BY JANET MOCK
As a breakout New York Times bestselling author, director, and trans rights activist, Mock’s journey detailed in “Surpassing Certainty” is unabashedly her own. She invites us into her story as one might greet an old friend. She entices us in to relish the details, celebrate her successes, empathize with her setbacks, and daydream alongside her.
Mock builds on her debut autobiography, “Redefining Realness,” by sketching in her self-reflection with searing honesty. Mock reveals the stumbles, heartache, and growth that come with a woman rising through her twenties. Mock begins by harkening to native Hawaiian roots, sprinkling in details of growing up as a trans woman of color from a low-income single parent household while embracing the various identities which formed her.
She explains the pain associated with “passing” as a cis-gendered woman and carrying the heavy weight of her story, exposing her true self only to those with whom she felt safe. Mock explains, “I’ve always taken issue with the term ‘passing.’ It promotes a false impression of that trans women are engaging in a process through which we are passing ourselves off as cisgender women- which we are not. We not passing as women…we are women. Besides, to pass always felt like an insult when I was striving to excel.” Mock melds painful reflection with a self-assured spin; simply put, she plays by her own set of rules. Mock’s experiences trigger universal themes such as the hunger to belong, the desire to find your footing in fast-paced world, and the romantic entanglements which lead to a greater respect for ourselves. At times, Mock explains how she struggled in spaces of desire and friendship to reveal her true self. The reader takes a leap of faith with her as she tells her future husband as well as her friends, boss, and the world about her experiences as a trans woman.
What is profound about “Surpassing Certainty” is that Mock chooses to tell her story in its completeness, as she says, without “leaving parts of (herself) behind.” Mock writes about her experiences as a sex worker, logging in nights in a Hawaiian club to provide for her family as a college student, while appreciating the power she claimed over her body and identity. She writes about sexual assault and confronting the male privilege and violence which staked claim to her body. Mock’s honesty is heartbreaking, but it allows the reader to see her in her completeness.
Across an ocean and the continental United States, Mock follows her passion from Rhode Island to bustling New York City; struggling to pay rent, deal with pesky roommates, and chart her career while also struggling to keep her long-distance relationship afloat. Mock reflects on being a young, married woman and how the pieces of her marriage fell together and ultimately fall apart. Mock finds a fresh beginning in Rhode Island as a college exchange student, realizing that there is a world waiting for her beyond her Hawaii. She writes about friendships, romances, formative jobs, and the education which equipped her take her career by storm.
Mock’s commentary as a young, professional woman of color race is candid. She explains her struggle to find role models that look like her and the necessity to be represented in all factions of life. Mock fights against the tokenization of blackness while learning to embrace her identity. She writes, “hair is political and personal…there were a lack of images of women with hair that grew up above their heads, occupying space, daring to stick out in a world that was forcing all of us toward sameness. It took years to grow comfortable with my curly fro- and myself.” Who can’t relate to the journey to love your body and yourself?
It is rare to find a book as candid as Mock’s “Surpassing Certainty.” As a woman closing in on thirty, albeit with vastly different identities than Mock, I found her autobiography chock full of universal themes. I identified with her heartbreak, acknowledging my own romantic relationships that stretched miles and years. I identified with her hunger to carve out a space in the professional world and make room for yourself. I reflected on my own friendships and the giddy feeling when chase your dream wherever it takes you. All in all, you don’t necessarily cheer for Janet Mock the trans Hawaiian woman of color, you simply cheer for Janet, complete with flaws, passions, aspirations, and quirks. Her courageous honesty does not simply invite you to embrace her, it leaves you no other choice.