JFB op/ed in New York Times from 8/26/13


The Risk Pool

Published: August 26, 2013

BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — THIRTY-SEVEN years ago this week my friend Pearce Bunting was at the wheel of my Volkswagen and I was in the passenger seat when he drove the car off a road in suburban Philadelphia. It bounced off a fire hydrant and then plunged into a small ravine. I remember thinking, as we flew through the air, that I was about to find out whether there was life after death. I heard the crash as if from a distant room. Then a vague blue blob spoke. “Are you all right?” it wanted to know, and then said, more reassuringly, “You’re going to be all right.”

It was the first day of my senior year in high school. That compassionate blue blob turned out to be a policeman in uniform, standing over me as I lay on my back in the middle of Darby Road, staring up at a light blue sky. My glasses had been thrown off in the wreck, which is why everything was so blurry.

The officer got me into an ambulance and on to Bryn Mawr Hospital, where emergency-room doctors sewed my left ear back on. The officer also managed to retrieve my school books from the totaled car. And so it was that later that night I was…

(read full essay at the New York Times site.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JFB op/ed in New York Times from 8/6/13


Diversity and ‘Doctor Who’

Published: August 6, 2013

BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — YOU could hear the sighs of disappointment spreading across the nerd-universe on Sunday when the BBC announced, with much fanfare, that the Scottish actor Peter Capaldi would be the new star of “Doctor Who.”

For those readers who did not get beaten up in high school, “Doctor Who” is a beloved British sci-fi series about a character called the Doctor — a Time Lord who travels through space and time to battle evil. Thanks to a clever plot twist, the Doctor is able to regenerate into a new body whenever a mortal would die (or whenever an actor grows tired of the gig). As a result, the role has been played by 11 different men since the show went on the air in 1963. The current Doctor, Matt Smith, is stepping down this Christmas, and many fans had hoped that this time, a dozen cycles in, the Doctorship would finally go to a woman.

Mr. Capaldi is a capable actor, and come his debut, I’ll be right there with my teenage boys, drinking Mountain Dew and cheering him on. But imagine if we were cheering for Helen Mirren instead, or for the comedian Miranda Hart, or for Emma Watson, the former Hermione Granger. If the Doctor can regenerate into any form, it seems, oh, just a little dispiriting, that time after time he invents himself as a white British male.

As the news rolled out, I was reminded of the sinking feeling I had back in 2005, when…

(read the full essay at New York Times site)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JFB on MSNBC talking about new show “Shezow!”

I appeared on MSNBC on Saturday as GLAAD spokeswoman regarding media criticism of a new children’s cartoon, Shezow, which has as its hero a young boy who puts on a magic ring and becomes a feminine superhero, complete with crazy hair and go-go boots.  The show is a delight;  the right-wing criticism of it is not.  The video of the clip is below.

Jenny Boylan on MSNBC, 6/1/13

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Upcoming events: Oregon, Washington, and NYC

Just wanted to point you to the appearances page, which notes three events coming up in the next week or two.

This Wednesday, May 15, you can find me at Oregon State University in Corvalis, for an event at 7 PM in the LeSells Stewart Center in the Construction and Engineering Hall.

The next night, Thursday May 16, I’ll take the podium at  the Ingersoll Center in Seattle, for a reading/event at 7 PM. There will be books for sale there courtesy of Elliot Bay Book Company. Ingersoll is the gender center for Seattle, and I have a long, great history with them.  I am really looking forward to meeting old friends and new at that event.

Finally, I’ll be doing a reading with Timothy Kreider at the Strand Bookstore in New York City on Tuesday May 28.  Tim is the author of the collection of essays and cartoons, WE LEARN NOTHING;  he’s also one of my oldest friends.  Tim features in my new memoir, Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, and there’s a chapter about his freindship with me in We Learn Nothing. So there will be plenty to talk about: comedy, memoir,  and the complications of writing about people we know.  My first reading at the Strand, and the only event scheduled for NYC this spring!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JFB op/ed for Mother’s Day in New York Times.

