In Janet Mock’s first book, Redefining Realness, there is a bit of a time jump from chapter 17, when she gets her reassignment surgery, to 2009. In that time period, we miss out on so much. Primarily the years of which Janet’s physical body matched who she mentally and emotionally is. The second round of formative years where a person strips a bit of what they’ve been taught and figure out what can be used to be the adult they want to be.
But, luckily, or maybe for the purpose of a 2nd book, Mock has come out with Surpassing Certainty. A book which seemingly will be dedicated to her 20s and give us everything between the early 00s to likely 2009. The year she met her now husband Aaron Tredwell.
Chapter 0: Introduction
We are introduced to a 19-year-old Mock. A young girl, early into her college career[note]A freshman at the University of Hawaii[/note], just trying to have fun. She enjoys clubbing, using her body as a lure yet still generally blending in. After all, there is the fear of letting anyone get too close. There have been too many vigils, too many bad experiences, and in the introduction we are told a woman, for a lack of a better term, outs her.
However, with gender confirmation surgery done, and the ever playful Cassie as a friend, skinny dipping dispels the rumor which passed someone’s lips. All that young woman turns out to be is envious of Mock. Someone upset that this young man Branden decided to take an interest in Mock as the club left her lonely.
To my great surprise, Mock was less preachy. Which I say because in Redefining Realness, there would be a section, in many chapters, where it would be like she thought “This is a teachable moment.” Meaning, she would break down, like she was giving you Trans 101, what a certain phrase meant and maybe some of its history, perhaps diving deep into a Trans culture issue, and really just exposing herself. Within the intro though, we are given just a straight up story.
Well, outside of noting the fear of many a trans woman: Being outed on someone else’s terms. Something understandably fearful for, considering where you get your news from, you can hear about someone trans being murdered weekly. Not trans men really, but mostly trans women. Especially Black trans women like Mock. For all that is required is a man feeling tricked. Him being under the impression he just was tricked into liking, maybe even falling, for a dude and it’s over. His ego flares and a life goes out like a light.
Leaving nothing but the candles as they are remembered and added to a list. A list which seemingly grows longer and is given little to no justice.
Part 1/ Chapter 1 – Club Nu
I should note I’m making chapter titles up.
Cassie, Mock’s friend from chapter 1, we learn hooked her up with a job at Club Nu. A place ran by a local Korean woman named Mama. Mock started there sometimes around May 2002, still 19, and basically fresh meat. But Mama’s club wasn’t as raunchy and dangerous as others. While not the most beautiful thing outside, the inside was kept fresh and respectful. There were no whores but dancers. Someone for men to forget their troubles with.
But while Mock talks about Club Nu she also gives us an update on her brothers. Jeffrey just completed 7th grade at this point and is heavy into the golden age of Disney Channel, when shows like Lizzie McGuire were on. As for Chad? Well, he got a football scholarship to Avila College in Missouri and was barely around. He was due to leave in July.
Now, as for how Mock got away with being a teen sex worker and now stripper? It is because her mom seemingly minded her own business. Plus, with Mock bringing in good grades, what was her worry? Her daughter was thinking about studying law for goodness sakes and her books and tuition was covered by scholarships. Plus, being the good girl she is, she has a job which helps pay utilities [note]Mock’s mom had a job but living is expensive with three kids.[/note], to get her own attire and accessories, and pays for some of her little brother’s games. What more can you ask for?
Leaving the last topic being Cassie. Mock’s friend introduced in the introduction, who got her the Club Nu job. She too is trans and seemingly barely clockable like Mock is. However, when Mock first met her? She couldn’t stand how much of a label whore she was. But with time and close proximity, they grew close. Not as close as Mock did with Wendi [note]Who moved to Vegas to be a makeup artist[/note], but close enough to share company willingly.
It was nice of Mock to, early on, give us updates on some of the consistent figures of book 1. Granted, they were a bit small, like for Wendi, but something is better than nothing. Oh, and the teachable moment thing mentioned for the introduction? It’s back. However, it’s less lecture and more kind of like a footnote. Similar to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but less distracting since it is fully integrated, or rather assimilated, into the story. Such as noting what “clocking” means or a brief history of the term “Mahu” in native Hawaiian culture.
But, alongside that, it was interesting to hear about her early days as a stripper. Which of course Mock gives nuance to since that is the kind of girl she is. She isn’t going to present some Players Club type business, because she isn’t about that life. Mock is a lady. Plus, part of the reason she even worked there was because of Cassie. For strength in numbers is perhaps one of the first strong focuses here. Not just in terms of protection, but comradery. Cassie already laid down the groundwork so Mock knew she was in a safe space. But, alongside this, Mock made it more safer for Cassie to feel, not normal but not a possible exception.
Chapter 2: Sex Isn’t For Sale, But Intimacy Is
With Club Nu being all nude, naturally, the newly reborn Mock is a bit insecure. Maybe even intimidated. After all, she wasn’t born with the vagina she has and her knowledge of what one looks like came from porn. Yet, Club Nu didn’t ultimately just provide Mock with money but also the opportunity to get comfortable in her womanhood.
As noted in the first book, Mock has the privilege of being fish, passing, or looking cis. Which is the reason Mama hired her since she isn’t running a “Boys who look like girls[note]In Oahu there are clubs Mock refers to that, if I remember right, were described like this[/note]” bar. There are other places that do that, but Mama don’t play that. So just walking in and being hired helped confirm Mock’s identity. Showed she could be stealth. But through stripping and being around strippers, she also learned to own her body and learn what it means to be sexy with it.
This empowerment, in her chapter by chapter “Let’s explore this further” section, she roots to the power of strippers. People often put down exotic dancers because of their role in validating and confirming male heterosexuality like trophies. For if you look at some popular, and highly vulgar, rap videos, they are treated as an accessory just like a diamond pinky ring. Mock specifically names “Tip Drill” by Nelly and “How Do You Want It?” by Tupac. Then there is the idea that they are the product of failed parenting. Leading to Mock taking note of Chris Rock’s views on them.
However, for Mock, being that choice and circumstances for her, and these women, were a factor, she appreciated what being a dancer taught her. For one, it helped her understand how to seduce men, be comfortable with her vagina, and to let others touch her. Much less, it sort of was a promotion from being a sex worker. So while she didn’t get the respect of a Dita Von Tesse type, she still made money. The only real worry was maybe her brothers or other male family members coming in.
I remember watching The Glee Project long ago and they had a trans person on there. I believe someone who was female to male. If I recall right, there were somewhere near Janet’s age at the time and there was a conversation about them having to readjust. Not just in terms of singing, but movement, and being comfortable. For while on shows like I Am Jazz, we can now see the process of transitioning, at a young stage, there still is puberty. Something which, in my mind, you kind of have to go through all over again if you are trans. Especially if you transitioned either just chemistry-wise through shots or by doing the whole she-bang-bang.
That thought aside, a part of me low-key wonders why Janet stayed in the intimacy trade for so long. Granted, she answers such question with circumstances and choices, but surely she would have found other options right? Not to put down what she did but you’d think there would come a point she would find a hustle like working in a hotel with flexible hours or something like that. But, considering how much people can get paid in the intimacy business, minimum wage to around $120 or so a day? You do the math and ask yourself which sounds better.