Leo Jiang won't tell me why he spent the past nine days in Amsterdam. We're in a city center Starbucks in Newcastle, England, on the sort of bitter January evening when the dark envelops everything by 4:30. Jiang, a 24-year-old philosophy graduate now working as a teacher, is circumspect, evasive, and withdrawn, but after hours of demurring, finally admits he'd spent his time in the Dutch capital recuperating from his latest procedure — on his nose — though he's cagey about saying more, such as where his other operations took place. This was one of three he's undergone since July 2010 to help erase his past. And he's adamant that it won't be his last.
When I first met him at school in 2007, he seemed reserved and quiet, but not necessarily outwardly sad. He looked normal, even if he didn't think so — black hair, average height, and small brown eyes. He's since changed: The eyes are fuller, the nose longer and straighter — though currently so sore post-surgery that he can't bear the weight of his glasses on its bridge — the jaw stronger, and the way he stands makes him seem taller than his 5 feet 11 inches, as if he isn't trying to fade away into the furniture anymore. Since the age of 8, he's been trying to pass.
Jiang — his first name was Hao back then — was raised by his grandparents in the Shandong province of China until 1997, when he joined his parents, who'd been in the United Kingdom, in Sunderland, an industrial city in the northeast of England. Until 2003, less than 1% of Sunderland's population was Asian (even today it's still shy of 2%, compared with a nationwide total of about 8%). At his school the ratio was even worse: Jiang was one of just three Asian students in his class, and he was constantly barraged by racist taunts. Before he grew sick of it and took drastic measures, Jiang tried to compensate by simply doing the same to others.
"As a child, I was very racist," he explains, looking straight at me with wide eyes. "Calling people 'Paki bastard,' 'black bastard' — can't get more crude than that. I was trying to fit in."
It didn't work. Jiang became more aware of his otherness, and more uncomfortable in his own skin. For a whole year in high school, he barely attended class, instead sitting at home playing video games, smoking and drinking, pretending to be his own legal guardian when the school called looking for him. At 16, he asked a lawyer to draft a document, had his parents sign it, and changed his name to Leo. A more Western name would give people one less brickbat to swing at him. But it was just a name; he wanted to become this new person.
Over those years since, Jiang sat in front of his computer and researched just how far he could go to fit in. He learned about the prevalence of plastic surgery in Asian society, the thrumming industry that has grown around it, and, crucially, compared himself to the 700,000 people worldwide each year who elect to have blepharoplasties and epicanthoplasties — eyelid tweaks that practitioners swear are devoid of racial context despite much evidence otherwise. "I'd sit in my philosophy class and think of various arguments about how to resolve this paradox," he explains. Surgeons and their customers could be in denial about the cultural implications, but Jiang has no use for obfuscating his intentions or his willingness to take full advantage of this ethical gray area. "People in Asia do this to feel more happy," he says. "People in the West do it to feel less sad. I'm prepared to throw money at the problem."
He started visiting plastic surgeons on two continents and from six countries for consultations, using income from his job as a substitute teacher in local schools, loans from his parents, and the sale of personal items to fund procedures that will take his total expenditure beyond $16,000 within the next two years. He projects he will spend an additional $25,000 on future work he has planned.
"This cosmetic surgery is a way to gain equality," he explains, taking a sip of his coffee. "Whatever I do, I can't become white. I told my father I was trying to learn some Chinese and he says, 'For a guy who was so desperate to forget his ethnicity, what you're doing now is ironic and pathetic.' That's the story of my life."
Plastic surgery is a booming business in Asia: More than a million procedures were performed in China, Japan, and South Korea alone in 2011. A significant share of these are nips and tucks of the kind we have in the West; they're boob jobs and Botox, butt lifts and liposuction.
But it's the East Asian blepharoplasty procedure, also called double eyelid surgery, which has caused the greatest controversy, used to give the the crease of skin between eyelashes and the eyebrow that Westerners have but most Asians do not. For as long as people have been getting the surgery, media outlets including CNN and Jezebel have been calling it a blatant attempt at Westernization. Online forums trill with the sound of commenters calling each other deluded or racist; academics debate the issue back and forth, and even Oprah got in on the action in a 2004 episode about the surgery, saying, "That would be like me having surgery to not look black. I don't get it."
Not all agree with these criticisms, and besides, blepharoplasty is a popular procedure the world over, used by some to tighten up sagging skin: 703,610 of these operations were carried out in 2011 by licensed physicians, third only behind lip surgery and the boob job. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), an eyelid tuck and fold was the fourth-most popular cosmetic procedure in the United States in 2012, with more than 150,000 operations carried out. At an average cost of $2,724 per procedure, that means over $400 million was spent on blepharoplasties in the U.S. last year.
Janet Mock (born March 10, 1983) is an American writer, TV host, and transgender rights activist. Her debut book, the memoir Redefining Realness, became a New York Times bestseller. She is a contributing editor for Marie Claire and a former staff editor of People magazine's website.
