The Latest, Greatest Face of the Trans Movement: 5 Amazing Janet Mock Facts

Janet Mock. Photo: Aaron TredwellThe transgender-rights movement had a banner year. With the passage of trans-inclusive laws on both local and national levels, strides for students seeking equal treatment in schools around the country, and eased requirements for those wanting to change their gender on Social Security records, all in 2013, change is actually happening. That's in no small part due to the rising visibility of activists, and one in particular — Janet Mock, a powerful voice emerging from the trans community.

Since stepping into the national spotlight in 2011 with her pivotal Marie Claire essay, “I Was Born a Boy,” the Hawaii native and professional journalist has become a well-known activist for trans rights, lending her grace and knowledge to forums from NPR interviews to stints on "Melissa Harris-Perry." In February she’ll release a coming-of-age memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More,” and take her story on the road for a national book tour. Below, five facts about the opinioniated pioneer.

1. She came out to the world in a magazine essay. “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,” she wrote in Marie Claire. “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.”

2. She survived a stint as a teen sex worker, and talks about it with strength and clarity. “Watching these women every weekend gathered in sisterhood and community, I learned firsthand about body autonomy, about resilience and agency, about learning to do for yourself in a world that is hostile about your existence,” she writes in her new essay about how the work actually "empowered" her. “These women taught me that nothing was wrong with me or my body and that if I wanted they would show me the way, and it was this underground railroad of resources created by low-income, marginalized women, that enabled me when I was 16 to jump in a car with my first regular and choose a pathway to my survival and liberation.”

3. She has a unique perspective on male — and female — agression toward transgender women. In addition to dealing with “very hostile and violent behavior every day from men because they choose to take on femininity, which is devalued in this society,” she told Yahoo Shine in March, feminist women can often be against you, too. “It’s like you have marks against you for ever having some kind of male privilege in your life. There is a double standard—and has been a historic erasure of who we are.”

4. She is tired of so-called "scandals" that stigmatize the trans community. “We’re not supposed to be here, and so men are not supposed to love us, because we’re not supposed to exist,” Mock noted on a HuffPost Live segment on the topic of DJ Mister Cee’s 2013 trans-prostitute scandal. “And so what does it say that a man chooses to do it in secret, to hide it? What bothers me is… the message that it sends to trans women about their identities, how it stigmatizes them, how it demeans them, and how it further pushes them into darkness.” (Mock, for her part, has a boyfriend, photographer Aaron Tredwell, whose portraits of her are stunning.)

5. Her smarts don’t preclude pop-culture worship. “When I was naming myself, at the time I was so addicted to Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope, therefore my name was Janet,” she explains in a video she just created as part of a six-part conversation series. “When I put my deposit down to go to Thailand [for sexual reassignment surgery], the next week I went to a Destiny’s Child concert and saw Beyoncé for the first time in person. When I started college, Aaliyah died. I just remember how vital and immediate that was for me, how it put this sense of urgency in me that death is real, and that I didn’t want to die without being myself. And so for me, pop culture has always been this touchstone, this milestone in every part of my life… Yes, I just quoted Toni Morrison and Sula but at the same time I just quoted Britney Spears, and there’s a kind of ridiculousness there, but I’m slightly ridiculous.”