EXCLUSIVE: Janet Mock on the Importance of Representation in 'The Trans List'

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Photo: HBO

Caitlyn Jenner. Laverne Cox. Caroline Cossey.

These three women are probably among the most famous transgender people in the U.S. But they do not represent the entirety of the transgender community, which adds to the importance of HBO’s new documentary The Trans List, premiering Monday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. ET.

The film, a follow-up to 2009’s The Black List and 2013’s The Out List, directed by photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and produced by Janet Mock, attempts to expand the scope of the transgender community during 11 new interviews with -- yes -- Jenner, Cox and Cossey, but also names that not by be familiar to many Americans, including longtime activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, photographer Amos Mac, U.S. Army Sergeant Shane Ortega and adult entertainer Buck Angel.

“We wanted a youth perspective, we wanted an elder’s perspective, we wanted a trans Latina perspective, we wanted folk who were nonbinary,” Mock tells ET. The author and former ET special correspondent not only conducted the interviews in the film but also took the lead on selecting who to feature, starting with a list of 150 names. “For me, I wanted to have as much balance as possible, to show that trans-ness is so much more than what we often see in media, that our communities are plural and we're not a monolith.”

For Mock, that also meant showcasing people of all genders, something not normally seen in film or TV, whether it’s scripted (Orange Is the New Black, Sense8) or reality (I Am Cait, I Am Jazz). “Our culture has been obsessed with the idea of someone who previously presented as male and, as Caitlyn says, ‘who then give up that male privilege and go on to live as a woman,’” Mock says.

(Ironically enough, when Mock first went public with her story, the most famous trans person at the time was Chaz Bono. “So there was a trans masculine person in media,” she says. But he has been eclipsed by the likes of Cox and Jenner, who came out as transgender to 17 million people in 2015 during what Mock calls “this huge emergence of trans-ness.”)

While Mock was unable to get Bono to participate in the project, she did get to interview two personal heroes, Cossey and Griffin-Gracy.  

Photo: HBO

Cossey, a former Playboy model who became headline fodder after being outed by a tabloid, was one of the most visible transgender people of the ‘90s. Mock remembers watching her on Arsenio Hall and thinking, “Wow, there’s a possibility to be here and live in media.”

“She was the bombshell whose gender wasn’t really checked in that people saw her and accepted her as a woman,” Mock recalls. Cossey eventually retreated from the spotlight, and she appears on camera for the first time in decades in The Trans List. “To have her felt so, so special but also surreal.”

As for Griffin-Gracy, a longtime activist who participated in the Stonewall riots, Mock says it was important to have her because “she’s lived so many people’s experiences as a trans person. She’s created this way for us to be able to say, ‘Living past 30 years old is possible.’”

Of course, The Trans List is not limited to those names -- or even just to the film. There is also a companion book of 39 portraits, including Mya Taylor and Andreja Pejic in addition to the 11 people featured onscreen, taken by Greenfield-Sanders. And potentially another List to come. “That would be a hope and a dream to be able to do this again,” Mock says of the possibility for a volume two.