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After writing her memoir about coming of age as a black trans woman in Redefining Realness, Janet Mock spoke at colleges around the country, where she said she received a common question: How can I fully be myself in the “real” world? And so the seeds were planted for Mock’s follow-up book Surpassing Certainty, an open road map through the highs and lows of her twenties that ultimately lead her to where she is today. Before Mock speaks at live performance venue the Greene Space on June 26, writer and video maker Dylan Marron caught up with the activist about her new LGBT book, her love of Destiny’s Child and more.
Dylan Marron: Your new book Surpassing Certainty is something like a love letter to your twenties. What do you wish you had known then that you know now?
Janet Mock: Oh, God! That’s like the whole book!
Just one thing. It’s so easy!
[Laughs] I wish I would have known that I could take my time. So much of my younger years I felt such a sense of urgency to accomplish and achieve that I wasn’t really present enough to just enjoy the process of being young, of learning, of being in school, of hanging out with my peers, and having leisurely time before these obligations come into your life. So I wish I would have said “girl, slow down, just take your time.”
Today’s younger generation can get a bad rap sometimes. Is there something you think the younger generation is doing right?
Oh my god! I spend so much of my time— whether that’s in online conversations with younger people [or] whether that’s on college campuses where a lot of the roots of this book came from. One thing that I’ve noticed with this generation, there seems to be a larger sense of inclusivity. And there seems to be a greater consciousness. They’re willing to also realize that their liberation is directly linked to their peer groups’ liberation or their peer groups’ freedom—no matter how different they may be from one another.
You spent six years at People covering pop culture and now you’re the subject of pop culture coverage. Does it feel at all different or does it feel like a continuation?
I feel like it’s a continuation. I also feel as if I go between being subject and journalist. And I prefer the space of being the person asking the questions [laughs]. I still see myself deeply engaged in both sides of the conversation. Part of the challenge of what I do is to break down that sense of “you either have to be the objective journalist or be subjective subject.” I think that that’s something interesting that I kind of just discovered now talking to you.
You recently said that you “strive to tell stories and create mirrors to allow the kid that I once was to really just see herself.” Who did you see yourself in when you were growing up?
I found them in so many random spaces. One was at home at both of my grandmothers’ kitchen tables. Seeing them, seeing the way in which they operated and navigated the world as women of color. Destiny’s Child were some of my favorite heroines growing up. They were my peers. They were two years older than I was, so seeing them occupy their space in the world, that was something that was very life-giving and affirming to me as a young black girl. I remember being in the seventh grade and seeing RuPaul’s posters all over the mall. [That] was affirming at a time when I was really grappling with my gender expression and identity. And then also literature. Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston really helped me see myself and to say “I too have a story to tell and I hope to be able to tell it someday.”
I have to ask: what’s your favorite Destiny’s Child song?
Oh. My. God. Oh my God. Okay. It’s “So Good” from The Writing’s on the Wall. You’re speaking to your haters like, “you said I wouldn’t do this or I wouldn’t do that, but I’m doing so good.” [laughs] Oh, I love that song.