Janet Mock Grants Us Permission to Live Life Authentically With Her New Memoir

Source: Atria Books / Charlotte Hamilton

Janet Mock is not in the same place she was in 2014. In the three years since her first memoir Redefining Realness was released, she has hosted a television show, become an award-winning author, married the love of her life, among countless other accomplishments. But while her first book made history as the first of its kind, the New York Times bestselling author told CASSIUS she didn’t want to write another memoir focused on her trans identity.

“I already told that story,” she explained. “It was the first memoir of its kind and it served its purpose. Many people saw themselves … but I wanted young trans women to know they didn’t have to be limited by that part of their story.”

Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me opens with a quote by Audre Lorde, from which the native Hawaiian received her second memoir’s title. In the spirit of a true activist, she considers this act an homage to the woman who has paved the way for so many others who hold marginalized identities to tell theirs.

“Audre Lorde produced work in a time when so many wanted to silence her as Black, a woman, and a lesbian,” Mock said. “[Society] didn’t want her to tell her story, but she did … and in doing so she gave me the permission to tell mine.”

Within the book, Mock welcomes readers into a part of her life when she was a student at University of Hawaii by day and a dancer at a strip club by night. The connection she had with the other dancers at Club Nu laid the foundation for her as she developed her own ideas about performing sexuality and the male gaze. From laughing about how thirsty the men who attended the club were to taking care of each other, Mock wanted to show that stripping is just another job.

“I didn’t feel like I had to hide this part about me, but I know a lot of other women do,” Mock said. “Barbara Smith was an impactful figure in forming my own opinions on respectability politics, but we also have others like Cardi B and Amber Rose who are doing the work.”

The reader becomes immersed into her world as a young wife to her first husband, an aspiring journalist of color, and ultimately, a young Black woman trying to make it in New York City. Through it all, she’s constantly negotiating how much she’s allowing herself to be seen, picking and choosing who to let into her life at different layers. The 34 year old says that as a public figure, she still does that to some extent today.

Looking back on her twenties from where she is now, Mock unequivocally has one piece of advice for her 20-year-old self that everyone can take a page from: don’t be afraid to live authentically.

“Overall I’ve learned that my story is my own,” Mock said. “I’ve learned so much about who is safe to share energy with and share space with. It’s not about this idea of ‘come out, come out, wherever you are,’ it’s about trust, about being comfortable enough with others to come to a space to offer certain parts of my story and myself to them. The people who make me feel safe about doing that are those I hold close, the people who love and care about me, and ultimately, my readers. What’s most fulfilling for me is that I no longer hold myself so close to the point of overprotection, I’ve loosened my grasp and have allowed people to see me — just as I am.”

Looking back on her twenties from where she is now, Mock unequivocally has one piece of advice for her 20-year-old self that everyone can take a page from: don’t be afraid to live authentically.

“Don’t be afraid to bring your whole self to the table,” she said. “If you’re not surrounding yourself with people who are encouraging that and accepting you for who you are, they aren’t meant to be in your life. This can come from so many people in your life … friends, family, lovers … but it’s okay to cut those people off.”