For appearances (related to GOOD BOY, dogs & gender): Christine Mykithyshyn at Macmillan Publicity:)

For appearances (related to She’s Not There, Long Black Veil, She’s Not There, I’m Looking Through You,  Stuck in the Middle With You, Long Black Veil, and/or other gender, human rights & education issues:)
Kathryn Santora at Penguin Random House:

For press inquires:
Kris Dahl at ICM

To contact Jenny directly:


  • Blog

    Jennifer Finney Boylan chosen as one of 24 inaugural “Amtrak Residency” writers.

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Jennifer Finney Boylan. Photo by Augusten Burroughs

    Wait, wait.  I thought they said “trains-gender.”  I was misinformed!  Does this mean I still have to go?

    I am delighted–and more than a little flabbergasted–that I have been chosen as one of 24 winners of the “Amtrak Residency,” a “fellowship” of sorts that gives authors the opportunity to spend a week or two doing their work in the rarefied atmosphere of one of America’s cross-contintental long distance trains.  I was selected from over 16,000 applicants, which ought to give you some idea of exactly how desperate American authors are to get out of the house.

    I will be traveling to California on the Zephyr, which is almost as cool as traveling there by Zeppelin, although considerably safer.  My plan is to leave Maine from the Freeport station on or about Halloween, to disembark in Indiana for the Kinsey Institute board of directors meeting, then re-board and head to Los Angeles.  From there, the plan (for now) is to head north, maybe get out and spend a few days at Big Sur, then re-train, go up to Mt. St. Helens, or what’s left of it, then up to Seattle to board a train for the return trip, which I hope will be the northern route through Montana, Dakota, all the way back to Chicago.  And from there to New York, Boston, and, at last, back to Maine.

    Amtrak is providing us with a swanky sleeping compartment, which includes a fold-away sofa and a writing desk.  They also throw in lunch and dinner. We’re on our own for breakfast.

    I think it’s a delightful idea, and I’m incredibly grateful to have won this opportunity.  This being the internet, however, of course, I think no more than six hours had passed before people began going waah waah waah.  Not all of the reservations about the program are unfounded, though.  So here are a few bullet points of my own concerning this whole business.

    • The final group is diverse in many ways– it’s half women, half men.  It does seem a little overwhelmingly white, though; only three of the 24 finalists are people of color, I think.  We are a diverse group in other ways:  we live all over the country, we are gay and straight.  One of us I believe is transgender.  There is one finalist whom people apparently hate because he owns his own island and goes by a mononym.  I do not know this individual, but I don’t hate Cher, and she only has one name, so there’s that.  We appear to be a group of mostly well-published authors, with fairly established media platforms.  I suppose it might have been nice to include more writers who are at the beginning of their careers.  But I didn’t read the 16,000 applications, so I don’t know.  All in all it looks like a very intriguing bunch, and I’m honored to be included.

    • When the initial program rolled out, there was considerable reservation about some of the provisions– Amtrak claimed that it would have ownership of the submitted applications, including the essays in them.  This caused no small amount of hair-tearing, and at least one writer I know withdrew his application in the wake of all this.  I suspected that the trouble was less about Amtrak over-reach than the more down-to-earth fact that these are people whose experience is in running a railroad, not a literary fellowship.  When I was informed that I’d won the fellowship, I did indeed grill them about this issue; I’m now convinced that they’ve learned their lesson.  They assure me that they will in fact NOT be using the app materials in any way.  We are, as it turns out, not required to produce or publish anything connected to this trip. Although, given that all of us are, blabbermouths and wing nuts, it seems likely you’ll be hearing a lot from this particular group.

    • Is this the best way to rescue Amtrak?  Well, I’m neither a transportation expert nor a political scientist, so I can’t tell you.  I do know that the berths that are being given to the writers are ones that would have otherwise been unoccupied.  We can’t travel at times when the trains are otherwise booked with paying passengers.  I realize that the presence of authors will not be without cost– just think of all the burritos a science fiction writer could eat over two days.  But on the whole, I think the cost of the program to the American taxpayer will be relatively small, and the benefits large– not just for the lucky authors, who, let’s face it, are a bunch of dangerous lunatics–but for their readers.  There will be some good writing produced as a result of this, to be sure.  But just as important is that this publicity stunt–if that’s the word you insist on using–will shine a light on the many delights of train travel in this country, and inspire more people to take the train instead of the miserable brain-surgery-without-anesthesia that constitutes modern air travel.

    • If I had to compare the Amtrak Residency to anything, it would be John and Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace in Amsterdam.  Did it actually help bring about world peace?  You tell me.  On the other hand, it made a little dent in the world, in a way that was both ridiculous and lovingly sincere.

    And so it’s off on the open rails for me in the month of November.  I’ll update the blog as we proceed.  IN the meantime, to quote Paul Simon:

    What is the point of this story? What information pertains?

    The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.

    Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody knows that’s true.

    Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody knows that’s true.

    A few links for you completists:

    Here’s Amtrak’s official list of the 24 winners, and a little bit about each of us.

    A little piece in the Wall Street Journal about the residents;  and another one from the Los Angeles Times, which is generous enough to call me the “pioneering transgender author,” which is nice except that it makes me feel like I have won a residency in a Conestoga wagon.

    Five whole hours passed without there being some angry internet screed about the whole business, leaving me feeling rather dispirited, and wondering, jeez, what’s the holdup? Fortunately, at the six hour mark,  Citylab jumped into the fray with this piece, which, as it turns out is well written and smart.

    That’s it for now.  More soon.  All aboard!

    Anyone wanting more information about the Amtrak residency can contact Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s director of social media, at

    You can also, as always, write me at jb (at)

  • Blog

    Having a Father who Became a Woman Helped Make My Sons into Better Men

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    (l to r:) Zach, Deedie ("Grace"), Sean, and Jenny Boylan, about 2006.

    This is a piece I wrote for the Advocate–my first for them–about the new series, TRANSPARENT, and about being a trans parent. IT ran on September 23, 2014.

    Over and over, during my time of transition, I kept hearing those same damning words: “What a terrible thing for her boys.”

    The only phrase I heard more frequently was probably “You know who I feel sorry for is her wife.”

    I was aware that my coming out as transgender would plunge my community here in Maine into unknown territory 14 years ago — a community of people whom I knew full well did indeed love me. But I chafed more than a little bit that the news of my emerging identity was seen as an occasion to feel pity for the people who appeared to love me most.

    Now, almost a decade and a half later, it seems curious that anyone could have doubted the strength of the love that my wife and my sons had for me, that anyone could have questioned the love that we all had for each other. Back then, in 2000, the thought that we’d all thrive in this new version of our family was one possibility that no one considered.

    But we have thrived. This fall my wife, Deirdre Grace, and I took our younger son off to begin his freshman year at the University of Rochester, where he’s studying astrophysics. His older brother is a theater major at Vassar. They are bright, luminous young men. One got straight A’s for four years running in high school; the other single-handedly directed Thorton Wilder’s Our Town his senior year and made several hundred people sitting in a theater cry their brains out. They’ve been successful with their relationships — with the girls they’ve dated as well as the lasting friendships they’ve sustained.  They aren’t perfect boys any more than we were perfect parents. But they’re bright, generous, and full of beans. What better thing could you say about any soul?

    My wife and I  celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary this summer — 12 years as husband and wife, 14 as wife and wife. As I write this, she and I have just returned from Maine’s Common Ground Fair, where we took part in such radical, out-of-the-mainstream activities as eating burritos, watching a sheepdog demonstration, and listening to a bluegrass band.

