Growing up in Honolulu, there was no single trans person visible to me to point to as a role model, as an example of what could be possible for me as a teenager.
I turned to movies with strong heroines. I turned to Oprah Winfrey. I turned to the works of women of color writers, from Maya Angelou and Alice Walker to the incomparable Zora Neale Hurson. All of which filled me up. Despite their brilliance, though, they didn’t speak in totality to who I was or whom I dreamt of becoming.
This lack of visible possibility left a gaping hole within me and led me to believe that I was isolated, alone, and unworthy of being seen or heard. Yet, it also propelled me to eventually tell my own story in adulthood at a time when I settled into a safe, secure, solid place in my own life. After opening up, I’ve since been able to find numerous trans people doing amazing work, filling me up with possibility, inspiration and hope. I’ve found my people.
In the past two years, I’ve shared space and sistership with Reina Gossett and Laverne Cox, with Katherine Cross and Monica Roberts, with Monika MHz London and Andy Marra, with Ida Hammer and Ryka Aoki. All of these women – and many more I hope to embrace in real life – are now on the inaugural Trans 100, an exhibition of our collective presence and reach as a community.
I had the privilege to witness this “for us, by us” achievement grow from Toni D’Orsay‘s spark of an idea into the Chicago launch event (shepherded impeccably by Jen Richards) on March 31, where I met organizers I’ve admired from afar like Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler and KOKUMO and singers like Namoli Brennet and Joe Stevens.
At the launch event, I also delivered the evening’s closing keynote address. With the Trans 100’s public unveiling today, I want to share the video and transcript of my remarks below. I hope my words about the list, about the people, about our glorious community inspires you to be proud, to be visible, to be unapologetic. My grand hope is that trans youth coming-of-age now may be able to turn to this list as a exhibition of who we are, what we can contribute and what’s possible, and just maybe have 100 reasons to feel less alone in this world.
Closing Keynote, Trans 100, Chicago, IL. – March 31, 2013
written and delivered by Janet Mock
Thank you all so much for having me. I am just in awe tonight, standing here, listening to all these names: some I’ve never heard before, some that I’m very familiar with. Makes me feel like I’m kind of at a family reunion, meeting new cousins you’ve never heard before but very happy to have them in your family.
I am so happy to be here, to stand witness to the greatness of Chicago’s trans community, to the fruition of Toni D’Orsay’s dream, to this night that Jen Richards refuses to take ANY credit for, to the talents I get to share this stage with this evening: KOKUMO, Namoli, Joe and Kortney – I am in awe of you.
I stand here tonight at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, love and femininity. Unapologetically.
I stand here tonight with brown skin, with wild curly hair, with a lacquered lip, with my body and my womanhood in my possession.
I stand here tonight with privileges and experiences of oppression that have enabled me to survive and thrive to make it to this stage.
I stand here tonight in awe because tonight was created by us and for us. We are all standing witness to a legendary feat, a feat that has allowed us to celebrate our living, those who are doing work to enact gender, social, class, and racial justice nationwide.
We are actively writing the chapters of our revolution, yet as we write, we must pen the names of those who came before, those who have arrived, and those who are on their way.
I am here because of grassroot collectives who have never forgotten that our youth are still homeless, our siblings are still fighting HIV/AIDS, our sisters are banished to the darkness of street corners and backpages and our people are still being locked away.
I am here tonight because of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, because these two fierce queen worked the streets to feed, to house and to care after their sisters who had no place in this movement but at S.T.A.R. House in Alphabet City in Manhattan.
I am here tonight because our forebears, from Sylvia Rivera to Audre Lorde, from James Baldwin to Bayard Rustin, pointed out our community’s blindspots fearlessly and fiercely to ensure that equality went beyond rainbows and marriage and the gaystream.
I am here tonight because my parents tried their best with what they were given, encouraging me to go further than they ever could and embracing me when I told them I could no longer be their son.
I am here tonight because of my best friend Wendi who was the first person in my life to mirror and affirm me as the girl I dreamt myself of becoming.
I am here tonight because of my endocrinologist, who broke the law by giving me the medicine I needed at 15. I know in his lifetime, he did the same for hundreds of others.
I am here tonight because of the trans women on the streets of Honolulu, who shared their advice and their experiences, letting me know that I am not the first, nor will I be the last to travel on our scary yet glorious road towards womanhood.
I am here tonight because my teachers and the administration at Farrington High School believed in me and saw greatness in me before I ever could, giving a 17-year-old trans girl with limited resources our school’s only scholarship to college.
I am here tonight because despite the hero’s journey that we hear in the media – I did not do any of this alone.
I am here tonight because of a vast network of people who believed in me, cheered me on, and told me in big and small ways that I am a dream realized.
I am here tonight because Toni D’Orsay dreamt of creating a space of recognition for us. Toni is a dream realized.
I am here tonight because Jen Richards dreamt a bigger dream in six short weeks. Jen’s tireless work and her inability to do anything without an intersectional lens is the dream realized.
I am here tonight because of the 99 other names on the inaugural Trans 100 list and the unrecognized thousands who are not on this list whose quiet acts are actively changing lives. They are the dream realized.
Our voices are amplified in this room but many are being silenced elsewhere. Our voices are only as loud as the voices of those who are being exiled and forced to believe that theirs do not matter.
The privileges that have granted us access to this space mean nothing as long as those same privileges shut the door behind us. We must wield the power and turn up the volume of our voices to fight for inclusion, equality and justice.
As an honoree of the first-ever Trans 100, I am humbled. Finding my people and finding my voice has honestly been reward enough for me.
I reluctantly accept this honor under the recognition that garnering this distinction does not make me more valuable than those who are not on this list. Each and everyone of them and you are deserving, valuable and worthy. I ask that you accept this honor with me so together we can do the work and live up to the collective power of the Trans 100.
I thank you for this evening, for this moment and for listening.