Early life and education
Janet Mock was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the second child in the family. Her father, Charlie Mock III, is African American, and her mother, Elizabeth (Barrett), is of half native Hawaiian descent and half European descent. Mock lived for most of her youth in her native Hawaii, with a portion in Oakland, California and Dallas. She began her transition from male to female as a freshman in high school, and funded her medical transition by earning money as a sex worker in her teens. She played volleyball in high school, a sport she had bonded over with her childhood friend Wendi, who helped Janet express her femininity. She chose her name Janet after Janet Jackson. She was the first person in her family to go to college. She underwent sex reassignment surgery in Thailand at age 18 in the middle of her first year in college. Mock earned a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Merchandising from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2004 and a Master of Arts in Journalism from New York University in 2006.
After graduating from New York University, Mock started working at People magazine, where she was a staff editor for more than five years. Her career in journalism shifted from editor to media advocate when she came out publicly as a trans woman in a 2011 Marie Claire article, written by Kierna Mayo in Mock's voice. Mock took issue with how the magazine represented her by stating that she was born and raised as a boy; she says she was always a girl. Mock said, "I was born in what doctors proclaim is a boy’s body. I had no choice in the assignment of my sex at birth... My genital reconstructive surgery did not make me a girl. I was always a girl." In 2014, while promoting her book Redefining Realness, she would reiterate that she did not choose the Marie Claire article title, and found it to have many problems. The editor of that piece, Lea Goldman, would later tweet in support of Mock: "To be fair, I do recall @janetmock & @kiernamayo taking issue with our @marieclaire hed, "I Was Born a Boy." I went with it anyway. #regrets"  Despite the misgendering, Mock became a contributing editor at Marie Claire where she's written articles about racial representation in film and television as well as trans women's presence in the global beauty industry.
She submitted a video about her experiences as a transgender woman to the "It Gets Better" project in 2011, and has written on a variety of topics for Marie Claire, Elle,The Advocate, Huffington Post and XoJane.
In 2012, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, signed Mock to her first book deal for a memoir about her teenage years, which was released as Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More in February 2014. It is the first book written by a trans person who transitioned as a young person. Redefining Realness made The New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction, and contains her personal memories often alongside statistics or social theory. Mock writes her book is about her personal experience as a trans woman of color. In the author’s note she writes she is aware of her privilege in writing this book and telling her story. Her story is not written with the intent of being representation for all trans women and trans women of color, it is one story out of many. She states in the author’s note, “There is no universal women’s experience”  Feminist critic bell hooks referred to Janet's memoir as, "Courageous! This book is a life map for transformation" while Melissa Harris-Perry said, "Janet does what only great writers of autobiography accomplish—she tells a story of the self, which turns out to be a reflection of all humanity."
Shortly after signing her book deal, she left her position as an editor at People.com where she had worked for more than five years. Janet went on to host TakePart Live and her own culture show, So POPular!, on Shift. The weekly digital series takes a look at cultural issues and breaks down all of the things we pretend we're too smart to like. Mock has stated, in a Q&A with Tribune Business News, that her heroes and influences have been women writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison.
While taping So POPular!, she continued to work with MSNBC as a guest host for the Melissa Harris-Perry show, host of the Global Citizen Festival, and covered the White House Correspondence Dinner's red carpet for Shift. She's also a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight.
In April 2015, Oprah Winfrey invited Janet to be a guest on Super Soul Sunday for a segment titled, “Becoming Your Most Authentic Self” where she discussed "proudly and unapologetically" claiming her identities. In September 2015, Janet was invited back to join Winfrey's Super Soul Sessions where Mock discussed, "Embracing The Otherness."
In addition to Super Soul Sunday, Mock has appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, Melissa Harris-Perry, The Colbert Report, and The Nightly Show. She is featured in an LGBT documentary, The OUT List, which screened on HBO on June 27, 2013. She is also featured in a 2011 documentary called Dressed.
In 2012, she started a Twitter hashtag to empower transgender women, called #GirlsLikeUs, which received attention from several queer-media sites. Also in 2012, she gave the Lavender Commencement keynote speech honoring LGBT students at the University of Southern California and delivered the commencement address for Pitzer College in 2015. She also served as co-chair, nominee and presenter at the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards.
In June 2013, Mock joined the board of directors of the Arcus Foundation, a charitable foundation focused on great ape conservation and LGBT rights.
In 2014, following the conviction of activist (and transgender woman of color) Monica Jones, Mock joined a campaign against a Phoenix law which allows police to arrest anyone suspected of "manifesting prostitution", which targets transgender women of color. Mock tweeted, "Speak against the profiling of #TWOC [trans woman of color], like Monica Jones. Tweet #StandWithMonica + follow @SWOPPhx [Sex Workers Outreach Project – Phoenix Chapter] now!"
Also in 2014, Mock was featured on the fifth anniversary cover of C☆NDY magazine along with 13 other transgender women – Laverne Cox, Carmen Carrera, Geena Rocero, Isis King, Gisele Alicea, Leyna Ramous, Dina Marie, Nina Poon, Juliana Huxtable, Niki M'nray, Pêche Di, Carmen Xtravaganza and Yasmine Petty.
