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

    First review for my new book!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    First review for STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: A memoir of parenting in three genders is out today, and it’s a rave.

    “This informal investigation and her touchingly funny and always candid story work together to reveal the book’s ultimate truth: that ‘to accept the wondrous scope of gender is to affirm the vast potential of life in all its messy, unfathomable beauty’… Boylan’s book is genuinely insightful through and through. A warm, engaging memoir.” – Kirkus Reviews.

    Kirkus is kind of an inside-publishing publication, but it’s influential and well-regarded.  I’ve had mixed success with them over the years– they really liked SHE’S NOT THERE, but weren’t wild about the FALCON QUINN series.  I’m grateful STUCK IN THE MIDDLE seemed to speak to them, and I’m hopeful, naturally, that this is a harbinger of other nice notices in the months ahead.

    Pub date is April 21, with physical books probably shipping a little earlier.  It’s going to be a wild spring!  Fasten your seat belts.

  • Blog

    Announcing the December Project: Surviving the Holidays with the trans community

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    I wanted to announce what we’re calling THE DECEMBER PROJECT, a reachout by Dylan Scholinski, Mara Keisling, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and Helen Boyd to raise the spirits of people in the trans community during what can be a difficult time of year.

    We are trans activists, homebodies, authors, parents, spouses, artists, and teachers, including a trans man, two trans women, and a loving spouse.  Here’s our pledge to you: If you feel low this December, and need someone to talk to, contact us, and we’ll call you on the phone.  Period.

    We want to make clear that we are not therapists, and that anyone in a serious crisis should dial 911, or seek professional help from qualified folks in the helping professions.

    On the other hand we are people who may have experienced what you are feeling, and it is our hope that simply having someone to listen or talk to this December will have value.   This project is 100% free and no one involved in it is getting anything out of it other than the opportunity to help.

    Trans people– and the people that love them– face unique challenges during the holidays.  Too often we can find ourselves separated from families, from spouses and children and parents.  It’s a time of year that, as Dickens well noted, can be the most haunted of all, a time when we travel in time and feel all too keenly the distance between ourselves and others, when what we most desire is warmth, and community, and love.

    So think of us as friends you haven’t met yet.  Want to talk to somebody on the phone?  Here’s what to do: 1) send an email to Jenny Boylan at, and in the subject heading write, DECEMBER PROJECT.  List your name, your phone number, and the time when we can reach you–preferably with a few different choices.  Let us know which one of us you want to talk to.

    You can also contact people directly through Facebook– ask to “friend” Jennifer Finney Boylan and then make your request through the Direct Message page, and JFB will forward your request to the person you’ve asked for. (or if you’re friends with Mara, or Helen, or Dylan, you can contact them directly.)

    If we can’t reach you, or if the person you’ve requested isn’t available, we’ll let you know that too.  Also, if we get overwhelmed, we’ll also tell you that.

    So let us help.  And you don’t need to be in trouble to participate in the December Project.  If you want to celebrate all the good things in your life and share your sense of joy– we’re good with that too.

    Who we are:

    Helen Boyd is an author of 2 books, including MY HUSBAND BETTY, an account of life with a trans spouse.  She is a well regarded spokeswoman for trans people and the people that love them, especially spouses and partners.  She’s a Lecturer in Gender and Freshman Studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, an author of 13 books including SHE’S NOT THERE: A LIFE IN TWO GENDERS.  An English teacher at Colby College in Maine, a trans woman, wife to Deirdre Boylan, and mother (or “Maddy”) to two fine young men, Zach and Sean.  Serves on the board of directors of GLAAD and on the board of trustees at the Kinsey Institute.

    Mara Keisling is founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.  She is well known as a commentator on trans issues; she lives in Washington DC.

    Dylan Scholinski was born Daphne Scholinski. He currently lives in Boulder, CO with his beautiful wife and 4 year old son and is the Founder/Witness of Sent(a)Mental Studios as well as a distinguished artist, author and public speaker. His most recent book was The Last Time I Wore a Dress, listed by Out Magazine as one of its Top Ten Must Reads.

    We send everybody love, and hope that this month is a time of hope.

    Email for The December Project:

    FB: Jennifer Finney Boylan.

  • Blog

    JFB video for I AM: Trans People Speak

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Here I am speaking about trans experience as part of GLAAD’s amazing new series: I AM: Trans People Speak.

  • Blog

    Would you like Jenny Boylan to visit your bookstore, college, or local venue this spring?

