For appearances:
Wade Lucas at Penguin Random House:
walucas@penguinrandomhouse.com

For press Inquires:
Kris Dahl at ICM
KDahl@icmpartners.com

For information about Long Black Veil:
PR@randomhouse
rrokicki@penguinrandomhouse.com

To contact Jenny directly:
jb@jenniferboylan.net

Blog

  • JFB.com Blog

    Four Tall Women

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Here’s a photo I love, taken at the GLAAD Media Circle celebration earlier this month.  On hand were, from lower right, Amanda Simpson, US Department of Defense; Kimberly Reed, award-winning filmmaker;  Dr. Marci Bowers, surgeon; and Jennifer Boylan, Professor of English, me.  I know that there are all sorts of ways of being trans, and that there are countless struggles suffered by our people across the country and around the world.  But it’s good, once in a while, to be reminded that the story of trans people is not only a story of suffering and marginalization; many of us live good lives too.  I was proud to be among these Four Tall Women, whom I count not only among my friends, but among my own personal list of heroes as well.

  • JFB.com Blog

    JFB interview with Myla Goldberg

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    “Children have an innate capacity for both astounding kindness and intense cruelty”

    Jennifer Finney Boylan talks to Myla Goldberg about memoir, narrative, and Goldberg’s  new novel, The False Friend. Goldberg is the author of several books, the best known of which may be the novel, Bee Season.

    Jenny Boylan: The False Friend brings us a woman who’s still trying to make sense of her own childhood, and trying to connect the person she’s become with the child she was.  Usually the search for identity is presented as joyful and uplifting in contemporary fiction– but here, as in Bee Season–that quest turns out to be harrowing. Do you think that, for your characters, self-knowledge is a dangerous thing?  Might they be better off with some of their questions unanswered?

    Myla Goldberg:  Anything worth having is dangerous, to varying degrees, but I’d like to think that the long-term benefits of self-knowledge outweigh the risk.  Everyone needs to be harrowed at some point in their lives.  In both Bee Season and The False Friend, we are with characters at incredibly stressful and difficult turning points, but it’s possible to imagine happier and more fulfilled futures for them as a direct result of the decisions they end up making. Life loses its meaning when you stop trying to move forward, which in Celia’s case means looking backward for a while.

    JB:   Your book is many things– an inquiry into character, an examination of how thechoices made by children continue to shape the lives of the adults they become– but in some ways it’s also a mystery story.  Were there books that guided you as you wrote?

    MG: Rather than specific books, there were three specific writers whose work obsessed me during the five years I was writing The False Friend: Graham Greene, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ian McEwan.

    Graham Greene’s characters inhabit moral grey zones.  Their desire to do right is hampered by their personal limitations, and an action that genuinely helps one person invariably hurts another.

    I covet the way Ishiguro can use a lone, idiosyncratic character to illuminate broad swaths of human nature, getting at the universal nature of regret, love, desire, and ambition all through a single pair of eyes.

    Ian McEwan would be the closest I get to a mystery writer, per se.  He’s masterful at pacing a story in a way that makes you feel as if...(click here for the full interview)

  • JFB.com Blog

    W.H. Auden on The Red Sox

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Sept. 29, 2011, Boston.

    Stop all the Tivos, sit on your hands.
    Don’t order a beer to drink there in the stands,
    Silence the fans and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

    Let the Blimp circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling in the sky the message They are Dead,
    Take off the Dropkick Murphys, put on your sweater,
    Let the gates of Fenway be shuttered forever.

    They were my Spring Training, my All-Star break,
    Seventh inning stretch, a juicy steak,
    My hot dogs, Cracker Jacks, my beer in a cup;
    I thought the season would last forever. But I fucked up..

    The Yankees are not wanted now; we need not their pose,
    Pack up the Rays. Dismantle the O’s.
    Turn off NESN and stack up winter’s wood;
    For nothing in baseball is now any good.

  • JFB.com Blog

    “Not all tears are an evil” : En reve (“a dream”)

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Franz Liszt

    August 21, 2011

    Belgrade Lakes, Me.

    Maybe something in me is trying to make up for lost time.  I was not much of a weeper in the first half of my life, but since 2000 the tears just run like little streams.  I remember being reduced to tears at my all boys prep school, in 7th grade– can’t remember what I’d done, but one of the teachers did something that just humiliated me in front of the other boys.  I waited until class was over, then I went into the basement of the school where no one would see me, and I wept.  Later, after it was clear I’d been crying, a second humiliation lay in store, as those wee young men taunted and teased me for those tears.

    I don’t recall crying much in the years since then, at least not until I was in my mid-late twenties, and my father died.  Still, it took the death of a parent to move me to tears then.  I think I was out of practice, or still bearing some sort of internalized lesson about the things that men don’t do, and crying was one of them.  Since the second half of my life began in 2000, though, it really doesn’t take much to set me off.  For the most part, the tears I’ve cried have been tears of joy (I’m fortunate to say this, I know), but then, on the other hand, sometimes I get the other kid too.  Like today.

    This afternoon I went to a concert near my house here in rural Maine, and heard one Lloyd Arriola perform the works of Franz Liszt.  It’s the bicentennial of this birth, and Arriola is preparing to debut an all-Lizst program at Carnegie Hall this fall.  The concert I heard was ostensibly a dress rehearsal for that one.  He did the Grand Solo de Concert, SW 175; the Fantasie und Fugue uber dem Choral “Ad now, ad salutarem undam,” SW 624/414-4; the Eroica from Twelve Transcendental Etudes, SW 151; “En reve” (my favorite), SW 208; and the Magyar Thapszodiak No. 12 in E minor.

    The concert was in every way extraordinary, and if you’re in New York this fall, I heartily recommend the Carnegie Hall gig.  I don’t know much about Liszt, somehow.  These pieces, except for the “En reve”, were like a series of thunderstorms rolling through–so much sound rumbling over me, I felt like my ears and my heart would burst.  Then there were these strangely soft, lyrical moments, like the storm blowing away and a soft rain pattering on the lake– you’d catch your breath and then, wam, the clouds burst again.  Kind of amazing.  I know that I have to listen to this music many more times before I will really understand what I’ve heard.

    LLoyd Arriola

    (You can hear Lloyd Arriola perform the “Fantasie und Fugue uber den Choral “Ad now, ad salutarem undam,” at his web page here; a player on that page’s far right hand side provides six of his performances, and the “Fantasie” is the last one in the column.)

    But then, after the last piece, Arriola returned to the stage and said that for an encore he’d like to do a piece of Gershwin’s he’d transcribed in the style of Liszt.  Well, okay, thought we in the audience, that sounds cool.  And so he returned to the piano bench, and the storms broke again.

