Janet Mock: Redefining Realness, Biology, Sex and Gender

June 09, 2014

This week POI welcomes bestselling author and trans rights activist, Janet Mock. Janet is the author of the new memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More, which recounts her emotional and physical transition from an infant sexed male at birth in Hawaii in 1983, to a young woman in New York City.

Some traditionalists accuse trans activists of playing games with language when they insist on the right of trans people to be called by their preferred pronouns and to be treated as real members of their self-identified gender. Traditionalists claim that anatomy at birth is the only “real” litmus test of gender, despite the empirical evidence calling that simplistic formulation into question.

Trans activists and allies are throwing the burden of proof back on the claimant. Why should the traditional ideology of gender take precedence over the lived experience of trans people?

It’s great to be skeptical of ideas that are obviously dubious, like astrology or Bigfoot. But skeptics should also use their critical thinking skills to scrutinize divisions that seem intuitive and natural, especially in face of evidence that old social norms aren’t working, or are causing unnecessary suffering. We still live in a culture that would rather discard trans people than grapple with the challenge they pose to the traditional conception of gender, but activists like Janet Mock are trying to change that.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, June 9th, 2014. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry. A production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein, and my guest today is bestselling writer and transgender rights activist Janet Mock. Janet is the author of the new memoir Redefining Realness, which recounts her emotional and physical transformation from an infant sex male at birth in Hawaii in 1983 to a young woman in New York City today. This is a timely topic. Last month, actress Laverne Cox became the first openly trans person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. In February, Facebook gave users 56 options to describe their gender. In addition to male and female, I set mind to CIS gender female CIS gender being a umbrella term for anyone who doesn’t identify as trans biological sex is a complex empirical phenomenon. But the categories of man and woman are cultural constructs that are open to critique and debate. We have cultural norms about who gets to use the female pronoun and and call herself a woman. Does the cultural category of women include only people sex female at birth? Or can the category include others, including those who are sex male at birth but identify as females? Do they have to undergo any physical changes before they’re accepted? Or is it simply enough for them to live their gender? These are not biological facts, nor are they simply window dressing with language. As we’ll discuss in the interview, some cultures already have categories for people whose identity falls outside the gender binary. This year, the Supreme Court of India granted legal recognition to the Hedra. New research is unsettling, are simplistic biological definitions of sex, as well as Harriet Holle explained in a classic post at science based medicine. It can’t be neatly reduced to genitalia or chromosomes. In nature, you can find people with male typical genitals and female typical sex chromosomes. People with absent or ambiguous genitalia. People with female typical sex chromosomes and masculinized brains due to high levels of male hormones in utero. And even people whose bodies are Mosaic’s have X, X and x y cells. We don’t know what percentage of people who identify as trans have any of these unusual variants of biological sex, maybe very few. Or maybe we’ll discover that many trans people have brains that are more similar to their identified sex than to that of their anatomical sex. The point is that biological sex has many components that can be at odds with each other. And when they conflict, there is no right or wrong answer about what biological sex a person really is. In this case is the sensible and humane thing to do is to defer to the person’s gender identity and let them tell us who they are and why not extend that thinking? What happens when gender identity and biological sex conflict, which is basically the definition of transgender? Why should biological sex trump gender identity? This isn’t about policing language. It’s about challenging cultural norms. Transgender activists and feminists are constantly pushing the social boundaries of what it means to be a man or woman in our society. Gender confirmation surgeries are challenging our legal and cultural understanding of what gender means. It’s great to be skeptical of constructs that are obviously dubious, like astrology or Bigfoot. But true skeptic can channel those same critical thinking skills to scrutinize the divisions that seem most intuitive and natural, like gender. The current rigid binary system is not working for trans people. The rates of sexual assault, homelessness and job discrimination are exponentially higher than for the population at large. The problem lies not with them, but with a society hung up on rigid and outdated standards. But activists like Janet Mock are trying to change that. Janet, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me. 

We have a wonderful audience on point of inquiry. Some of our listeners are learning about trans issues for the very first time, and some of our listeners have published academic papers on the subject. So just to make sure that everybody’s on the same page as we go forward before we get to the more sort of philosophical and theoretical stuff. Let’s start with a little bit of definition of trans when or one. How do you define trans? 