A column for Mother’s Day from me on the op/ed page of the Sunday New York Times:

What Makes a Mother?  Suffering!

by  Jennifer Finney Boylan

boylan family

Jenny Boylan's Mom, Hildegarde, with grandsons Zach and Sean, Christmas 2010

One day, toward the end of my transition from father to mother, I came home to find my 6-year-old son looking thoughtful. “Are you all right?” I asked.

“Yes,” Sean said quietly. He was playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. His favorite engine was No. 5, red James. That had also been my name, back before it became Jenny.

“What are you thinking?”

“It’s just it used to be you and me and Zach, the three boys on one side,” he said, “and Mommy and Lucy-dog on the other.”

“I know,” I said, feeling my heart clench.

“Now it’s Zach and me on one side, and you and Mommy and Lucy-dog over there.”

“I’m sorry, Sean,” I said. My voice was barely a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s O.K.,” said Sean. “The boys are just outnumbered.”

I have been a dad for 6 years, a mom for 12, and for a time in between I was both, or neither, like some parental version of the schnoodle or the cockapoo.

When I was their father, I showed my boys how to make a good tomato sauce; as their mother I showed them how to split wood with a maul. As a father, I was more playful. I used to, for instance, cover my sons’ feet with peanut butter and let the dogs lick it off, as the boys screamed with laughter.

I don’t do things like that anymore, although… (click here for the rest of the column).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TV Clips & Media: Spring 2013.

Here are some shortcuts to media coverage of my new book, Stuck in the Middle With You: Parenthood in Three Genders, featuring my amazing family, from Spring and Summer of 2013.  So far, the major pieces are appearances on the TODAY Show and Rock Center with Brian Williams on NBC, a big story in The Atlantic, and another in Yahoo Shine.  Plus: links to interviews and other cool stuff from GLAAD, Biorgrahile and elsewhere.  Quick links to all appear below, starting with this teaser from Rock Center of my son Zach.  More to come!

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Jenny, Deedie (“Grace”) and Zach on the TODAY Show, NBC, Friday May 3, 2013: “The sex of the parents is a whole lot less important than the love in the family.”

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Here’s our family on Rock Center with Brian Wililams, Harry Smith, correspondent.  NBC,  May 3, 2013.  Part of “Stuck in the Middle with You” coverage.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Boylans in The Atlantic:  ”Every family is a nontraditional Family.”

At 42, James Boylan was married to a woman he loved. They lived in Waterville, Maine with their two sons. Boylan taught English at Colby College.

Then he became Jenny. Never at home in a male body, Boylan underwent gender reassignment surgery and wrote about it in her 2003 memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Her new book, Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, reflects on what her transition to a woman means as both a parent and a partner in her family, which has remained united. We spoke about what she’s learned about women, how she and her wife Deedie navigate intimacy, and what her experience tells us about the ever-changing concept of the American family.  Read the whole article here.


Boylans in Yahoo Shine:  ”Having a father who became a woman has helped make my sons into better men.”

There are not too many people in the world who can say they’ve been both amother and a father. But Jennifer Finney Boylan, née James Boylan, can.   Read the whole piece here.


Interview with JFB at the GLAAD blog:

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. The whole article is here.


Colby magazine: Paradox or Paragon?

Published April 30, 2013 | Issue: Spring 2013

In the first pages of Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, Jenny Finney Boylan, transgender mother of two, sits in the bleachers at her son’s fencing match, making chit-chat with a stranger named Grenadine, who is unaware of Boylan’s past. After revealing that her husband is serving in Iraq and she more or less hopes he dies there, Grenadine eyes the wedding ring on Boylan’s finger. “What about you?” she asks. “Where’s yours?”  (Okay, I enjoyed home court advantage on this one, but here’s the full, and very generous story.)