    Only– through the rumbles broke the soft melody of “Someone to Watch Over Me.”  As the piece went on, it became more and more lyrical, more plaintive, more vulnerable.  And that, my friends, was when the tears began to roll down my cheeks.

    photo

    Kennebec Highlands, near my home in Maine, in a photo I took out the window of John Gawler's airplane last summer.

    I guess I was thinking of my mother, who died last month at the age of 94– both of my parents really.  On the one hand, I was thinking about how I don’t have her to watch over me anymore, not like she used to, when she’d call me on the phone and ask me to help her do the “Jumble.”  On the other hand,  I know there is a place where her soul indeed is watching over me.  I feel that.

    After the piece was over, we all applauded.  My friend Barbara Alfond, who was sitting next to me, noted my tears and understood where they came from.  “When your mother is pregnant with you, she carries you all around,” she said. “And after you lose your mother, it’s like you carry her.”

    I cried harder and harder. What’s funny is that there is a way I really like tears. There’s something so good about getting all of that out of your system– it’s such a physical experience; there’s nothing else like it.  I wish that I had had the ease of tears, as I now have, back when I was a boy; it would have made a lot of hard passages easier to bear.

    But my problem was that after a while, I couldn’t stop the tears.  People were getting up to leave the concert hall, and I was still stuck in my seat.  I couldn’t talk.  My friend John Gawler, who was in the row behind me, patted me on the back.  “Are you all right, Jenny?” he asked (John Gawler, of Gawler Family Band fame, has got to be one of the most compassionate, upbeat, loving people I know.)  I nodded, yeah, I’m all right, but I still couldn’t talk.  And at that point, I started feeling embarrassed.  I had crossed the line from publicly feeling some very strong emotions (good) to being kind of out of control (bad).

    But what can you do, but let the tears flow?

    Later, John and I walked outside.  I asked him about his little airplane, which he and I used to fly in while his wife Ellen gave my son Zach fiddle lessons.  “Well, we won’t be flying anytime soon,” he said.  “We had a storm back in June that flipped the plane over and tore off its wings.”

    I dried my eyes, told him about my mom.  And also shared that I was feeling more than a little sheepish about all the leaking.  But then I quoted Gandalf to him.  “Not all tears are an evil.”  He nodded.

    I headed out the door, thinking about Liszt, thinking about my parents.  I remembered flying in that plane with John Gawler last summer, looking down on the lakes and the mountains of Maine.  We crossed a field where a woman was tending her garden, and she looked up at us and waved.  How small she seemed, how vulnerable, how full of hope!

  • JFB.com Blog

    JFB in NYT: “All My Old Haunts”

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    The third in my series of summer 2011 op/ed columns for the New York Times appeared on August 18.  This time, I was subbing for either Gail Collins or Paul Krugman.  Or both.  It’s a valedictory piece about ghosts, transness, my open-minded “conservative” parents, and forgiveness.  A kind of amazing thing is that in the 100+ comments on the Times site, only one thought that my being trans was particularly remarkable.  I had long hoped for this: a piece in which transness is part of the exposition, but NOT the whole story.  Nice.

    All My Old Haunts

    Jennifer Finney Boylan

    Belgrade Lakes, Me.

    For someone who does not believe in ghosts, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of them over the years in my parents’ house in the Philadelphia suburbs. The first day I set foot in the place, I saw, or imagined I saw, an unseemly blue mist drift through the dark basement.

    coffinhouseJust a few months ago, one of my mother’s neighbors, who had come over to check on her, saw it, too; the mist came down the hall, paused to consider him, and then curled into the room where my mother lay dreaming.

    He told me about it after she died last month. “It didn’t seem malicious exactly.  More like it was just checking up on her.”

    My mother, an evangelical Lutheran and a private, dignified lady, thought that talk of specters was ridiculous. “There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she told me. “There’s the Holy Ghost, of course, but that’s different. We call that the Holy Spirit.”

    As a transgender teenager in the 1970s — a boy in body, a girl in spirit — I remember lying in my bedroom, up on the third floor, thinking that I heard footsteps creaking in the attic. I would whisper, “You’re not real. I don’t believe in you.” To which I always imagined the ghosts replying: “That’s all right. We don’t believe in you, either.”

    What I’ve learned over the years is that you can be haunted by lots of things; actual ghosts can be the least of them.

    I’m haunted, for instance, by memories of my smart and loving parents in that beautiful old house, by the dining room, with its long Winterthur table, where my father held forth from the southern end, an L&M King filter elegantly positioned between his second and third fingers.

    My father, Dick Boylan, was a charming combination of medieval history professor and trust banker. While he helped mastermind the merger between Philadelphia’s Provident Bank and Pittsburgh National to create PNC, his true passion was for the Middle Ages, with a secondary interest in debate, or as he liked to call it, “forensics.”

    My parents were Republicans of a variety that we will not see again. They adored Gerald Ford (“The Healer,” as my mother, Hildegarde, mistily called him). On plenty of social issues, she was a liberal, not that she’d have used that word. But she only voted for a Democrat once — in 1936, when she supported F.D.R. and jilted Alf Landon.

    In those days, before we surrounded ourselves only with those who already agreed with us, my parents delighted in assembling people of divergent opinions over our dining-room table to argue about the Equal Rights Amendment or the Gary Hart campaign. At a certain point, my father would ding his fork against the side of his glass and command everyone present to begin arguing “the reverse of their earlier position.”

    He would get me to play our piano with my left and right hands in different keys. “It’s good for you,” he would say, gently.  “It makes you open-minded.”

    This kind of thinking seems almost quaint in the current political landscape, where it’s commonplace to call people with whom you disagree “traitors” or “un-American.”

    In the wake of the recent debate over the debt ceiling, I imagined my father’s solution. If the goal were to cut $4 billion from the deficit, he’d have suggested that the Republicans be put in charge of coming up with $2 billion of tax increases and the Democrats with finding $2 billion of cuts in services and entitlements. “Only when you try to argue your opponents’ point of view,” he’d have said, “does your own begin to make sense.”

    There was plenty of that in my mother’s view of the world, too. When I finally came out to her as transgender, just after I turned 40, my conservative, religious mother put her arms around me, and said, without hesitation, “Love will prevail.”

    My father died in that house on Easter Sunday 1986; my mother passed away this summer on the day after the Fourth of July. I went through the old place at dawn after the funeral, turning out lights and preparing to take my leave.