    I mention all of this because the question of what kind of families transgender people create is central to the most highly anticipated television show of the fall season, Jill Soloway’sTransparent (on which I served as a paid consultant). The pilot is available for free online now; the whole series is downloadable as of Friday from Amazon. There’s been a lot of buzz around the show, in part because Amazon seems to be taking the Netflix model one step further, in launching an online-only series that has the kind of sophistication and edge we’re more familiar seeing from the likes of HBO.

    2014 has been a remarkable year of progress for transgender people. But one question that seems to still linger is the one at the heart of Transparent. What kind of messages are sent to children when they see their parents change gender? As one well-meaning friend said to me, back during the days of transition, “Who’s going to teach your son to mow the lawn and throw a football? Who’s going to teach your son how to be a man?”

    What our family has learned, over the last 14 years, is that love transcends gender. And it is the love that our sons have received from both parents and from each other, that has made them who they are.

    It’s true that I didn’t provide a role model for my boys on masculinity as they were growing up. But what I could model for them — compassion, a love for literature, a sense of humor — has helped make them better adults.

    It is my own sense that having a father who became a woman has in turn helped my sons become better men.

    Both violence and bullying are frequently the results of transgender people coming out, and I know many mothers and fathers whose children suffered at the hands of iron-hearted bigots in the wake of their parent’s coming-out. We need to educate principals and teachers and school board administrators to ensure that young people are safe in their school communities, no matter who their parents are.

    But my own boys never experienced any trouble as a result of having me as a parent. While I’m aware that a healthy dose of luck — not to mention the general respect for privacy that can be one of the better aspects of the Yankee character — played in our favor, I also think that, perhaps, we were protected by the simple fact that I was so out from the very beginning. I was on Oprah four times; my book She’s Not There was a best seller; we all wound up, at various times over the years, on the Today show, on Larry King, and on Fresh Air With Terry Gross. The Boylan family was never like the Boo Radley house, a place to be shunned and feared.

    Instead, we lived our lives openly, sending the message that we were proud of our family and that whatever made me different was a whole lot less important than the love that we shared.

    In the years since then, what I’ve learned is that every family is a nontraditional family. You don’t have to dig very deep to find the many different burdens that all sorts of families carry and suffer with. But being a family is not about a race to find out who can have the fewest troubles. Being a family is about taking whatever life throws at you and doing your best, with love and humor. And pizza.

    While Maura, the family patriarch on Transparent, is considerably older than I am (she’s 70), and her three children are all grown, she’s probably still wondering, as transgender parents do, what kind of parent she will be, as she negotiates the transition from father to mother.

    I can tell her—and the thousands of other Mauras across the country — that with love and faith and hope, as we say in Maine, you can, indeed, get there from here.

  • Blog

    Jeffrey Tambor on TODAY, with a shout-out to JFB

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    I don’t think I can imbed this video, but here’s the link.  It’s a snip from the TODAY show on September 22nd.  Jeffrey Tambor talks about the new show, TRANSPARENT, with a couple really gracious shout-outs to your own JFB.  The first of which, I believe is at about the 1:20 mark.

  • Blog

    Sturm und Drang

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Chancellor Merkel at the march against anti-Semitism

    Here’s a column of mine that appeared in the Washington Post on September 21, 2014, about the burdens and blessings of being part-German.

    During the last month of her life, my mother traveled in time and space, finally disembarking in the land — and the language — of her childhood. “Meine Schwester,” she said to me one delirious afternoon. “Du bist so schön.”

    Of course, I was not her sister, and my beauty is surely open to debate. But it seemed like the wrong moment to object. She switched over to German for hours at a time that summer, in between naps and lively conversations with my father, who had died 25 years before.

    I loved listening to her. She didn’t use the language all that much when I was growing up, or really after she left Germany when she was 6. Her name, Hildegarde, was a tip-off to her origins. But if Mom spoke with any accent at all, it was that of south Jersey. She made exceptions only for the occasional declarative. You knew you were in trouble if she said, “Donner wetter!,” which officially means “thunder weather,” but when my mother said it, it implied something much darker.

    As a child, I avoided my German heritage, too. I’d tell people I was Irish, like my father, although you’d have to go back four generations to find the Boylans who fled Dublin in the wake of the Great Hunger.

    It felt noble to be Irish. The Irish are beloved, witty, melancholic, great craic all around. It was to all of this that I aspired.

    Of course, when my great-grandfather arrived in this country in the 1850s, the Irish American experience was far from the adorable cliche it would become. And the Irishness of my father was far from simple. But, unlike the Germanness of my mother, I never felt I needed to apologize for it.

    To be German seems to require living with the weight of history. This was clear at a Berlin rally against anti-Semitism last Sunday. From a podium at the Brandenberg Gate, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared: “That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept.”

    When I was a teenager, I grew curious enough about my family’s history to study German for four years in high school and another year in college. Should it have been a surprise that it came so easily to me, and that its weird word order and tongue-twisting verbs gave me delight?

    In the summer of 1976, I traveled to West Germany, where I wandered around with a ridiculous backpack, from Füssen to Wilhelmshaven. I drank Löwenbräu and ate all sorts of sausages. I stayed up til midnight listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a friend’s great-aunt, a tiny woman who spoke no English. I sang Bob Dylan songs auf Deutsch with other young people in a circus tent that served as a hostel on the outskirts of Munich.

    Then, one afternoon, I stared out a train window at a line of boxcars and felt my entire body turn cold with terror. It was impossible to look at that image in that land without thinking of the Holocaust. In one city — was it Frankfurt? — I descended from a plaza to find an underground memorial to German war dead. There I saw a statue of a slain solider lying on his back. On the side of the marble slab were the words “Unsere Gefallenen,” which means, Our Fallen. I stood there, horrified, wondering, Who’s this “our”? It could not possibly include me, could it?

    I haven’t returned to Germany. In 1998, when I was a visiting professor at University College Cork, my family took trips to London, Venice and Amsterdam. But not Berlin. By the end of the year, my sons had developed soft Cork accents. Everyone back in the States thought they were adorable.

    Like my mother, I haven’t spoken German much at home. In 2011, at a parents’ day at my sons’ school, I was introduced to some exchange students from Berlin and immediately launched into German with them. My son Zach looked at me with an expression of astonishment and fear. “I’ve never heard you talk like that!” he said. “It was kind of cool. And a little bit creepy.”

    I told those students that I was German and that my mother had come from East Prussia. They looked at me curiously. “But East Prussia isn’t Germany,” they said, truly enough: The land that my mother’s family once fled is now carved up between Poland and Russia. I realized that if I’d been uncertain, all that time, about what it means to be German American, the notion of what it means to be German is uncertain as well.

    Author Bernhard Schlink has talked about being German as both “a huge burden” and “an integral part of me . . . I wouldn’t want to escape.” In one of our last conversations, my mother looked at me and sang, “Du, du liegst mir im Herzen, du, du, liegst mir im Sinn! Du, du, machst mir veil Schmertzen, weißt nicht wie güt ich dir bin.” Which means, “You’re in my heart, you’re in my mind, you cause me such pain. You don’t know how good I am for you.” Which seems as good a way as any to sum up being German.

    Over the years, I’ve tried to accept both the burden and the blessing. And I’ve come to understand that it’s not something I can or want to escape.

    Once, while on assignment for a magazine, I found myself at the top of the Campanile di San Marco in Venice. It was late morning after a photo shoot, during which the photographer kept telling me how much he loved Irish women, leaping to a conclusion based on my surname.

