Janet Mock in Conversation with Doreen St. Felix | Book Con 2017



Image via hollywood.com

On Saturday, June 3, BookCon attendees visited the Downtown Stage to hear journalist and author Janet Mock chat with MTV News writer Doreen St. Felix about her latest memoir, Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me (Atria: S. & S.). Mock’s first memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, became a bestseller upon its release in 2014. Much of this new book was written from memory, with Mock writing notes on a legal pad, “being brutally honest with myself, people who have wronged me, people who I have done wrong.” In the process, a lot of material ended up on the cutting room floor.

“As a memoir writer, I get to editorialize my life. I get to pick and choose my experiences that I want to magnify, and those that I want to omit.” While her first book recounted her experiences growing up as a trans teen, Surpassing Certainty recalls her time in grad school and her marriage to her first husband. “I moved to New York in August. As someone who grew up born and raised in Hawaii, I thought I knew what hot was, but there was nothing like the sweltering city,” Mock remembered.

Explaining the adjustment upon moving to New York, she continued, “My two roommates came with their families, [who] came to set them up for graduate school in the big city. I came alone from Hawaii with my two big suitcases and no furniture.” Mock relayed the time she bought a used mattress on Craigslist, struggling to carry it up the stairs in a walk-up building.

Although Mock didn’t have difficulty writing about herself, she chose to omit her siblings’ struggles, citing those as their stories to tell. However, she felt she was “brutally honest” in depicting her parents, while at the same time expressing gratitude at the openness she received from her mom, and the fact that she didn’t have to hide herself at home.

A longtime fan of pop culture, Mock wrote about pop culture and repackaged content for People.com after earning a masters degree in journalism from New York University. She mused that she used none of the skills she learned in grad school while creating “click-bait-y things,” such as photo galleys and slideshows. When asked about that state of journalism today, Mock appreciates the variety of voices in today’s pop culture reporting, but maintains that we still need to recruit more editors of color.

The conversation also touched on Mock’s respect for Toni Morrison, especially her works The Bluest Eye and Sula. “The way in which she writes the lives of black women is powerful and beautiful….The way in which she writes about sex workers in her books has always been something that I’ve found to never be judgmental. They could be spaces of refuge, and that was always my experience of growing up with women who engaged in sex work … There’s an unapologetic nature about the character of Sula that I always return to as the way in which I want to be.”

When asked about being an advocate for the trans community, Mock stated that she’s always had a tortured relationship being a representative for anyone other than herself. “But I also understand the layers of privilege and access that I do have to be seen and heard on the level that I am,” she added. The author-activist also voiced frustration at how other aspects of her identity, notably being a black woman and a native Hawaiian, are downplayed, especially since those identities have affected her experience as a trans woman. Another key part of her identity is her past experiences as a sex worker.

Image via hollywood.com

“I find it bizarre that we want women to have bodily autonomy and pro-choice, but, at the same time, when it comes to women who engage in sex work who do that as a way to take care of themselves, we then police them, we tell them that their choices are wrong, and that they should not be doing that with their bodies. I need to include that in my narrative because that’s a part of my narrative and I think that writing about this—showing these personal interactions with sex workers and in sex work—enables people to understand it with more nuanced approach and not see sex workers as victims.”

Responding to a question about how the election has impacted her life, Mock relayed that it has not affected her daily routine, as the communities she comes fromspecifically low-income communities, black communities, communities of color, trans communities“were the most prepared for something like this as they’ve never been the focus of any administration,” and have always resisted and always fought back. The difference, she clarified, is that now people are emboldened to say what they really feel.

Her latest project is Never Before with Janet Mock, a podcast co-produced by Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter. Mock shared how Tumblr has helped educate her about privilege and ability, particularly the site’s queer communities, disabled communities, and voices of black women. Intersectional feminism, especially highlighting voices that are often marginalized within feminist liberal spaces, is a goal she continues to strive for.

About Stephanie Sendaula

Stephanie Sendaula (ssendaula@mediasourceinc.com) is an Associate Editor at Library Journal.

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