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Hello, friends.  Random House is gearing up to send me out on the road in spring 2013 in support of my new book, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: Parenthood in Three Genders, as well as the 10th anniversary expanded edition of SHE’S NOT THERE. Pub date is April 23rd, and I’m likely to be travelling from coast to coast at that time, reading in bookstores, at colleges, doing TV and radio interviews, and visiting other venues to talk about motherhood, fatherhood, and diversity.

    If you’re interested in having me visit your town, let me know and I’ll pass it on to my rep at the Random House Speakers Bureau, Mr. Wade Lucas.  You can email me at (put SPEAKING GIG or something in the subject line).  Or you can contact Wade directly at

    More info on appearances can be found here.

    Thanks.  I’m looking forward to being stuck in the middle with YOU.

  • Blog

    New Cover for Updated “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders.” Plus, a sneak peak at the new preface!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    The cover for the updated edition of SNoT seeks to echo the design of the original as well as to give a good hint of the new goodies inside.

    Many of you know that She’s Not There will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next spring.  In honor of the event, Random House is bringing out a new and revised edition of the book.  It will contain a new preface and a new afterword by JFB, bringing the story up to date.  It will also contain a new epilogue written by Deirdre Finney Boylan, better known to readers of SNoT as “Grace.”  She will write about the challenges she and Jenny faced, and the love that they share.

    The most common question Deedie and Jenny get is, “Are you still married?”  Not to spoil the new edition, or anything, but the answer is an emphatic yes.

    Here’s a quick look at the cover for the revised edition.  The goal was to retain the look of the original book while also drawing attention to all the new goodies inside.

    The new SHE’S NOT THERE goes on sale on April 23rd, concurrently with Jenny’s new book, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: A MEMOIR OF PARENTHOOD IN THREE GENDERS, about which there’s plenty more on this site.  Both books–along with the middle volume of the trilogy, I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU, will be available both as actual books as well as ebooks via Kindle and iBooks.

    As Jeff Probst likes to ask on “Survivor,”  Worth playing for?  How about if I gave you a sneak peak at the new preface to the tenth anniversary edition, available by simply clicking right here?

  • Blog

    Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Coming in 2013 from Random House/Crown

    Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders

    A Memoir

    by Jennifer Finney Boylan

    Dear booksellers, readers, and friends:

    Publication date is still fairly far off for my new book– Mother’s Day, 2013– but as advance review copies are beginning to find their way out into the world, I thought I’d start trying to develop a little home for the book here at the site.  So here’s a new wing for STUCK IN THE MIDDLE, containing a little advance material.  In weeks to come I’ll have a sample chapter or two up and running. In the meantime, click here to be taken to the new Stuck in the Middle wing of this site.

  • Blog

    “A Freshman All Over Again” — JFB column in New York Times, August 23, 2012

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    This op/ed appeared Thursday, August 23rd.  I was substituting for Nicholas Kristof.

    A Freshman All Over Again

    by Jennifer Finney Boylan

    My son Zach and me, on Maine's Mt. Katahdin, the week before dropping him off at Vassar. Photo by my son Sean Boylan.

    Thirty-six years ago, my mother and father pulled up in front of a dormitory at Wesleyan University in a cream-colored Oldsmobile Omega. “At last!” my mother declared. “College!”

    From the back seat, I glowered at her. Then I looked out the window and glowered at the ivy. It was clear enough: I was going to die here.

    My father unlocked the trunk. It contained a suitcase, a stereo, a box of records by the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, a leatherbound journal, a psychedelic poster of the cover of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” a copy of Coffin & Roelofs’s “Major Poets,” a three-legged milking stool and a bong shaped like one of the statues on Easter Island.

    It still wasn’t clear how I’d snuck past the dean of admissions. I’d been rejected for early decision, then deferred in the spring. When they finally let me off the wait list in July, it felt as if admissions had accepted me out of sheer exhaustion.

    We found my room, Butterfield A 132 B. There was a desk in one corner. My mother looked at it with tears in her eyes. “Right here,” she said, “is where all the magic is going to happen!”

    An elegant, feline man appeared in the door. He had a shaved head. “So I’m Bruce,” he said. He pronounced it Bruuuuuce. “Your R.A. There’s Heineken in the fridge. There’s pizza in the lounge. Welcome to college.”

    Later that day, I went into Bruce’s room to ask for his assistance with something and found him handing an ounce of pot to an older-looking person, who in turn gave my R.A. a wad of bills. Bruce introduced me to his guest, a member of the college administration.

