Surpassing Certainty (What My Twenties Taught Me): Part 1/ Chapters 3 to 5 – Summary/ Review (with Spoilers)

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Janet Mock: Surpassing Certainty - What My Twenties Taught Me Book Cover

Throughout chapters 3 to 5 of Surpassing Certainty, we finally get to see Janet experience a healthy relationship. Not one rooted in sex, being used, or anything like that, but the type of love which seemingly alluded her and seemed to be all but a Hollywood fabrication.

Chapter Summaries (with Commentary)

Chapter 3: Meet Troy

Troy. This man is perhaps Janet’s first love and out of all places, she meets him at Club Nu. He was a 24-year-old yeoman, from Maryland, in the navy with bad knees. However, in Janet’s eyes, he was this Matt Damon type with white boy swag. Someone who, in her own words, made her feel wanted and necessary. It only took a few days for her to fall in love and for him to feel the same. Even to the point of prolonging his time in Hawaii just a little bit rather than go to Australia.

{Commentary}

It has been so long I have forgotten how I approach chapter by chapter reviews. But I promise I’ll be more consistent. First by putting it back on the calendar and making it a weekly thing. For between this, IT, and a slew of other books I impulsively bought because they were interesting and cheap, I could probably do this for the rest of the year. Maybe into the next considering how much time I dedicate to reading in a week.

But, focusing on this chapter, one thing I wish Janet did do, like others who do auto-biographies, at least in modern times, was include pictures. For while she is a brilliant descriptor, I would love it if she took an extra step in putting you in the situation or moment. Even if it was just illustrations.

For when it comes to Troy, while I’m at least a few chapters ahead of this, I kind of want to go beyond how I imagine him. Especially since he isn’t a fictional character. I want to see him as Janet did past a celebrity associations.

Chapter 4: Being Someone’s Girlfriend

At this point Mock is 20 [note]It’s 2003[/note] and has sort of dated a bit. However, Troy is her first real boyfriend so there comes the question/ issue of disclosing she is Trans to him. For while she can go stealth because she is fish, post-op, and what not, keeping part of her secret would mean not truly giving herself over to him.

Yet, there is always the knowledge of what can happen after disclosing. So despite how vulnerable he has been about his body, and being chubby as a kid, as much as they shared their cultures and experiences, that could all blow up. So, to begin, she tested his tolerance for homosexuals, since there weren’t Laverne Cox types yet on TV. That went well.

So, not too long after that, she reveals she is trans. Something that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to change anything. However, it is hard to say, in the long term, whether it was because Troy truly still loved her or because he didn’t want to become any semblance of his dad. Let me explain, Troy’s mother Linda got abandoned by his dad when she was still pregnant. She, like Mock, was only 20 when all this happened. Luckily though, she met this nice rural man Alan and he helped raise her boys and through Alan, Troy learned about commitment and integrity. So, even in later chapters, it is hard to say which kept him loyal. At least, so it seems.

But, while romance is very much a key focus of the chapter, so is Janet deciding to switch her major from law to fashion merchandising. If only because, being with Troy, Club Nu, and school didn’t make going to law school seem possible. Plus, her Ally McBeal fascination was waning and the real work to be a lawyer didn’t inspire her. So, thanks to a really good professor, she decided to make the switch,

However, that isn’t the only change. After about a year at Club Nu, and making around $1000 a week, Janet hangs up her stripper gear. If only because the emotional wear and tear was weighing on Janet. How could she give faux intimacy to men and then the real thing to Troy later? For while she tried her best to separate her stripping persona and the real person, at the end of the day they share the same body and mind. Hence why she quit.

{Commentary}

I see this chapter as quite an evolution for Mock. Not necessarily in the educational sense, since she sort of grazes over that, but definitely relationship wise, in terms of body autonomy, and growing as a person. For, if you read Redefining Realness, you would know that since Janet was a child, her body was never really hers. It didn’t match how she saw herself, was policed how others thought she should use it to express it, and she sort of made it an other in order to make money through sex work.

