A couple weeks ago, I saw a tweet from Parker Marie Molloy regarding Janet Mock and trans100. I should have screen-capped the tweet to cover my bum, and I am too lazy today to go through all her tweets looking for it. Her tweet said something like: “I’m standing in the presence of greatness.”
“Really?” thought I. Then I went looking for the alleged greatness.
What I found, I did not agree with. I can’t compete with Mock’s media popularity which she is using as a platform in her desire to create a new trans narrative, but I can discuss how Janet’s experiences were different than mine, and why Janet doesn’t speak for me.
On the title “Fish Food” and where “Fish” came from:
[The name] is more of a wink to the community, to the trans women I grew up with. One of the things that was told to me that was encouraging to me growing up was, “Oh, you’re a fish.” Fish is this kind of slang within the community, “Oh you look like a girl, you’re fish.” —Janet Mock
That’s just…yuck. I assume Janet is referring to the local GLBTG scene in Hawaii. The trans women Janet grew up with created and or use the word “fish” to describe looking like a girl. Janet not only seems fine with this, but was winking at her Hawaiian trans community by titling her book “Fish Food”. But there is no harm in calling someone who looks like a girl a “fish”, right? There couldn’t possibly be any negative connotations or baggage associated with that?
Women who grew up socialised as women from birth are bombarded with messages about the unpleasantness of their bodies, especially their vaginas.
“With nicknames like “Fish Taco,” it’s no wonder we freak out. Many women I meet absolutely despise their vaginas, as if they completely buy into whatever childhood messages they were fed about how the vagina is “dirty” and “bad.” For these women, any odor wafting up from down there acts as a big stinky banner of how much they hate their girlness. With vagina nicknames such as “fish taco,” “crotch mackerel,” “cod canal,” “fish factory,” “fuzzy lap flounder,” “tuna town,” and “raw oyster,” it’s no wonder we worry about how we smell.”
— Lissa Rankin, gynecoloist,
Best case scenario? Janet Mock’s trans community, the people she learned this from anyway, are clueless on certain aspects of FAB life? Worst case scenario? I could see some women calling out “looks like girl=fish” as misogyny. Although it’s possible there is some harmless element of Hawaiian culture at work there, that I am ignorant about and not factoring in here?
It’s the kind of reasoning you might expect from someone who learned womanhood from transwomen, as opposed to learning womanhood from women who were born and raised as women. Transwomen could not be expected to be sensitized to the issue, because shared boyhood means we didn’t get the memo. But Janet Mock doesn’t accept shared boyhood, which I will go into more, shortly.
On the underground trans-railroad of sex work:
(excerpts from Janet’s b/vlogs)
Yet my economic hurdles were real and urgent, and I couldn’t deny that witnessing the women of Merchant Street take their lives into their own hands, empowered me. Watching these women every weekend gathered in sisterhood and community, I learned firsthand about body autonomy, about resilience and agency, about learning to do for yourself in a world that is hostile about your existence.
These women taught me that nothing was wrong with me or my body and that if I wanted they would show me the way, and it was this underground railroad of resources created by low-income, marginalized women, that enabled me when I was 16 to jump in a car with my first regular and choose a pathway to my survival and liberation.
And so for me yeah, there is this shame attached and a stigma attached to being a sex worker for me, but there’s also the other things I got from that. A sense of community, sisterhood, resiliency, resources, strength. It was like our underground railroad and resources to navigate a system not built for us. And for me that’s what sex work gave me.
Is this empowerful or what? Personally, I found no sense of community, sisterhood and resiliency when I was in the underground railroad. It could be that most of the trans sisters I met who did sex work were junkies, and junkies steal stuff and tell lots of lies! From cosmetics, to clothes, to loose cash lying around, to your paper mail, if you ever invite a street-walking, meth-addled trans-sister to your home, you have to nail everything to the ground or lock it up in a vault.
