Redefining "Millennial": TV host, Author & Transgender Rights Advocate Janet Mock

By Amy Elisa Jackson

Millennials have been dubbed the "Me Me Me generation." TIME magazine's Joel Stein described those born between 1979 and 1996 as "entitled and selfish," a swift blow to the cohort of Mark Zuckerberg, Malala Yousafzai — hell, even Beyoncé! But these weren't simply observations of Instagram-happy 20-somethings — he had facts. Stein wrote, "The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that's now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health."

Overconfident or not, Stein got it right when he concluded: "Millennials could be a great force for positive change."

Case in point: Janet Mock.

The author of "Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More" challenges convention as a pop-culture-loving, selfie-taking, Black Lives Matter-protesting transgender rights activist. Mock, 32, uses her platform on MSNBC's So POPular digital series to shine a light on the stories that matter to her contemporaries and those with no voice.

"For Millennials, what's really important for us is the idea of being able to show up fully as we are and do what we want to do," said Mock. "There's no separation between professional and personal. Part of our success is being able to go to a job and tweet ourselves twerking on Vine, go back to that job and not be checked on that. Transparency is really integral."

However, being a Millennial isn't just about social media moments — Mock insists it’s about authenticity. "We don't want to be burdened by labels," she said.

Mock has made a career of being authentic and living outside of labels. In 2011, the Hawaii native shared a truth that only her close friends a family knew: She was born a boy. "It used to pain me to hear my birth name, a heartbreaking insult classroom bullies would shout to get a rise out of me. But talking and writing about my experiences have helped me finally accept the past and celebrate the fact that I was once a big dreamer who happened to be born a boy named Charles," she wrote in Marie Claire.

Ever since publishing her truth, Mock has been a beacon of hope and inspiration for the LGBTQA community — and proof that being "convinced of [her] own greatness," as Stein wrote in TIME, is far from a bad thing. In fact, it has been life-changing.

Over the past four years, Mock has become a New York Times bestselling author, honored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, launched #GirlsLikeUs, a movement that encourages trans women to live visibly, and she has led a revolution in public dialogue around the lives of transgender people, particularly women of color. She was featured in the HBO documentary "The Out List" and is BFFs with Oprah Winfrey. Oh, and she's engaged to the love of her life, Aaron Tredwell.

Bam! Millennials (and women!) can have it all.

On a hot and sunny day in Los Angeles, Levo sat down with Mock to talk about how she transformed her passions into a very successful profession, feeling the pressure to become a mom, and how she plans to change the world.

Levo: You have had an amazing year. What’s been the best part of the ride so far?
Janet Mock: Having grown up in the identities that I grew up in — being trans, being brown, being a different kind of woman—I was taught to be ashamed, to be silent about my identities. So to have opened up in such a public way about my story, I was surprised to be able to step more fully into my power, into the things that I wanted to do in life. To be able to do that in the span that I’ve been able to do in the last four years has been surreal but also really fulfilling and affirming.

How have you dealt with transitioning from a magazine editor, working behind the scenes, to a national advocate and TV host?

JM: For so long I thought that the only way to tell stories was to do so from a slant of, “I’m not putting myself in this story.” I was working at at the time, and I found myself kind of bored. I felt unchallenged; the stories didn’t move me.

Was that an "aha" moment?

JM: I have one of the most compelling and remarkable stories, in a sense, and I was holding that in and hiding behind very famous people’s stories. Then, it was like that Toni Morrison quote, "If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." I knew that there was a story inside of me that I needed to tell.

Now that you have found your voice and platform, it has become your biggest weapon. You hosted Melissa Harris-Perry's show and reported on trans women who have been killed. Is that your passion?

JM: My writing and my media work is my form of advocacy. I’m always trying to see how can I elevate and shine a light on stories that are not being reported on in the mainstream media.

Talk to me about #GirlsLikeUs.

JM: I started the social media hashtag #GirlsLikeUs to empower trans women to be bold in their identities and to broadcast their lives and to connect with one another. I would love to have a weekend getaway for trans girls where I can connect them to mentors, to other living examples of possibility of what their lives could look like, and have them be in sisterhood and fellowship with one another.

Did you have mentors who helped you along the way?

JM: For so long in my life I’ve had to do things on my own. I was raised that you are supposed to make a way for yourself. You work twice has hard to be twice as good to have any kind of access or semblance of success. For me, that didn’t often include asking people for help.

When you were on CNN and Piers Morgan attacked you on live TV, how did you cope?

JM: That was one of my biggest professional setbacks. But what I learned from that moment was when I have a feeling that something is not right, I should state it. I should never to try to make things work. It doesn’t allow you to feel comfortable. You find yourself performing for other people, to appease people. So what I learned is to be very exacting about what I want in any situation.

That episode would have caused many to crumble. Was there ever a moment you doubted whether being a public figure was worth it?

JM: There’s never a moment that I want to quit. Every day is a struggle. I think when you live so much of your life in the public eye, there is a sense of wanting to put up the brave face that everything is going well. What does help me through a lot of those points of friction or frustration or irritation is self-care.

How do you practice self-care?

JM: You have to be able to go into spaces and show up empty. I’m glad I have a home where I can show up empty. I have a partner and a dog who take me when I’m empty and have nothing to give, who don’t expect anything from me. That helps me when I am going through the struggle of having to carry the banner at times, but also knowing that there are a lot of other people doing this work too.

You are now engaged to your longtime love, Aaron Tredwell. Are you feeling the pressure to get married and have kids like all the other Millennials out there?

JM: Everyone that I grew up with seems to be having the same kind of Facebook timeline. Thirty two years old, everyone is already married. There is pressure to fit into what adulthood looks like, especially in your early thirties. But, I don’t feel the pressure necessarily to have kids. I have never felt the pressure of getting married or having a wedding but I’m glad to be getting married to Aaron. We go back and forth on kids—if that’s something that we want in our lives. I think that we’re not exactly where we want to be. There’s so many dreams and visions that we’re trying to make into reality, so for me that’s not something that we feel pressured toward. But I am excited to get married.

What’s coming up next for you?

JM: Now I’m creating a documentary with that same team of people called The Trans List for HBO, interviewing a lot of trans-luminaries, legends, and artists. I have a live event with Oprah called "Super Soul Sessions" in Los Angeles for OWN Network. I am opening for Deepak Chopra, and my speech will be largely about authenticity and embracing one’s otherness. I am also co-anchoring and co-hosting coverage of MSNBC’s Global Citizens Festival Concert where the Queen, Beyoncé, is headlining. I get to be steps away from Queen Bey — that's huge.

Busy, busy busy.

JM: Finally, I’m working on my next memoir which will largely concentrate on what was it like to find myself and discover myself in my early twenties. It’s a snap shot of those five years when I was figuring it all out, before I came out, before I found my voice and purpose. It’s like the prelude to success. What was it like to figure that all out as a young person?

I can’t wait to read that one. How perfect for Levo Millennials.

JM: I've always said that authenticity is the first pathway to any kind of success. To me it's my yellow brick road. Only by living my truth have I been able to achieve any kind of semblance of the dream.

Check out the details of Janet's journey and watch her full Office Hours interview video on her Levo 100 Profile

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Photos Credit: Jen Kleiner for Levo