    I paused for a moment in the dining-room doorway, filled at that hour with long shadows. There at the head of the table was my father, his L&M King in hand; my mother at the other end looking at us all adoringly; and in between them my sister and me, teenagers still, all the tragedies and wonders of our lives unrevealed. I thought of a line from Thornton Wilder: “Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

    For a moment they flickered like ghosts, that family, the voices echoing in the empty house. And then they were gone.

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor of English at Colby College and the author of “I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted,” is a guest columnist.

  • JFB.com Blog

    JFB in NYT: We Want Cake, Too.

    - by Jennifer Boylan
    This piece appeared on the op/ed page of the New York Times on Friday, August 12, 2011.  It was the second of a series of Friday columns I wrote while substituting for David Brooks, a substitution which is itself an interesting thought: me, for him, and which I imagine gave conservatives nationwide a chance to stagger around their living rooms clutching their hearts Fred Sanford style, saying, “This is the big one; I’m comin’ to join you!”

    jfb.3We Want Cake, Too
    Op-Ed Columnist
    JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN
    BELGRADE LAKES, ME

    A few years ago, I did an article on a ventriloquists’ convention in Fort Mitchell, Ky., home to 8,000 souls and the Vent Haven Museum, where dummies go to die.

    As a transgender woman, I felt strangely at home at this convocation of adorable misfits. Not only were there guys walking around with puppets, there was a Puppet Ministry run by a preacher who sold his own line of dummies (Satan was the most expensive).

    There was this whole scene down in the bar after hours. One guy tried to pick me up using something he called “the muffle voice.” People threw their voices. There were fights. One guy, staring into his beer, said, sadly, “A bunch of magicians in the same room? That’s a conversation. A bunch of ventriloquists? That’s an argument.”

    I thought of this line after New York passed its marriage-equality law in June. Since then, gay men and lesbians have been lining up from Fire Island to Niagara Falls in order to tie the knot.

    As this wave of progress ripples through the country, though, one group of people has been prominently left behind. In conversations with transgender people, again and again, I hear the refrain: Enjoy your cake, folks. Meanwhile, the rest of us remain at risk for discrimination and violence.

    More than a few transgender people feel they’ve been sold out by the gay-rights movement and lament the way the “T” in “L.G.B.T.” always comes last. It makes me think, “A bunch of straight people in a room? That’s a conversation. A bunch of L.G.B.T. people in a room? That’s an argument.”

    When you look at the staggering statistics concerning the struggles of transgender people, it’s easy to understand resentment over the amount of resources put into the fight for marriage rights. Transgender people, according to a nationwide study released early this year by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, are nearly four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population. Forty-one percent of respondents reported attempting suicide; of those who came out as students, 78 percent reported harassment, 35 percent physical assault and 12 percent sexual violence. Nineteen percent said they had been homeless. Among transgender people of color, the numbers are even worse.

    The right to marry clearly isn’t the most urgent civil rights issue lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (L.G.B.T.) people face.

    Still, it’s not surprising that marriage rights came first. The lives of gay men and lesbians have finally become part of the fabric of American life. It seems to be harder for people to get their minds around the transgender experience. It takes a much larger leap of imagination for straight people to understand the difference between who you want to go to bed “with,” and who you want to go to bed “as.” Frequently, gay and lesbian people struggle with this distinction just as much as straight people do.

    But if transgender people are sometimes at odds with their gay and lesbian allies, they’re also at odds with themselves. The community is rife with disagreements about whether transsexuals (individuals who change, or wish to change, their gender via medical intervention, and whom some define as simply having a “birth challenge” like, say, a cleft palate) even ought to be grouped, politically, with “transgenders” (an umbrella term that includes cross-dressers and drag queens).

    Whenever I hear about groups splintering into smaller factions, it’s hard for me not to think of John Cleese in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” protesting that he’s not with the Judean People’s Front; he’s with the People’s Front of Judea. In short, infighting seems to guarantee that whatever progress is made for gay men and lesbians, transgender people will continue to lag behind.

    We can’t afford that. It is painful that the pressing issues of trans-rights seem forgotten beneath the din of wedding bells, but progress in civil rights can only come with the numbers and resources found in unity. Gay men and lesbians, for their part, ought to remember, on the way home from Niagara Falls, that it was drag queens and transsexuals at Stonewall who began this fight.

    At that convention in Fort Mitchell, I met a female ventriloquist who was clearly one of my people. Among the crowds and wild-eyed talking figures, the two of us drew close. She said she’d read my memoir about my transition. I said, with a smile, “I think you and I have something in common.”

    But it was clear from her expression that whatever group she thought I belonged to, it was at odds with her own. Her dummy wiggled its wooden ears and looked at me with irritation and contempt. “Why Jenny Boylan,” it said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, the author, most recently, of “Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor,” serves on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and is a guest columnist.

    David Brooks is off today.

  • JFB.com Blog

    JFB in NYT: This Astronomical Recession

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    This op/ed column appeared on August 5, 2011.  It was the first of a month of “guest columns” for the New York Times.  I was substituting for David Brooks for August, a substitution which itself is not without its own pleasures.–JFB

    OP-ED COLUMNIST

    This Astronomical Recession

    By JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN
    Published: August 4, 2011

    Belgrade Lakes, ME

    If the decrepitude of Neptune caused me to briefly lose my faith in America, it was the ingenious rings of Saturn that restored it for good.

    Two weeks ago, on the day of the very last shuttle landing on Earth, I drove along Route 1, taking a good look at the Maine Solar System Model. This would be a scale mock-up of our cosmic neighborhood unveiled in 2003 and devised by Kevin McCartney, a geology professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, who built the thing because it “seemed like a good idea” at the time.

    Driving the 40 miles from the Sun (at the university’s science museum), to Pluto (in nearby Houlton), also struck me as a good way, as the government likely prepares to cut the nation’s safety nets, to gauge the impact of the recession on Aroostook County, the state’s northernmost county and one of its poorest.

    I saw plenty of signs of economic ruin — boarded up businesses, burned-out houses. But there were signs of life as well, like the tough-looking farms surrounded by fields of yellow-white potato blossoms and, on a mountain range between Saturn and Uranus, the swiftly rotating sails of a brand-new wind farm.

    “We built it ourselves,” said Professor McCartney, meaning the universe. “Around here we sort of take care of ourselves.”

    Hardship is nothing new for “The County” (as everyone in Maine calls it). “This area was never rich in the first place,” explained the professor’s wife, Kate, who runs a bed and breakfast. The county took its hit in the ’90s when Loring Air Force Base closed. “It’s not as if things are so much harder than they were. They’ve never been easy in the first place.”