I think. I think for me, I think trans is anyone that identifies outside of the norms of what society says. You’re supposed to be at birth based on your assigned sex and the same gender at birth. And so I would say that a trans person like myself is someone who for me, I’m a trans woman, so that I was assigned male at birth because of my genitalia, looked at birth because of what a doctor says the boy’s body is. And I identify as a woman. And so for me, it’s about that cross crossing over from the gender assigned to me. 

Your transition was first publicly told in a story called Born a Boy in Marie Claire magazine. Is that an accurate metaphor or is is there something more to it? Is it correct to say that you were born a boy? 

I think for me, I was a young person who was assigned gender and sex at birth. And my my experience, I guess, as a young person, because I didn’t have much agency as a child or that people perceived me to be a boy. And so in a very simplistic way, maybe I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say I was born a boy. I would say that I would to be a boy growing up. 

And that would be a more accurate way. But I know that editors, I only have so much space and character right now. So they tend to go for the more sensational. 

Having my photo next to a headline like I was born. 

All right. So do you feel like sort of on a do you feel like you were born a girl and that your body just didn’t match that in a reality? 

Yeah, I would say that that’s closer. I would I think that the critique that I had written in 2011 when that piece came out was that I was I was born a girl. You know, that’s how I see my experience. But I think the people around me are different perceptions of me. 

And I think that at that time, I didn’t have the voice and the language to express who I really wanted to say life really was. And so now that I have that agency to declare my own identity, to define myself, I absolutely say that I was born a girl. 

I was born it’s born a child who needed time to discover what her gender was. 

So tell us a bit about that process. How did you know through your development from young childhood become aware that there was an incongruence between how people saw you and how you felt inside? 

I think I think from the I always say, you know, when I look at my childhood, I say I have such like terms. I say things like I always knew I was a girl. It became like a defense mechanism because everyone else had told me everything opposite of that. Right. And so I think all of us were existing in a world of certainty based on this gender binary system that says if you’re born with a certain set of genitals and you need to act according to the gendered expectations thrust upon you and thrust upon your body. And for me, the process of self discovery, I guess specifically gender and my own sense of identity came from the space of kind of figuring out what that was. Listening to my parents say certain things in the way that I should act. 

And I think a part of that dealt with a lot of compromises, like trying to survive and like with my parents home without getting scolded. Every time that I wanted to say I wanted to sit in the corner and read Jane Austen novels or any time that I wanted to go out and play Jump Rope with, you know, girls my age, I was always getting in trouble for that. And so I think a lot of it came from conflict. You know, I found my identity through conflict, through trial and error, through figuring out these like s. desires. 

I had to like to sit with the girls in class to go into to stand in line with the girls when we were separated. In elementary school and all of these little bitty things. 

And I don’t think that I knew that I was trained at that age. I didn’t have access to that kind of language. But I definitely knew that I would not the way I would. I did not fit the image of the expectations my parents had of me as their firstborn son. And so I think a lot of my earlier concepts in life dealt with kind of fighting against their perceived notions of how it was supposed to be or how they expected me to be. 

The action in the book unfolds between two very different homes, your home with your mom in Hawaii and your home with your dad in California. Can you tell us about those two different venues and the different effects that they had on your development? 

For sure. I think what’s so interesting for me was that I didn’t realize this at the time. 

But, you know, when I was little, my father and in Oakland, California, after my parents divorced, my mother sent that me and my younger brother Chad, to live with my father so that we could have a proper meal, insulin. What’s interesting is that my mother, I think unknowingly citizens should keep in keep her poverty because we lived in a very it was a struggling neighborhood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, and also at the height of the so-called crack epidemic of the late 80s and early 90s. 

And so my father, you know, I guess disappointingly ended up becoming addicted to crack cocaine. And that was something that deeply affected me. 

Poverty was probably a bigger effect on me than than actually my gender identity at the time, you know. But the rate that you and so my father was you know, he was in the Navy. He’s from Dallas, Texas. He’s a Baptist. He’s a Southern man. 

And he’s a Cowboys fan. And so all he wanted for his son was to play football some day and like, love the Cowboys. I love cowboys, but I wasn’t going to play football, too, to perform this idea, what he thought masculinity was, I was going to perform that for him. And so a lot of our consulates put my father growing up. 

The other poverty staff was it was me fighting for my identity with him and fighting for voice and agency to say that this is who I am and you need to learn to accept me with my mother. When we finally moved with her, I think I was 12 years old, back to Honolulu, Hawaii, where I was born and went to a bit of elementary school. 

