Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Content Warning: sexual abuse, prostitution, pornography work, an attempted suicide, drug use, derogatory terms for black and gay people. The prostitution and pornography work are not described in detail, nor is the drug use or suicide attempt.

redefining realness

Janet Mock’s first memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More was published in 2014. I listened to the audio book version, read by Mock herself, during that two-hour round-trip commute to the correctional facility. The memoir uses a framing device. Mock has a boyfriend she is interested in seriously, and whom she may tell she is a transwoman. The framing device ends when she tells this man she is a transwoman and that she wants to share her past with him. The next chapter picks up with Mock as a child in Hawaii and describes the author’s life up to around age 18. The framing device picks up again at the end, sharing with readers how the boyfriend responded to Mock’s story.

The framing device was a strong tool to create anticipation because in real life we don’t know if things will work out how we want them to. Readers/listeners are like the boyfriend: we have to learn what he learns the night she tells him everything. The initial introduction to the boyfriend is so vivid that even the several hours between the book ends don’t allow listeners to forget.

Mock’s abilities as a voice actor fit with her memoir, though not all authors are the best voice actors for their books. The audio is clear and sounds genuine. Some unusual pauses give the book a weird wavey rhythm, almost like the ocean, but overall is strong for someone who isn’t a voice actor. Furthermore, several Hawaiian slang terms and colloquial langauge sound authentic because they are. When young Janet and her friend Wendy code switch, adult Mock effortless captures her and her friend’s voices. I’ve heard several audio books in which a voice actor slaughters slang and non-English words (and some English ones, too).

Redefining Realness goes beyond the story of Janet Mock. She discusses why transwomen are more likely to have experienced abuse, the crack epidemic during her time in California, her mother’s inability to be the adult, why transwomen may become street workers, and resources at schools that aren’t available to everyone. If you’re not familiar with the trans community, she breaks down basic terms, like “cis” and “gender reconstruction surgery.” Although many of Mock’s personal traumas — being molested by a step-brother, witnessing her parents use drugs, her mother attempting suicide when Mock was a girl, and sex work she did to pay for her “bottom surgery” — may be too much for some readers, the author’s experiences are an example of how trans folks are easy to victimize and often abandoned by families for being trans. She’s careful to avoid sensationalizing any sitautions that may turn readers away, especially sexual ones.

Mock is also careful to never suggest all trans experiences are alike, and notes that hers is privileged compared to many because she found access to hormone treatment early in her teen years in Hawaii, where trans people are more accepted in the culture, and was always pretty. She positions herself as a polished, trusthworthy, thoughtful writer successfully.



  1. This sounds really interesting. And the choice to frame the story in that way sounds quite effective. I’m glad, too, that Mock doesn’t go for sensationalism or lurid details. The story is probably all the more powerful for the fact that she doesn’t.

  2. I’d love to read a book like this, and I hope it’s available (or will become available) in school libraries because it seems like a necessary read for teens going through the same thing. Fingers crossed we start seeing more of this on our shelves!

  3. I’m sure being ‘pretty’ makes a difference. We are having (or making!) problems over here letting trans women into our recently formed top level womens football (Australian Rules) competition. And the fact that the main player concerned is 2 metres tall and a bit rugged looking is causing problems.

  4. This sounds like a page-turner. In the book I read, Rock Paper Sex, the transgender sex worker implied that many transgender women use sex work as a way to pay for their surgeries. I wonder if it’s the same for transgender men…

    I suppose you’re not going to tell us how her boyfriend reacted to her story!! I need to know!

  5. I can’t think of whether I’ve ever heard any Hawaiian slang – probably not! That would certainly add a layer of authenticity to the story in addition to all the elements you’ve described which make it such a personal and revealing story. It sounds like an important read; I’m glad she wrote it and glad you reviewed it!

    • Thank you! I listened to the audio book, so I may be willing, but I thought Mock called it pidgin, like they have in a number of cultures. I didn’t know anything about this dialect before reading Redefining Realness. I know little about Hawaii except everyone wants to vacation there, so I assume it’s god-awful touristy.

  6. I believe Naz @Read Diverse Books read & reviewed this one back when he was reviewing. I’ve been reading a lot of biographies & non fiction this year, and a book by a transgendered individual is definitely on my reading bucket list. It sounds like she has lived a fascinating (and hard) life. It sounds like audiobook form is the way to go on this one, so I need to go check out if its available through my library’s database.

    • Yeah, it was a steady narration and easy to follow. Not all writers are the best to read their own books, but I think it’s important that she did.

      Do you know what happened to Naz? He completely disappeared.

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