    As I headed away from the three-story-tall cross-section sculpture of the Sun, the inner planets came swiftly. Each mile represents one astronomical unit, the distance between the Earth and the Sun; I passed the silver model of Mercury in 0.4 miles, followed by a red and white Venus outside the Budget Traveler Inn. There, Stephanie McIntosh, a desk clerk, said occupancy was down except during snowmobiling season and the Maine Potato Blossom Festival. The best part of the festival, she said, is the mashed potato wrestling contest.

    A cloudless planet Earth, about the size of a navel orange, sat on the top of a pole outside of Percy’s Auto Sales. Brian Rackliffe, a salesman there, told me sales have improved since the dark days of 2008. “But they have a long, long way to go before we’re back to normal.”

    I found Mars by the “Welcome to Presque Isle” sign on the way out of town. From there, it was a long way to Jupiter. I passed fields of potatoes, hay and broccoli, and in a ditch near a lot filled with construction equipment, a model of Ceres that represented the asteroid belt.

    Jupiter was by a sign marked “Moose Crossing.” Five miles beyond was Saturn, which had its own parking lot. It was hard not to be impressed by the planet, with its beautiful rings, built by students at local schools. “Saturn weighs over a ton,” Professor McCartney told me.

    Next was Uranus, at the Bridgewater rec center, where a sign read, “Congratulations Chloe Wheeler. 2011 Pre-Teen Miss Potato Blossom.” Then there was Neptune, a blue basketball-size sphere another 12 miles down the highway, in front of a large garden of what looked like squash or pumpkin vines. Potatoes are still Aroostook County’s No. 1 agricultural crop, but the industry has been in decline for years, the result of shifting consumer tastes and competition from other states, particularly cursed Idaho. As I looked up at Neptune, it was clear that the planet had been through a few rough years itself. Paint was flaking around its equator.

    I’d been wondering how the people of Aroostook County would handle Pluto, since it had been downgraded from planet to dwarf planet in 2006. Professor McCartney admitted that the demotion had hit him hard. With a Mainer’s mix of cussedness and generosity, he reacted to Pluto’s degradation by putting up a second Pluto. He also added a model for Eris, another dwarf planet.

    At the second Pluto, I met a woman who said she’d spent her whole life in Aroostook County. “My son’s the son of a potato farmer,” she said, “but he had to leave. Now he’s a sea captain. It’s always a problem, keeping the young people from going away.”

    Earlier in the day, I had driven up to Limestone, Me., on the Canadian border, to the old Air Force base. Once it was a weapons storage area and home to the 42nd Bomb Wing. Now the whole area is called the “Loring Commerce Centre,” a name that I tried hard not to find ironic. As a storm came on, I drove past ruined, rusted hangars, fields of decommissioned military vehicles and a rotting structure with four towers resembling desolated, ruined minarets. After a couple of wrong turns, I accidentally wound up on the vast, wind-swept runway, as rain blew horizontally past my car and lightning struck the ground.

    The skies cleared on my way to Eris. Driving, I saw the St. Croix River off to the east, and the green forests of Canada beyond, and a black Labrador retriever with a snake in its mouth.

    When I finally found the dwarf planet, it was across the street from a shuttered general store and next to a veterans’ memorial with a flagpole and no flag. But there was a new store a few doors down, selling fishing lures and cheeseburgers. Loggers were pulling their trucks into the parking lot, their rigs full of newly hewn timber.

    I cast a glance north, toward the distant model of the Sun, and remembered something Kate McCartney had told me. “People always think the end of the universe is coming,” she said, referring not only to deadly asteroids but to the American economy as well. “But we’re more resilient than that. You drive the Maine Solar System Model, the speed of light is seven miles per hour.” She smiled. “At that speed, you have to believe everything is going to be all right.”

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor of English at Colby College and the author, most recently, of “Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor,” is a guest columnist.

  • JFB.com Blog

    What Trans Activists Can Learn from New York

    - by Jennifer Boylan
    jfb4

    Jennifer Finney Boylan • Photograph by Augusten Burroughs

    Amid all the cheering about marriage equality in New York State, it’s worth remembering that transgender people continue to lag far behind our gay brothers and sisters in the fight for equal rights.  In 36 states, I can still be fired for being my own damned self, and here in Maine we only narrowly defeated a bill this spring that would have actually removed people like me from the Maine Human Rights Act.  But the victory in New York is an occasion not only for joy for our allies, but to observe how this victory took place.

    Three quick observations:

    1) Marriage equality advocates in this fight were unified. According to the New York Times:  “Five groups pushing for same-sex marriage merged into a single coalition, hired a prominent lobbying firm with ties to Mr. Cuomo’s office and gave themselves a new name: New Yorkers United for Marriage.  Those who veered from the script faced swift reprimand. When Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, an openly gay Democrat from Manhattan, introduced a same-sex marriage bill in May without first alerting the governor’s office, he was upbraided by Mr. Cohen. “What do you think you’re doing?” the governor’s aide barked over the phone.”

    Advocates avoided the traditional urge to  stab each other in the back;  contrast this with the endless internet sniping over the very definition of  the word “transgender;” or with the way trans leaders are constantly belittled and heckled by their own communities.  I can’t think of a single trans activist who has stepped up to the plate in order to work for something bigger than herself who hasn’t been sniped at.  The gay and lesbian community has had plenty of internecine strife over the years, but this time–particularly under the unifiying efforts of Cuomo–a straight, Catholic governor–the movement stood together.

    2)  Be public. The victory in NY was an avalanche made possible because of the stones that Harvey Milk–and others–got rolling.  The message: Come Out.  Let people see your face.  Over the last several decades, straight America now associates gay men and lesbians with their neighbors and their own family members.  Again, according to the Times,  it was a group of Republican donors who made the change: “the billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined by the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Dan Loeb — had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views. Within days, the wealthy Republicans sent back word: They were on board.”

    Because Singer’s son is out, and because of thousands of gay men and lesbians who have found the courage to live their truth publicly,  the image of gay men and lesbians has changed, both in the eyes of those Republicans, as well as in the eyes of all America.

    To be out as trans is harder, and scarier, and trans people have much more to lose by being public. But here in Maine, activists were able to push back at the Statehouse on anti-trans legislation because dozens of trans people, and their allies, stood up and spoke before the Judiciary Committee.  A Republican legislator asked me, in the end, if I would address the Republican caucus;  a transgender middle school student from Orono looked those legislators in the eyes and told them what her life is like.  When legislators see us as human,  things change.  As a woman from Nebraska wrote me after an Oprah Show years ago, “Jenny, the strangest thing about you is that you seem almost like a person someone could know.”