    In the tower, however, I encountered a beautiful Italian man, looking out over the city, smoking a cigarette. He looked me up and down, and then smiled a smile that suggested he’d seen straight into my core.

    “Buongiorno,” he said. “Fräulein.”

  • Blog

    Pizza and Parenthood

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Here’s a column of mine that appeared in the New York Times on August 27, 2014

    BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — I HAD everything I needed — the sweet sausage, the grilled shrimp, the three kinds of cheese. The dough had been rising since midafternoon. All my spices were lined up, the sauces in the right bowls. I’d had a long time to prepare. You could say I’d been getting ready to make this pizza for 20 years.

    My father left the Catholic Church when he was 12. There’s not much Catholic left in me, except for my fondness for ritual. And so, as my wife and I have approached the date of the departure of our younger son for college, I thought long and hard about the proper way to mark the moment. We’d climb a nearby mountain, I thought, with the symbolic name of Tumbledown. We’d go out for lobsters and steamers. We’d head to the local Shakespeare theater and watch some Oscar Wilde.

    But reality interceded. It rained the day we were going to hike Tumbledown; my boys decided they wanted to go out with their friends instead of to the theater; when I’d hoped to go to the lobster pound, my son needed to go shopping, and headed to the Maine Mall instead. And so, what with one thing and another, there wasn’t time for any of the sacraments I’d so carefully imagined.

    Instead we ate pizza.

    Over the years we’ve weathered the ordinary traumas of family life: friends moving away; the death of grandparents; one boy’s concussion in a sledding accident. As a child, my older son experienced the death of the television conservationist Steve Irwin as if he’d lost a beloved uncle. My younger son hated a teacher in fourth grade so much that there were some mornings when he lay in bed in his pajamas, in tears.

    And yet, through it all, as my older son likes to say, “we have always been held together with cheese.”

    Friday night was homemade pizza night. Some Fridays, teenagers kept coming through the door until I ran out of dough: lobster with fresh basil on grilled flatbread; andouille sausage with spinach; barbecued chicken with caramelized onions; a four-cheese car wreck of mozzarella, Romano, fontina and Gorgonzola.

    I made my family pizzas when the dog died; on the night after the prom; on a day a Maine blizzard left us with snow up to the windowpanes and icicles as long as my arm.

    Now, after 20 years, I was down to my last three pies.

    My wife and I have long had differing attitudes about our children’s spreading their wings. On the day that the older one first went off to kindergarten, I burst into tears and wailed, “We’re losing him to the world!” My wife smiled from ear to ear and said, “Yeah, I know!”

    Now our positions had reversed. I was the one eager for the next phase of our lives, while my wife focused, sadly, on the way our family was about to change.

    I put the pizza stone in the oven and heated it to 500. Then I fired up the outdoor grill. The first pie up was Four Kinds of Meat: local sweet sausage, pepperoni, bacon and ham, with a red sauce, mozzarella and shaved Parm. While that one was baking I threw another dough on the grill and let it bubble up, then brushed the crust with olive oil, and sprinkled it with garlic, kosher salt, cracked black pepper and rosemary.

    I went back inside and sliced up Four Kinds of Meat with a pizza wheel, threw some fresh basil on top and brought it out on a cutting board. My wife popped open a bottle of prosecco.

    As the kids got started with that one, I flipped the crust on the grill, let it brown, then added grilled shrimp basted in olive oil and garlic, and cilantro pesto.

    They turned on “The Fellowship of the Ring” while I finished off the last pie (mushrooms and andouille). Bilbo was saying, “I regret to announce this is the end. I am going now. I bid you all a very fond farewell. Goodbye.”

    “This is good pizza,” Sean, my younger son, said. My wife nodded. We’d be off to the University of Rochester a few days later, where he intends to study engineering and astrophysics. Zach, his older brother, will start his junior year at Vassar.

    “To us,” Zach said, and we all raised our glasses.

    We sat there in the hot summer night, the windows open. Bilbo, on-screen, was off on his adventure, singing “The Road Goes Ever On.” I looked at my family, my grown sons, my wife, our two old dogs.

    We are held together by a whole lot more than cheese.

  • Blog

    My Life in Bicycles

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Here’s a column of mine that appeared in the New York Times on August 17, 2014.

    BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — MY Uncle Clarke woke me before dawn with a shake to the shoulder. He gave me a look that asked, You in? I nodded. I was in all right.

    Ten minutes later, we were on bikes riding through the gray light. We pedaled past sleepy summer homes with hammocks in their side yards, towels hanging from porch railings, inflatable rafts stacked up like pancakes. This was Rehoboth Beach, Del., August 1968.

    Uncle Clarke (not my real uncle, but my father’s best friend from high school) rode every morning at dawn. He had one of those “English” bikes that were all the rage in the 1960s, a Raleigh three-speed with the gear shift on a tiny lever near the rider’s right thumb. I rode a borrowed Sting-Ray belonging to my cousin Martha. Usually Uncle Clarke led an army of us kids on those morning rides, but that day it was just me.

    We rode over to the bay side and then to the boardwalk, its Skee-Ball parlors and salt water taffy machines closed up at that hour. We looked at the ocean and listened to the surf. The poet Matthew Arnold once called it “the eternal note of sadness,” but it sounded all right to me.

    T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock laments that his life has been measured out in coffee spoons, but I think I could take a pretty good measure of my own life in bicycle tires. There was the orange Huffy of childhood that I transformed into something I called Tiger Bike, complete with a furry tail given out at the Esso station during its “Put a Tiger in Your Tank” promotion. Later, there was a 10-speed I took to college, where it was stolen from a friend’s house. In my 20s, I owned a Lotus racing bike. Once, I got my shoes so hopelessly entangled in its toe clips that I spilled right onto the asphalt of Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C.

    Now, in my 50s, I have two bikes — a Specialized Secteur for the road, and a hard-core Trek Fuel 70 for the fire roads and logging trails of Kennebec County. Me.

    When my sons were in elementary school, there were weeks in summer when they’d jump on their bikes in the morning and disappear down our dirt road with a crew of other boys from the neighborhood. “Bike patrol,” they called themselves. They’d head off to the lake, or to one another’s houses, or — who knows? — to secret locations that I, as one of their mothers, will never know.

    I have several friends who partake in something called “spinning,” which is the health-club version of cycling, involving a group of women on stationary bikes who pedal fast, then slow, then fast, as the instructor blasts the kind of music you usually hear in stores that are trying to get 16-year-olds to buy pants, and yells things like, “Feel the burn!”

    I prefer exercising at least two miles away from any other human being. For me, biking is a solitary activity. In the Kennebec Highlands, on my mountain bike, I pedal past Kidder Pond, up to the blueberry barrens high atop Vienna Mountain. From there, I watch bald eagles and ospreys, and other birds, whose poop, owing to their diet of berries, stains the gray rocks purple. Sometimes I’ve run into deer and porcupines, and on one memorable occasion, a moose. Another time, I lay with my back against a tree, watching a beaver build a dam in Boody Pond.

    Stephen King writes of a solitary childhood encounter with a deer in his story “The Body”: “My heart went up into my throat so high that I think I could have put my hand in my mouth and touched it.” Later, the narrator decides not to tell his friends about what he has seen, to keep it for himself. “The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them.”

    These are the gifts that I will most miss when, some day in the not-so-distant future, I have to give up biking alone. At 56, I’m really too old to be hopping over rocks and fallen trees, an hour or two from help, should anything terrible happen to me, which, odds are, it will. Recently, I encountered a bunch of young men who were climbing a mountain trail that I was riding down; one of them looked at me, mud-spattered, sweat-covered, and said, “Whoa! Hard-core!” It wasn’t clear whether he was saying this out of admiration, or concern.