Biographile:  Behind the Books with Jennifer Finney Boylan

If pressed to list the most important aspects of our lives, our relationships may be the most meaningful. There are those we share with our friends and family, of course, and perhaps those we share with a given god. Often left unspoken, however, are the relationships we share with ourselves. After all, fulfillment starts from within. And while an attack on our family or friends elicits immediate defense, when our own identities are on the line, our responses becomes less decisive. Many of us buckle under the pressure of conformity, driving our frustrations inward and letting them fester. But the lucky few among us remain strong — Jennifer Finney Boylan among them — and shine like a beacon of hope for the rest of us.  Click here for the rest of the article from Biographile.


Edge Magazine Online:

The memoir “Stuck In The Middle With You” by the New York Times bestseller Jennifer Finney Boylan deals with prejudice and that poisoned chalice of unfair judgment in such a way that will penetrate even the most cynical and critical reader. Written softly with a clement fondle or nuzzle the, now, mother of two is both funny and harrowing – a balance so difficult to perfect. (And click here to read the full review).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boylans in The Atlantic: “Every Family is a Nontraditional Family.”

At 42, James Boylan was married to a woman he loved. They lived in Waterville, Maine with their two sons. Boylan taught English at Colby College.

Then he became Jenny. Never at home in a male body, Boylan underwent gender reassignment surgery and wrote about it in her 2003 memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Her new book, Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, reflects on what her transition to a woman means as both a parent and a partner in her family, which has remained united. We spoke about what she’s learned about women, how she and her wife Deedie navigate intimacy, and what her experience tells us about the ever-changing concept of the American family.

Can you talk about the transgender spectrum?

Transgender is a way of talking about all sorts of gender-variants as if we had something in common with each other. Gender-queer people, cross-dressers, transsexuals, and drag queens don’t really have all that much in common. Ru Paul who, when the wig is off, is a gay man, doesn’t have anything in common with Amanda Simpson, who was appointed in the U.S. Commerce Department by Obama as the first transgender presidential appointee. They might not have anything in common with someone like, say, Leslie Feinberg or Kate Bornstein, who are more interested in the political aspect. They are very different.

Is being transsexual genetic? Is there a biological component?

The science is getting better, but it’s not especially conclusive. Trans-sexuality seems to have its genesis in the sixth week of pregnancy when fetuses form brain structures usually associated with that of the opposite sex. It might have to do with the hormone bath that the fetus is in or it might be something else entirely. I don’t know if it’s genetic, but it does seem to be neurological. It’s not related to anything you grow up with. It doesn’t have to do with how your parents treated you. And it doesn’t have anything to do with whom you’re attracted to. Although sexuality and gender overlap in such interesting ways that it’s easy to get confused.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about transsexuals?

The hardest thing is for people who aren’t transsexual to be compassionate and have the imagination to recognize that this is the defining crisis of someone’s life. If you’re trying to live in a body that you’re not wired for, it’s like paddling upstream against the current in a tiny boat. Because people who are not transsexual have never had this problem, they assume that it must not really be a problem. If you’re not trans, you wake up in the morning and don’t worry what sex you are. For people who do have to worry, people for whom it is a constant, agonizing heartbreak, others think it’s funny or strange. It’s a measure of our compassion as human beings. Can you understand the problems of someone who is not you? I didn’t change genders because I was really gay and couldn’t accept it. I didn’t change genders to be more feminine, quite frankly. It’s not about femininity, it’s about femaleness. It’s not about playing with dolls or making brownies or whatever cliché of femininity we have. It’s about finding peace in your own skin.

How has the media played a role in shaping the way the public responds to transsexuals?

I was on the Larry King Show in 2005 and remember having a conversation about the caption below my name saying “professor” or “author.” They ended up using “had sex change operation.” I thought, really?

Why aren’t there many role models for transsexuals?

