BOOK REVIEW AND OPINION
Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me
By Janet Mock
Oh, Janet, you are smooth. Polished. You are wonderful—and part of your book is, too.
We’ve watched Janet grow from a child sorting herself out into an excellent New York Times best selling author.
I have glowing things to share about her book, but also a few that are troubling. Best to start with a glow.
Janet can write. Her master’s in journalism from NYU was well earned. I—hesitate to say this, because I may feel I’ve overstepped some time later, but Surpassing Certainty may be the best of its kind I’ve ever read. It takes you out of your life and into hers, the story of a young woman, a minority with valid concerns about how she’s taken, handling a troubled marriage, throwing herself into the big city of New York to somehow make it on her own. Mary Tyler Moore is written all over it, throwing her hat into the air. And by the end, we know she’s finally made it, because we’re right there with her throwing our hat into the air with her.
I was expecting Dick Van Dyke to show up any second.
Janet didn’t use the book as a trans political manifesto, directly. Surpassing does, really, one thing only: It sells Janet Mock as a true and beautiful young woman struggling to find love and happiness as exactly that, same as any other young woman—yet who is also dealing with her minority status. Surpassing sells Janet as completely normal with her minority issues.
Through the book, we care with her about men, school, apartments in New York, jobs. For the most part, she’s concerned about relationships. And by the end, we’ve come to accept she’s as normal as any other person. She’s overcome. She’s found love, recognition, friends. If it weren’t based on her real life, we’d think it were fiction.
Life isn’t really that way.
This is very real, but hard to explain. The way we trans people look at things changes through our life, and as very professional as she appears, she’s hopefully got decades ahead of her which will give her the opportunity to look back.
With her teenage transition, her employment experience in media and fashion…Janet does not gender swing as I did, but she’s seasoning. In a decade or two, she may see what I’m talking about below.
Janet has tried to thread the needle, to craft an item for sale (the book), about a transgender paradigm that encompasses very contradictory phenomena, where arguments about what is what occur thousands of time a day in social media and in person. The task is to write one thing they all may love and get them to buy it, and also to sell the idea to the public at large. I think she has done that, but there are consequences.
At the time of this writing, 2017, Janet is about 16 years into transition. I’m looking at this from 36 years in transition, and I see things that may be being done that she may not yet be ready to acknowledge.
Surpassing Certainty‘s flaw is in its title and on every page in that it sells to me as a goldilocks polished version of herself, as if she really is Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat into the air.
She shares her troubles, refers to herself as “a transsexual,” a black woman, discusses her doubts about herself as such being liked or rejected by others. It’s all in there. But she does it in such a way that glosses over them and makes them integral to her ever-happier life, as if, for example, the troubles she has with her husband, Troy, are the same as any other woman.
She’s aware of the basic problems of difference in integration, but she doesn’t seem to me to be aware of other things that are also likely going on. At the end, walking into her 30th birthday party where she’s loved by all—makes an idyllic end to the book, but if she believes that’s true, that some play her, that some gossip later, alarm bells go off for me. At other times in the book she’ll discuss a friendship with someone that’s too perfect.
To thread the needle and make her personage and the book salable, Janet is also selling the politic that transsexualism is grouped as a subset under the phenomenon of gender role shift in society, transgenderism, the vast majority of whom have no interest in changing sex. To do this, she avoids that discussion per se and simply refers to herself as “a transsexual” at various times and as “transgender” at others.
By the way: I am grateful she didn’t give in to radical demand “transsexual” and “transgeder” be used only as adjectives. Janet uses them as nouns also, “a transsexual,” which I do agree with. People worry that it’ll be a pejorative, like “a black,” “a gay,” but we are as good as any other person, as in “a professor,” “a Christian,” “an Olympian,” “a survivor.”
We should not have to treat ourselves as disparaged minorities. Bigots do that, and radicals on either side should not set our agenda.
I haven’t met Janet, but as far as it seems from her 2 books and TV, Janet appears to me to be a transsexual with a genuine need to be female—differentiated from transgenderist with an extra surgery in that the mindset is of the opposite sex: sex identity as female, sexuality and sexual response as female, genitalia need to be female also. If so, Janet and I are what I think of as primary transsexuals (scroll down to “What I am”).
One can get into the head of a primary transsexual via Janet, when she’ll let it show, or Shadow Life, Aerospace, Love, and Secrets, my book, for that matter. But I think the view must be separated from her political position of unity for a coalition of different trans phenomena with an awareness that she’s trying to sell media attention and books with that unity. In short, I get the impression, like most others, that she’s slanting her message to transgender umbrella for sales. I’m sorry to see her continue with that.
For the long run, I fear Surpassing sets people up for later embarrassments. Happiness is not about being accepted today, getting through life in the short run, and it’s certainly not about a rosy view of how wonderful and normal we are. What about how that can hit, 2 decades later, when they realize they’ve been playing themselves down to please prejudice people.
Janet, you are the best, truly. You have courage. Some day, I hope you’ll use your clout to help the transgender paradigm evolve.