Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me
by Janet Mock
Atria Books. 227 pages, $24.99
THERE ARE many reasons to read Janet Mock’s earlier memoir, Redefining Realness (2014), not least of which is that it serves as a prelude, if not a prerequisite, to reading her new book, Surpassing Certainty. The earlier book offered a unique look at becoming a transgender woman and eventually a transgender model in Hawaii.
As this second memoir opens, Mock is a late teenager who has fully transitioned to female, and she has just been hired illegally at a Waikiki strip club. The legal age for dancing as a stripper there was 21, but the owner of the club hired her with a wink and a nudge. Though she really liked dancing and didn’t mind being naked in front of strangers, Mock admits with some embarrassment that she constantly feared being spotted, kicked out of the club, and losing what turned out to be a lucrative job. She was inexperienced but not shy; willing to learn from other dancers but eager to set herself apart. She was a model employee, but she feared being taken for a transgender woman.
There really isn’t much in this book about Mock’s decision to transition or the process of doing so, but she writes that she knew at a very young age that she was a girl in a boy’s body. When she was an older gradeschooler, her mother looked the other way while Mock embraced feminine clothing and grew out her hair, and no one seemed to care much when Mock started taking female hormones as an adolescent. Later, every penny she had went toward a flight to Bangkok to finalize her transition at age eighteen. Mock writes that she has “always taken issue with the term passing,” which indicates a sense of “trying or pretending.” The seriousness of the surgery proved that there was no “trying” here. There’s a lot of fussing about appearance in this book, and not just as it relates to gender. Mock frets over her hair, her makeup, her breast size, and her bottom. And while she stresses that she is female, it took months after her surgery before she realized that no one saw her as anything other than a pretty black woman.
Men were eager to spend time with her, she says, but she was reluctant to do more than dancing and other drink-selling tasks required by the job. Certainly, she was urged not to sleep with customers or especially to fall in love with them. When she finally did fall in love, it was with a Navy man she’d met at the club who accepted her transgender status without a blink. Their tumultuous love affair is recounted here with a bit of a swoon—and sadness as Mock recounts their growing apart and subsequent split.
Eventually, Mock moves to New York and writes about the empowerment she experienced upon taking control of her life. This part of the book doesn’t move with the lazy pace of the first half, and it even feels rushed. There’s a lot of story that goes nowhere except to further illustrate Mock’s relationship with men, friends and frenemies, and other women who ultimately became friends. Readers who get this far will be happy to see Mock find a dream job and true love, though the latter is told with much less drama than might be expected for this book. To be continued?
Terri Schlichenmeyer is a freelance writer based in Wisconsin.