Gay people who are out increasingly spend much of the rest of their lives going about their business. Transsexual people, if they come out in a public way, more often than not fade into the woodwork in two or three years. A lot of trans people “go stealth” which means that you transition and move somewhere and don’t tell people about your past. But if sexual transition is marked by seamlessly integrating into the culture, there aren’t visible transsexual people of an older generation. If you think of trans people you know, it’s mostly people on the street who don’t pass well. But if a transsexual does pass, you don’t know.

How central is gender to identity? Are you the same person underneath?

When transsexuals go through transition, the great question is: Who am I going to be on the other side? Will I be some completely new person? The great surprise is no, of course you’re not. I went through the adolescent period that transsexuals go through, feeling out what parts of the new personality were going to be the keepers. There are probably some things that are a little different, but I’m not conscious of them. You still have the same history, sense of humor, parents, and children as you had before. What I don’t have is secrets. It’s not so much going from male to female as going from a person who had secrets to a person who doesn’t have secrets anymore. The big thing is, I wake up in the morning and don’t have to think about gender.

When Deedie gave birth to your boys, did you re-question your sexual identity? Or did you think, “Ok, I’m a father now”?

Yeah, I felt, I’m a father. Any ambivalence about being a man I have to let go of because it’s now about something bigger than me. When they were born I thought, “Okay cowboy, you better get in character here!” And I’ll tell you what: If I could’ve pulled off that stunt, I would have. But I wonder if I could’ve given them a better life. I think maybe all of our lives are better, full of more surprise and gratitude as a result of having to find our way through this domain.

When you first came out, did men and women react differently?

Absolutely. Women, generally, were very welcoming. Almost from the get-go, women were like, “Welcome to the sisterhood!” One friend from Ireland wrote, “Welcome! It’s bloody brilliant being a girl.” But even the hippie, groovy boys I knew from college were very uncomfortable. Some of those relationships have never really been repaired. There was much more negotiation that had to be done. And some of them may never have quite accepted me as a woman but kind of play along with me, which I find insulting. The women were interested in the transition and wanted to talk about womanhood and gender. And maybe women are more accustomed to knowing that gender is a difficult world that has to be navigated whereas the guys didn’t want to hear about. It might also be that a lot of my close male friends were upset that I’d kept something hidden. You can see how they’d respond with disbelief and a sense of sadness that they didn’t know me in the way they thought they did. So it could’ve been a sense of loss.

What did you learn from your father about how to be a man? And how have you passed that on to your boys?

The things my father taught me are very different from what I’m teaching my boys. A lot of them have to do with silence and being strong for other people and not being particularly emotional. I think my sons are more emotional and more loving as a result of having both Deedie and me as parents.

He died before you came out—how do you think he would’ve reacted?

He wouldn’t have liked it one bit. He belonged to a certain class of men who, if you have a problem, you keep it to yourself. If someone in the family has a divorce, it’s a shame we don’t speak of.

What have you learned about women since you’ve become one?

No one goes from male to female in this culture in order to get a better deal. I immediately noticed downsides—both in terms of little things like not being listened to in the same way, being less of an authority figure in the classroom than I used to me, to feeling vulnerable. I used to be fearless, I would go anywhere. And I’ve felt threatened by men, especially when I was out with the band, playing at sketchy bars late at night. So I feel more vulnerable in the world. But guess what? All of these problems belong to me. They come with the territory. I won’t make light of any of them, but they’re a fair price to pay for being yourself.

What about the positives?

I cry freely and I laugh freely. I don’t hesitate to express love for people, and I live in a much more emotionally volatile place now. Ninety percent of the time, it’s a really good thing.

When you were a father, you were “goofy, feckless”—and now, as their mother, you nag more. Can you talk about the shift?

I wonder whether, to some degree, it’s cultural. Whether men have more room to play in. I’m still the goofier of the two parents. But changing genders is a harrowing experience. It left me sobered up in the world. And the older my sons have gotten, the more dangerous the world seems. When they were little, I could protect them by feeding them and holding them. But when they get in an automobile and drive away, there’s nothing I can do to save them. In some ways, it’s not only gender—it’s also the passage of time.

