Betsy Sugar ‘21
Janet Mock is a writer, TV host and producer, and advocate whose bestselling memoir Redefining Realness was the first autobiography written from the perspective of a trans girl.” For the past few weeks, posters with this tagline have been promoting the latest speaker for the Reynolds Lecture around Davidson’s campus. Mock is not only the author of the first autobiography accounting the life of a young, transgender girl but also the first transgender person to speak at one of Davidson’s main lecture series.
Davidson College has three main lecture series: the Smith, the Wern, and the Reynolds. The Reynolds Lecture, which took place Tuesday, September 25th, is funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The Foundation is a family foundation that states it is “committed to improving the quality of life for all North Carolinians” through funding education programs, grants, and the Reynolds Lecture series to Davidson’s campus. Recent Reynolds Lecture speakers include Colson Whitehead, Alison Bechdel, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The Reynolds Lecturer is brought to campus by a subcommittee of Davidson faculty, staff, and students. Dr. Rose Stremlau, a member of the History Department, was the head of the subcommittee bringing Mock to campus. According to Stremlau, Mock was nominated multiple times. She explained that the process to find a lecturer began in fall 2017. The Reynolds Lecture series should bring an “intellectual who has created a dialogue with the public that is unique and of important concern,” said Stremlau.
Mock is the author of two autobiographies, blogs on contemporary issues, writes a beauty column in Allure magazine, and has produced a television series, documentary, and podcast series. Across all of these mediums, she addresses issues of race, gender, and class. Her autobiographies are her most well-known works; they document her struggles as a poor, black, trans woman in America. Her first autobiography, Redefining Realness, tells her story of growing up in Hawaii.
Her second autobiography follows Mock from college to New York through her job search.
The Reynolds subcommittee found her to be the best choice for this year’s lecture due to her ability to effectively and eloquently distribute her message across many different platforms. Stremlau stated that while inviting Mock, a transgender woman, to speak is “not a political statement,” the committee is “aware of what North Carolina is doing on trans issues.” According to America’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to queer equality, the Human Rights Campaign, the state does not have laws in place against discrimination based on gender identity in education, housing, or employment. North Carolina also does not have any restrictions on conversion therapy.
Due to Mock’s unique position and status, the event will not be insular. Many groups and visitors have bought tickets for the lecture. Most notably, Time Out Youth purchased multiple tickets to bring some of their members. According to their official website, the Charlotte-based organization is dedicated to “support, advocacy, and opportunities for personal development and social interaction” for LGBT+ youth from ages 11 to 20.
Stremlau hopes that the lecture will be accessible to all in the audience regardless of their experiences with trans people, the issues they face, or their opinions on the LGBT+ community. The overall goal of the Reynolds Lecture is “is really an opportunity to develop an understanding” on a contemporary issue that might not be easily grasped, Stremlau explained.
During the event, an interview between Mock and Dr. Katie Horowitz, a member of the Gender & Sexuality Studies department, Mock spoke about her backstory, writing career, and experience as a television writer, producer, and transgender activist. After a standing ovation, Mock signed books for event attendees in the Union Atrium.
Christine Choi ‘17, who drove from Washington, DC, for the event commented, “Janet Mock’s presence was radical, inclusive, and unapologetic, as her existence and her work have never failed to demonstrate.”
Daric McKinney ‘19 agreed, describing the lecture as “legendary, iconic, inspiring more than anything.” He added, “Janet Mock has come through so many adversarial moments, and just to see her living her best life is incredibly inspiring… I’m speechless. Amazing, she’s just amazing. I’m so proud of her [and] thankful for the work she has done; she’s an icon.”
Lilly Greene ‘21 summed up the mood of Mock’s reception at Davidson. “I’m just in love with her,” she said.