By Andrea Plaid
The lyrics to the Mary Tyler Moore Show were written several decades too early–or really, really prescient. I contend that the woman in those lyrics refer to is this week’s Crush, trans activist and writer–and Mad Men fan–Janet Mock:
Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it’s you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it
Fab Janet graciously took time out of her busy, busy schedule to answer a few of my questions. But first, I had to get her vibe on something and a fashion scoop. Read on…
Gurl, can I first say “Thank you!” for being there for and with me on Melissa Harris-Perry!! I felt so much more comforted seeing your face when I got to the Green Room! How did you think the MHP‘s “Scandal Watch Party” went this past Saturday? And I have to ask the question on quite a few minds that day: where did you get your dress?
Wasn’t it a phenomenal space to be in? Beyond just the five of us on camera discussing a show we shamelessly adore, I was gagging over the brilliance of the women of color behind the scenes who made this moment possible for all of us to bask in. So shout-outs are in order for MHP staffers! I wish I could’ve been able to discuss my love for Olitz and their chemistry and the whole scandalous, out-of-this-world, only-in-Shonda’s-head, star-crossed lovers thing. I wish I was also able to discuss the fact that Olivia is shattering other stereotypes too, like the fact that she was on the swim team in high school and keeps her laid mane in check via swim cap plus a fierce white one-piece swimsuit. Get into her style, honey!
I was surprised by the number of #nerdland tweets about my dress, which was a purple sheath from NastyGal.com. It was a nod to Kerry Washington’s first appearance on MHP Show, in which she wore a purple leather frock. Gorg!
You’ve had a heck of a 2012, and 2013 is blazing as well: your online activism has been (rightfully) recognized, if not awarded; you’ve sat on panels at or keynoted some major events, like Facing Race last November; you just turned 30; you’ve appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry twice (so far). Did you think any of this would come about since the Marie Claire story about your transition back in 2011?
I still pinch myself from time to time when opportunities like appearing on Melissa Harris-Perry or delivering a Women’s History Month keynote are presented to me. Just two years ago, I was an editor at People.com who was actually fearful about inviting the world into my life, into my truth. It took years of centering myself, creating a solid base of friends and family, and lots of self-reflection through writing to step forward in that Marie Claire piece, which helped shift the direction of my path. I think the reaction–the good and the not-so-good, all of which I could’ve never predicted–is a testament to the power of storytelling, to the power of using your voice and finding your people, and the power of unapologetically being who you are.
From my standpoint, I feel women like Monica Roberts, Isis King, and you have deeply shifted the conversations about trans women of color and, through that, changed conversations about trans people. I just can’t imagine, say, GLAAD being the inaugural sponsor of the newly released “Trans 100” list if not for your work. What’s your perspective on that?
I grew up with a lack of representation. There was not a single trans woman I could look up to who represented me in all of my intersections – and who did it fiercely and fearlessly. That’s part of the reason why I was restless to open up when I did. After telling my story, I’ve been able to share space and sistership and counsel with women like Monica Roberts and Isis King, like Reina Gossett and Bali White, like Monika MHz London and Laverne Cox, like Andy Marra and Kiara St. James–powerful women of color who are also trans and doing work on the ground and/or in the media to offer their voices and experiences that expand our collective idea of womanhood. I’m proud to come from a long line of women who are not just fighting for trans rights but also social justice rights as well because we come from low-income, overlooked communities of color who are still struggling, and I think by offering our diverse perspectives we’re unapologetically pushing this entire movement to be more inclusive in their strategies. I’m just committed to standing alongside my sisters in all I do and being unapologetic in my stance towards an intersectional approach.
In your lifetime, how have you noticed the images of trans women, specifically trans women of color, change in pop culture?
It’s obviously not where it needs to be–at all –just like the images of women of color are not where they need to be. Rarely do trans women of color break into pop culture with the intention to entertain, inspire and educate. Often in primetime TV, if a trans woman is shown she is usually white. It’s as if show runners believe that being trans is exotic enough so a trans woman of color is viewed as not being palatable enough for a “mainstream” audience. We need to push for wider inclusion in our storytelling, and a long-term solution would be–taking a note from Shondaland–creating our own images. I hope that trans women continue creating the images and stories and entertainment that we yearn to see.
On a positive note: I’m grateful for Harmony Santana, who was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Gun Hill Road, Isis King, who appeared on two cycles of America’s Next Top Model, Leiomy Maldonado from MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. These women appeared on highly watched, visible projects that helped shift the image of what’s possible for young trans women of color.
In your opinion, what conversations do you think Black women are and aren’t having about womanhood, femininity, and feminism?
We all need to be kinder to ourselves and to one another. Often times when I’m reading online media I notice that there seems to be a lot of policing in regards to our bodies, our hair, our skin, our bougie or ratchedness, etc. I feel we’re hard on one another and coupled with the hostility, neglect and oppressions of the world we live in, there’s a lack of space to grow, share testimony, offer affirmation and love. We need to elevate beyond this mindset that there is a perfect kind of woman or black woman because she does not exist. Being fully who I am does not negate who you are. Own who you are and I will own who I am and I will applaud who you are and we will be stronger as a community of women because of it. I look to projects like Michaela Angela Davis’ MADFree conversations and Beverly Bond’s Black Girls Rock as examples of how we can foster that love with one another, intergenerationally as well. We are all mirrors, seeing and reflecting ourselves within and outside of each other. Those varying reflections make us collectively more beautiful and powerful.
Check out the rest of the interview on the R’s Tumblr!