How have you and Deedie negotiated co-parenting?

We had a pretty egalitarian marriage even back in the day. Early in the transition, we were on new ground. We’d both be in the ladies room at the same time—that was weird. Or there’d be two women’s blouses in the hamper. But we both cook, both nurture the boys. Deedie was a soccer coach for years. So we were never socked in traditional gender roles. I think that’s true of a lot of couples. What it means to be a husband or wife has changed.

The gender of the parents means nothing compared to the love that they bring to each other and to the kids

You say that part of being a man is “to be silent.” Has becoming a woman allowed you to be more open?

Yes. My job as a dad, I felt, was protector. Sometimes you keep your family out of trouble by keeping your mouth shut. A lot of women would disagree, but a lot of men would probably say, “Well yeah.” I thought I was protecting my family by not being public about being trans. I carried a lot of sadness around, but thought I was taking the bullet for my family. I’ll bear the sadness if it keeps us from having a really weird life. I think our family is more vulnerable now. But we’ve been mostly really blessed. We’ve seen how good people can be. Many people I expected to lose when I came out stood by me. I married Deedie because I thought love would “cure” me. And I was cured by love—just not the way I thought. Finally someone loved me enough to stand by me when I went through this.

Your title states that this book is about life in “three genders”—what’s the third?

That’s the in-between period I visited in the heart of transition, when people perceived me as male or female based on random cues, like whether I had earrings in, or whether my hair was tied back. But you don’t have to be transgender to know that there’s plenty of room in the definitions of “maleness” and “femaleness” and if you think of gender as a wide spectrum, with Arnold Schwarzenegger at one end and Christina Hendricks at the other, well, most people don’t live in those extremes. Most people fall somewhere along the spectrum. That’s the great thing. It should be about living anywhere along that spectrum that feels like it’s you.

You write, “Every single family in the world is a nontraditional family.” How has the idea of a “traditional” American household evolved?

Increasingly, Americans seem to be able to incorporate all kinds of difference into their lives. There’s more acceptance of gay marriage, kids have friends whose parents are gay. Our culture has become more diverse and more accepting. I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna because I know how kids are bullied. And I just read about a transgendered woman in Ohio who was murdered. It’s a very tough world for transgendered people. But I do believe that things are slowly getting better.

What can your experience teach us about how children grow up in non-traditional households?

I’m not saying it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a man and a woman, or two women, or a single parent. The differences in families affect how children develop. But the gender of the parents means nothing compared to the love that they bring to each other and to the kids.

You claim, “Motherhood and fatherhood are no longer unalterable binaries.” Do you think we are now at a turning point in history where roles are being rewritten?

As long as people keep loving each other, there will be families with two parents and some kids. As long as those people have different characters, they’re going to do different things as parents. It will be more a result of their character than the feeling that they have to be a certain way because they’re male or female. We’re seeing lots of dads staying home and being nurturers and a lot of women in the workforce. As long as there’s love in the family, the specifics of each person’s job doesn’t really matter, does it?

Growing up as a boy, did you desire men sexually?

No, never.

Did that happen as a result of your transition to a woman?

I would still define myself as a lesbian. A lot of the trans women I know, if they’re single, will check out men to see what that’s all about, but will often return to women, if they were attracted to women in the first place. There’s no generalization you can make about what people will do after transition. Post-transition I began to see men differently. I was able to see what was cute about men, what was great about them, to appreciate them with a sense of love and gratitude. I don’t know if that’s quite been the same as lust. My polestar has always been Deedie and my sense of desire has never been very far from her.

Did your desire for her change when you changed genders?

It did. Orgasm as a woman is very different, and sex drive is different. All those things are true. But the object of all that desire for me, very specifically meaning Deedie, hasn’t changed.

There’s a heartbreaking moment in your book when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve and Deedie won’t kiss you. How have you negotiated the loss of sexual intimacy in your relationship?

