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Janet Mock redefines Realness for Center on Halsted audience
by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer

This article shared 7556 times since Tue Feb 11, 2014
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At the Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago's Gender and Sex Development Program teams of specialists in disciplines that include Endocrinology, Adolescent Medicine, Psychiatry and Psychology currently work with 66 transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming, gender fluid and gender questioning children and their families.

According to Program Coordinator Jennifer Leininger, the young participants range from four to twenty-two years old and usually arrive via referrals from mental health or medical providers who feel ill-equipped to support the medical and counseling needs of the child who is exploring her/his or their gender identity.

"Everyone's path is different," Leininger said. "If it's a four-year-old's family who is calling, they might just want to have their child meet with a therapist to explore their gender identity. There's also a play group, support with school and a multi-disciplinary clinic." The program offers the opportunity for parents to connect with each other.

It is an environment not only equipped to help the children thrive in their chosen gender, but for their parents and families to receive the answers they need to support their child throughout their journey together.

Lurie also offers the LifeSkills Program—a curriculum facilitated and written by young trans-women for young trans-women to be empowered and educated in topics that range from HIV risk behavior to make-up application.

When they became aware that author Janet Mock was going to be in Chicago, the Gender and Sex Development, LifeSkills and Adolescent Medicine Program staff saw a priceless chance for young participants and their parents to experience and be affirmed by Mock's story: one she chronicled in her book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More released earlier this month to critical acclaim.

"There's such an under-representation of really strong trans folks in the community," Leininger said. "I think it's a really exciting opportunity to bring someone in who is so open about her story and is such a positive role model for so many of the young people that I work with."

When word got out about the February 11 live interview and book signing with Mock, the response was so overwhelming that the event had to be moved from Lurie to the Center on Halsted.

Mock— who stepped onto the public stage after a first-person article was written about her journey by a Marie Claire journalist—has written and spoken candidly and extensively about the tremendous hurdles experienced by trans-women, their successes and how they are represented in the media. She encourages all trans-women, regardless of color, to "live-visibly" in a world so quick to judge them.

So, on her arrival at the Center, Mock immediately got to work sharing lunch with a group of trans-people. Led by Center on Halsted Youth Outreach Coordinator Precious Davis and TransWorks Coordinator with the TransLife Project at the Chicago House Angelica Ross, they talked openly with the author about the experiences and mounting challenges they face in Chicago. According to them, the gentrification of neighborhoods like Lakeview and Boystown has brought with it a prevailing attitude that young trans-people, especially those of color, are no longer wanted. "It's how you are treated in this neighborhood," one participant told Mock about Lakeview. "There were plenty of times when I wasn't even let in my own building. People were closing the door before I could enter."

"For the past couple of years, I haven't seen too many young people or people of color living in this area," Ross noted. "Young people don't live in the neighborhood," Davis clarified."But this is where a lot of the services and safe spaces [for them] are."

Davis added that it is a trend she has seen in cities like Los Angeles, New York and St. Louis. "This is a systematic issue," she said. The feeling among many of the participants was, despite the rainbow flags and circles along Halsted Street signaling a safe and welcoming LGBT area, that young trans-women and trans-women of color are seen as prostitutes. Such a perception has meant a cold reception whether applying for a job or visiting neighborhood nightclubs.

"I think about a lot of the work that Fierce does," Mock said, referring to the membership-based organization dedicated to building the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth in New York City. "Empowering young people to say 'no, these are our streets, these are our neighborhoods too and the reason why this neighborhood is everything is because we're the ones who work here at making it everything.'"

After the discussion, on-stage in front of a standing room only audience, Mock admitted to celebrated activist, advocate and President of the Morten Group consulting firm Mary Morten, that the experience over lunch made her nervous. "I get very anxious in group dynamics," Mock said. "I was like sweating, because that's not the work that I'm built to do."

Mock said that she doesn't thin k of herself as an activist. "I feel like a lot of the people who are doing the work on the ground, with young people, who are doing grass roots work every single day; those are activists, " she said. "I'm a writer who writes about experiences that I had and then also adding a lens and contextualizing those experiences in a political landscape. If people want to take that as activism that's great but I see myself as a writer speaking out about issues that intersect with my life experiences."

However, Mock hopes that Redefining Realness will be the catalyst for empowerment for trans-people "I feel like I had these unique gifts," she said. "I felt that I could clearly communicate very complicated issues through my personal experiences. In my job as someone that the media is interesting in hearing from I'm always making sure that I say that I am not the exception and also lifting up the work of people who are actually doing this every day. "

Looking back at her life, Mock recalled that iconic figures like Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and Harriet Tubman made her feel that black womanhood was something to aspire to. Redefining Realness is replete with quotes from them. "It was me paying homage to the people who fed me," Mock said. "Who gave me a sense of possibility and hope, who gave me words and language to dream of a life that I can love someday."

The idea that now she may prove to be a figure of inspiration for young trans-people was not lost on Mock. "I can't believe I am part of that process where other young girls see themselves in a book that speaks to them," she acknowledged.

When Morten asked if she had any advice for them, Mock said she doesn't believe they are looking for it. "I feel like anyone who is brave enough to be themselves and be young and be out there and be vulnerable, they know exactly what they're doing," she stated. "The first thing I would say would be to tap into yourself and create a network of people around you. Anyone that's trying to rebut you or tell you that your experience is false or wrong or shameful or sinful, you need to shut them out of your life."

When it came to the question of her well-documented argument with CNN's Piers Morgan, Mock admitted that at the time, the interview was something for which she had little patience at the time. "I was upset that my book wasn't read," she said, "that an article that I didn't write was used as the basis for the interview. I felt like if he would have read ten pages [of the book], literally the introduction alone, it would have made the difference."

Mock said Morgan has not responded to her offer to sit down over a cup of coffee and discuss the issues she had with him.

For Mock, Redefining Realness is ultimately on a mission of empowerment, elevation and education for any young trans-person, no matter how they are trying to navigate through life. "I didn't know that the experiences I went through were not my fault. Don't shame yourself even more. Society shames us enough," she said to resounding applause.

After the interview concluded, Mock signed copies of her book for a line of people that stretched around the auditorium lobby.

One trans-woman named Carrie was thrilled with her copy. "It's very special for me," she said. "I'm very excited!"

Also see Windy City Times coverage, Janet Mock gets Real about trans identity Piers Morgan, at the link: .

The videos with this story were removed at the request of organizers.

This article shared 7556 times since Tue Feb 11, 2014
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