    A couple of years after that bike ride with my Uncle Clarke, he and my father had some kind of falling out, and I didn’t see him again. I don’t think about him very often, except on summer mornings in August, when I’m climbing onto my bike.

    That morning in Rehoboth Beach, I saw the first sunrise I can remember. My uncle nodded at me, and I nodded back, and we got on our bikes. The air smelled like salt, cotton candy and tar. When we got back to the house, my mother was making pancakes.

    “So,” she asked. “How’d it go?”

    My uncle looked at me with what might have been love. “We had a good ride,” he said.

  • Blog

    The Week I Ruled the World

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    What a strange and wonderful week!  I had something of a media quinella these last seven days, and while the usual internet boast-o-rama makes me cringe more than a little, it’s all stuff I’m proud of, so I wanted to put up some links and shine a spotlight on some of this work in case you, as my very loyal readers, might be interested.

    On Thursday, July 17, I was a guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The occasion was the publication of the new TRANS BODIES TRANS SELVES, and I shared the microphone with editor Laura Erickson-Schroth and contributor Aidan Key. You can hear the interview here, or purchase the book here, for which I wrote a very charming introduction that talks about, among other things, my adventures at a ventriloquist convention.

    I spent a lot of last week at the wonderful Maine International Film Festival. I saw a dozen movies in six days.  The festival’s over for the year, but if you’re in Maine in mid-July, you should mark your calendars now.  It’s breathtaking.

    That brings us to Monday July 21st.  The day began with the New York Times running an op/ed I’d written about some of the films at the film festival, and two in particular– Linklater’s “Boyhood,” and Malick’s “Better Angels” got me thinking about summer days when I was a child.  Linklater’s film shows 12 years in the life of a real young man, and Better Angels is about 8 year old Abe Lincoln.  It made me think about my own strange boyhood– and that of my son, Sean, who, as I wrote the essay, was outside in the July sunshine riding a unicycle while listening to headphones.  You can read my op/ed here.

    On the same day, Huffington Post ran a story I’d written for them entitled “Five Things Not to Say to a Transgender Person (and 3 Things You Should).  I wrote this a little begrudgingly at first, restless about the form of the “listicle”.  And yet, I’m happy with the result.  Judging from my Twitter account, the HuffPo piece got to more readers than the NYT opinion piece, which says something I guess.  You can read the HuffPo piece here.

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, July 21, 2014. East Room, White House

    Finally, and most importantly, I got a phone call over the weekend asking me if I’d like to be on hand in the East Room of the White House as the President signed into law the executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT employees in the federal government, and specifically extending those protections, for the first time, to transgender people.  It was breathtaking.  I had to go through many security checks, including a special author-sniffin’ dog, before finally finding my seat dead center, three aisles back from the podium.  And then President Obama entered the room, and we all stood up and cheered. You can read the  text of his entire speech here. It was an amazing day, and an incredible end to an amazing week.

    Not every week of my life is like this, thank goodness, but I’m grateful for this one.

    Best of all, by sunset I was back in my house in Maine with my wife and son and dogs, and we put our feet up and talked about all our adventures, including the ones to come.

  • Blog

    An excerpt from JFB’s new novella, I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT.

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Announcing a new short novel from me entitled I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT, my first fiction for adult readers with a trans character.  It’s an ebook only, from the new enterprise called SHEBOOKS, which offers short works by women, for women.  I’m thrilled about the project. Here’s a link where you can purchase access to Shebooks– the subscriptions about $4, and my book is an additional $2.95.

    And here is the way the thing begins:

    I’ll Give You Something to Cry About

    © 2014 Jennifer Finney Boylan

    They were headed south in a beat-up minivan.  Riley was behind the wheel.  The Doors were on the radio.  The killer awoke before dawn.  He put his boots on. Riley’s mother in law, sitting in the passenger seat, rolled her eyes.

    “What is this,” said Alex, his daughter. Formerly she had been his son.  “The music you’d listen to before swallowing Windex?”

    “It’s a classic,” said Riley, quietly.  “This Is The End.”

    “I don’t like classics,” said six-year old Otis, from the way back.  He had the sheet music for Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” in his lap.

    “Fine,” said Riley, and switched off the music.   His duffle bag contained a copy of Heritage Trail:  100 Sites of American Freedom, East Coast and a canister of Celexa, which was an anti-depressant also helpful in anger management.  There was a doctor’s order for the chemo, which he had not yet filled.

    In her purse, Mrs. Leary–known as Gammie–carried photographs of her daughter and grandchildren, none of them taken more recently than five years ago.  The handbag also held her health-care card from Blue Cross, fifty dollars, all in fives, and two different lipsticks-one red, one rose.  There was a canister of Lopressor, a type of beta-blocker used to reduce high blood pressure.   Mrs. Leary did not have a driver’s license, or a debit card, or a cell phone, or a photograph of her late husband, Finbar.

    Otis’s backpack contained t-shirts and shorts and a LEGO Bionicles figure named Mata Nui.  Flung out of his own universe, Mata Nui finds himself on the desert world of Bara Magna. He had also packed two of Mata Nui’s weapons, the Thomax Launcher and the Nynrah Ghost Blaster.  There was a pair of well-worn Harry Potter pajamas, by now a size too small and with holes in the knees, but with which he was not yet ready to part. The pajamas were wrapped around a soft plush toy called Hello Kitty!  In a side pocket was a book entitled Ten Boys Who Used Their Talents. In a translucent amber canister was a supply of an anti-anxiety medication called fluvoxamine, or Luvox.   Next to the Luvox was a stuffed Pokemon named Pikachu. I choose you, Pikachu!

    In Alex’s suitcase were fishnet stockings, two different pairs of black stilettos,  a black pencil skirt, a shimmering blue Spandex halter top, gold hoop earrings, a pair of size six Gap jeans,  and a miniskirt from Banana Republic.  There was a bottle of Spironolactone, a diuretic that also acted as an anti-androgen, and another one of Premarin, a form of conjugated estrogen.  Alex’s journal, a small leather book with crisp white pages,  lay atop her lingerie, along with a Schaeffer cartridge fountain pen filled with ink of peacock blue.

    They passed a large brick building, in front of which a dozen men and women in cook’s uniforms were smoking cigarettes.  It was odd to see so many chefs gathered in one spot.

    “What happened?”  the grandmother muttered.  “Somebody spoiled the broth?”

    Riley turned the mini van down High Street and drove through the heart of Wesleyan University. Son of a bitch, Riley thought.  Same as it ever was, except for the absence of students, which wasn’t a surprise, since it was June. Beyond a row of brownstone buildings to their right was a baseball diamond and a rolling green hill with an observatory at the crest.  The campus had the clean, Hollywood-perfect look of a New England college in early summer

    The Sienna was equipped with a talking GPS device nicknamed Captain Kirk.  “Prepare to arrive at your destination,” said the Captain…

    [to read the full novella, exclusively available from Shebooks, click right here.]

    [N.B. Heavy demand has made the app a little slow and balky at times this last week– hang in there; it really will work if you’re patient.  Hope you enjoy! –JFB]

  • Blog

    New JFB Novella from Shebooks: I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    So I have a new story out, now available exclusively from Shebooks, the new e-book service promoting work for women, by women.

    The novella is called I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT.