There was my mother. I didn’t have that same conflict that she gave me more freedom to express my gender without much debate or without much friction. She kind of accepted me kind of outright when I came out to fight 13 years old. This trend in my my best friend at the time was also a trend for women that are in the seventh grade. And this, Wendy. And it also shows us how honorable why is a magical place in the sense of why in general? Because there is a deep seated, rooted trans women’s community. And so I was able as a young person who was figuring out my gender identity to be in a space where gender diversity was celebrated within the culture. And so I just got incredibly lucky there. 

Can you talk in the book you write about the long Hawaiian tradition of people existing outside of the gender binary. Who are these people and what kinds of roles do they play in society? 

I think for the first thing that my best friend called me, it was my hoosh. Yes, they argue my Hoole and at the time I only do either conjoin. That’s something that you call a boy. Some kind of acted like a girl or boy that you thought was gay. 

And it was kind of its term that I did play, which was limited by my own Western, like being man, pretending to have an interpretation of it. But I later learned that in my you know, I think specifically in my Hawaiian studies classes in college, that my whole defined group of people who embodied the diversity of gender are beyond the dictates of our Western binary system of gender. Right. I look at Mahu were often assigned male at birth, but they took on feminine gender roles in indigenous Hawaiian culture and they were celebrated actually in the culture and centered in the culture. And they often were spiritual healers, cultural bearers and breeders and caretakers and also expert hula dancers. And one of the first Mahu that he named in that was by Cool, which a teacher for whom a class in the seventh grade. And she was someone who embodied this this idea of transverse wasn’t necessarily like about medical transitioning, even though she’s been presented as feminine and she identified as she and her and use of kind of feminine pronouns. She had no desire to, quote, unquote, change her body. You know, that was interesting for me to be exposed to that as a seventh grader because of my indigenous Hawaiian culture. 

Right. To have a space that was beyond male and female. Beyond boy, girl, beyond man, woman. But something I was a little bit more and more, I guess, true to the actual existence of the spectrum of gender. 

Your mom is Puppis pollination. Your family. 

Yes. Yes, she is. She’s native Hawaiian. She. 

And your father is African-American? Yes. Yes. 

Tell us more about Wendy. She’s one of the most evocative and fun characters in the book. 

Obviously a huge influence on your life when he is you know, she she is probably, I think, Twitter’s favorite character in the book. I think that is like the past. I like lessons from Wendy that people are going to make. Appreciate this great one liner, the Queen. 

I think I speak for all of Twitter when I say I have a crush on Wendy. 

I’ve never met who she is. Yeah. She’s a she’s a very special person. 

And she was someone that I was equally attracted to, but also repulsed and scared. At the same time, because I knew that if I was to share space with her in any kind of way, she would tell me exactly who I was and I could not lider her. And so I think at the time when I was in the Senate very first crossed paths. I wasn’t ready to stand in that kind of truth. Right. To have her serve as a steer for me on how I was supposed to be right. 

Because she was, you know, unapologetic even as a seventh grader about being friends, girl, about wearing her hair, you know, in a green bar, about playing volleyball and being fierce in every single kind of aspect of her life. And so I think that when we did become friends, she definitely was the catalyst that helped me tell myself the truth about who I was and what was the person that enabled me to transition. You know, throughout middle school and high school. Just live my truth. And so having had a best friend that was so unapologetic in that sense, definitely influenced my entire adolescent life. 

And Wendy helped you get get connected to a larger sphere of trans women in Hawaii. Right. 

Exactly. She was she was the link. She was someone who kind of knew everyone who always, as my father would say, was always and grown folks business, meaning that if she saw, like a group of performers, including trans women and drag queens at our recreation center, she’d walk up to them and introduce herself and say, I want to watch a practice. Then that way she would build a bridge there. And then she’d say, come on, you have to go to how did he see Paul and Ringo? And then all of a sudden we’d be tapped into this whole, like, underground resource of like trans women and drag queens who are who are readily available to us, where we could ask questions about. About, you know, certain clothes or certain doctors and all of these things. 

And because of these audaciousness, I was able to tap into that those resources that enabled me to find the medical care I needed, that enabled me to find the resources that I needed, that enabled me to find. And I happened to like a network of sisterhood that really informed my entire existence. 

Did you know of or were you aware of any transmen when you were growing up in Hawaii? 

