Skip to main content

Transgender rights activist Janet Mock speaks at Northwestern

October 19, 2015 | By Alex Furuya (BSJ18)

Transgender rights activist and author Janet Mock came to Northwestern University as the Multicultural Student Affairs Queer & Trans* Empowerment Speaker on Tuesday. The event held at Cahn Auditorium was co-hosted by the Medill School of Journalism and the Multicultural Student Affairs.

The program that was attended by students, staff, faculty and guests began with introductory remarks from the director of MSA Charles Kellom and the assistant director of MSA Jordan “JT” Turner. Medill senior Bo-Won Suh then joined Mock on stage as the moderator of the event. Suh, who is the co-president of Rainbow Alliance, asked Mock questions about a variety of topics, from her work as a journalist to the importance of intersectionality, or how different systems of oppression work together.

The first topic that Mock and Suh talked about was concerning Mock’s latest book, “Redefining Realness,” and how storytelling is crucial in both journalism and activism.

“Storytelling is a way not only to inspire, inform and educate but it's also a way to connect,” Mock said. “Giving people space to hear their truths to share their stories can hopefully bust people open and challenge and shift conversations.”

According to Mock, storytelling is not only important to share the truth, but also to affirm one’s identity.

“For me, writing Redefining Realness, on a personal level, validated and affirmed the fact that I deserve to be heard, that my story deserves pages and that my unconventional girlhood deserves a space to be celebrated,” said Mock.

One of the reoccurring themes in Mock and Suh’s discussion as well as the Q & A that followed was the importance of sisterhood and working with one another while being affected by multiple systems of oppression. Mock discussed her time as a poor young child struggling with her identity and how trans women helped and supported her.

“What sex work did for me as a young person was it enabled me to connect,” she said. “It enabled me to tap into a whole network of sisters who supported me and cheered me on."

Mock and Suh also talked about the current state of journalism.  Mock talked about the various obstacles she faced in the industry due to her identity and how she disclosed her identity. Mock also talked about the tendency of media to target the negative rather than the positive.

“I think we give too much attention and focus on people who say one ignorant thing versus people who say a million brilliant thing,” she said.

In addition, Mock gave aspiring journalists several tips and suggestions from her own experience.

“Don't let anyone say that you writing about the stories you care about is not journalism and that you are being an activist,” said Mock. “Keep writing what matters most to you, those will be the clips that when you leave you will be proud to show people.”

Mock also talked about how it is important to not hide one’s identity and experience in the journalism industry. On the flipside, she also acknowledges how it is also sometimes necessary to do so in order to succeed in the industry. Regardless, she says that it all comes down to whatever a young journalist is comfortable with.

“A lot of things that's going on in your life or your experiences is no one's business,” she said. “You have the right to invite people or not invite people into your sacred place, which is you.”

Mock’s final point was about how activists and journalists need to take care of themselves.

“First you've got to take care of yourself, you can't give or do any good work if you're not filled up yourself,” said Mock. “If you need to leave at a certain point, leave and know that you can keep that door open and come back.”

Audience members were invited for a book signing following the event. Members of the audience also were allowed to take a photo with Janet Mock.

This event was just one event out of the many MSA’s Queer and Trans* Empowerment events this month. Future events include a performance and a workshop hosted by the trans South Asian performance art duo DarkMatter on Oct. 25.