On Friday, Nov. 15, Amherst College Pride Alliance was honored to host Janet Mock, a transgender woman of color, in celebration of Trans*^Awareness Week. Janet is a renowned writer and transgender rights advocate who grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii and thus had a very unique childhood experience. Although Janet was born biologically male, she grew up wanting only one thing — “a chance to be in the right body for the first time in [her] entire life.” There is much to be learned from her experiences, and I think that she has been very successful in changing the views many people have toward transgender women in particular.
Janet recently finished writing a memoir titled “Redefining Realness,” to be released in February 2014, which will expose many to the obstacles transgender people must face in their lives. These difficulties are also prevalent in the lives of those who do not conform to the gender binaries, i.e., male and female. There is no doubt an increased amount of gender nonconformity in societies where trans* identity is more accepted, and Janet is proof of this. During a meet and greet in the Queer Resource Center (QRC), Janet explained to students that in Hawaii there was “room for a third gender.” She said that although growing up in Hawaii was a very different experience than it would’ve been on the mainland, it certainly wasn’t any easier.
When talking to Janet, I felt a very strong connection with her and I feel I can easily relate to her, being a transgender man at Amherst. We both are very fortunate to have a strong support network, and hers just happens to be from family, which she is very fortunate for. To me, she is living proof that things can get better with persistence. I never had the opportunity to meet another trans* identified person before Janet, and I am very thankful for having met her.
Although we both experienced the hardship of growing up in a body that doesn’t correlate with our biological sex, we had very different lifestyles growing up. I was raised in a fairly conservative household where I was taught how to “act like a lady” and how to abide by society’s standards. I was told what I was supposed to wear, and of course obeyed my parents because that was all I knew to do. I realized that I was not a typical girl when I would wear my brother’s clothes around my room and feel significantly happier. I’d look in the mirror and appreciate my more masculine appearance. After years of feeling uncomfortable, I decided to make my happiness a priority. Without my parents knowing, I went to the hairdresser with my friend and did what I had been wishing to do for years — cut off all of my hair. Doing this was a big step towards a more positive direction.
I didn’t realize that not only would having short hair change the way I saw myself, but it would also significantly change the perceptions others had of me. After only thirty minutes of living with my new appearance, I was addressed as “gentleman” and “sir” at dinner that night with my friends. For the first time in my life I felt as though I was understood. I decided to use this to my advantage, and I began making friends who knew nothing about my past. As one can imagine, that didn’t last; word travels fast. People began to treat me differently, as expected. I lost a good portion of my close friends, mostly because they did not understand. This lack of understanding is also applicable to my family, who I have yet to “come out” to. To me, coming out has never been a necessary step in the process of finding myself. When I decided to be open about my sexual identity, I never directly announced it or confronted anyone. I casually brought it up in conversation with my friends and those who I was comfortable telling. I did the same with my gender identity; however, I have yet to confront my family about it. Although I have yet to change my legal name, my friends were great with the transition between my birth name and my chosen name. Here at Amherst, everyone refers to me as Jason*, and I’m much more comfortable. I feel I’m in a safe environment with the support of the school, great administrators and most importantly, accepting peers. The frequent ignorance toward non-binary identities is what I wish to diminish during my life and even within my time here.
Through the process of finding myself, I’ve recognized that the opinions I have of myself are the most important. I’ve learned to surround myself with people who will complement me. I was very anxious before freshman year started, as I didn’t know how people would react to my situation. Fortunately, I’ve made many good friends here and am still able to maintain my friendships with those back home who helped me through my transition. I think that although Amherst certainly has room for improvement — like implementing gender-inclusive restrooms — I am more than happy and grateful to be here.
If you are interested in contributing to the Queeriosity column, contact Matthew Randolph ’16 at [email protected].
^ All gender identities excluding cisgender
*Names in this article have been changed to protect the author’s identity.