I knew, yes. A few. Not many, though. I definitely knew a lot of trans women who dated trans men, but I didn’t. They weren’t as visible. They weren’t as visible as you see them on the show. I don’t know if this idea of blending in was a bit easier for men because they made it go a lot more unchecked in our society in terms of how we objectify women. 

It’s easier to feel like femininity is something that you would point out are gone mad. And so I don’t know if that invisibility of masculinity enabled trends and they’d be in Hawaii to be a bit more invisible. But I know for sure it was definitely heavily dominated by trans women. 

And most of those were trans women who identified as desiring men. Did you know any women, trans women who dated women? 

Oh, for sure. Yes. I knew I knew a lot of trans women who dated women Walter dated, who also dated transmen. And so I grew up with just this hodgepodge of this hodgepodge of like identity and sexual Healtheon gender, gay sexuality. 

There was a lot that’s a lot more a lot more reflective of the diversity that’s actually out there beyond the media’s image of like if you’re a trans woman and you date, you know, you gay men and if you’re a trans men and you date women, but you know that trans people can also love each other together, too. Right. And so I grew up with all kinds of different combinations. 

How did you navigate the contrast between this incredibly progressive, diverse community that you were hanging out with out of out of home and and your family, who is somewhat more conservative in the book? 

I don’t want to describe I can and serve, but I would definitely say that they were a bit more maybe shelter that they didn’t understand. They didn’t have access to this world that I kind of had. I think a lot of people don’t have access to that world. So, so much more diverse and colorful. 

But my family, like any time that my friends came over to let mostly transfers were my my friends growing up into whatever they came over for sleepovers. A family very open and accepting that it really bad an eyelash or make an argument about me not being friends with Andy or my other friends. And so I think that they were just kind of let me lead the way and say to these people that Janet’s hanging out with are giving her something that we obviously can’t give to her because we don’t understand that world. We don’t actually understand how to raise the kind of girl that she is that these people probably do. So we’ll just make sure that she has a safe space at home to be who she is and not feel like she needs to hide her clothes or hide her makeup or hide her identity in general. 

Would you say that that would be good advice for a family today who’s grappling with with a kid whose gender presentation isn’t something they fully understand? 

I wish my mother was a bit more hands on it. 

That would have been nice, but also having the freedom of her. Maybe if she wasn’t if she wasn’t comfortable, at least give me the freedom to figure out my own resources and stuff. So I would definitely advise would definitely be to let your child lead the way and to listen and affirm them and not necessarily shut down or shut down or block their process of discovery, whether that’s through resources online with us, through finding new kinds of people online or in person, you know, going to support groups and all of us. 

I would definitely give I would tell parents to make sure that they’re there listening and affirming their children and taking out resources that they need as parents for support. Right. 

One thing that doesn’t come up very much in the book is religion. Is that because your family was secular or is it just something that didn’t come up for other reasons? 

I think the chapters talk about Dallas. My father’s family was definitely Baptist. They were they went to church often. I think with every Sunday they might I on my grandmother going to church. But it wasn’t something that was prevalent in my father’s life or my mother’s. Wasn’t it silly that they weren’t they just weren’t religious people. My mother grew up Catholic. But, you know, no one in our family, like, beyond getting, you know, baptized, anything the day actually went to church every week. So it wasn’t something that was that was immediate or influential in my life growing up. 

So you didn’t feel like religious messages about gender and sexuality were or something that you were exposed to a water were influential to you directly? 

Yeah. Think I was more probably with my father, even though his family went to church when I was probably more there was more policing around black masculinity. You know, that was a more dominant, dominant thing than religion was. I think at that time in my life, I was more influential for my fathers on parenting, of being gender policing of me as a child was very much about this idea of holding up black masculinity in our community. 

When when those ideals were being held up to you, did you feel like, OK, this is a code that I can crack. I can master this. I’ll be able to fake it? Or did it just seem like, no, I’ve got to fight to be who I am because that’s just not me? 

I think it’s very it’s a mix of both. 

I think around my but I found little pockets or spaces where I could express my girlhood and express my my own sense of femininity. I know I did that over the phone by making up this alter ego named Keesha. I spoke to boys on the phone and even brought Keesha outside when I was on spring break away from my father. So all of these spaces are always, you know, what I was expressing. My true self was always away from my father. But in his presence, I tried to just be more quiet and nondescript so that he would point out things. I mean, wouldn’t police me in that way. And so it was it was both more. I was trying to navigate this without much friction. That was part I didn’t want to be lectured by my father. I already knew what would be said if I was found out. And there’s a moment in redefining realness when I actually when I found out. And I get punished for it. 