    It’s about a family from Maine–the Rileys– taking a road trip to Ford’s Theatre, in Washington, DC, where they hope to see their young son play the violin on stage, as part of a “Young Prodigies” series. Also in the car– and possibly of more interest to my longtime readers– the Riley’s trans daughter, who is on the verge of stepping out into the world as a woman.

    It’s the first time I’ve written a work of fiction for adults with a trans character, and with a trans theme. But my readers will recognize this family, and the work’s central themes– family, gender, and the quest for authenticity. I hope you’ll download the book, which you can do by clicking this link. You’ll have to subscribe to Shebooks, which is a really minimal cost, less than the cost of a hardcover book, and which will give you access to SHEBOOKS’ whole corral of amazing women writers.

    Here’s an interview I did in May about the book:

    What prompted you to write this piece?
    I actually wrote this specifically for Shebooks. My sons had both gone on what they call the “Heritage Tour” in Maine, a rite of passage for middle schoolers, who travel around the east coast seeing things like the Gettysburg Battlefield and the Statue of Liberty. I thought a road trip of a troubled but loving family, bound together by stops at those “sites of American Freedom,” as they’re called, would be interesting. And of course lead to complete bedlam.

    Are there any themes, characters or imagery that you find recurring in your writing? What are they and what is their origin?
    Well, I’m know for writing about gender—men and women, and the choices of transgender people in particular. There’s a trans teenager girl in this family, formerly their son, whose journey I think provides a good measure of where we are, as a country, on acceptance of gender variant young people.

    That said, “Alex” is not me—she is much more courageous, sarcastic, and adventurous than I was, or would have been, I had been in her shoes when I was sixteen.

    Which gives me the opportunity to paraphrase Atticus Finch: “You never really know a man until you walk around in his heels.”

    How do you think your gender/racial/ethnic/religious identity has influenced your writing?

    Well, gender informs all of my writing. When I was a man, I wrote fiction. As a woman, I write non-fiction. I am hopeful that some grad student is already at work analyzing the mind-numbing profundity of that.

    Is there such a thing as “women’s writing?” Do you hate the term “chicklit” or think we should embrace it, like the term “gay”?
    I think there is such a thing as feminine writing, and by this I mean less a particular style than a focus on women’s lives in narrative. But women aren’t the only ones writing it.

    Have you ever experienced sexism as a woman writer? How so?
    I’ve certainly faced lots of struggle as a trans writer. There’s a particular skepticism some critics bring to trans writer’s lives and work; we have to defend and explain our gender a lot of the time. I think this is changing, but it’s been hard. I wonder sometimes if people will ever read my work for the story, rather than for the fact that a trans woman wrote it. But then, if I wanted that, I could try to keep my mouth shut for once. Like that’s going to happen.

    When did you first decide you were a writer?
    It was a very early dream. As early as fifth grade I remember amazing and disgusting my peers with the story of a car race through my teacher’s body: These were really tiny, almost microscopic cars, of course. The race began in my teacher’s mouth. You can imagine where we came out. Her name was Mrs. Fineli. She was not an early fan of my oeuvre.

    Do you have an imaginary reader you write for? Who is it?
    Like a lot of writers, I write for an alternate version of myself. A woman just like me, only thinner.

    What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your writing?
    Well, writing about changing genders was almost as scary as doing it. I can say, however, that nothing taught me so much about a woman’s life as writing. It’s through telling our stories that our lives begin to make sense.

    What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?
    Write every day, including Christmas and New Years. When you’re just staring, quantity is a lot more important than quality. Then go back and revise. What’s that Hemingway advice—“Fail. Then fail better.”

    Have you ever written anything personal that upset people who were close to you? Have you ever shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?
    As a memoirist, upsetting people is what Tiggers do best. I don’t like to upset people of course, but I’m pretty fearless in terms of what I write about—as a trans woman I have to be. I think it was Annie Lamott who said something like, “I’m sorry if you didn’t like what I wrote, but maybe you should have been nicer to me.”

    Is there anything that you consider *too* personal to write about? How do you find that edge?
    I’ll write about anything, if there’s a good story in it. I think writers have to be fearless. The story is what matters.

    How do you define “truth” in memoir?
    I believe that the “hybrid” form of memoir is its strength, not its weakness. I say this with the caveat that the writer has to include an author’s note explaining her method. You can’t just make up any damned thing you like; but you have to shape the narrative, and that can mean compressing the timeline, disguising people to avoid hurting them as well as to prevent yourself form getting sued; shaping the narrative so it works as “story.” And you admit to your reader exactly what you’ve done so no one feels bamboozled. Memoirists ought to get out of the habit of apologizing for all this—it’s what we’re supposed to do. As Frank McCourt said, “If you want realism, read the phone book.”

    How did you dream up the setting for this story? Is it based on a real place? A composite of real places?
    These are all real places—the Liberty Bell pavilion; the Gettysburg battlefield; Fords Theatre. If you live on the east coast and have middle school age children or teenagers, you’ve probably been there. And wished you were elsewhere.

    Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?
    If you know your characters, you have to follow them where they take you. And if they take you to a place you don’t know, you do the research—you go there and take notes. When you get home, you throw the notes away and just make the whole thing up.

    What motivated you personally to do the reporting for this piece?
    I have worked as a journalist, but recently the only reporting I do is for the op/eds of mine that appear in the New York Times. When I was young, I used to just make up quotes for magainze stories and attribute them “according to someone that would know.” Needless to say, my stories were always very entertaining.

    Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?
    Starting this summer, I leave my job as Professor of English at Colby College, where I’ve been for 25 years, and take up a new position as Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University in Manhattan.
    When I was young, I worked in a bookstore in New York City. I sat at a desk beneath a sign that said, ASK ME ANYTHING. People would ask me all sorts of things. Usually I didn’t know the answer, so I’d make something up. Good training for a fiction writer. One time someone walked up to me and just asked, apropos of nothing, “Excuse me, where are all the santa claus suits?”

    What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?
    I play the autoharp, Appalachian style. I’m pretty damned great at it. I also know a whole lot about the Gemini Project, which was the one before the Apollo program.

    What is your favorite word right now?
    Muslin. Just saying it gives me shivers. Flibbertigibbet is a very useful word also. I use it to describe my three most defining characteristics as a writer: A flibbertigibbet, a will-o-the-wisp, a clown.

    What or who inspires you most?
    I always loved the work of James Thurber. If you want to go back further, I’m haunted by the poems of John Keats. Whose heart ached, and a drowsy numbness pained his sense.

    Are you or have you ever been a member of a book club? What does/did that experience offer you?
    I was a member of a club, but it quickly became a once a week drunk fest for the local moms that I knew. As I understand, this is not an unusual failure mode for book clubs. There was a whole lot of tequila, and not much Oprah.

    Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now? When do you like to read on a device?
    Yes, I have an iPad, on which I use both the iBooks function as well as the Kindle app. I just finished Charles Baxters The Soul Thief. I read on my device after dinner each night, for several hours before bed. It’s the best time to read, when you are already halfway into the realm of the unconscious.

    Who are some of your favorite authors?
    My two current favorites are also fairly predictable:, the stories of George Saunders, and the novels of Jennifer Egan. I’m also influenced by some of the 20th century metafictionists—Borges, Calvino, Barth, Vonnegut.

    What writing projects are you working on now?
    I’ve started a new novel, I have a new nonfiction book about the differences between men and women, and for young adults I’m working on Falcon Quinn three.

    Aside from writing, do you have any other secret talents?
    I play piano in a crappy rock ‘n roll band. We are called The Stragglers, and the name is accurate. All of us have been thrown out of other bands. The fundamental rule about The Stragglers is that you can’t be thrown out of it. This should give you some sense of our talent.