    3)  Be patient. We have seen several states wrestle, and fail, with trans protections this year, most notably in Maryland.  We wait year after year for ENDA to make its way through the Congress, and for other gender bills to progress in state capitals (including Albany).  We should remember that no defeat is final. The marriage bill in NY failed twice before– when Democrats had the majority in the Senate; this year it passes when that same house is controlled by Republicans.

    Mara Kiesling at NCTE reports that the list of co-sponsors of ENDA in Congress is now growing, and includes Republican allies.  Will we achieve victory this time?  I surely hope so.  Will we achieve victory sooner or later?  This I know.

    When we face defeats, we must resist the urge to despair, to hide our faces,  to turn on each other.  The victory in New York shows that it is possible with time.  As Paul Simon sings, “I believe in the future we will suffer no more.  Maybe not in my lifetime, but in yours I feel sure.”

    (In case you missed it, here is my testimony to the Maine Judiciary Committee;  I had three minutes, and that’s what they got. My testimony is followed by that of other good allies, all of which contributed to the victory.)

    –Jennifer Finney Boylan is professor of English at Colby College, and the author of 12 books. She serves on the board of directors of GLAAD.

  • JFB.com Blog

    JFB op/ed in New York Times: “Oprah, I Hardly Knew You.”

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    THERE I was, on Oprah Winfrey’s couch, when she turned to me and asked: “So. You have a vagina?”

    As a transgender woman, I’d gotten this question before. I allowed as how I did.

    Ms. Winfrey began to sing to me. “Yes, she has a vagina.”

    I interrupted her. “What you mean,” I said, “is, yes, we have no bananas.’”

    Everyone screamed. Ms. Winfrey said, “We’ll be right back.”

    During that commercial break, as my interviewer was swarmed by her producers and directors, I got my first good look at her. The strange thing was that at such close range, she didn’t look anything like Oprah Winfrey at all.

    I’ve been on the program, the last episode of which ran on Wednesday, three times since then. Now whenever I go somewhere to speak about gender issues — whether it’s the National Press Club, Harvard, the Judiciary Committee of the Maine Legislature — I find that there’s one question I’m asked more frequently than any other.

    “What is Oprah really like?”

    It’s asked by earnest moms in book groups, by excited teenagers, by literary critics who disdainfully claim never to have owned a television. Once, a stoner in a bar asked me that, then said, with considerable melancholy, “Dude, it should totally have been me who got to give everybody a car!”

    I never know how to answer. Like a lot of authors, I had some anxiety about going on her program. There was the very likely possibility that I would make a colossal fool of myself. More urgently, I feared that transgender issues would be treated sensationally, as is all too often the case on daytime television.

    I needn’t have worried. Ms. Winfrey treated me with respect and that first show made a brief and unlikely best seller out of my tragicomic memoir, “She’s Not There,” about changing genders and keeping my family — my wife and our two sons — together. The day the episode was broadcast, my book went from about No. 300,000 on Amazon to No. 8.

    Ms. Winfrey may not have hailed me as the next Tolstoy on that show (plus Tolstoy never had to allow people to film him putting on his pantyhose) but her endorsement helped people see that transgender Americans are human too. One viewer wrote to say, “The strangest thing about you, Jenny, is that, sitting there next to Oprah, you seemed almost like a person somebody could know.”

    Not all of my appearances went as well as the first. The last time, the episode was titled “Oprah’s Most Memorable Guests.” They included Ted Haggard and his wife; the husband of the woman who drowned their children; an 800-pound man who’d dieted himself down to 500; a mother with no arms and legs; and a previously recorded segment featuring the Texas polygamist wives. My sons had wanted to be on as well (we Skyped in from our living room) to show that children of transgender people can turn out to be perfectly well adjusted, and as this parade wheeled by, the younger one turned to me and whispered, “I thought you said she liked us?”

    What could I tell him, except, “I know. I’m sorry. I thought so too”? (My older son only had questions about the polygamist wives. “If you’re going to have 12 wives, shouldn’t, like,one of them be hot?”)

    I was left feeling unsettled. Oprah Winfrey has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity, started a school, entertained millions and helped to change the perceptions of gay, lesbian and transgender people in this country from marginal to mainstream. But at least some of her power has come from episodes like the one my sons and I shared with Ted Haggard.

    Looking back, though, how could I be anything but grateful for my time as her guest? Last year, a trans woman stopped me as I was walking up Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, and told me that my appearance on the show literally saved her life.

    “But can I ask you something, Jenny?” the stranger said, after she’d finished hugging me and wiping away her tears. “What’s Oprah really like?”

    What could I say? “She’s nice.”

    As a guest, I felt that Ms. Winfrey was a very smart, inscrutable performer. It was only when I watched the show at home, safe in my living room, that I felt again that she was a woman I’d turn to for friendship and advice. She generates a sense of intimacy, to be sure — but you can really appreciate it only from a distance.

    After that first show, she paused with me backstage for a photograph. It was the first time all day I’d seen her off camera. “We did good today,” she said, and she put her arm around me.

    Later, when the photo was delivered to my house, I looked at the two of us standing there. With all that stage makeup on, I hardly recognized myself. But the woman to my right? That could only have been Oprah Winfrey.

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor of English at Colby College, is the author, most recently, of “Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor.”

  • JFB.com Blog

    Video of JFB testimony to Maine Judiciary Committee

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    This is the three minutes of testimony I provided to the Maine Judiciary Committee, which was considering the bill to exempt transgender Mainers from the Human Rights act.

    This is part 3 of four videos that cover the entire testimony. If you want to study the whole process, you could begin with part one, below, which presents Representative Fredette’s introduction of the bill, followed by the committee’s questioning of the congressman. This is followed by a legislator seconding the bill. Then Jennifer Levi from Equality Maine presents an articulate rebuttal. This continues in part 2. Her testimony is then followed by a half hour of testimony in support of the bill, largely from right wing religious nuts, and this is then followed by a half hour of testimony in opposition. Of particular note in that second video is the opening testimony by Wayne Maines, the father of a 13 year old transgender girl. Testimony in opposition continues into part 3; my testimony opens part 3, as above. The opposition continues in part 4, and includes smart words from Jean Vermette, well-regarded trans spokeswoman in Maine.

    Part one: the bill is introduced by Rep. Fredette; the committee asks questions; a second Representative speaks in favor of the bill; then Jennifer Levi from Equality Maine testifies against it.

    Part 2 of the testimony; Jennifer Levi’s testimony continues. 30 minutes of support for the bill from conservative witnesses; then the beginning of 30 minutes of opposing testimony.

