What a difference seven years makes. When Janet Mock’s story of growing up trans appeared in a 2011 Marie Claire article, she quickly captured the national spotlight and became a millennial media juggernaut.
She went from seasoned journalist to best-selling author of two memoirs (Redefining Realness, Surpassing Certainty) and suddenly found herself as one of the country’s most sought-after speakers and advocates for human rights — particularly LGBTQ and trans causes.
The attention helped spearhead creative projects that mattered to her, most notably the #TransBookDrive and #GirlsLikeUs campaigns. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people on the internet and one of the 12 new faces of Black leadership. When TV titan Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, The Assassination of Gianni Versace) came knocking, Mock moved beyond her career in journalism to become a writer, director, and producer for a bold, new Murphy television outing, Pose. She is the first trans woman of color to ever write and direct a major network cable drama.
The drama, set in the late-1980s, picked up second-season renewal. It boasts the largest cast of transgender actors for a narrative TV series as it chronicles several segments of New York life and society.
On the eve of her Palm Springs Speaks appearance Jan. 19, Mock, who was born in Hawaii, shares more about her personal journey and the paths that can be taken toward inclusivity.
How has being involved with Pose changed your life?
It has been the greatest surprise in my life. Not only being able to work with this cast and crew but being shepherded by one of TV’s greatest talents, Ryan Murphy, has been amazing.
What are a few things you enjoy most about it?
It’s especially fulfilling as a writer and storyteller because I get to tell stories that my younger self never had access to. When you get to create these images and affirmative stories about your people, about your community, and about yourself, it makes it so much easier to wake up in the morning and go to work. For me, the platform of television wasn’t something I was really looking for in that way — to write for — but it’s shifted my career in such a great way as a writer, and now, as a director.
In your book Redefining Realness, you write about a friendship you formed with a fellow young trans woman you met in seventh grade, Wendi. You note she reflected a feeling you had that you weren’t able to fully embrace at the time. What advice can you offer for someone who feels that same way?
At 12, I wasn’t feeling very comfortable about being open about these internal whispers I was hearing from myself about my identity, about my gender, my body. I got so lucky to meet a future best friend — Wendi — who was comfortable with herself and who was self assured, and her self-assuredness inspired me. Of course, it was very frightening at first because it held me accountable to my own truth. It made me look at myself and ask, “Who am I pretending for, and what I am really afraid of?”
You had a great deal of courage at a young age. You stood before your sophomore class and told everyone that your name was Janet.
It was a mix of fear and trepidation. But it was also a moment I had been preparing for years. In my private spaces, my community spaces, with my family, my friends, I was able to sit and share myself and go through this process of self-discovery. It was deeply validating to stand on that stage in front of 300 sophomores and tell them who I was.
You’re also an activist now. What are seeing out in the world with the work you do?
In this political climate, there is a general sense of narrowing who we say we are going to nurture and take care of. I think that’s becoming contagious around the world. Right now, it’s vital for us to not become myopic in our vision and to look for connectivity between different experiences and marginalized people, and anyone that is considered “other.” To really link up together and build up coalitions and speak out and support one another so we could be a broader coalition of these “others” that then are, when you really look at, the majority.
Yes. LGBTQ need to be linking up with people of color and immigrants and disabled folk and realize that as LGBTQ folk we are those people, too — that there’s trans people of color, that there’s gay disabled folk, that there’s bi immigrants. If we can broaden our coalition we can think of creative ways to show up for one another and build bridges that can really help us feel more empowered so that we don’t feel so alone. Trans folk are being erased from legislation and so on and so forth. We have to be vigilant.
Do you feel a greater pressure being an activist?
I feel a greater urgency. The work hasn’t really changed. My work has always been about telling the truth as I know it — unfiltered, unapologetic — so that people can use the platform of story to connect and see themselves and see the other, and, hopefully, move to act, shift, and change their own behaviors in the world. Doing that culture-change work also helps with creating policy change.
What would you tell your younger self today?
First, that you are so worthy of being here. That you are deserving of being heard and reflected. That you are absolutely right — that no matter how many people shake their heads at you, you know that you were right. You know exactly who you are, and your goal in life is to ensure that you are always affirming yourself, no matter how many people tell you that you don’t belong here.
Another part of that would be: Be patient with yourself. It’s a process. Even as an adult now, there’s no, “When you grow up, this happens.” There’s no end point. It’s a constant evolution and transition. What you are going through now will only equip you to be that much more successful and that much more grounded to continue your life.
Janet Mock headlines Palm Springs Speaks at 6 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Richards Center for the Arts, 2248 Ramon Road, Palm Springs. For tickets, visit palmspringsspeaks.org. Keep track of Janet Mock at janetmock.com.