Transgender author, activist Janet Mock fills Commonwealth

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Gender, sexuality and women's studies department chair Jenny Putzi moderated a discussion with author and activist Janet Mock. COURTESY PHOTO/ANDREW UHRIG

Wednesday, April 11, transgender author and activist Janet Mock sat down in the Commonwealth Auditorium with gender, sexuality and women’s studies department chair Jenny Putzi to talk about her writing, her views on popular culture and her experiences as a famous activist.  

This event was sponsored and organized by Student Assembly. SA Undersecretary of Queer and Trans Affairs Andrew Uhrig ’20 and Class of 2018 President Laini Boyd ’18 sponsored The Janet Mock Act, which allocated $20,007 from SA reserves for Mock’s speaking fees, her lodging and for advertisements for the events.

“She is the first author of an autobiography written from the perspective of a young transgender person,” Uhrig said. “That is something special to me and a lot of other trans people, especially trans youth.”    

“Having Janet Mock on campus, for me, meant that I could show a greater audience a lot of things that I believe in and support,” Uhrig said. “It meant that we, as a campus, got a chance to become more aware of issues that we face in the world today. I got to interact with someone not much older than I am who has been a first. She is the first author of an autobiography written from the perspective of a young transgender person. That is something special to me and a lot of other trans people, especially trans youth.”  

Mock published her first autobiography “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So much More” in 2014. This book is frequently taught in the College of William and Mary’s introductory GSWS courses and looks at her experiences as a trans youth, her decision to come out while working in New York City in magazine journalism and her intersecting identities. More recently, she published her second book “Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me” June 2017.  

She has made the New York Times’ bestsellers list for both of these books and is known for speaking at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Her speech focused on why it was important for the movement to include sex workers and transgender women of color.  

Mock spoke about both of her books, as well as her experiences speaking at the Women’s March and other prominent events. She also talked about the work that she has done to elevate other transgender women of color that she knows. For example, she said she often refers her friends to do broadcast segments or book reviews now that she has had time in the spotlight and isn’t as interested in that type of publicity. She is currently serving as a writer for “Pose,” a musical and dance drama set to premier in June 2018 on FX.

“Now that I can be a part of creating a culture of girls like me who are able to see a reflection of themselves, that’s a legacy,” Mock said. “If you can’t bring your people with you when you storm through the doors, what am I here for?”    

“Now that I can be a part of creating a culture of girls like me who are able to see a reflection of themselves, that’s a legacy,” Mock said. “If you can’t bring your people with you when you storm through the doors, what am I here for?”  

Uhrig said that one takeaway from the event is that as a white, gender non-conforming person, Uhrig has to evaluate how they exist in certain spaces for safety reasons while also utilizing the leverage they have around them.  

“I also started crying when Janet spoke about she thought trans kids should learn for their safety and wellbeing, because for me that point is extremely emotionally charged since a lot of my childhood memories are mixes of traumatic and euphoric moments of expressing my gender, and I never had anyone to talk with me through gender so looking back on it now throws me off balance,” Uhrig said. “It’s not easy to think about kids and transgender people because I think about how trans women of color are the most at risk of homicide within the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S. It’s hard to think about trans kids because how are they supposed to grow up and learn that they are more at risk for being killed because they are not the gender a doctor said they were at birth?”  

Uhrig said they appreciated the work that Boyd did to help — she was the member of the SA senate who sponsored the bill. They said she was one of the biggest allies to trans people that they had met at the College. Uhrig also said that they hoped that people learned to help those around them.  

“I hope others learned that we all have work to do in our lives in order to help ourselves and those around us claim our equality and freedom,” Uhrig said. “There are so many little things that can add up to liberation, it’s not just big rallies, protests and marches. Those things are important, and I encourage people to show up, but oftentimes people’s activism ends there, and they forget about everyday things.”