    (part 3 is at the top of page, opening with Jenny Boylan’s testimony, and continuing on with other testimony in opposition.

    Part 4, concluding testimony.

  • JFB.com Blog

    JFB testimony to the Maine Judiciary Committee: “The ‘Wacky’ Professor”

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Yesterday, I spoke to the Maine legislature’s Judiciary committee. A bill has been proposed to “exempt” transgender people from protections under the Maine Human Rights Act, which went into effect six years ago. Currently, Maine protects GLBT people from discrimination, and this includes a so called “public accommodations” provision of the very sort that was, in part, the deal breaker in the Maryland law that was shelved last week. (Although I should make it clear that the Maine law has been on the books for six years without problem, and the proposed legislation is to REMOVE the protection for trans people; Maryland currently has no such provisions and the shelved legislation would have put these protections into place.)

    There’s a lot to say about my day at the State House, but the thing I was really left with was how much the bill–and the overall acceptance of trans people is about passing.

    A supporter of the bill (remember that “supporting” means being against trans rights; “opposing” means being for them) said as much. One of the Senators asked, “If a trans person has had surgery, and appears to be female in every sense, how would you be able to know they were in violation of the law?” And the supporter of the bill–another Republican legislator–said, “Well, if I have no way of telling, the person wouldn’t be in violation.” He then looked around and said, “I mean, if you can’t tell, what’s the difference?”

    Cindy Redmond, another supporter of the bill, said more bluntly, “I’m not saying that all transgenders are wacky because they’re not, there’s lots of very nice transgenders,” Redmond said. “But there are a few, and what happens if one of those has used this law to be able to go into a female bathroom for the purpose of perpetration?”

    Holding aside the insulting assumption that trans people are somehow more likely to “perpetrate” than straight people, Redmond’s comment here really gets to the heart of the matter. “Wacky” here appears to be a synonym for “not-passable.” Among other things.

    I have seen this prejudice against “not-passable” people both within and without the trans community. The fact, of course, is that “passability,” like all forms of “beauty,” is more or less a genetic roll of the dice–it has nothing to do with what is in a person’s heart.

    Anyway, EQME did a fine job of assembling its witnesses; while the proponents for the bill seemed limited, largely, to a few right-wing religious nuts–and the governor–the opponents included a Sheriff, a school principal, the father of a 13 year trans girl, and a well-regarded endocrinologist from Boston. I think I was the fifth witness, and the first trans person to come to the podium. The legislators treated me with respect and dignity.

    Here’s a copy of my own remarks to the committee. You’ll be struck, perhaps, by their brevity, but we were given a very clear three minute time limit, and my reading of this testimony came out almost exactly at that length.

    The committee now goes to ‘working session’, and we’ll see whether the bill makes it out of committee and onto the floor.

    Testimony of Jennifer Finney Boylan, Belgrade, Kennebec County

    Speaking in Opposition to LD 1046, 
”An Act to Amend the Application of the Maine Human Rights Act Regarding Public Accommodations”
 before the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.

    April 12, 2011

    Senator Hastings, Representative Nass, and distinguished members of the judiciary committee:

    My name is Jennifer Finney Boylan. I live in the town of Belgrade Lakes, in Kennebec County. I have been married since 1988, and am the mother of two teenage sons, both of them on the honor roll at Kents Hill School. I am the author of twelve books and have been Professor of English at Colby College for twenty-three years.

    I’m also transgender. In the year 2000, in consultation with a therapist, a social worker, an endocrinologist, and my minister, I carefully went through the complex process of going from male to female. It was a terribly difficult journey, but in the end, I was able to complete that transition and at last live my life with honesty and authenticity.

    I know that the lives of transgender people can be hard to understand. A report issued last week by the University of California suggests that less than .3 percent of the population of the United States is transgender. With numbers that small, it’s understandable that the issues that trans people struggle with are not easily grasped. But it’s worth noting that transgender Mainers are citizens too. We pay taxes, we do our jobs, and yes, like other people, we occasionally need to use the restroom.

    Gender, as it turns out, is complicated. I honestly wish that this were not the case, and that the world were simpler, but it is the case, as scientists and neurologists have made abundantly clear. And the consequence of this fact is that some of us– who already lead difficult and complex lives– need to rely on the rest of you—good-hearted, intelligent Maine citizens—to look out for us, to protect our dignity and our safety.

    Fortunately, you can do just that by rejecting this cruel and vague bill, which would make businesses responsible for checking the sex of people using their facilities. By saying no to a law that would marginalize people already at risk for discrimination and prejudice.

    In short: Transgender Mainers should not be exempted from the protections of the Maine Human Rights Law, for the very simple reason that we too are human.

    Thank you.

  • JFB.com Blog

    Interview with JFB at Barnes & noble audio site

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Here’s an interview Barnes & Noble’s podcast division did with me during the I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU TOUR. I’d forgotten about this entirely before coming upon it by accident recently. Hit the ol’ play button to hear the talk.

  • JFB.com Blog

    A little more info on the 3 Toledo, Ohio readings this week

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Just a quick note here about the three readings I’m doing this Thursday in the Toledo Ohio area– two at the two campuses of Owens Community College in Findlay and Toledo, and one at the University of Findlay.

    I have been given, at last, some actual times and room numbers for anyone in the area who wants to stop in and hear me tell the same old jokes.  They are as follows:

    9:30 AM, College Hall 100, Owens Community College, Toledo Ohio

    2 PM, EC 111, Owens Community College, Findlay, Ohio

    7 PM University of Findlay, Findlay, Ohio

    Looking forward to seeing readers there!

  • JFB.com Blog

    The IT GETS BETTER anthology, pub date March 22. Containing JFB story, “In the Early Morning Rain.”

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Tuesday is publication day for the new IT GETS BETTER ANTHOLOGY, the book based on the Youtube phenomenon of last fall in response to the suicides of a series of young LGBT people.  The book, published by Penguin, contains 100 stories of heartache and hope by gay, lesbian, bi, trans people, and their allies.  Contributors include Ellen DeGeneres,  President Obama, and Jennifer Finney Boylan.

    My story, “In the Early Morning Rain” is a slightly re-worked version of a story I told in SHE’S NOT THERE, about a trip to Nova Scotia, where I hiked for hours alone and stood at the top of a cliff and looked down at the sea, and thought, Well?

    There are a surprisingly healthy number of trans-identified authors in the collection, including my fellow Mainiac, Jean Vermette.  There are several genderqueer contributors (whom I don’t know personally).  And Kate Bornstein has the final essay.

