TheGrio's 100: Janet Mock, changing perspectives on gender nonconformity

theGRIO's 100 - Born and raised Charles Mock, Janet Mock bucked societal norms early on...

Janet Mock was born a boy named Charles.

Raised in Hawaii, Mock bucked societal norms early on; first putting on a dress as a dare when she was a child, and later wearing makeup and platform shoes as a teen. She knew something that the outside world did not, or at least refused to accept: She was female.

“I didn’t feel trapped in my body; I did feel that [my body] was doing things I didn’t quite like,” she said. “I remember growing up and being told that I was supposed to do certain things — boys do this, girls do that.” 46398964

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Indeed, long before undergoing hormone therapy as a teen, she transitioned inside.

“I was very conscious of the fact that I was supposed to be a boy,” she said. “But very early on I also fought back against those norms that my father wanted his son to (follow), and I didn’t want to be his son, I wanted to be me, and ‘me’ was being a girl.”

At age 18, on a winter holiday from college, Janet took a few thousand dollars she had saved and flew to Thailand to make what she knew inside, official, through gender reassignment surgery.

“Even though I’d spent the last three hours on the operating table — I could already feel the first tinges of pain in my lower body — I felt completely reborn,” Mock said in a Marie Claire article about her journey. “Though I had been born a boy to my native Hawaiian mother and African-American father, I would never be a man. It was the birth of my choosing this time. And now it was official: Charles had died so that Janet could live.”

The years following her transition, Mock went about her life as any other young woman, going to graduate school and embarking on a career in journalism in New York City, eventually landing a coveted editorial position at Only those closest to her knew she was transgender.

In 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King, a gender-nonconforming teen who identified as gay, was shot to death in California by a classmate in what was called a hate crime. After that story, and a subsequent period of suicides in 2010, Janet decided to tell the world who she really was — who, in her eyes, she had always been — in an attempt to help others see that they too could live and be who they are, despite the bullying and the insults from others. She revealed her story in Marie Claire last May.

Janet Mock is making history … as an advocate for transgender individuals. By putting her story in the national spotlight, Janet, previously known as just another young, black professional woman, has challenged the stigma surrounding gender identity.

What’s next for Janet?
In addition to her recent promotion as staff editor at, Mock is working on a memoir, continues to do a podcast with her longtime boyfriend about their relationship, and goes on speaking engagements about gender nonconformity and related issues.

In her own words …
“I hope that eventually people just see that I’m a woman. When they can see that — but beyond that, when they can just see me as a human being who is living her life, being happy and not causing any harm to anyone else, and is open enough to share her story so that it can help other people — that, I think, is the best part of it.”

A little-known fact about transgender identity…
Nearly half of young transgender people have had serious suicidal thoughts, and one-quarter say they have attempted suicide, according to the gay and lesbian advocacy group GLAAD.

For more information, click here.


Q: What’s next in this chapter of your life?

A: Continuing to tell stories that matter to me on my own terms: I’m finishing my memoir, Fish Food, showing what happens after finding true love in my podcast and web series, The Missing Piece; and speaking to people about my experiences in the hope that it lets them know that nothing is wrong with being your true self.

Q: What’s a fact about you that many people don’t know?

A: My first publishing internship in New York was in the editorial department of Playboy, a position I earned by putting cup size in my cover letter. That risqué detail caught my editor’s attention, ultimately leading to the internship that kick-started my writing career. It reminds me to take risks.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?

A: “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to become and I became that woman.” – Diane von Furstenberg

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

A: I get inspiration from people who are unafraid to be fully seen — flaws, insecurities, talents and all. From Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey to voices like writers Tracy McMillan and Joan Didion and Tiny Furniture’s Lena Dunham. Their stories couldn’t be more different from one another but they make me stronger, braver, an overall better human being by letting me know that through storytelling I am not alone and it’s a beautiful thing to tell your truth.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to achieve their dreams?

A: You are not your circumstances, and the moment you realize that what has happened to you doesn’t define you, you will tap into your true power and strength. Know that your dreams can and will become your reality only when you realize that the world is a mirror reflecting your own inner sense of self.