If you leave the room, or turn your back for even a minute, while a needy, transwoman-addict-sex worker is there, you will lose stuff. I had to deal with the big credit bureaus some years ago, on account that my real name and social security number was jacked by another transwoman I had over my apartment for a few days back in 2002. Said transwoman went on to default on rent payment for an apartment in a different state, and I later had to prove that I was not that transwoman and get my credit fixed.
I’ve written about my experiences working as a prostitute before. I did it for a year and half. I worked the street like Janet and her Merchant Street friends a handful of times over the course of a few weeks. Hopping into cars was very dangerous, illegal, and did not pay well for the risk.
As fast as I could, I developed myself as a commodity, and sold my companionship on the internet for much much more money than you can get on a curb or in a bar. Once I was working from home, and away from my local version of the Merchant Street scene, I had nothing more to do with the vibrant culture of the trans-underground railroad of resources.
Other than the sexy shoes and a lot of taxi rides to expensive hotels, (and the invites to parties and the expensive drugs) there was not much glam to it. It was just a job I did to survive. One that I did only as long as I had to.
The only thing I could consider empowering about the experience of being a professional call-girl was the business angle of it. Namely, developing a product, marketing a service, booking dates, delivering the service to my clients, and getting paid. Then doing it again.
Those are all aspects of successful small business management. I taught myself as I went along. With the money I made, I got off welfare. I paid for my own rent, my food, my hrt, my electrolysis, and my business overhead like make-up, sexy clothes, cab fare, and online advertising space.
For the number of dates I had with guys during that year and half, I was only assaulted once. I exited sex work without stealing from my sisters, without becoming an intravenous drug user, and without getting a sexually transmitted disease or a criminal record. I got out of prostitution alive and in good mental and physical health. I consider myself lucky.
On shared boyhood:
—Janet Mock @janetmock.com
Why I take issue with this, (or,why there are so many things wrong with this):
You know what retcon means right? Retroactive continuity. It’s a trope that originated in comic books. Essentially it means back-filling a narrative with details and history which may or may not be at odds with established canon.
How does retconning apply to trans-narratives? It happens when a transwoman says of her past life lived as a man, “I was always a girl”.
How do I know it’s a retcon? Because I too transitioned. I wasn’t as fortunate as Janet to transition at eighteen. Had the Marie Clare article been about me, the narrative would be, “Until she was 25, Plastic Girl was a boy”.
Why do I accept this? For starters, how about the boy’s name I was given by my mother? How about sex: male, on my old birth certificate? How about standing in the boys line after recess in school? How about using the men’s restroom a million times? How about two decades being socialized as a guy?
It’s all true. I was born a boy. I grew up a boy. I distinctly remember being made fun of in elementary school for “walking like a girl” and so, to avoid bullying, I studied manliness and learned to walk like a dude. In fact, I remember that incident as my first conscious attempt to “pass” or “perform” as a guy, because the authenticity of my masculinity was being challenged by my grade school peers!
I own my past and I like to think that I am realistic about it. I have XY chromos. For over two decades, I had a penis. I had testosterone in my body. I smelled like a dude. I absorbed bro-culture. I admit that I cracked my own share of homophobic or misogynistic jokes while trying to fit in with dude-life.
There is no shame for me to admit that I was a boy. No shame in admitting that becoming a girl was actually a transition. It was something I worked at.
It took years of peforming gender mimicry, conscious resocialization, in addition to the hormones, before I felt honestly I could call myself a woman (as opposed to a transwoman). And because there is no shame in admitting that I was born, raised and socialized into manliness, I don’t find it glaringly hurtful and misgendering to have someone else point that fact out.
In closing, Janet Mock is a media personality now. She has the ears and eyes of a large audience and she has stated she wants to change the face of the media’s image of the trans narrative. I don’t agree with going back into my past, and rewriting my personal history by appropriating girlhood or inventing one that I didn’t have; which is what it seems to me that Janet Mock is doing, by claiming she was “always a girl”. That kind of denial and rewriting of one’s narrative is not healthy for the transwomen she claims to want to inspire, because it’s an affirmation based on willful self-deception.
More information on retroactive continuity can be found at TV Tropes.