So, like she said in another chapter, stripping was technically a promotion. It provided more safety, more control over the situation, and perhaps steadier money. But also it allowed her to get to know this brand new body and go through what I can only call Trans puberty. After all, sex for Janet before was just an exchange of goods. If not her autonomy being stolen from her, like by her father’s girlfriend’s kid. Also, it was something she had to do. At this point though, it more so seemed like what was the easiest task. For with her not looking Asian or Polynesian, and supporting those expectations, it seems a hotel desk clerk job was out of reach. Alongside that, let’s be real, a woman can make more using her body and giving into male sexism than working beside them as equals on paper. So why seek out minimum wage, or a job you are paid less to do the same, if not more to prove your worth [note]Much less fight off Black stereotypes[/note], compared to a job where if you work more, you will certainly earn more. Almost guaranteed.

Though it isn’t just the money. When Janet was a sex worker on a street, she was pre-op. As a stripper she is post op and with that came a whole new body to learn how to make sexy. For while she has the makeup and styling down, Club Nu was all nude. She had to get comfortable with her vagina and other women’s vaginas. Especially in the context of not comparing. Alongside that, she had to redefine how to make her body be alluring and get comfortable with that. For while the scarring and all that was gone or faded, there remains getting used to the finished product. Living in your truth not just in your mind but reality. And I think, once that was done, alongside getting a real relationship, Mock officially graduated from doing sex work altogether. Hence why she left Club Nu. She got what she needed out of sex work and moved on.

Switching topics to Troy, it is so hard talking about him in the context of where we are in this chapter being that I’m a few ahead. But I will say this, I genuinely question what did he say to friends after Janet revealed her past to him. Because, there is just something weird about this. Not to sound transphobic, but Aaron’s reaction [note]Janet’s now husband[/note] makes a whole lot more sense than Troy’s. However, I guess what must be a factor is he didn’t necessarily plan to have children and he is in the navy. So it isn’t like he is stuck in Hawaii and really has to deal with Janet being trans and all that means. She is just someone who is there, convenient, and likable. So why complicate things and look beyond what is a relationship for the now and not really made to be for forever.

Chapter 5: The Move to Rhode Island

Like Troy, Janet has had no plans to be on the island forever. So as he goes off to San Diego she goes to Rhode Island. But this isn’t before her sort of being, for a lack of a better term, weirded out that Troy isn’t being inquisitive about her Trans reveal. But, with it seeming he puts her into an exceptionalism box, due to maybe her being post op, fish, and him knowing her solely as Janet and not Charles, she just lets it go.

But, oh when she lands in Rhode Island. Being that no one knows her past, she doesn’t go wild, but she is very curious. For one, this is perhaps the most white people she has ever been around. Two, she is in a relationship, yet there are all these cute, kind of affluent, guys. But being that she is the black sheep amongst a whole lot of snowflakes, it makes her acutely aware of her otherness. Especially as people, like Tony, want to get their ghetto Black girl on and dare touch Janet’s hair.

Luckily though, this guy named Jared, with his crooked smile and thick eyebrows, comes to save the day. Even forces her to think about the differences between her being a Black woman dating a white boy compared to if the few brothers on campus were to date one of these white women. Of which she has no issue about beyond the double standard. After all, she has her own issues with how Hawaiian beauty standards have messed with her alongside the idea of being cute for a Trans girl, black girl, or the idea of saying she looks like a real girl.

Though what once was her rock, Troy, becomes a bit shaky when he takes her home. But, at first, things are quite nice. Linda, Troy’s mom, loves Janet. On top of her being the first girl Troy has brought home, she has helped her son become comfortable with his size. For with him growing up chubby, he hasn’t been much for having his shirt off. But here comes this girl who helps him become comfortable. Must be #BlackGirlMagic.

However, then comes the name Eva. She calls the house and with that, Janet’s world is rocked. She thinks he is cheating, Linda tries to say she is just an old friend nothing ever, or will, happen with, but this is Janet’s first love. With that, alongside being Trans and all that comes with that, comes the first crack in the relationship. Something they never truly recover from.