You came out to your mom in your early teens as gay right before you came out as trans because they didn’t have language. 

Should know what trans was. I think that I think that speaks very clearly to a lot of people’s conflation of gender identity and sexual orientation. 

And so for me, as a 12 year old and I said, that’s my mom. She accepted it as fact. I think because she thought like, oh, because I was feminine, I would therefore probably just, you know, attracted to boys. And that’s what that meant. But I knew I was still something inside me that felt that it was deeper. And but at the time, that was that was the closest definition that I had. It was the only thing that was prevalent cause I didn’t see trans people existing in the world and see trans people on television or in magazines. So I didn’t know that to be trans or something that you couldn’t really be. And so I didn’t have I didn’t have language to say that. Oh, yeah, I’m a trans girl. But when I did have language to do that, I quickly corrected that to my mother and for myself. 

And how old were you when you when you did encounter the word trends and the kinds of the trends? 

I don’t think they actually realized the concept of trans until I probably went to a medical professional. So that wasn’t until like fifteen, even though I had identified as trend, which is interesting, I actually did not identify strains identified as a girl. So that’s what I just said, that yes. Girl, that we were to say those things. I mean, what we would say that’s. So we didn’t know what trends was and how it wasn’t until we went to our doctors when I was 16 and she was 16. And he was the one who said that we you know, we were transsexual patients and all of these things were talked to our parents about us. And I’m talking with. We recommend that we go on in terms of our medical care and health care. And so that’s when it became a turnover. Oh, OK. This. This is how I am supposed to describe myself. But it’s still it is something we adopted to call her. So she didn’t call herself girls. And I think that that that was highly one of the reasons why I had to hashtag girls like us. 

My celebration of trans women and my social media campaign is called hashtag girls. I guess because of the idea that before I knew I was trans, I knew I was the power of trans ness of something that was told that I was. And so it’s interesting. 

In that sense, does the medical community still accept the word transsexual as a diagnostic label? Or is that has that been phased out? 

I’m not sure I believe a transsexual is probably what they are. 

They tend to go to I think when it comes in terms of medical professionals, I don’t necessarily know what they go by in terms of in healthcare. What am I trying to say? The psychiatric you know, I skip that whole process. I don’t really know. But I think that they’re on gender dysphoria now. It’s what they tend to diagnose trans people, which voting transsexual is definitely a more medical term, it seems. And transgender, what’s changed? And there seems like it’s more inclusive of transsexual people. Trans people and also drag queens and, you know, a lot of just gender diversity. 

So a really interesting discussion in the book about the kind of Bastiaan bargain, about the way that the medical profession defines transsexualism or genders Fauria, that it’s made into a pathology which creates opportunities for insurance, but also anthologized. Is it how do you what do you get out on that? What I am sorry would do. Where do you where do you net out on that? Do you think that it’s a good thing or a necessary thing overall that trans is identified as a disease or a disorder? 

Well, I think that it’s it’s it’s something that it’s a mixed debate for sure, because on the one hand, you want to do have to be able to be defined or quote unquote diagnosed in this way in order to get access to medical care and health care coverage. And so I think that that’s the whole mess that even rapidly changing as we’re speaking. 

I know that President Obama just lifted the ban on what they call, quote unquote, sex change surgery for trendy patients. 

And so I know that this is something that’s only now kind of it’s rapidly evolving. 

And so I think that the language around it is evolving because there’s so many more activists who are saying that we don’t we want access to medical care that we know we need, but we don’t want to be apologized. 

And that’s fine. There’s also people who would like to know that that’s a compromise at this time, that they need to be diagnosed in this way, anthologized in order to get access to what they need. So I’m in more support of reproductive justice. 


People behave well to do what they embody economy, people being able to do what they want with their bodies without having to get some kind of diagnosis, without some gatekeeper or institution saying that they must do this and this and this and this before they even get access to hormones and the medical care that they need. And so I’m more in celebration of that part of it, but none diagnosis. But I know that some people that’s the way in which they feel most comfortable is by getting a diagnosis, by speaking to a psychiatrist, by going through every single method in which that is kind of the guidelines in the guidelines for a long time for for trans people. 

