GLAAD spoke with transgender author, advocate, and GLAAD Board Member Jennifer Finney Boylan about her latest memoir, Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, which was released on April 30th. Her other memoirs include She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders and I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted. Find out more about Jennifer Finney Boylan's work at www.jenniferboylan.net.
Mari Haywood: How is Stuck in the Middle With You different from your other memoirs?
Jennifer Finney Boylan: Stuck in the Middle With You asks, What is the difference between motherhood and fatherhood? It is my own sense that having a father who became a woman has helped enable my sons, in turn, to become better men.
After I appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2003, a viewer in Omaha, Nebraska wrote me, “The funny thing about you, Jenny Boylan, is that you seem almost like a person somebody could know.” That line always makes me laugh, because of course I am somebody a person could know-- all trans people are people “someone could know.” I am hoping that the experience of writing about parenthood, from both a man’s and a woman’s point of view, brings home the point that it is love that brings us together. The love in the center of our family, I hope, is something that other people will recognize as very familiar indeed.
MH: Stuck in the Middle With You features excerpts from conversations with other parents. Why did you incorporate these discussions into a book regarding your experience as a transgender parent?
JFB: The problem with memoir, of course, is that it can be so fundamentally narcissistic; I added the voices of other mothers and fathers and “former children” in order to broaden the discussion. While my experience as a trans woman may make my stories as a parent unique, what I learned by talking to this wide range of other parents is that there are many, many ways to be a parent-- or for that matter, a child. It is interesting to see the effect that gender has had on peoples’ experience as parents. In some cases-- like Richard Russo’s and Edward Albee’s, to name two-- it seems to have played a major role. In others-- like Ann Beattie’s-- maybe less.
MH: Why did you choose the parents you did for these discussions? What significance do they have in your life?
JFB: I turned to a group of mostly writers, in part because those are the people I know, and in part because I believe that writers-- who observe the world for a living--might have a particularly eloquent insight into the nuances of gender and parenting. I also wanted to cover as wide a range as possible. So there are gay people and trans people and straight people in the book; an African American single father and a mom of three who has dwarfism; a woman who was one of eight brothers and sisters, and a mom who lost a child.
My hope was to make a fairly simple point clear: that there is no such thing as a typical American family. Every single family that you could name is a nontraditional family.
MH: What sort of message might you hope that readers of Stuck in the Middle With You take away with them after reading the book?
JFB: Well, for people unfamiliar with trans issues, I am hoping that they come away from the book with a better understanding of the fullness and richness of our lives. I think there is a perception that transsexual people are people whose lives are defined by an operation-- there is such an insane and salacious obsession with the surgery, which really is not the point. A transgender person’s life is about everything that comes before that, and everything that comes after, and we struggle, sometimes, with the challenge of seeing our life as one life, rather than two, one in which there is a bridge between who we have been and who we become.
For trans people, I am hoping that there is some hope in learning how my life, and the lives of the people I love have continued since She’s Not There. I know so many people lose their families, lose connection to their children, and suffer in so many ways; I hear from those noble, maligned souls every day. But people should know that there are other ways our stories can turn out. In my own life, as a result of luck, and love, and the brilliance of the people around me, my experience as a parent-- as both father and mother-- have helped define me. As Puig once wrote, “This dream is short, but happy.”
This is probably a good place to mention that, concurrent with the release of this new book, Stuck in the Middle with You, that Random House is also publishing the new, updated, 10th anniversary edition of She’s Not There. The expanded edition of [She's Not There] contains a new preface, a new final epilogue from me, providing an update on our family’s life since 2003, and most importantly, a new afterword from my wife Deedie, who is called “Grace” in the book.
MH: Your writing has been featured in Conde Nast Traveler magazine and The New York Times. Do you feel your contributions have helped future transgender authors?
JFB: I hope so, although it is surely not up to me to take the measure of the value of my own work. I can say that the most important thing trans people can do is tell their stories-- in whatever venue or form we can. As my mother used to say, “It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know,” and it is by making our stories known that other people can begin to understand our lives, and the challenges we face. That’s what has made me so supportive of GLAAD and the work it does, in fact; GLAAD focuses on telling the stories of LGBT people accurately in the media, and increasingly so much of GLAAD’s work is advocating for trans people. That’s how we change the world, I believe: one story at a time.
MH: You have been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and the Today Show. How do you feel about the recent interviews and media highlights of transgender youth like Coy Mathis and Jazz?
JFB: Every time we have a trans person being treated with dignity and respect on television, or in film, or in the press, it makes things better-- and not just for trans people but for everyone. The recent focus on trans youth is great; I think Coy’s story and Jazz’s story have opened a lot of hearts. But there are all kinds of ways of being trans-- not every transgender person is transsexual; not every transgender person is, like me, a middle aged white woman of some privilege; not every transgender person, quite frankly, wants to transition. There are as many ways of being trans as there are of being gay, or lesbian, or for that matter, straight, and we need to open up our hearts to all of this. There are an infinite number of ways of being human. By accepting the wondrous scope of gender , we affirm the vast potential of life, in all of its messy, unfathomable beauty.
Find out more about Jennifer Finney Boylan's work at www.jenniferboylan.net and www.glaad.org/blog/stuck-middle-you-memoir-parenting-three-genders.