{Commentary}

I’m just trying to process a few things. One being the beauty about a man being uncomfortable in his size, which I don’t think is brought up in media enough, but mostly the insecurities which come with being a Black Trans woman. First and foremost, you got to deal with all the policies Black women deal with when it comes to their hair, their skin tone, and then their bodies. Like, for example, to make Janet feel better, she notes Eva has a big ass so Janet has nothing to worry about. However, at least in my mind, that could be a problem within itself. Because we aren’t necessarily told what race Eva is so could it be Janet is the first Black girl he has had a genuine relationship with? A place holder since Eva never gave him the time of day?

On top of that, you got Janet being Trans. Something she expresses was once a worry in terms of just being a fetish. Maybe something to try and discard. But what also is a factor here is that Troy travels. He is meeting women at work and around the base possibly every day and being that this is Janet’s first taste of real love, naturally, she gets jealous and worried. She knows her worth but that doesn’t mean someone isn’t measuring her up to other girls. Ones that can give them kids, ones they don’t have to share this pseudo-secret about her being trans with. They can have simple and basic relationships. There is one, well a few, less reasons to question if you have been settled for or are enough.

But what especially makes this a big deal for Janet is because, this is her only understanding of a real life functioning relationship. Not just in terms of girls like her, but it isn’t like her parents or siblings have these #RelationshipGoals type of partnerships. So she is in uncharted territory and considering what life was like before Troy, imagine how worse it would be after? She knows what love is, how it should feel, but yet only one man perhaps made her really feel she deserved it. Much less gave it to her the way she knew it should be.

I can’t imagine the weight Janet must have felt when she suspected Troy of cheating. Much less the devastation of maybe believing his mom was in on it and was trying to placate her. After all, what better way to have your golden child visit then him falling for a girl from the neighborhood? That is, versus one from across the country. Which isn’t to say she implies this idea, but this is just me trying to be in Janet’s head during that moment.

Collected Quote(s)

[…] no one had made me feel so wanted and necessary. It was the first time I felt I could be enough for someone.
— “Part One/ Chapter 3.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


[…] you can’t escape your truth. It follows you. No matter how far you travel, how good you feel with it at a distance, it lingers and sticks to you.
— “Part One/ Chapter 3.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


I knew that love was more than a statement. It was an action that required accountability.
— “Part One/ Chapter 4.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


I had always been someone who was ambitious to the point of stupidity. When my mind was set on achieving or obtaining something, I’d most often take action before thoroughly thinking about the repercussions. It was my strength and my weakness.
— “Part One/ Chapter 5.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


Beauty is a social experience, subjective and interactive.
— “Part One/ Chapter 5.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


To have found a fulfilling, affirming partnership felt like a gift, especially considering the multiplicities of my identity as a black trans girl. I had internalized messages that told me I would never measure up, I would always be an imitation, I would never be considered real or valuable. Therefore, I should expect to be fetishized, ridiculed, rejected, or attacked. The threat of violence always loomed. My ultimate fear, a fate all too familiar for trans women of color globally, was becoming another statistic, another name spoken at a vigil on Transgender Day of Remembrance. I did not want to be another trans girl killed because some man could not process his attraction to my body and therefore had to eliminate it.
— “Part One/ Chapter 5.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


I am not inherently afraid of men, but there was something about the way he was intent on interacting with me that I found unsettling.
— “Part One/ Chapter 5.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


[…] the white women I spent my time with at URI [University of Rhode Island] were not completely foreign to me. I had been watching women who looked and spoke like them on television since I was a kid. I adored women who looked like them, from Rory and Lorelei Gilmore and Carrie Bradshaw to Felicity. I was under the illusion that because my [white] girlfriends accepted me, the overwhelming whiteness of the campus would not accentuate my otherness.
— “Part One/ Chapter 5.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


Maybe he was giving me what I thought I so wanted then: the guise of normality.
— “Part One/ Chapter 5.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me


[…] Hollywood romances shaped me with promising thoughts: the overlooked girl is the prize; the hard-hearted can be softened; happy endings start with a revelatory kiss; and ultimately love conquers all. The discovery that no one trips and falls into the arms of the love of their life was a truth I resisted. I knew it was Hollywood make-believe, yet I held on to hope that someone would stand strongly and proudly beside me.
— “Part One/ Chapter 4.” Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me

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