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Keynote speaker Janet Mock discussed nuances and complications of life as a trans woman in modern day society. 

Credit: Carson Kahoe

“My biggest moral tenet is leave people the f*** alone.”

This mantra may sound extreme to some, but it’s part of writer, TV host and transgender rights activist Janet Mock’s belief that empowerment means having your autonomy respected.

On Saturday, Mock came to Penn as the keynote speaker for Women’s Week 2016. A trans woman of African-American and Hawaiian descent, Mock is a strong advocate for intersectional discourse and is one of the most influential trans women in the media. The moderated discussion was hosted by Penn Association for Gender Equity and was the culminating event of the week, centered on the theme of “empowerment.”

She described this as, “Knowing, deep down, that you have control of your circumstances. Knowing you have the power to do whatever you want to do and not be judged or punished for the things you do in your life.”

Mock also addressed the nuances and complexities of her experience and identity as a trans woman. She recognized her own “pretty privilege” — her ability to “pass” as a cisgender woman and thus gain access into certain spaces — that not all trans people have.

“But you can’t strip that away from the racialized and gendered dynamics of who I am,” she said. “Even if I’m passing in the world as this fly ass black girl with big hair and boobs ... I’m still existing as a black girl in the world — and I don’t know how much we can say that black people’s bodies are safe, period.”

Mock’s words were welcomed by snaps of agreement from the audience.

“I have privilege, but it’s also been complicated by other intersections,” she said.

Mock also addressed criticism of her book, “Redefining Realness,” which some have called heteronormative. She recognized that her story is not the universal trans experience and does not represent all trans people.

“I cannot be everything for everyone, and what I centered my book on is poor, trans, girls of color,” she said. “You can’t expect one person’s narrative to serve the entire experience.”

College junior and PAGE co-chair Julia Slater said one reason for this year’s theme of empowerment was the desire to include all types of women, including non-cisgender women.

Mock revealed that she is currently working on her next book, which will be out next year. She is also producing “The Trans List,” an HBO documentary and portrait project that shares the stories of trans people.

She expressed her desire to see more and more platforms like these for trans people to talk about their experiences, and to “realize that we don’t exist in these vacuums and silos, but that we have people that we love and that love us.”

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