    O.K., I thought. So this is different.

    I’m thinking about all of this now because in a week’s time my wife and I are dropping our firstborn son off at Vassar, where he will begin his freshman year (or “first-year experience,” as we are now supposed to call it).

    After nearly 25 years as a college professor, I am at last a participant in the ritual of the station wagons. Don DeLillo describes the annual unpacking in “White Noise”: “the controlled substances, the birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags,” and the parents, standing “sun-dazed near their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction.”

    Back in ’76, my parents and I had a dignified farewell on the lawn of Butterfield. My father, a reserved, diffident man, shook my hand. Then they walked away. I’d be home for Thanksgiving, and until then, I was Bruce’s problem. In some ways, that was the first and most important thing I learned at college — what life was like without them.

    It’s different now. At Colby College, where I teach English, I see my students talking to their parents on cellphones — some of them three and four times a day. Occasionally, when things aren’t going well, a parent will Skype me. (“What can Charlie do to improve his grades?” one anxious parent asked me. “Fewer drugs,” I suggested.) Parents and children follow one another’s progress on Facebook. They post photos of the campus lobster bake on Instagram. They tweet. They text. They Tumbl.

    There are times when I want to tell my students that if they want to learn anything at college, their first step should be defriending their parents. Write them a nice letter, on actual paper, once every week or so, but on the whole: let go. Stop living in their shadows, and start casting your own.

    But now I know exactly how impossible this is. Before I became a college parent, it was easy to come up with rules of disengagement for my students’ mothers and fathers. Now that I am one myself, I finally know what it is parents are going through — not just letting go of a child but of an entire chapter of their lives.

    Late in the day so many years ago, long after I thought my parents had headed back to Devon, Pa., I went for a walk. I wandered around the brownstones for a while, stared up at the facade of Olin Library. I realized I was a long way from home.

    That was when I caught sight of my parents, coming back from the president’s reception. When I saw them approaching, my first thought was, Oh, no. Not another farewell.

    They just smiled and wrapped their arms around me. I did not want them to go. I was not ready to begin this new life, in this new place, without them.

    My father kissed me on the cheek. “You’ll be fine,” he said.

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor of English at Colby College, is a guest columnist. Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.

  • Blog

    JFB Column in NYT: “Weather Vain.”

    - by Jennifer Boylan
    This column appeared on the op/ed page of the New York Times on Sunday, August 12, 2012.  I was substituting for Thomas Freidman.

    Weather Vain

    Published: August 11, 2012 49 Comments
    • Belgrade Lakes, Me.

    Jennifer Finney Boylan

    Previous Columns

    LAST March, just before the melt set in, I got the Call. It was a little late in the season for it, but I wasn’t all that surprised, given the blizzard we’d just endured. If you live in Maine long enough, you’re used to getting the Call from a flatlander, usually on the morning after some serious weather.

    “Hey, we’ve got the flowers out down here,” said my friend. “We’re drinking lemonade.”

    “Well, that sounds nice,” I said.

    “How long before you get your screens in?” she asked. “How long before you’re drinking lemonade?”

    It would be months, of course. The average yearly snowfall in my part of central Maine is 71 inches, which, just for perspective, is around five inches more snow than Ross Perot is tall.

    In Maine, June comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. And July showers bring August flowers.

    I didn’t always live like this. When I was young… (click here to read the rest).

  • Blog

    Your 2012 Transgender All-Stars!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    An encore of an earlier blog, in honor of the break.  Enjoy!– JFB

    Your 2012 Transgender All-Stars will play the Wingnuts in the summer classic tonight.  Some familiar fan favorites, and some newcomers in this year’s roster.  Also:  Susan “Wild Thing” Stanton, formerly catcher, appears to have sent down to the minors.

    1. Janet Mock

    The Kahuna from Hawai’i is slotted into the lead-off position. All bets are on the Mockster to wind up with Rookie of the Year.

    MaraKeisling 2. Mara Kiesling

    Leading the league in earned runs, the big left hander is not renowned for speed.  In recent years she has had the extra burden of carrying a small dog, “Puffington” as she rounds the bases.

    3. Susan Stryker

    The shortstop from Arizona.   The professor in the three-hole should advance Keisling and the Mockster to scoring position.  Watch for Strykes from the Strykemeister.

    rose 4. Donna Rose

    Donna “The Refrigerator” Rose has occupied the cleanup spot since becoming a free agent in 2006.  The controversy surrounding her decision not to renew her contract with the Washington Humans has made her a crowd favorite.