    Do you have a quote, mantra or thought that you’d like to end with?
    From Huck Finn: “Blamed if she wasn’t the horriblest looking outrage I ever see. Then the duke took and wrote out on a shingle so: ‘Sick Arab. But harmless when not out of her head.’”

    Download I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT right here!

  • Blog

    “When Music Was Strange”: JFB column in NYT

    - by Jennifer Boylan


    Jennifer Finney Boylan

    In the age of the Internet, where do new ideas come from?

    BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — IN 1975 it was my friend Daryl — one of the very few African-American students in my mostly white prep school — who was the champion of the new. “Boylan,” he said one day after school. “You have to check this out.” Then he put Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” on the turntable.

    The album had been out for a few years and was already big — though not in the strait-laced neighborhood I grew up in. I wrinkled my nose as the crazy jazz fusion filled the room. It wasn’t exactly “On Green Dolphin Street” or “Milestones.” It sounded strange, a little atonal. I said as much.

    “People don’t know what they like,” Daryl noted. “They only like what they know.”

    I recently had occasion to remember this exchange when I picked my 18-year-old son up at the airport and we drove home listening to songs on his iPod, wired up through the Honda’s sound system. He played music by artists like Sufjan Stevens, Streetlight Manifesto and Murder by Death.

    As we listened to this music, we talked about it. My son and I got into a particularly rigorous discussion of Mr. Stevens’s song “The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders,” which sounded, to our ears, like it consisted of sections written in 11/4 (or 11 beats per measure) that then alternate with sections written in 5/4. I compared this to the Grateful Dead’s “The Eleven,” in which a section in sixes gives way to 11/4. My son gave me a patient, long-suffering look as I spoke all excitedly about the “Live Dead” album, recorded 27 years before he was born.

    I was grateful to him for introducing me to songs that shocked me with their unconventionality and thoughtfulness. It made me wonder why

    (read the rest of the piece at the NY Times site)

    You can see all of Jenny’s New York Times op/ed columns at their JFB Contributing Opinion Writer page

  • Blog
  • Blog

    On “Lost Loves”

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Obsession: Jennifer Boylan on Lost Loves
    Thursday, May 1 at 9 PM
    At Chez Andre in the Standard Hotel (5th St at Bowery)

    It must be awkward for renowned memoirist Jennifer Boylan to talk about memories she doesn’t mean to summon. Memories of lost loves – girls from her youth – that invade her thoughts and wake her in the night. But that’s exactly what the bestselling author and LGBT activist and will be doing at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival. Tomorrow night, in the cool and casual bar below The Standard Hotel, Boylan will take the stage to address her obsession – with a series of new writing (and songs?!) – about the two specific girls, who she dated, back when she was not only young, but still a young man. Handpicked by sex-advice guru Dan Savage to participate in this year’s Obsession series, Boylan, who rocketed to literary stardom in 2003 with her autobiography She’s Not There: A Life In Two Genders, sat down, recently, to discuss the upcoming event with Brightest Young Things’ Ian Allen

    Q: Tell me about your Obsession? Why did you choose it?

    A: So, there are two people that I went out with in my teens and twenties who I frequently dream about. And they are not necessarily the people who I necessarily had the longest relationships with. They’re not the people who I had the most profound relationships with. Neither of them are people who I’ve seen in – oh over twenty years, I think – and yet here are these two women, whom I adored when I was a man. And I often wonder – I’ll wake up from a dream – and wonder, Why am I thinking about her? Why is she still… – it’s like she’s stalking me. … So the piece that I’m doing – there are monologues, about these two women. There are songs that I’m singing. I think I’ll be playing the autoharp. (laughs) Because I clear the room if I can. It’s kind of a writer’s attempt at a philosophical inquiry into lost love and why we hang on to the memories of a relationship. Even when the relationship itself is, at this point, an historical artifact.

    Q: Can you tell me a little bit about them? I assume you’ll be giving out their names and numbers at the event…

    A: (laughs) Yeah, I’m giving them both pseudonyms. One of them is a girl I went out with in high school – one of the first great crushes that I had. I call her Willow in the piece. I’m calling the other girl Donna. We dated when I was about 20. I met her in London when I was a student there – and I continued to see her when we came back to the states – into my senior year. … There is a tension between the universal nature of thinking nostalgically about some of the people we loved when we were young – and also a very specific aspect of that inquiry when you’re a transgendered woman like me. So, that part of it is not universal. But there is something about young love that is very specific.  When you’re young, you’re in the process of becoming whoever you are. So I think we look to people we are in love with when we are young – as part of the process of becoming ourselves. If you’re in your 50s, like I am – if I began a new relationship with somebody, I think I would essentially continue to be myself. I would be recognizably myself. Whereas if you’re 17 or 25, there is a sense that the relationships you have are formative, are part of the process of inventing yourself. So I think that maybe that is the thing that haunts me – that these young relationships were wonderful, not only because of the goofy moon-eyed state you get into when you’re a young person in love, but that part of the mystery of who you are is being revealed through that process. And so, as a transgendered woman, back then, when I was a boy, I was really struggling with, well with everything in a way, and I think my theory was that if I were only loved deeply enough, or if I were able to love someone else deeply enough, it would make me content to stay a boy. It would make me someone better. It would get me out of myself. And I think that is a fairly universal hope. Even though it turns out not to be true. We all have, at times in our lives, the false hope that falling in love with someone will make us into someone better. (laughs) At least it did for me. But in the end, I think people are who they are. And no one is transformed by love. At least, not in that way. For me, what finally did happen is that when I did fall in love and get married, falling in love was not the thing that made it possible for me to stay a man. Falling in love was the thing that made me have faith enough that I finally could come out and become a woman. So love did save me. But not in the way I expected.

    Q: There’s an old joke that any story you tell more than three times becomes a fiction. If that’s true, how do you reconcile those kinds of fictions?

    A: I don’t necessarily agree with that. As a writer of both memoir and of fiction, I’m aware that there is a line you cross. I don’t think it’s as clear as anyone would like it to be. But I think I’m perfectly capable of telling a true story more than three times. (laughs) There’s that old John Ford thing from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – When the myth becomes a legend, print the legend. But, one of the ways people make sense of their lives is by telling stories. The stuff of life is a complete cacophony – baby diapers, the Russian army, a Gatorade, and the poetry of John Keats. Things happen to us every day that don’t seem connected. The way we make sense of our lives is by seeing the narrative of our lives. And telling stories of our lives is a way of imposing order in our lives. The facts of a story are true no matter how many times you tell them. But the narrative changes depending on how you remember things.

    Q: It sounds like the memories of these two women are sticking around without, you know, asking your permission.

    A: In some ways it’s very embarrassing for me. I’m 55 years old. I’ve been a woman for at least 12 years. I’m very happily married. I have two nearly grown sons. I wake up from a dream and I’m thinking about a girl that I went out with when I was 20. I don’t think I’ve seen her since I was 21. So, it’s more than half a lifetime ago. So, what do they want from me? Or, what do I want from them? I googled Willow the other day and found a photograph of her, nearly unrecognizable from the girl I went out with when we were 17, but there she was. … I think part of it is about the permanence or impermanence of identity. If you think about who you were when you were 17, or when you were 5, obviously you are not the same person that you were then, you are transformed in nearly every way. Except that you are still the same person. You have those memories. There’s an old joke about the New England farmer who says, This is a great shovel I have, it’s going to last forever, I’ve replaced the blade three times and the handle four times. So, on one level you think, It’s a great shovel. On the other hand, we’re all like that. Our bodies change as we get older. Telling stories is how we make sense of it.

