Unsolicited advice for a newly out People.com editorTrans Progressive, Bottom Highlights Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
Commentary: Trans Progressive
Janet Mock has a career as a writer and journalist; she’s an editor for People.com. She’s young, beautiful and African American. Recently, she came out as a woman of transsexual experience.
Mock came out in conjunction with releasing a video for the It Gets Better project – a video series created by Dan Savage to address the rash of suicides by LGBT youth. She’s filled in some details of her coming out in an article with Marie Claire entitled I Was Born a Boy, where she explained why she came out:
“My coworkers don’t know about my past, mostly because I never wanted to be the poster child for transsexuals – pre-op, post-op or no op. But the recent stories about kids who have killed themselves because of the secrets they were forced to keep has shifted something in me.
“That’s why I decided to come out in the pages of Marie Claire, why I’m writing a memoir about my journey. It used to pain me to hear my birth name, a heartbreaking insult classroom bullies would shout to get a rise out of me. But talking and writing about my experiences have helped me finally accept the past and celebrate the fact that I was once a big dreamer who happened to be born a boy named Charles.
“I hope my story resonates with other big dreamers, lets them know that no matter how huge, how insane, how unreasonable or unreachable your goals may seem, nothing – not even your own body – can hold you back if you are certain and fearless and, yes, even a little ballsy in your quest.”
Among those new realities she will experience will be a partial loss of membership in the club of women. There are now going to be a large number of women who will forever now look at her not as a woman, but as a man in a dress. Those will include less than accepting coworkers who will smile to her face, and then viciously rip into her behind her back. And, members of the religious right will likely soon be calling Mock a “mutilated man,” and identify her relationship with her boyfriend as a “homosexual” relationship.
I’d advise her to be aware of these attacks on her womanhood and not take it too personally. As she already knows, she cannot allow western societal sex and gender norms dictate for her who she is and still be true to herself.
Mock will also experience being a celebrity in the T subcommunity of the LGBT community, as well as the broader LGBT community itself. There will be speaking requests. However, as she already knows from working as an editor and journalist in the entertainment field, the people who will want her as a speaker will often see her as a celebrity and not a whole human being.
I would advise her to only speak at, and accept awards from, organizations in which she completely agrees with their missions and visions, and don’t let others succeed in recreating her as a caricature of who she really is.
There is tension in transgender and transsexual communities over how to self-identify oneself, and much of it comes from trans women who identify as being of transsexual experience, but not transgender. These women don’t see themselves as having anything in common with drag queens, crossdressers and gender queer people. If Mock chooses not to sociopolitically identify as transgender – she hasn’t publicly identified herself as transgender to this point – I would remind her she was called by the antigay f-word pejorative during her transition.
People outside of the LGBT community often can’t tell gay men, drag queens, genderqueer people, crossdressers and transsexual women apart, and that’s an important thing to remember. If the message that Mock believes in really is a message of “It Gets Better” for LGBT teens, then even if she doesn’t identify as transgender she can embrace the humanity – the human dignity – of drag queens, crossdressers and genderqueer people, as well as pre-operative and non-operative transsexual people. She can fight for gay and non-transsexual, transgender teens even if she doesn’t identify as gay or transgender.
The 2009 death by suicide of the L.A. Times sportswriter who went by the names Mike Penner and Christine Daniels should hold significance for those of us who are publicly trans. I’d advise Mock to be aware there are serious pitfalls of being publicly trans, but the difference Mock knows she will make for trans youth in telling them “It Gets Better” is worth hazarding the pitfalls.
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