On Friday March 28th, 2014, fellow The Queer Life writer Karissa Rae Mckelvey and I received last minute tickets to attend An Evening with Janet Mock. Sean from The Shine Study so kindly messaged me on Facebook the previous day to let us know that there would be tickets available to this event that sold out in less than 8 hours on Eventbrite.
Janet Mock recently published a book called Redefining Realness and is on tour throughout the country promoting the book. A little background information on Janet Mock:
- Creates transgender-specific programs and education for the LGBTQ youth center of the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City
- Started the Twitter hashtag #GirlsLikeUs
- Served as co-chair, nominee and presenter at the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards
- Appeared in the public as a figure promoting transgender rights (as well as infamously on the Piers Morgan show)
The event took place in the Rainbow Room at the SF LGBT Center located on 1800 Market Street, San Francisco. The event started upstairs in the VIP room where guests queued up for a chance to meet Janet Mock for 20 seconds, get their book signed, take a phone picture (official phone photographer on staff), and give her a hug.
Then everybody filed downstairs to the Rainbow Room to hear the event open with Breanna Elyce Sinclaire, the first trans woman at the SF Conservatory of Music as an opera singer. There were probably a couple hundred people at this event, which is a far cry from the Laverne Cox event held the week before at a different venue which housed thousands, eager to listen to the lecture. If you’ve never been to the Rainbow Room, it’s very intimate when it fills up. Beautiful trans-men and women filled up the audience, dressed to the nines for this prestigious event.
Celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility, started in 2009 by Rachel Crandall “as a reaction to the lack of LGBT holidays celebrating transgender people.” Speaker Cecilia Chung stated that while we honor those that have died for our freedoms as trans people in the modern day, “day of visibility is for the living to recognize our accomplishments.”
Sponsors from the event include:
- Trans Thrive
- Shine Study
- Trans Employment
- Asia SF
- Transgender Law Center TLC
- The Center of Excellence for Transgender Health
To further honor Janet Mock’s work in the transgender community, the city issued her a proclamation of her accomplishments award and proclaim this: Janet Mock Day.
Janet Mock Speaks
When Janet Mock reached the podium, the crowd went wild with a huge round of applause. She starts out by reading excerpts from her book, beginning with her experience transitioning as a sophomore in high school. As a sophomore, her classmates elected Charles as their treasurer but Janet was the one who addressed the school. “There is power in naming yourself” she says when reminiscing about choosing the name Janet in response to her love for Janet Jackson. She then goes on to talk about her science teacher in high school who blamed her as the victim and used the wrong pronouns, which is a common experience that trans people experience in their development. Destiny’s Child validated her as a young trans-woman-of-color, which is “considered to be the farthest from the standard of beauty prevalent in our culture.” To further that ideal, Beyonce made her “love to be brown.” With all the strength and inspiration she received from her teen idols, she went forward and proclaimed “I don’t want to die before I’m truly myself or make any compromises to get the health coverage.”
Q+A Panel On-Stage
Before the panel of trans-activists steps on-stage, Breanna Elyce Sinclaire serenades us with an aria. Once tears have settled, the panel joins Janet Mock on-stage. The panel is composed of a trans-man filmmaker named Sean, Cecilia Chung trans-woman, Christina Quinonez trans-woman, and another young trans-woman Lexi Nepantla Adsit.
How has art affected you?
Sean: Film was positive in my manhood.
Cecilia: I wish I was strong enough to stand up for myself.
Janet: Fiction and stories are very powerful in dream up our own lives.
To Janet: What does LGBT empowerment mean to you?
We should give none to LGBT businesses [as] a majority of our populations is not ready to launch a business. So we need to help them get to that place. We should value creative lives through Indiegogo, Gofundme, etc. We should be using our resources to take care of each other.
To Janet: What can we do?
Send me your work so I can boost it and share it, especially TWOC (trans women of color). (Janet makes a remark that as she becomes more famous, the more isolated she becomes).
What tips do you have for trans people of visibility?
Cecilia: We need to focus on solidarity.
Janet: I turn down a lot of media opportunities. I was naive to think my accomplishments would protect me [on the Piers Morgan show]. [The media] is there to sensationalize and entice.
Christina: It’s really raw to reveal yourself as your previous identity. It’s important for us to own our identities.
Sean: It’s important as a black man to be inclusive of others. I came out at the Transgender Film Festival and noticed everyone else was white.
Cecilia: Make sure we create the space for young queer people and not take it from them.
To Janet: How can we prioritize TWOC (trans women of color)
Janet: The next step is to build a bus and bring people to these spaces.
Lexi: There hasn’t been funding outside of HIV drug testing for TWOC.
Janet: (Tells story about a trans woman she met). What’s so tragic was that this woman didn’t get any resources until she got HIV. When you become a statistic, they take care of you.
Christina: We are lumped into this group [HIV testing]. We need to be a role model to the next generation.
Janet: We do it by telling our own stories, creating our own projects, and creating portraits of what we see of ourselves. (Janet’s next book is on aesthetics and beauty, critiquing beauty culture). It’s a struggle when the gaze is constantly on you.
What does visibility mean to you (in a few words)
Christina: Looking amazing.
Lexi: Owning yourself.
Janet: Truth and power.
Cecilia: Power in numbers.
Sean: Unapologetically loving ourselves.
End of Panel
Closing the event, we had Breanna Elyce Sinclaire step back up on stage to sing “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” followed by a round of applause.
This day is one of many where powerful movers and shakers in not only the LGBT community, but in the trans community gather in solidarity to make the world a better place. In the words of Breanna Elyce Sinclaire, “we will not live our lives as victims.”