What kind of language could be used to persuade people if we go so the bodily autonomy and say people have the right to be embodied in the way that best fits their their interstate chief, the most congruence or self-expression or whatever values we think are important in terms of reproductive justice. But then what kind of language we use to explain to people why that’s important, that we subsidize it and provide it to people who can’t afford it for themselves? 

I think it’s it’s as if the acceptance of trans people as as people who, like anyone, understand exactly what they may need for themselves with medicine and food and care and research that they need. Trusting them to make those decisions would be guided right off of medical professionals. 

I think for a long time these Bignone kind of the steps that most trans people who want to take hormone therapy want to take these certain steps like they know what they want to do. They know the methods. And so I think the less gatekeeping that we have around that, the more healthy our communities will be. I think that’s one of the things that I have always realized. And why I don’t engage too much in the medical debate is the fact that I didn’t have access to medical care and health care. 

And so for me, growing up low income, those methods and gatekeeping didn’t matter anyway because everything that I did was under the table. 

Everything I did was because, you know, we had an underground railroad of resources that enabled me and the trans women that I grew up with on a little Hawai to get the medical care I needed. And we did. 

You know, we’re all healthy. We’re completely fine. You know, we had a medical professional who didn’t make us jump through all of these hoops hoops to get what we needed. He let us lead the way in. Right. And he’s I think it’s just it’s a part of this. And it also we have to realize that it’s profitable, too, for a lot of insurance companies, for doctors to have us jumping through all these hoops to go to spend this money so that we, you know, we use the system that they say that we need to use. 

And this is another way of policing people’s identities and genders, too, and finding that these men will make up these rules, get to dictate who gets to have access to what medical care they know that they need. 

And I know that there is even a debate. Well, there’s that actions right now in New York City with medical care, Medicare, Medicaid with trend, people being rejected for hormone, though they would give hormones to this gender people. 

Right. But they won’t give out trans patients who who need it, who need that for their bodies, for their own health. 

So these are people who are saying, I need these hormones to maintain my physique. And doctors are simply saying no. 

What based on what basis of age, denying them this item on the basis of that they may have a path for and that is incongruent with the assigned estrogen or testosterone that they’re asking for. And so the doctor will say it’s fine, but the men, Medicaid and Medicare will say, no, we’re not going to pay for that. We’re not covering. 

Oh, I see. 

And so not congruent with the, you know, the gender markers that they may have. Right. 

That may not be right because they can’t afford to change those things because of the idea that you can’t change your M or F on your you know, on your records because of not having access to quote unquote bottom surgery, which for many states is the only way to then change your. 

Right. So that’s what’s written about justice and rights issue in that sense. 

Definitely. I mean, so is that true in every state that the litmus test is whether or not you’ve had lower age and gender reassignment or reconstruction? 

It’s a patchwork of. It’s all very state by state. I think there’s no, like, big mandate. I think that the Obama administration did did lift and didn’t allow passports to be changed on passport, gender markers to be changed without having to have had surgery. It’s a huge fix that. Right. At the same time, not then. That’s more of a federal issue. So trans people have access to that. But also passports are expensive and no. Like to have access to get a passport is difficult for a lot of trans people. 

So it’s you know, it’s but it doesn’t say that then go on to state level, state I.D. or driver’s licenses. So some states allow you to change it without. 

But most don’t. I mean, it’s it’s almost like a here image of the coercion that goes on with extreme gender normatively, that you’re expected to act the way you would predict based on what you’ve done. It also looks like and you’re also not allowed to transition until your genitals look the right way. 

Exactly. Yes. And then what about people who don’t. Yeah. And what. And then our judgment is saying, what’s the right way of transitioning. Right. That you have to go. Potential. I mean, people ask you certain things like heavy transition all the way through. Like what does that mean? You know, why? Why is the dominant narrative, this idea that you have to have had medical procedures in order to live living your gender. 

Right. Your gender identity. And so, like, I understand that because my life experiences in seeing many different kinds of trans people who choose many different ways, who choose to have medical care, who choose not to, and she just the their gender identity without changing their bodies. And so how do we have. How do we create a space and create a culture where gender diverse. Gender identity is respected in all of its various form and with sex. I think a lot of the time what’s frustrating is that the government tends to a culture of gender policing, tend to support this idea of continued to make trans people petition and validate their gender identity and there any. Period. 