    All proceeds from the book go to charity.

    There’s a web site for the book here.

  • JFB.com Blog

    On Washing Elephants Naked

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Today we introduce a new feature in this blog which we’ll call “Stories Our Friends Swear Are True Though We Actually Doubt That Very Much.”  As our first example, I’ll share the following, told to me this week by Colby’s resident scholar in Greek and Latin, Dr. Kerill O’Neill, Ph.D.

    It seems that a few years ago Colby employed a professor whose primary area of study involved the lives of circus performers.  This individual, whom we’ll call Professor Barnum, was a woman who had come to academia, like most intellectuals, after a failed career in the circus.  She allowed as how among circus people, the highest possible honor is being given the opportunity to scrub down the elephants; you know you’ve “made it” among circus people if they hand you a long handled brush and a bucket and say, “Wash Jumbo.”

    The other part of this tradition, apparently, is that washing the elephants is to be done topless.

    So there was our future professor, Ms. Barnum, washing down the elephant in a small, run-down circus in the American south, on the bank of a swiftly running river, when all at once, the bank she was standing on suddenly gave way, and a moment later Barnum found herself being carried away by the raging torrent.

    As she rushed toward what she feared was certain doom, she says she was comforted by one thing only—the sound, reaching her ears through the rushing waters—of Jumbo, back on dry land, stampeding along the river bank.

    Professor Barnum had given up hope for her own survival at this point when suddenly she felt herself being uplifted.  She opened her eyes to find that—I believe the proper interjection is “lo and behold,” she had drifted into the arms of a Southern Baptist minister who was even at that moment baptizing the members of his congregation in the rushing river.

    And our minister held our future professor in his arms (remember of course that she is still topless) and said to her, “I baptize you with water for repentance.”

    At which point the trumpeting, stampeding elephant rushed into the church campground, stamped its feet, and plucked our heroine out of the minister’s arms, placing her, with his trunk, upon his mighty back.  And with that, the elephant turned around and headed back toward circus town, trumpeting in triumph.

    I asked my friend Richard “They Made My Movie” Russo about this story the night after Professor O’Neill told it to me, and he said, “You know what’s suspect about this story, Boylan?  That business about washing the elephants topless.  That’s such an awkward, clumsy element of the story that I assumed it would somehow play into the punchline. Which it doesn’t. Which can only mean one deeply scary thing:  the story must be true.”

  • JFB.com Blog

    The Month of the Buckeye (and a week of the Cardinal)

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Greetings, Buckeyes.  Jenny Boylan will be making not one but two trips to your fair state of Ohio in the forthcoming month of March.  Trip the first is on March 3, when I’ll be speaking at Wright State University in the evening.  I believe my event will be open to the public, and I’d be glad to meet readers of all stripes if you’ll come on down.

    I’ll post more specific details about this event within the next week, when they are safely in hand.

    Secondly, I’ll be doing a whirlwind tour of the Toledo area at months’ end.  I’ll be doing two events on March 31st.  First, a morning event at the University of Findlay, in Findlay, OH.  Then, a late afternoon/evening event at Owens Community College in Toledo.

    I’ll let you know more of the details on that one too, as we get a little closer. Also, I’ll be speaking at SUNY Plattsburgh on March 10th.  (The home of the Fightin’ Cardinals.)  So if you’re in the upstate area (and in Plattsburgh, we mean WAY upstate), I hope you’ll swing through and say hello on that occasion too.

    I generally try to suspend travel and lecturing from Thanksgiving onward, as the Maine winter just makes travel too insane.  The winter will continue on in March in Maine, but I’m hitting the road anyway, and will hope for calm weather.  Wishing will make it so!

    (And yes, I’m aware that “Bucky” Buckeye pictured above left is the mascot of Ohio State, not Owens or Findlay, but please.  Any opportunity to post an image of Bucky Buckeye really ought to be seized, don’t you think?  (And yes, Bucky Bucky really did once win first place for “Queerest College Mascot” in a contest sponsored by a group of national GLBT college organizations.  When I spoke at Ohio State a few years ago, I was given a little Bucky doll that still sits on my desk– one of my happiest mementoes from the endless road trip that is my writing and teaching life.  (Right after the Jack Kerouac bobble-head  I got from U-Mass Lowell.)

    This also puts me in mind of an old Burl Ives song, slightly altered for the occasion :

    Way up yonder above the sky

    A blue jay nest in a jaybird’s eye.

    Buckeye Jen, you can’t go. Go? Even spin, you can’t go.

    Buckeye Jen.

  • JFB.com Blog

    Boylan family, summer 2010

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    A photo of the Boylans– Deedie (“Grace”), Zach, Sean, and JFB, down at the dock on Long Pond in front of our home in Belgrade Lakes, Maine.  That’s Ranger on the left and Indigo-dog on the right, as well.  “This dream is short, but happy.”

  • JFB.com Blog

    Geeks Guide to the Galaxy interviews JFB

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Here’s a podcast hosted by two writers, John Joseph Adams & David Barr Kirtley.

    Their copy runs:

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror, joins us this week on io9’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast to talk about literal and metaphorical monsters, and growing up transgender.

    Falcon Quinn book cover illustration by Brandon Dorman.

    The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley.

    You can download the MP3 for this episode here, or subscribe to The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast feed here.

    Read on for this episode’s fabulous SHOW NOTES!

    0:00 Introduction

    Interview: Jennifer Finney Boylan

    1:24 Interview begins

    1:30 Playing Girl Planet as a child

    2:38 Space Travel and Space Exploration as a National Obsession and a venue to allowing Boylan to explore herself as a child

    3:28 A character in The Planets who secretly dresses up as a wizard

    6:28 Was Boylan ever afraid of giving away her secrets when writing and publishing as a man?

    9:27 Richard Russo’s character: Professor Phineas “Finny” Coomb

    11:15 Being a character on Saturday Night Live

    13:20 Having a powerful emotional reaction to The Fellowship of the Ring movie

    16:18 Boylan’s contribution to It Gets Better

    18:47 Boylan’s I’m Looking Through You, a memoir about growing up in a haunted house

    21:40 Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror, Boylan’s most recent novel

    25:32 What’s wrong with a Wereturtle?

    27:29 The Halloween readings at Colby College with Professor Bassett

    29:58 The strange anti-gravity stone on Colby College campus

    31:46 The sequel to Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror and Boylan’s other future projects

    33:31 End of interview

    Dave and John talk about monsters

    34:24 Wicked by Gregory McGuire and the difference between monsters and villains

    35:54 Dave meets Gregory McGuire and the cast of the stage adaptation of Wicked

    37:07 Incorporating music in novels and reading

    38:08 The Lord of the Rings, sympathetic monsters and Senator Bilbo (Podcastle Episode 32, featuring Senator Bilbo by Andy Duncan)

    40:05 Was The Lord of the Rings unfair to the Orcs?