    St-Pierre 5. Ethan St. Pierre (“E-Saint”)

    Renowned for his RBIs,  St. Pierre has a history of sacrifices.  Often he can be seen swinging with a microphone instead of a bat.

    JamisonGreen 6. Jamieson Green (a.k.a. “The Big Unit”)

    The sixty-four year old from Oakland is known for his ability to stay in the game.

    KateBornstein-header-9-25-08 7. Kate Bornstein (“That’s just Bornstein being Bornstein!”)

    The Outlaw was recently removed from the Disabled List and is well known for her offensive skills.

    8. Chaz Bono

    New to the All-Star lineup this year,  Bono will lead the pre-game Tabloid Derby.  A power hitter, Bono may be intentionally walked if the count is high in hopes of getting a strikeout from Calpernia Addams.


    9.Calpernia Adams

    Calpernia usually bunts.  Her running ability is exceptional, considering that she slides in heels.

    Ladies and gentlmen—your 2012 Transgender All Stars!

  • Blog

    WE LEARN NOTHING: the amazing new book by Timothy Kreider

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    I want to write a few words about the amazing new book WE LEARN NOTHING, written by essayist and cartoonist Timothy Kreider.  Any thinking person with a sense of humor will find it provocative and delightful, reminiscent, in varying ways, of David Foster Wallace, James Thurber, David Sedaris, and Susan Sontag. Richard Russo says, “Tim Kreider may be the most subversive soul in American and his subversions–by turns public and intimate, political and cultural–are just what our weary, mixed-up nation needs.  The essays in We Learn Nothing are for anybody who believes it’s high time for some answers, damn it.”

    Fans of my own work– who are likely to be the folks drawn to this site in the first place– will find new light shed on transgender issues as a whole and my own writing in particular in one chapter of the book.  It was Tim Kreider who accompanied Russo, my spouse Deedie   (a.k.a. “Grace”) and me to Wisconsin for SRS, and while I wrote about Russo and Deedie’s experience shepherding me through that experience, I left Tim’s role largely unexplored in She’s Not There, mostly because Russo and Deedie had been the two supporting characters through the book to that point.  But after they left, it was Tim Kreider who sat by my bed for the next week and read me stories, got me on my feet.  He writes about all of this in a chapter in the new book called “Chutes and Candyland.”  It may remind some readers of Russo’s afterword to She’s Not There— in that a male friend of mine has to reconsider the meaning of friendship in the wake of gender shift.  But Tim’s viewpoint of the world is both more scholarly and more skeptical than Ricks.  And his account of the process he had to go through reflects that sensibility, both the intellectual grappling he had to go through as well as the way in which he felt, at times, at a loss.

    He concludes his essay… “Jenny Boylan might be the one person in this world whom I now think of purely as a human being, free of all the corporeal baggage of chromosomes, hormones and footwear….  It turned out I’d been asking the wrong question; it was never is she a woman or is he a man, but what is a friend?

    And yet the Jenny Boylan connection is the least of the many good reasons for fans of my work to check out WE LEARN NOTHING. (Which can be purchased from one of my favorite independent booksellers here and through another wonderful independent bookseller here. )

    Tim is a unique and amazing talent, who is, in my opinion, anyway, just about the funniest person alive– while simultaneously being one of the smartest.  His book contains a large number of his beautiful, hilarious cartoons– as well as essays on topics such as the story of his near-death by stabbing, and the way his failure to die left him happy for a whole year;  on the strange ways in which we all seem to enjoy hating each other so much;  on the story of going to Mexico one summer on the circus train;  on the strange consequences of his finding, at age forty, his biological mother (and two unexpected half-sisters.)

    That “stabbing story” cartoon–which is hilarious and moving, and not the gruesome deathfest you might be imagining– can and should be downloaded by anyone who calls herself a writer, and ESPECIALLY by writers whose work straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction.  If you go to this site, you’ll be one click away from downloading a pdf file of it.

    There’s a wonderful video Simon and Schuster made in support of the book which I’ve posted above. This is delightfully entertaining all by itself.

