Redefining Realness by Janet Mock is the last book on my Feminist Lit February TBR, and it was such a perfect book to end on. This might be the best book I picked up for the readathon.
Redefining Realness is Mock’s memoir about her experience growing up as a transgender woman of color. I think the blurb for the book explains it best when it says:
This powerful memoir follows Mock’s quest for identity, from an early, unwavering conviction about her gender to a turbulent adolescence in Honolulu that saw her transitioning during the tender years of high school, self-medicating with hormones at fifteen, and flying across the world alone for sex reassignment surgery at just eighteen. With unflinching honesty, Mock uses her own experience to impart vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of trans youth and brave girls like herself.
This book was amazing. I know I said after reading Daring to Drive that Hunger by Roxane Gay set the bar pretty high for memoirs and that I didn’t think many would be able to compete for a while, but this one actually held its own for me. Like Gay did in Hunger, Mock really made herself vulnerable for this book, and that’s something I think the reader really picks up on and that makes it so much more powerful. I will say that I don’t think the writing was on par with Gay’s, but I can tell that Mock is an experienced writer (she has a masters in journalism) and that she knows what she’s doing.
She really shares a lot about her life growing up as a girl in a boy’s body and how she was sexually abused as a child and later found herself in the sex trade in order to pay for gender reassignment surgery. As brutal as certain parts of her childhood were, though, she’s very quick to point out how lucky she was in a number of ways, especially in her family’s willingness to accept her when she chose to openly identify as a girl.
And of course, she brings a lot of larger context to her story, sharing a number of the issues that trans women, especially trans women of color, have to deal with and providing statistics when necessary to back up her points, like the high rates of homelessness for trans teens or the high rates of violence against trans women.
This story was so impactful and heartbreaking and inspiring, and I’m so glad Mock chose to write this book and share so much about her story, because it’s an important and beautiful read. I highly, highly recommend it.
My only tiny gripe with this book is that I wanted to learn more. The book stops after Mock gets her gender reassignment surgery at 18, but I wanted to know more about what her life was like after her surgery and more about the time she spends in New York, which she hints at some throughout the book. Most especially, Mock seems to have written this book from a really secure and self-aware place, and I wanted to see her full journey to that point. At the same time, Mock has already given so much of herself in Redefining Realness that it seems unfair to ask for even more. Fortunately, though, she’s since released another memoir, called Surpassing Certainty, about her life in her twenties, and I’ve already preordered the paperback version.
This book actually wound up being a really interesting pick for the task of reading a book by a black woman or someone who is non-binary/gender fluid because Mock is half black, but she talks a lot about how she was raised to identify more with her black heritage than her Hawaiian heritage because it’s more visible. It adds another layer to the concept of what it means to be black.
I had also selected this because I thought it fit into the non-binary aspect of the task, but since doing a bit more research, I’m not entirely sure that’s true. My understanding is that non-binary people are people who don’t fit into the male and female binary, but Mock identified as a female from a very young age. So while her gender identity is an important part of her story, I wouldn’t consider it non-binary, especially since it’s not really something she discusses in the book or says she identifies as. While I wish I had picked a book that had completed that aspect of the task as well, this book was so profound for me that I think it was an excellent pick for Feminist Lit February.
One last thing I wanted to note is that I first tried listening to this on audio because I love listening to memoirs when they’re narrated by the author, but there’s something about Mock’s narration style that just didn’t work for me. So if you experience the same thing, then definitely switch to the print book, because she really did an amazing job with this book.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I highly, highly recommend checking out Redefining Realness. Honestly, I don’t think it even matters what types of books you usually gravitate towards; this is one of those books that really opens up your perspective of the world and I think it’s really important to read.
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