland to live with their father and the year is 1992. Mock is excelling in elementary school and seemingly is starting to develop a better relationship with her father. However, as the years wear on, so does the look of her environment. No longer does the area have a middle-class look, nor the people. Crackheads roam the street, the houses are starting to look less maintained, and Mock finds even her life changed. She is no longer in new outfits every year, but maybe just getting a shirt or a pair of pants. Then comes the changes in her dad, the man who went to work in a uniform daily was now the man sneaking a crack pipe into her and Chad’s room to hide his addiction.

With this, her world is changed. The hero loses their cape and reveals the man behind the suit. One which, oddly enough, doesn’t hide his flaw, but does try to instill in his kids that such things are his weakness, and not to be there’s. However, the sight doesn’t take away from the stigma they, and society, has on her father. Being a crack head seemed to be something many mothers were, and yet here her daddy is smoking a pipe. The way people talk about her dad may not lessen his value to her, but it does remind her that there are many chinks in the armor of Super Dad.

His actions though were the most troubling. His usual charismatic nature was now questionably the effect of him being on drugs, leading her to question what was he like before the drugs came into his life. Such things aren’t answered since no before is ever talked about. What we are left with though is the idea that, perhaps now spending two years with the young Mock, he has learned to accept Mock’s personality and lets it be known his love for his kids is fact, and not a possible swaying opinion. Making what could be considered a dark time, just a tad bit more brighter.

Collected Quote(s)

“I became so used to being alone and depending on myself that I didn’t know how to ask for help.”

— Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 4 – Page 58


Chapter 5

Overview

Janet shifts the location of the story from Oakland to Dallas, and introduces her father’s family, in this chapter.

Review (with Spoilers)

In this chapter the narrative, to me, changes in such a way where it almost feel like Janet isn’t telling this story to Aaron, much less us, but instead having a therapeutic conversation with her dad a little bit. If just because there are occasional interjections in which her dad is talking about what happened during the chapter’s timeframe, and putting his spin on things. Still, it doesn’t ruin the chapter at all, if just because there isn’t much to the chapter for it mostly is used to transition us from leaving Janine’s house in Oakland to us learning about the Mock family in Dallas, Texas.

Characters & Story

The year is 1993 and karma has struck Derrick for he ends up shot but doesn’t die. However, between the rising violence, and a drug addiction, Mock’s dad decides it is time to leave for his hometown of Dallas, Texas. With this, sadly there is no goodbye to Janine or anyone who might have mattered to Mock, but with her arrival in Dallas comes a huge amount of family members to play with and emulate.

The ones, in particular, Mock grows close to are: her grandma Shellie, aunt Linda Gail and Aunt Joyce (occasionally referred to as Aunt Wee Wee). She, Aunt Wee Wee, in particular, had a great effect on the young Mock for she was the first woman in Mock’s family to really introduce Mock to an evolved form of womanhood. Thus far, womanhood for Mock was about the useful secretary or about being seen as a sex object. Her aunts and grandmother though presented a different side. One of the strong Black woman, one who may struggle, but always has a reason to laugh, and with Aunt Wee Wee allowing little Mock to join the rest of the ladies in the kitchen, it seems Mock finally found some blood who gave her the ability to belong.

Of course, though, being that her aunts and grandma were much older than her, while you can be inspired by them, they are hard, and unpractical, to fully emulate. So, her older cousin Makayla fit that role and with Makayla having quite the roster, Mock used one of the boys to practice being a young woman. Albeit only over the phone, but this first taste of non-sexual intimacy, sort of speak, perhaps makes it seem this move to Dallas wasn’t just good for her father, but her as well.

But, even with this move to Dallas, her father remained her father and the text interjects his frame of mind at the time from a point of view which seems modern. Be it her father noting how he didn’t really like her at the time or knew that she would become who she was, he admits many faults in his person, and yet peppered throughout you can see Mock still has this desire to be all her father could want, while trying to be herself.

Making for an overall good chapter. It strangely didn’t contain any type of speech about gender norms, or anything educational, but at the same time, would we really want repeat lessons?

Collected Quotes

“My grandmother and my two aunts were an exhibition in resilience and resourcefulness and Black womanhood. They rarely talked about the unfairness of they rarely talked about the unfairness of the world with the words that I use now with my social justice friends, words like intersectionality and equality, oppression, and discrimination. They didn’t discuss those things because they were too busy living it, navigating it, surviving it.”

—           Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 5 – Page 65

“My father, though he didn’t have the words, couldn’t understand why I would choose to be feminine when masculinity was privileged. What I had to negotiate at a young age was embracing who I was while rejecting whom others thought I should be.”

—           Redefining Realness: Part One/ Chapter 5 – Page 73


Chapter 6

Overview

As the summer comes to an end, so does the existence of Keisha.

Review (with Spoilers)

The chapter ends part one of Janet’s story, with her being 11. From what we have read thus far, Janet’s experiences with love have been unhealthy in various ways. Practically abandoned by her mother, being raised by a father whose traditional male values were demeaning and fearful, and then with Derrick’s molestation of her, a warped sense of what love was entered into her mind. But, in this chapter things seem to be on the verge of changing. For even with Keisha’s existence being wiped, she did provide the schematics for who Janet Mock would be.

Characters & Story

It is still summer time in Dallas, and after a few bumps in understanding love, Janet, still playing the role of Keisha, seems to have finally found some puppy love appropriate for her age. One young man named Jamie, described as golden brown and very curious about Mock’s hair, seemed to provide her first in-person experience with being a crush. And while in the past there was the boy in Oakland, it is hard to really look at that situation without it being tainted by Derek’s teachings.

Alas, with Mock playing the role of Keisha, and young Jamie quite taken with her, with him trying to say goodbye he blows her cover. And, perhaps in his first attempt to understand his daughter, Janet’s father asks if she is gay? Something which didn’t seem like a comfortable label, especially since being trans was unknown to her at the time. But, even with her dad’s slight attempt to understand her, out come the clippers and away goes Mock’s girly locks.

This new look though isn’t wasted, for after many years of abandonment, Janet’s mother finally decided to communicate with her kids, and since her new life seems to be settled, she is ready to have her boys back. With this though comes the need to leave dear old dad, who may not have provided the best environment for Janet’s upbringing, but he sure did try. So with tears and sad goodbyes, he embraces his boys as they head back to Honolulu.

Leaving us with a chapter which goes back into an almost exploring narrative as Mock begins to come to the realization that something internally isn’t how it should be. For while she has feelings for men, she doesn’t consider herself gay, and yet there is something obviously not matching up. Thankfully, though, even if her dad took awhile to come around, she did find some solace in an understanding cousin, Mechelle, and the doting Aunt Wee Wee. But, with this being the end of Part One, should we expect Part Two to pick up during the teen years? Or will Mock slowly tread into the water once more with us, as she begins to really understand who she is?

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