On Tuesday evening, the Department of Multicultural Life hosted trans* rights activist, social justice advocate and author Janet Mock, who gave a keynote address as part of the SPEAK! series and kickoff of Women’s History Month.

Mock, a trans woman of color, spoke about her new memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More and about the struggles that trans women face.

Mock’s book came out in early February. After coming out as a trans woman in an issue of Marie Claire in 2011, Mock began focusing her efforts on supporting trans* persons and speaking about the issues that trans women in particular face. Mock spoke about claiming her identity and the conviction she held in high school.

“No one, not even my parents, could make me question who I was,” she said.

Among some of her recent accomplishments are the Twitter movement #GirlsLikeUs, advising the {young}ist, a youth-powered media site, and serving as a board member for the Arcus Foundation, which advances social justice and conservation efforts. She has been honored by organizations such as The Sylvia Rivera Project, ADCOLOR Awards, and the Anti-Violence Project, and her memoir is currently on the New York Time’s bestsellers’ list.

Mock spoke of the struggles that trans women, particularly trans women of color, face on a daily basis. Homelessness, racism, poverty, and HIV/AIDS were among some of the most prevalent problems that she identified, along with issue of receiving healthcare as a trans woman.

“Society doesn’t say that our lives…our bodies, are worthy of protection or resources,” she said. “I was a mixed black girl in an American culture…where trans women of color were invisible. I speak up for the girls, because so many of them aren’t able to speak up.”

Mock said she found power in being able to name herself and declare her own identity, despite the societal constraints she faced and the opposition she faced, especially when she was in high school.

Mock read from her memoir, hearkening back to an earlier point she had made about repeating her identity as trans woman of color so often during the talk:

“Each time I state my identity on pupose it’s because I am on purpose…There is power in claiming yourself and defining yourself.”

In the question and answer session following excerpts from her memoir, Mock spoke about her writing process and the difficulties she had faced writing the book.

“The first step was to tell myself the truth…without thinking of public consumption,” she said, adding that this had been the hardest step in her writing process. “Writing this book was tough, cathartic it was heartbreaking at times.”

“The political is taken out of the personal experience,” Mock continued, speaking to a trend she saw in other trans* works. In her memoir, she strove to balance her own narrative with “the ‘Manifesto’ moments.”

“I was part of a larger system that failed…I had to figure out how to navigate this hostile world,” she added.

Mock answered one question regarding issues that face the whole trans community.

“We need to develop language to speak across difference…” she said. “It’s not necessarily youth or people of color who should have to do that.”

She also warned against homogenizing the trans* community.

“Generalization is also hurtful and erasing,” she said.

Currently, Mock is dealing with the pressures of the mainstream media.

“They can’t see me as anything other than trans,” she said. “That’s the beast I’m trying to navigate right now.”

Mock also expressed extreme gratitude and admiration for the “foremothers” of the trans women’s movement, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Mock showed a clip of Rivera speaking at a rally for gay rights in 1973 against the abuse of trans persons and the lack of attention that they received from all sides of society. She also mentioned the presence of trans women at Stonewall in 1969 and the Free CeCe project, which is working to spread the message of CeCe McDonald, a trans woman and activist from Minneapolis, who was imprisoned after a violent altercation in which her attacker, Dean Schmitz, died.

“I think about how this is not in any woman’s history book,” said Mock. “They dared to be seen, they dared to be heard, and they dared to fight back. I take pride in this legacy. We must never forget that legacy of survival…it’s in our history.”

Students in attendance responded well to Mock’s visit.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Anne McEvoy ’17 of Mock’s talk. “She said that trans women aren’t even mentioned in the history of women, and I think that was key.”

Mock received a standing ovation.

“Never silence yourself and never underestimate your voice,” she said.

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