Highlighting a calendar of events held during the 2015 Queer and Trans Empowerment Month, Northwestern University Multicultural Student Affairs ( MSA ) hosted celebrated author, advocate and anchor of MSNBC's So POPular! Janet Mock, who spoke candidly about her life and work to an enthusiastic audience at the campus's Cahn Auditorium on Oct. 13.
Fielding questions from that audience along with Medill School of Journalism student and Rainbow Alliance Co-President Bo Suh, Mock defined a career replete with her unrivaled brand of storytelling in her capacity as a journalist, speaker and author of the New York Times best-seller Redefining Realness not only as a way to "inspire, inform and educate" but to "challenge entire systems that don't want people like me to exist."
"It's also a way to connect," she said. "Giving and offering people space to share their truths, their stories can bust people open, challenge and shift conversations. For me, writing Redefining Realness was, on a personal level, to validate and affirm the fact that I deserve to be heard, that my story deserves pages and that my unconventional girlhood deserves a space to be celebrated."
Mock noted that it was the strong Black women she knew in her formative years as a part of her family, or through music and literature who helped challenge a woman's role that is "taught and fed through culture and television" and so opened up her life to the world's possibilities.
"There were also the trans women that I met when I was 12 and 13 years old in Honolulu who showed me what was possible," she said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without those women who had done it before me."
In a country which has as much demonized as it has criminalized sex-workers, Mock found in them a caring network of connection and support.
"Before I learned about gender or anything, I knew that I was a poor Black child," she said. "Poverty and also my identity led me to spaces in which I had to fight for my own survival as a young person and to trans women who charted their own waywho created their own underground economies and resources that enabled me to access the healthcare that I needed that the entire system was not offering me or my sisters and siblings."
"For me it's always about how do we make sure our feminism and social justice activism isn't further marginalizing and putting folks who engage in the sex trade out to be bigger victims of criminalization, violence and death?" She added.
While encouraging more inclusive conversations between trans individuals and the diverse spectrum of gender non-binary people, Mock noted that "in terms of speaking on behalf of White feminism, I don't really have time to do that."
"When folks center their own experiences and are really reductive and basic in their politics and who don't necessarily have a lived experience of oppression beyond just being assigned female at birth and White and monied,"Mock explained, "and who don't understand what it is to be a young Black or Latina trans girl who is on the street, pushed out of hostel homes and intolerant schools and told that their only resource is their body and so they use those bodies to save themselves and to be their own heroes. I don't know of a greater feminist act than that. If we are not centering these girls and women and people in our politics then our feminism is phony."
For more information about the MSA's Queer and Trans Empowerment Month, visit: www.northwestern.edu/msa/programs-events/identity-engagement/heritage-month-celebrations/queer-trans-empowerment-month/index.html .