And so I’m hoping I always side with those with activists who are who are trying to break down that sense of petitioning, that sense of constantly having to validate our identity through records and through medical professionals, through all of these different hoops that trans people must have to jump in order to just live their truth. 

The title of the book is Redefining Realness What Israel Must Mean to You. 

I’m sorry. 

I’m sorry, Mr. Oh. The title of the book is Redefining Realness. What is real Naess mean to you in terms of gender? 

For me, real means living the truth. Being authentic with yourself and whatever that sense of authenticity is for you. I, I first heard the term realness, I believe when I was in high school and other trans women were saying, this cool girl, you’re real and all of you start being real initiative schoolgirl romance today. 

And of course, when I had access to seeing Paris is burning for the first time and learning from the people featured in that someone what they thought realness wasn’t for them, realness with living with being able to quote unquote pass in society as the dominant cultures, normative as a normative, I guess, kind of norm that was around at the time. 

And so for me, I wanted to take that term very much root in our community and say that realness can be whatever we say that it is for ourselves and that it’s different for each and every one of us. 

I think the strain there, the thread, I mean, is definitely about authenticity and about, um, being able to define ourselves for ourselves. 

So it’s almost a radically subjective account of what reality is or what we illnesses. 

Yes, yes. Yes. And it’s because this is a term. I love it so much in the sense of what it says like to be real. Like all of us have different IDs of what real live for us, you know, for me to be to be real. For many people who look at me, they say that they think that my existence at stake. Right. I didn’t mean that real and that I’m authentic. But I don’t live up to their standards of what real honest as my idea of real ness is exactly. Being planned to be fake for me would have been to have lived my life. And it’s a grown up to be a man in some ways. I’ve lived my life according to everyone. The dominant culture, the idea of what gender is and what gender identity is and what the expectations were thrust upon me to live up to. Those norms would have been fake for me. But for me, what real misses is living exactly how I am and how I knew myself be, even though it disagreed with the normative standards of what womanhood was, of what was expected of me and my gender. 

Can we talk a little bit about the concept of passing and what? What’s wrong with it? 

I always thought passing with something that is more about the The Spectator or the game is more than it was about the subject. No, for me, this idea that I and I, as a trans woman, I am passing in the world as a woman doesn’t make sense to me because I am a woman and live my life as a woman. And I feel as if I am passing as anything. I just feel like I’m being myself. It’s more about the gays, the person that’s looking at me and determining if I’m passing whatever test that they may have in terms of what a woman is supposed to look like, whether that’s a trans woman or gendered woman. That has nothing to do with me that I do it. Their perceptions of me based on their passing interaction or observations of me. So I always felt that that passing was more about them than it was about me. And so for me, I. I know that the idea of passing in the sense of having access to safety is an important discussion. In that sense, though, women are trans people who may not pass as well, who may not to have difficulty with passing or who may not look like they’re quote unquote, what their gender supposed to look like is is interesting to me because I feel like trans people are marked as artificial and unnatural. No legitimate in our bodies and any these are often open to the public dissection. And I think this is a major burden for many trans people, a burden that I often don’t have to carry in every space I enter because of the way that I look. But I don’t think that our safety should be should be based on the way that we look or based on our, quote unquote, success at passing or not passing. 

And of course, the whole concept of passing makes it sound like that CIS women are the test you pass to be a real woman. 

That trial, and I don’t know yet, is so bizarre because it’s like who says what is this woman supposed to look like? So we’re all against this like this one little image of what you know, you’re supposed to be kind of small, but not too big, but not too tall. So if you’re tall, then you’re kind of being you’re also marked as being outside of the norm as a as a as a system or woman. And so then you get kind of more more looks than other people who may be a little shorter or under five, seven. And so it just becomes this weird kind of way of measuring and putting women in the sense of hierarchy of what you’re supposed to look like. So it’s very interesting. 

Those are all my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

No, I appreciate I appreciate the interview being about my book. That’s been a rare one. 

I appreciate that. 

I really enjoyed the book and I would recommend it to any of our listeners who who aren’t just a really good story about, you know, very well fleshed out about one person and her experiences. She doesn’t purport to speak for everybody, but just the very specificity and realness of the story really spoke to me. And I think everybody listening would enjoy it to me to find a realist. Know this. You’re most welcome. Thanks so much for coming on. Point of inquiry. 

Thank you. 

This has been a point of inquiry, you can follow us on Twitter at point of inquiry. Tune in next week. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.