So here’s an issue. I accidentally misread a Book Riot 2019 Read Harder Challenge task as a book by a trans or nonbinary author, when the task is actually a novel by a trans or nonbinary author (Hi, I’m Stephanie. I read stuff…). And because I misread it, I picked up Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock (Atria Books, 2014). As it turns out, my reading of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey also counts as a novel by a trans or nonbinary author, so this wonderful book that deepened my understanding of what it means to grow up and exist as transgender, is just gravy. 🙂 (Side note: this would also count as the task of an #ownvoices book set in Oceania; Janet Mock is native Hawaiian and black and spends the majority of her childhood and adolescence on the island.)
Janet Mock was born Charles, but although she didn’t have the words to explain how she felt, she knew that something wasn’t quite right with how the world saw her. Sports, roughhousing, crew cuts, none of these fit the way Janet saw herself; she wanted glamour, beauty, femininity. Her desire to be female predated the trauma she suffered via her parents’ divorce, her mother’s absence, both parents’ drug use, and two years of molestation by her father’s girlfriend’s teenage son (obvious content warnings for this; the description is fairly graphic). Living with her father was difficult; he didn’t understand the child he saw as being overly feminine and tried everything he could to repair what he perceived as misguided. Back home in Hawaii, the land of her birth, Janet (who began going by Janet at, I believe, age 13) found a more accepting family and culture. Her mother and siblings didn’t always get it right, but they tried, and Janet was able to surround herself with friends who loved and accepted her as she was.
This didn’t make Janet’s path to womanhood an easy one, however. There were still teachers at school who othered her and refused to stand up for her when students harassed her (there’s no excuse for this, and reading this made me SO angry for her. I was privy to a teacher turning her back on a classmate bullying a disabled student when I was in high school. I was utterly incensed, and yes, I stepped in and spoke up, loudly. Me, the person who rarely said a single word in class, EVER. The bully looked shocked and shut the hell up immediately. Moral of the story? Don’t be like that teacher). In order to pay for the expensive gender reassignment surgery, Janet, like so many transgender people, engaged in sex work (there’s a content warning here for violence). She still had years of personal growth ahead of her, to work through her earlier trauma and unlearn all the negative ways she’d learned to think about herself, but Janet Mock has grown into a beacon of strength and insight and self-acceptance. If I can ever afford to take whatever Master Class in confidence that she neeeeeeeeeeeds to be teaching, I would so be there. Her poise and determination are incredible, and I wish I had even a thimbleful of what she has.
If you’ve never read a book about being transgender before, this would be a good place to start. Ms. Mock explains a lot of the very basics of what it means to be trans (her preferred term) and what trans people go through in order to live what their souls know is true. She does a lot of this in a manner of, “I later learned that many trans people…”, which helps the reader to feel they’re not alone in learning something new, that even she had things to learn, which I think would be helpful if someone is looking to expand their knowledge of this topic. She also explains the Hawaiian concept of mahu, third gender persons, which fascinated me. Not everything is as binary as some societies demand, and I so love learning about different ways of viewing the world (I also love learning about Hawaiian culture and history, so the fact that this was set there and Ms. Mock is native Hawaiian made me so happy to read!).
What a moving story about a remarkable woman who has had to work so hard just to be herself. 🙂