Her book publisher, Atria (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), announced in March 2016 that Mock is working her second memoir with them.Surpassing Certainty, her second memoir, was promised to "pick up where Redefining Realness left off – chronicling 'the journey of finding her way, her voice, and her purpose in her 20s through a series of first experiences.'"
Mock wrote the cover story for The Advocate's March 2016 feature on DeRay Mckesson, titled "Why DeRay Mckesson Matters" as well as Marie Claire's November 2016 feature on Nicki Minaj, titled "Nicki Minaj Is Here To Slay."
On December 5, 2016, "The Trans List" aired on HBO. The film was produced by Mock along with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Mock also interviewed the cast, which features eleven prominent transgender figures: Laverne Cox, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Buck Angel, Kylar Broadus, Caroline Cossey, Shane Ortega, Alok Vaid-Menon, Nicole Maines, Bamby Salcedo, Amos Mac and Caitlyn Jenner.
In 2016, Mock wrote the forward for On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories, a book of photos and stories by famed photographer, Mark Seliger.
In 2017, Surpassing Certainty, Mock's second memoir, was published. The book's title is an allusion to Audre Lorde, who wrote, "And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking."
Honors and awards
In November 2012, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project gave Mock their Sylvia Rivera Activist Award.
Mock was included in the Trans 100, the first annual list recognizing 100 transgender advocates in the United States, and gave the keynote speech at the launch event on March 29, 2013 in Chicago.
On November 14, 2013, Mock was honored as a member of the OUT100, Out Magazine's 100 "most compelling people of the year" and introduced Laverne Cox as the recipient of the Reader's Choice Award at the event. She was also named one of GOOD Magazine's GOOD 100 for "Building An Online Army to Defend #GirlsLikeUs."
Mock was included in the video accompanying the Google Doodle for International Women's Day 2014.
In April 2014, GLSEN presented Mock with the Inspiration Award at the GLSEN Respect Awards and in October, the Feminist Press honored her activism at the Women & Power Gala.
In 2014, Mock also was included as part of The Advocate's annual "40 Under 40" list, as well as their list of 50 Most Influential LGBT People in Media. That same year, Mock was also included in the annual Root 100; this list honors "standout black leaders, innovators and culture shapers" aged 45 and younger and Planned Parenthood presented the Maggie Award for Media Excellence in "Social Media Campaign" to Mock for her work in creating a powerful and safe space for trans voices online and beyond through her #RedefiningRealness Tumblr page.
In 2015, Time magazine named her one of "the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet" and one of "12 New Faces of Black Leadership" and Fast Company included Mock as one of 2015's "Most Creative People in Business."
In February 2015, the American Library Association honored Redefining Realness with the Stonewall Book Award. Later that year, Mock's book was nominated as a Lambda Literary Award finalist in the category of transgender non-fiction and The Women's Way awarded Mock with their Book Prize.
In June 2015, Mock received the inaugural José Esteban Muñoz award from CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies - an award that is given to an individual who promotes Queer Studies in their work or activism.
Along with Tiq Milan and Candis Cayne, Mock accepted an award in honor of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera's lives and work at the 2016 LOGO Trailblazer Honors. She referred to Marsha and Sylvia as "[her] fairy godmothers because they created the blueprint for our liberation."
Mock lives in New York City with her husband, photographer Aaron Tredwell, whom she married in Oahu on November 5, 2015. She writes about her relationship with Tredwell in Redefining Realness.
In February 2014, Mock joined Piers Morgan Live on CNN, for a face-to-face interview. After the show aired, the interview resulted in a Twitter feud between the Piers Morgan Live team and Mock. She accused them of "sensationalizing her life" by focusing on her personal and physical life instead of her new book, Redefining Realness. Mock told BuzzFeed that Morgan did not "really want to talk about trans issues, he wants to sensationalize my life and not really talk about the work that I do and what the purpose of me writing this book was about." Morgan was on the other end of large criticism from the LGBTQ community, resulting in Mock's second invitation onto the show. Morgan attempted to understand the root of the criticism as Mock explained the problem with the way trans bodies and their lives are represented in mainstream media.
To address the controversy, Mock appeared on The Colbert Report on February 18, 2014, where the host skewered Morgan and gave Mock space to speak about her book, advocacy and the need to listen to trans people when they declare who they are. In an interview with Fusion's Alicia Menendez, Mock and Menendez "flipped the script" and used the Morgan interview as a teaching lesson by putting Mock on the questioning end of the interview to flip the conversation around gender. Mock as the interviewer asked Menendez to prove her gender with questions like "do you have a vagina" to prove that she is cisgender, interrogating the ways in which trans people are questioned by the media.
In March 2016, Mock canceled a speech at Brown University after students protested the invitation by Hillel, an organization with explicitly pro-Zionist views.
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