    Q: Do you think bad experiences stick with us longer?

    A: (laughs) Oh I’m sure. I think stories that are unsettling stay with us longer than stories that make perfect sense. You can only read a Sherlock Holmes story a second time, for pleasure, if you have no memory. Because you alreay know the solution. So, unless you are the type of person who just forgets how mysteries work out, you lose the pleasure in those stories. Not to sound too pretentious, but, life is like a mystery that we are solving. And it’s the mysteries that we can’t quite solve – those are the ones we want to keep reading again and again. Maybe that’s why, in my dreams, I keep coming back to these women – maybe there are clues that I’ve missed.

    Q: So what do you think is the purpose of these stories?

    A: Maybe it’s like your younger self is passing a torch to your older self. Reminding you that, Yes, when you were 20, you stayed up all night long with a girl, walking through the streets of London, as the fog rose up around your ankles from the cobblestones, and the bells of a church chimed and it was like you were some mythical angelic being. That’s a pretty cool experience to have had. And, maybe my young self wants to remind my older self that life is capable of exactly that kind of fire.

  • Blog

    Thirty Seconds over Manhattan

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Greetings, culture Lovers (as Mr. Know-it-All used to say).  Three separate events for me in NYC in the next two weeks, and an opportunity for you to hear new work from me, take in a reading, and/or if you’re adventurous, join me for dinner.

    Event the First: At Chez Andre, in the Standard Hotel, at 9 PM May 1, you can hear me perform a new piece, Lost Loves. This piece consists of a couple of intertwined stories, along with some songs I’ll sing and play.  It’s part of PEN’s World Voices Festival, and is in the “Obsession” Series.  If you’re interested in attending, you can buy a ticket here.

    Two nights later, you can join me and author Richard Russo at the GLAAD Media Awards gala at the Waldorf-Astoria.   This is GLAAD’s 25th anniversary, and the night will be full of celebrities and surprises, including a tribute to my own nerd-god, George Takei.   You can buy a ticket and sit at our table right here— make sure you select “Jenny Boylan” as your table host.  It’s not a cheap date, but it’s a good cause.

    Finally, on Thursday May 8, join me at the Strand Bookstore at 828 Broadway, at 7 PM, for a reading with me and my friend Augusten Burroughs.  We will each give short readings and then have a conversation– about memoir, about writing, about parents and children.  This reading celebrates the publication in paperback of my memoir STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU, which concerns the differences between motherhood and fatherhood.  “Having a father who became a woman,” I write, “helped my two remarkable sons, in turn, to become better men.”

    You can own a paperback copy of Stuck by purchasing it at any bookstore; if you want to, you can buy it right here from Indiebound, or Amazon.

    So:  LOTS going on!  I hope you’ll join me May 1, May 3, or May 8, in Gotham City.  I hope to be stuck in the middle– with you.

  • Blog

    JFB reading with Augusten Burroughs at STRAND Bookshop, NYC, May 8.

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Here’s a quick note announcing a reading with me and Augusten Burroughs at the Strand Bookshop in Manhattan on May 8.  I hope if you’re in the city you’ll be willing to join us.  Afterward, there will be arm-wrestling.

  • Blog

    Save us from the SAT!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    My New York Times column for 3/7/14.

    BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — I WAS in trouble. The first few analogies were pretty straightforward — along the lines of “leopard is to spotted as zebra is to striped” — but now I was in the tall weeds of nuance. Kangaroo is to marsupial as the giant squid is to — I don’t know, maybe D) cephalopod? I looked up for a second at the back of the head of the girl in front of me. She had done this amazing thing with her hair, sort of like a French braid. I wondered if I could do that with my hair.

    I daydreamed for a while, thinking about the architecture of braids. When I remembered that I was wasting precious time deep in the heart of the SAT, I swore quietly to myself. French braids weren’t going to get me into Wesleyan. Although, in the years since I took the test in the mid-’70s, I’ve sometimes wondered if knowing how to braid hair was actually of more practical use to me as an English major than the quadratic equation. But enough of that. Back to the analogies. Loquacious is to mordant as lachrymose is to … uh …

    This was the moment I saw the terrible thing I had done, the SAT equivalent of the Hindenburg disaster. I’d accidentally…(click here to read the full piece on the NYT site).

  • Blog

    JFK, The Beatles, and Julia Child. HELP!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    JFB column in Washington Post, February 7, 2014.

    Here we are, still devastated from the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination (Nov. 22, 2013), when along comes the 50th anniversary of the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan” (Feb. 9, 2014) to lift our spirits. It’s not as sobering an occasion as the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech this past Aug. 28, or as chilling as the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis (Oct. 14 to 28) the year before, but for my money it’s at least as inspiring as the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight in Friendship 7 (on Feb. 20, 2012), and surely as satisfying, for a liberal, anyhow, as the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s landslide victory over Goldwater, coming up this fall. ¶ I am sure that, many years from now, we will turn to our grandchildren and tell them the stories of where we were on the 50th anniversaries of all these historic events. Yes, Jenny Junior, I still remember where I was on the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Julia Child’s “The French Chef” (Feb. 11). I was standing in my kitchen, making a soufflé and tearing the pages off of a calendar.

    The decade of the 1960s, currently celebrating its golden jubilee, provides us with a seemingly endless series of moments upon which we can look back with misty-eyed wisdom. As Nietzsche said, “History repeats itself — first time as tragedy; the second time as a listicle on Buzzfeed.”

    Readers who find such features wearying are in for a rough time in the years ahead. Between now and Aug. 9, 2024 (the 50th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, and the cultural finale of “the 1960s”), we should expect a column about the 50th anniversary of some damned thing pretty much every other week. In the next few months alone, we can anticipate 50th anniversary retrospectives, complete with never-before-seen-photos and now-it-can-be-told revelations, on everything from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the introduction of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe.

    Given that, after 50 years, there’s so little new one can say about most of these events, our insatiable hunger to keep reading about them suggests that the thing we’re actually interested in is….(read the rest of the column at the Washington Post site).

  • Blog

    Transgender, Schlumpy & Human: JFB column in NYT 2/16/14

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Jeffrey Tambor in a scene from "Transparent"

    BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — THERE’S a scene in the new Amazon show “Transparent” when the family patriarch, Mort, walks in on his oldest daughter in flagrante with her lesbian lover. The character, who’s been struggling throughout the pilot with how to come out as trans, stands there in drag with a bemused expression. “Hello, ladies,” Mort — now Maura — says.

    When I was first asked to serve as an adviser to the show, I hesitated, fearing that it would get the issues all wrong, as television and film often do where transgender characters are concerned. And yet I was won over by the pilot’s charm. So far, anyway, “Transparent,” written and directed by Jill Soloway, shows every sign of being one of the first television shows to depict the life of its transgender heroine with grace and respect.

    Of the 10 pilots released early this month as part of Amazon’s gambit to enter the content-streaming market, “Transparent” is the breakout hit. A reviewer in the culture blog Vulture called it “my favorite pilot in years, and by a lot.” She continued, “the thesis of the show” is that “we hide some things and disclose other things but maybe not as well as we think we do. (Or maybe, accidentally, too well.)”

    The only problem? The actor playing Maura, Jeffrey Tambor, is neither female nor trans.

    One might think that this is not much of an issue; stepping into other people’s skins is, after all, what actors do.