I don’t want to be glib about this serious issue because there are times when not having a more vigorous intimate relationship drives me crazy. It’s an issue we wrestle with. But all the love and the time we spend together and the family more than makes up for that. I don’t spend a lot of time staring out the window wiping the tears away. I think that, in some ways, the relationship Deedie and I have might be more familiar to people who have been married for 25 or more years than you might think. When we first went through transition we weren’t sure if we could get through it, but now it doesn’t seem particularly hard.

Is there any part of being a woman that you think you’ve missed out on?

There are some things I’m never going to learn. Like a French braid. I’m never going to know how to do that. Screw that. You know what’s funny—hormones had such a dramatic effect on me early on. My first four or five years in the female sex I had a period of looking like an attractive young woman. That was really cool. But my body has caught up with its chronological age. To some degree, I’m sorry I missed out on some of the party of being in this body when I was young. But it’s beyond silly to look behind your shoulder and wish things could’ve been otherwise. My life as a boy was not a bad life. I was really a very lucky person. I’d published novels, I fell in love, I had children, I got a teaching job in Maine that I love. And then I went through the transition and I’ve had this life. It’s pretty hard not to be grateful. I’ve seen things that most men and most women have never gotten to see. The thing that I thought used to be the great curse turned out to be a gift.

Your community has been, for the most part, incredibly supportive of your transition. If you lived in a different part of the country would this have been a harder experience?

I think it would’ve. I think some people don’t think I’m aware of exactly how lucky I’ve been, and I can tell you—I am aware. It does have something to do with living in Maine, where people respect your privacy a little bit. It has a lot to do with race and social class and education. But it’s also sheer luck. Nothing bad has ever happened to my children, and very few bad things have ever happened to me.

It’s interesting when you point out that a lot of your friends have divorced while you and Deedie have stayed together.

What has brought Deedie and me together is not my being a woman but us going through something that was very hard and having to rely on each other. The loss of her sister and then the loss of my own mom were harrowing and sad. Those moments teach you the depth of your relationship, the depth of your love with someone. When we first started going through transition, people said—”Oh, you need to divorce, you need to marry men.” The idea that the two of us would choose each other didn’t occur to them. And as the people who told us to get a divorce have themselves gotten divorced, we think people should be careful about the advice they give. One thing people said was “oh those poor children”—and now I’ve got a freshman at Vassar and an 11th grader who was just inducted into the National Honor Society, who was singing and dancing on a stage last week, who builds beautiful origami, who’s a nationally ranked fencer. Both of my boys are delightfully funny, smart kids. When people say “What about your boys” I want to say, “What about your boys?”

You interviewed authors about their experiences as parents and children. What did you learn?

The experience of being a child exists on such a wide, wide spectrum. You look at Edward Albee whose resentment of his adoptive parents still simmers. He’s still angry at these people for not understanding him. Rick Russo whose father wasn’t around at all, always going to the track or two the bar, loves his father and forgives him. There are so many different experiences of childhood and parenting that it’s remarkable we’re talking about the same thing. We should be grateful for all of it and spend less time worrying where we fit in.

This interview is edited for length and clarity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boylans on Yahoo Shine

Transgender Author Jennifer Finney Boylan Went From Dad to Mom: How it Changed Her Family
By Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff | Mother’s Day – Fri, May 3, 2013 12:28 PM EDT

You can read this piece at the original Yahoo Shine site.

Deedie ("Grace"), Jenny, Zach, & Sean Finney Boylan

Boylan with sons Sean and Zachary and wife Deedie. Photo: Courtesy Jenny Boylan
There are not too many people in the world who can say they’ve been both a mother and a father. But Jennifer Finney Boylan, née James Boylan, can.

As James—a dark-haired man with a “feminine streak” who was a teacher of literature and a fan of Grateful Dead music—he met and fell in love with his wife, Deedie, in his late twenties, and soon became a father to their two sons. But James was harboring a secret: He was transgender, and, in his heart, had never truly felt male. He suppressed the notion for several years after marrying Deedie, but it eventually racked him with debilitating anger and sadness.

