Janet Mock’s Surpassing Certainty, and the Power of Storytelling

Monday 3 July 2017

Janet Mock transcends the memoir genre in her new book, Surpassing Certainty, by reminding us of the power of storytelling – and specifically, the power of telling one’s story. 

By Bhakthi Puvanenthiran

Surpassing Certainty is a multicoloured light show of a book. Sold as an early adulthood memoir, but serving as a self-help guide, a trans story and an early noughties pop culture reverie, Janet Mock’s second book is as joyous as it is instructional.

Mock, for those unfamiliar with her work, is a symbol for this moment. The journalist turned activist and self-made celebrity worked five years as a pop culture editor at People before she came out as one of the first openly trans journalists in an exclusive story with Marie Claire. She has since hosted TV, a podcast and is a contributing editor at Allure.

Surpassing Certainty begins its warm meanderings in late high school when Mock worked as a sex worker and stripper in her native Hawaii to raise money for tertiary study.

Mock addresses directly the emotional labour involved in drawing cash from men by “crafting open roads in conversation that would stimulate him, inflate his ego and make him feel centered and listened to.”

Mock continues on describing her well-trod move to New York and reflecting on her first marriage. True to her pop culture roots, the author remembers how Grey’s Anatomy and Kanye kept her sane and how she found her way through the media industry as a veritable outsider.

The details of her own life along with the stories of fellow sex workers, trans women and women of colour are written with clarity. There is careful note of designer brands, clothes and beauty styling, in a nod to contemporary American ‘chick-lit’.

For all the superficial detail, Surpassing Certainty harks to an established tradition of black women’s stories.

The title is drawn from an Audre Lorde essay in the 1984 book Sister Outsider: “And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

Choosing (and being forced) to speak is a persistent theme in this coming-of-age memoir, especially in the context of Mock being a cis-passing trans woman. Speaking out is an empowering force in Mock’s life and the reason for her success.

The last few years have seen many books aimed primarily at women in their twenties, from Meg Jay’s expert view in The Defining Decade to our own Briohny Doyle’s brilliant Adult Fantasy. From this growing selection, Janet Mock’s Surpassing Certainty is the book one should reach for when in need certainty and self-compassion.

Janet Mock will be appearing in ‘Visibility & Voice’ at MWF17. Tickets are available to purchase now.


Bhakthi Puvanenthiran is a journalist and editor at The Age. She has previously covered arts, entertainment and business. Bhakthi is also a frequent commentator on ABC Radio and a board member of the National Young Writers Festival. You can find her on Twitter @bhakthi.

Image credit: Aaron Tredwell


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