Janet Mock: Redefining Realness, Biology, Sex and Gender

June 9, 2014

Host: Lindsay Beyerstein

This week POI welcomes bestselling author and trans rights activist, Janet Mock. Janet is the author of the new memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More, which recounts her emotional and physical transition from an infant sexed male at birth in Hawaii in 1983, to a young woman in New York City.

Some traditionalists accuse trans activists of playing games with language when they insist on the right of trans people to be called by their preferred pronouns and to be treated as real members of their self-identified gender. Traditionalists claim that anatomy at birth is the only "real" litmus test of gender, despite the empirical evidence calling that simplistic formulation into question. 

Trans activists and allies are throwing the burden of proof back on the claimant. Why should the traditional ideology of gender take precedence over the lived experience of trans people? 

It's great to be skeptical of ideas that are obviously dubious, like astrology or Bigfoot. But skeptics should also use their critical thinking skills to scrutinize divisions that seem intuitive and natural, especially in face of evidence that old social norms aren't working, or are causing unnecessary suffering. We still live in a culture that would rather discard trans people than grapple with the challenge they pose to the traditional conception of gender, but activists like Janet Mock are trying to change that. 

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