“I used to tear my hair out thinking, when you have children, you’re not only living for yourself,” Boylan told Yahoo! Shine in an interview this week. “I was willing to bear a pretty heavy burden that meant keeping the people around me safe, but I got to the point where I couldn’t take another step living a life of falsehood.”

And so, beginning when his sons Sean (now 17) and Zachary (now 19) were about 3 and 5 years old, James, with Deedie’s eventual blessing, began the major, at times heart-wrenching transition to become Jenny. It was a four-year process that began with a difficult conversation with Deedie when James was 44, and culminated with surgery to become a fully physically female (Though the “transition doesn’t end with surgery. And surgery is not the most important thing,” she stresses). Boylan wrote about her transition in what became a best-selling 2003 memoir, “She’s Not There,” landing her on Oprah and making her one of the most recognizable trans individuals in the country.

Now the professor of English at Colby College in Maine and author of a dozen books has published a follow-up to that memoir, “Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders,” exploring what it means to have been a father for 6 years, a mother for 10, and, “for a time in between, neither, or both.” Woven between the chapters of her personal family stories are illuminating interviews about parenthood and childhood, with folks including fellow writers Edward Albee, Augusten Burroughs and Susan Minot. The complete package is a groundbreaking look at what it means to be a mother, or a father, and what differences there are, if any, anymore.

As a father, Boylan was more “goofy” and playful. As a mother, she told Shine, “I helicopter over them more than I used to,” because now, as a woman, “I’m aware of the vulnerability of people, I’m aware of the danger. I’ve been at risk in the world, so that means I know the risks that other people face.”

But, in general, she stressed, the gender of parents turns out to not be of utmost importance at this point in time. “So you can look at a heteronormative family, you can look at two moms, two dads, single moms, single dads, adoptive families. There are so many ways to be a family, and none of that matters as much as the love that’s in that family,” she explained. “That shouldn’t be a revolutionary thing to say, but I think it is, in certain circles.”

The love in Boylan’s family clearly runs deep. When she began her transition, Jenny and her wife “cried, like, every day for two years,” she recalls, “just beside ourselves with loss.” Eventually, though, she said they “realized that what we were going to keep was more important than what we’d lost.” They decided to stay married—it’s now been 25 years—but there have been complications, as Jenny identifies as a lesbian and Deedie does not.

“It does mean that we each want different things in a sexual relationship, so that’s awkward,” Boylan admitted. “We are two women who love each other who are raising children that are our biological children. We sleep in the same bed. We adore each other.” And, while noting that sexual intimacy is not the only form of intimacy in a long marriage, she does add, “I don’t mean to downplay the importance of sex, because I love sex, and the absence of sex makes me feel mournful and hollow sometimes. Makes each of us feel that way. But anyone who judges our relationship only by that is totally missing the point.”

The love and understanding exhibited by their sons is also pretty powerful. In the book, Boylan writes about how Sean and Zachary come to accept the transformation of father to mother with a gentle, intelligent wisdom—how they decided to call her “Maddy,” since it was a nice combo of Mom and Daddy, how they confided in her about growing pains as they grew into young men, and how they even kept her in check, from time to time, about being true to herself. In fact, when Boylan told the family she was going to write another memoir, it was Zach who said, “OK, fine. But if you’re going to write about us, could you use our real names this time?”

When asked what they must have done as parents to raise such understanding sons, Boylan said they had done things both consciously—reading to them every day, encouraging imagination, having a sense of humor, sitting down to meals together—and unconsciously, that she hopes have made their mark. For examples of the latter, she explained, “Just by having such a curious other mother, my sons have had to learn to be compassionate and open-hearted. And I think they’ve come to be more sympathetic to all the world’s outliers and outcasts, because they know what it’s like to be among people who are different, who have big hearts and big souls, and who are full of love. And who are nonetheless vulnerable in the world as a result.”