    But there are plenty of talented transgender actresses in Hollywood, including, of course, the amazing Laverne Cox, currently burning it up in “Orange is the New Black.” There are others as well; Calpernia Addams and Candis Cayne come to mind, although, admittedly, they aren’t old enough to play the part of Maura.

    But you can understand why trans viewers might grow weary of seeing themselves constantly portrayed by straight actors for whom trans roles are an opportunity to “stretch themselves.” Why do these parts go to people who struggle to imitate us, when… (click here to read the full column in the NYT).

  • Blog

    Ring them Bells: Two NYT op/eds from JFB, December 2013

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Greetings all.  While the December Project dominated my home page during the last month, I did want to post links to two columns of mine that appeared in the New York Times during that month.

    The first is about my days ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.  Here’s a short tease:

    A Transgender Volunteer for the Salvation Army

    Published: December 16, 2013 206 Comments
    BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — I GOT to the Waterville mall a few minutes early. My shift began at 11, and snow was falling from a pewter sky onto the parking lot. I’d been having a hard time. This was about four Christmases ago, a few years after I’d come out as transgender. In the aftermath of that unveiling, I’d lost a couple of important friendships. Getting into the spirit of the season had been a struggle.

    Then, one day, I saw someone ringing a Salvation Army bell outside a Walmart. I thought, hey, I could do that. And so I signed up, hoping it might help dispel the blues. I wasn’t sure how the charity would react to the fact that one of their volunteers was a 6-foot-tall trans woman, though. This was before stories of the organization’s antigay discrimination really started emerging, or at least before they’d reached my ears. Still, I knew that it was a traditional religious charity, and I could picture the scene — the head of the Red Kettle corps taking one look at me, knocking the Santa hat off my head, contemptuously snapping all my candy canes in half.

    Instead, as I drew near, the woman standing at the entrance to the mall said, “Oh, thank God you’re here. My arm is about to fall off.” And with that, she….(click here for the full story, over at the NYT site.)

    The second is about someone who disappeared 30 years ago New Year’s Eve.  I never knew Sam Todd, but I still “mourn him like a brother.


    Haunted by a Disappearance

    Published: December 30, 2013 81 Comments

    IT was 30 years ago this New Year’s Eve that Sam Todd left a party in Soho to get some air. He would not be seen again.

    Sam Todd was a divinity student at Yale, a young man, like many, “giddy with their own futures.” On New Year’s Eve, 1983-4, he attended a party at 271 Mulberry Street with a group of recent graduates from Vassar. He was 24. One of his friends, Heather Dune Macadam, described Todd that night, as he “twirled like a young colt, laughing and eating up the energy of the night until he was so dizzy he had to leave me on the dance floor to spin alone while he went outside for a breath of air.” At 3 a.m. he left the party without his coat.

    I was living uptown that year, across the street from a vacant lot, trying to be a writer. We were the same age, Sam Todd and I. The New York papers were full of the story of his disappearance. Fliers were posted; homeless shelters were searched. Rivers were dragged. Weeks went by, then months. Eventually there was nothing more to say about his story, other than the unbearable sadness of never knowing its ending.

    The story haunted me, however. I’d wake from dreams in which Todd was knocking on my door. Come on, he’d say. Everybody’s waiting. He made it sound as if… (click here for the full op/ed, at the NYT site.)

  • Blog

    Trans? Holidays got you down? WE WILL CALL YOU ON THE PHONE

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Update, Dec. 9: Please scroll to bottom for the latest.

    Hello there.  For the third year in a row, we are doing THE DECEMBER PROJECT.  The plan is simple.  If you are trans– or if you love some one who is trans– and you need a friendly voice, email us and we will call you on the phone.

    We began this project in 2011.  I was thinking that year how hard the holidays can be for people– but they can be especially hard for trans people and their families.  Charles Dickens had it right when, in the CHRISTMAS CAROL, he suggested that it’s Christmas, not Halloween, that’s the most haunted of holidays.  Our memories are heightened at this time of year– we think back to our childhood, to our many struggles.  For some of us it’s a time when we’re acutely aware of how cut off we are from those we love.  The world is full of transgender people who are unable to see their children, their parents,  their loved ones, all because of the simple fact of who they are.

    We cannot undo all the hurt in the world.  But what we can do is CALL YOU ON THE PHONE and remind you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  You don’t have to be in crisis to take advantage of this project.  All you have to do is want a friendly voice.

    The project is run by four people– Jennifer Finney Boylan, national co-chair of GLAAD; Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality;  Dylan Scholinski, director of Sent(a)mental Studios, and Helen Boyd, Professor at Lawrence University.  We are two trans women, a trans man, and a spouse of a trans woman.  Between the four of us, we have heard many different kinds of trans narratives.  If we can help you, we would be glad to do so.

    How do you get us to call you? By emailing   I’ll use that email as the central mailbox;  if you have a particular preference to talk to one or the other of us, let me know– although I can’t guarantee that you’ll always here from the person you request.  Also please tell us the time of day and the date you’d be free for a call; you might want to give us a couple of options.  And of course, tell us your phone number.  WE WILL KEEP YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENTIAL.

    We will start with calls on December 1, and keep this going until New Years.

    Sound good?  I hope so.  We hope we can help, even if just a little.

    Three other caveats I should mention at the end here:

    1) First, no one in the December Project gets a dime out of it.  This is a shoestring operation, largely consisting of four people trading phone numbers.  If you want to support our causes, you can let us know, and we’ll tell you how to give.  But this is not about that.

    2) If you are in serious crisis, please bypass us and go directly to the national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255  WE ARE NOT TRAINED AS THERAPISTS or as counsellors for individuals in crisis.  If you need something more serious than a “friendly voice,’ please call the lifeline.

    3) For the moment we are content with this project consisting of the four of us;  in past years, we have been a little overwhelmed (and yes, deeply touched) by the many, many of you who have wanted to join us.  While we thank you for your grace and your love,  it’s also overwhelming for us to sort through the requests; we hope you’ll understand if we ask that folks writing us be primarily those who want a call. There are many ways you can get involved in your own community, and we heartily encourage everyone who wants to spread some love around to do so in their own way, starting right at home.

    Thanks so much!  Wishing you all the best for a positive, hopeful, loving holiday season!


    Jennifer Finney Boylan, on behalf of the December Project

    Update, Dec. 9:  We have been deluged with requests!  We are making the calls as swiftly as we can, but if you haven’t heard back from us, please be patient.  Also, please request calls via the email address listed above, and NOT through the comments section below!  Thanks so much.

  • Blog

    JFB in New York Times, 10/28: The Costumes We Choose

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — SALES of President Obama masks at Party City in Augusta, Me., are down this Halloween season, way down. “It’s not that popular an item,” said a sales clerk when I visited a few weeks ago. You’d think this would be a bad sign for the Democrats, but on the other hand, there weren’t any John Boehner or Mitch McConnell masks in the store. The public has spoken: no one fantasizes about being a politician anymore. The most popular costume at that Party City? The minions from “Despicable Me.”

    This is a comedown from the days when one of the most popular masks in the nation was Richard Nixon. It doesn’t seem all that long ago when one could reasonably expect, on Allhallows Eve, to see children dressed up as the president who had resigned long before they were born.

    You can still get a Reagan mask — available in both regular and zombie models — although you’d have to order it online. In fact, there are plenty of politician costumes available on the Internet. But it’s curious, who’s in and who’s out. carries George Washington and Abraham Lincoln costumes; Jack Kennedy; both Clintons; George W. Bush; and Barack Obama. But no… (click here to read the rest of the column at the NY Times site.)