    41:01 Phantasie for the PC

    42:22 Throne of Bones by Brian McNaughton

    42:57 Orcs by Stan Nicholls

    44:15 Dungeon Keeper

    45:17 Mail Order Monsters

    45:51 Inspired by a quote, Dave creates a monster creation simulator and the limits of human creativity and imagination

    48:55 Dave has a pop-quiz for John! This time: the Monsters of Dungeons & Dragons

    58:49 Hoard

    59:23 Want some sympathetic monsters? Monsters Inc. delivers.

    59:58 John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the allure of a villainous character

    1:03:00 We are the orcs

    1:03:38 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

    1:07:25 Author-preferred editions of novels

    1:08:49 My Demon Lover

    1:09:55 John’s review of Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror

    1:10:22 The Tiptree Award

    1:14:21 Show wrap-up

    Thanks for listening!

  • JFB.com Blog

    Magic Eight Ball Reveals the Future

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    I spent this New Year’s Eve safely at home, hunkered down with the family and a couple of friends.   I’ve done New Years in a variety of venues—on a rooftop in Manhattan, in the streets of Cork, Ireland—but home is best.  At home, at the very least, you can be certain that no one is going to sneak up behind you and blow a party horn.  Or if they do, you know that you have the ability to send them to their rooms without dessert.

    My children are the only ones who are truly excited by New Years, for the very good reason that they usually can’t stay up that late and see what a dud the whole enterprise turns out to be.  I think that below a certain age, you actually expect to be able to feel something change at midnight on December 31st.

    I remember this feeling from my own deplorable youth. On New Year’s Eve 1966-67 I was lying on my back in what we called the “kangaroo pouch” of my father’s 1963 Volkswagen beetle, a car that I would probably still be driving today had I not thoughtlessly steered it off of a cliff on the first day of my senior year of high school eleven years later.

    I had liked 1966, which was the year I turned eight. I’d spent much of the year launching Estes rockets and exploring the pine forest behind our house.  Eight was good. Still, I already had the feeling that something was wrong with me, something huge that was already sweeping in over the horizon like a great black cloud.  I had the feeling that in 1967 things would get worse, and as it turns out, I was right.

    Still, I remember lying there on my back in the kangaroo pouch, staring through the oval window toward the sky.  Our family—my parents, my sister, and me—had spent New Years with some friends, the Whites, and it was the first time I’d been allowed to stay up past midnight.  I was certain that some fundamental law of the universe was going to change at twelve. I was young enough not only to believe that this was true, but to think that it would be something worth blowing a party horn about.

    Bill White and his wife Ginny owned a bulldog named Percy, a dog that threw up pretty much whenever it wanted.  I spent much of the evening at the side of Percy the bulldog and playing with a Magic Eight Ball.  The adults saw fit to give me alcohol for the first time in my life, a small glass of a dark green cordial they called Crème de Menthe.  It burned.

    The Whites had something called a rumpus room, which had a bar actually built into one wall, and a candlestick telephone.  I sat with Percy on the couch and watched the rumpus.  Mr. White told jokes about Italians.  My parents talked about the war.  Our neighbors’ son, Bob Pinkney Jr., was flying a Huey over North Vietnam.  His father, Bob Pinkney Sr., who worked for Boeing, and who had helped to design the Huey, had changed in the last six months.  Since his son went to Vietnam, his hair had turned almost completely grey.

    I asked the Magic Eight ball if Bob Pinkney, Jr. would die in Vietnam.  The answer came floating out of the blackish blue murk:  Better not tell you now.  I asked if the dark cloud I felt coming for me was going to go away.  Reply hazy, try again.  Was 1967 going to be a good year—for the country, for my family, for me? Don’t count on it.

    Percy, sitting next to me on the couch, thought this all over, then barfed on the courderoy pants I’d gotten for Christmas.

    At midnight, I blew a party horn and yelled and cried and hugged my mother.

    Then I was in the back of the Volkswagen, looking up at the stars.

    I thought I saw something in the sky that night, an undulating white cloud that hovered and changed shape like an angel.  At the time I remember thinking, it’s the ghost of 1966, vanishing like steam in the dark night of the new year.

    Now I wonder if it actually was an angel, some spirit of infinite good will sent to counter whatever dark clouds stretch our their hands to snatch us.  And if it was an angel, it surely wasn’t there just to watch over me.  That angel was there looking out for lots of people, including Bob Pinkney Jr., who did come home alive from Vietnam, changed forever, but alive.

    Magic eight ball, will we ever understand the mysteries of our lives, the heartbreaking and joyful miracles of time?

    Reply hazy, try again.

  • JFB.com Blog

    “You guys look different too..” From the Main Line Times: JFB goes home again.

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    A piece from the suburban Philadelphia paper on my return to my old high school in December.  Very nicely done.

    HAVERFORD SCHOOL GRADUATE RETURNS TO TELL HER STORY.

    By Cheryl Allison

    You guys look different, too,” a speaker at the Haverford School told teachers and classmates in the audience, to break the ice.

    Admittedly, though, Jenny Boylan, Class of ’76, has gone through a transformation well beyond aging.

    Boylan, who attended the private all-boys school from eighth grade through graduation, did so as James Boylan. A professor of creative writing and American literature at Colby College in Maine since 1988, she is also a transgender woman, who made the physical transition in her early 40s.

    Her first return to Haverford in more than three decades last Friday morning to talk with the school’s Diversity Alliance and speak to the Upper School coincidentally comes as Lower Merion Township and several other local municipalities, including Radnor and Haverford townships, are considering adopting anti-discrimination ordinances.

    Lower Merion, the first of the group, was set to hold a public hearing and vote Dec. 8 on its ordinance, which would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

    After three versions, the legislation, whose drafting has had the unanimous support of Lower Merion’s board of commissioners, was expected to be enacted.

    Boylan, whose 2003 memoir “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders” was a national bestseller, is a Valley Forge native who grew up in Newtown Square and Devon. Realizing that your gender is not the same as that of the body you have been born into “is hard. It’s not something I would wish on anyone,” she told students. But Boylan, who was not open about her situation then, added, “One of the things that made it less hard was this place,” in the friends she made and in the teachers who encouraged a love of literature and writing.

    Boylan said she wanted to…(click here for the rest of the story)