At one point during this interview, Deedie and Zach paid a visit, and Deedie added to Jenny’s estimation. “Our speculation is that we were never ashamed of anything,” she said. “Plus they’re cool kids who always had cool friends.”

Zach, an open-faced, handsome young man with tousled brown curls, talked a bit about having a family life that was under so much public scrutiny. “I’ve just sort of grown up with it, and grown used to it,” he explained. “And also just, in this day and age, with Facebook and social media, people are already putting themselves out there without having a semi-famous parent. So I mean, it’s not something that troubles me. I grew up with it.” Then Boylan chimed in with the story about Zach requesting she write with their real names, and said to him, by way of explaining fake monikers the first time around, “I always thought I was shielding you.”

“From what?” Zach asked.

“From the cruelty of the world,” she said. “I think that’s something that I took from being a father. Being the dad, I always felt that I was the shield, and now I’m the trouble.”

“I totally get it,” Zach replied. “But no one’s ever given me a hard time.”

Zach even talked about his family on national TV this week, telling Brian Williams in an interview set to air Friday night, “If normal is a family that has a mom and a dad, and two kids and a white picket fence, then no, I don’t live in a normal family. But if a normal family is one where everybody treats each other as a family, and as equals, and with love, then yeah, I live in a normal family.”

Getting honest stories about trans people and their families into the public eye is one of the main reasons Boylan—who appeared on The Today Show Friday morning, has been on Oprah several times, and takes on frequent speaking engagements—continues to put herself out there.

“When I was a Wesleyan University student in the late ’70s, I knew I was trans, I tried to learn about other people like me, and there was nobody. Who? Renée Richards? I couldn’t relate to her at all,” she explains, referring to the professional tennis player who underwent sex-reassignment surgery in 1975. “Sometimes I wish I had my privacy back, but on the other hand, now, whoever the equivalent of me is at Wesleyan knows that I’m in the world. They know that Chaz Bono’s in the world. They know there are all sorts of ways of being trans. And that’s good work to do.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boylans on the TODAY Show: “The gender of parents is less important than the love in the family.”

Here’s my wife Deedie (“Grace”) and my son Zach and me on the TODAY Show, Friday May 3, 2013, talking about my new book, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU, and “parenthood in three genders.”

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

May 3, 2013 at 10:27 AM ET

Best-selling transgender author Jennifer Finney Boylan and her wife have maintained a loving relationship with their two sons.

“What we know is that the gender of parents is a whole lot less important than the love in the family,’’ said Boylan, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2002, on TODAY Friday.

In her new book, “Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders,” Boylan writes about raising a family while transitioning. Jennifer, her wife Deedie and son Zach spoke with Willie Geist on TODAY Friday and also conducted an interview with Harry Smith that will air on “Rock Center with Brian Williams” at 10 p.m. ET on Friday. More at the TODAY Show site

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boylans on Rock Center with Brian Williams

Here’s our family on Rock Center with Brian Wililams, Harry Smith, correspondent. Part of “Stuck in the Middle with You” coverage.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
  • The Boylan Family, summer 2010

    DSC_0063 "You hang around our family, you learn all kinds of stuff."
  • Will Forte as Jennifer Finney Boylan on “Saturday Night Live”

    WiFo-Jennifer Finney Boylan-1
  • Jenny with Barbara Walters, December, 2008

  • Jenny atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin

    2036947979_34bfbec240 August, 2002.
  • Surrounded

    boylanWith President Clinton and Maine's Governor John Baldacci, fall 2006.
  • JFB and Edward Albee


    Edward had been my teacher at Johns Hopkins in the winter of 1986. He visited Colby in fall, 2007. As we took our leave of each other, he kissed me on both cheeks and said, "We have done well. You and I."

  • Jenny and her teacher, the great John Barth


    Jack was my professor at JHU when I did my thesis, back in the day. After many years, I can now confidently say I finally understand his definition of plot. Which is, of course, "the perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a new and complexified equilibrium."