    One of my favorite essays in the collection is, “The Creature Walks Among Us”, about heartbrokenness. “Right now I’m neither in love nor heartbroken.  I almost hesitate to say this: it feels provisional, like remission.  Sometimes I’m afraid it may be as ephemeral as that temporary sanity that afflicts us for as long as forty-five seconds after orgasm.  But at other times I worry it may be permanent.  Maybe we have a finite capacity for falling in love that gets depleted with age.  OR maybe romantic love is an affliction of adolescence, like ac ne or a passionate ideological investment in pop songs.  It’s mostly a relief to be free of it, like not waking up hung over.  At those moments when I’ve felt myself starting to relapse–waiting for someone to call who wasn’t going to, that familiar helplessness clutching my gut–I’ve recoiled like a recovering alcoholic waking from a dream of being blacked-out drunk, relieved and thankful that he’s still sober.

    But sometimes this life starts to feel grudging and dutiful.  I’m clear-eyed again, but the world looks lusterless and dull.  I can understand why schizophrenics stop taking their meds.  I’m functioning and accomplishing things; everyone approves of my behavior and agrees that I seem happier; I’m not embarrassing my friends with any histrionic displays.  But I also know that all around me the air is full of songs too beautiful for me to hear.  Sometimes I’ll see a pair of electric-blue damselflies coupled in flight, and I remember how it felt to be weightless.

    Tim has one of the most spectacularly provocative websites out there– “The Pain: When Will it End?”  You must go connect to it now, and check out “The Archive”, a nearly ten-year collection of his weekly cartoons.   The website also provides a rundown of where Tim can be found on his current author tour.

    What do we learn?  We learn nothing.

  • Blog

    Angus King/Jennifer Finney Boylan interview: complete text

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    I interviewed Maine Independent Senatorial candidate Angus King on June 8, 2012.  An op/ed column based on this interview ran in the New York Times on June 12.  Below is the opening of the interview.  The full conversation can be read here.

    Gov. Angus King: Okay.  Let’s go.

    Jenny Boylan: Let’s talk about Chamberlain.  The last time I saw you, which I think was the summer of ’09 or it might’ve been ’10.

    Gov. Angus King: And I read his speech.

    Jenny Boylan: Passing of the Armies. Well, you have this thing for him.  For the record, what qualities about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain do you admire?

    Gov. Angus King: Well, I’ll start with the last item on my list of leadership qualities, because I think it’s the most important, and it’s the hardest to define.  He was a man of immense character.  It’s a hard term to define but it involves honesty and integrity, adherence to principle, courage, willingness to take risks, and the more you read about him and study him, the more you realize that was what defined him.

    I teach my students, however, that quite often people’s best qualities can also be their worst qualities, and adherence to principle and passionate commitment to ideals can lap over into rigidity, and Chamberlain had some problems when he was president of Bowdoin, for example, because he got into a conflict.  The entire student body was expelled at one point.

    Jenny Boylan: Actually, not that that’s necessarily a bad idea, speaking as a professor.  It does make the grading easier.

    Gov. Angus King: But he was a man of such integrity, and everybody in Maine knows the story of Little Round Top, but there are other stories about him that are equally important and I think revealing.  One is the gubernatorial election of 1880, which is a fascinating chapter, where the election results were so close – and he wasn’t running.  He had been governor 13 years before.  But the results were so close that nobody knew who had won.  It was like Florida in 2000.

    And there were actually armed mobs in the state, in Augusta, in Bangor, on behalf of the two candidates, and it was almost a civil war within the state.  Nobody knew what to do, and so they called Chamberlain to come and… (read rest of the interview here.)

  • Blog

    The Colonel & the Governor: JFB column in New York Times

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    June 11, 2012, 9:52 PM
    The Colonel and the Governor

    I had last seen Angus King standing on the shores of Maine’s Casco Bay, reading from the autobiography of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. This was at a benefit for Maine writers and publishers back in 2009. Chamberlain, a revered figure in Maine, was the Bowdoin College professor who prevented the flanking of Federal lines on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and who might, as a result, have single-handedly saved the Union.

    Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

    Comparing King to Chamberlain is a stretch, although it’s true that the two bear more than a slight resemblance to each other, what with the craggy features and the gray mustaches. And like Chamberlain, King has not only served the state as governor (from 1995 to 2003), but he has also taught at Bowdoin (on “Leaders and Leadership”). Still, there are big differences. Chamberlain, for instance, returned to Bowdoin after the war and became its president. King, for his part, set out the day after he left the governor’s office and toured the country with his family in a giant recreational vehicle. (“It wasn’t what’s the legislature going to do with this or that. It was, will the next RV park have a dump station?”)

    Still, a connection between the two men may come naturally to some Maine voters, many of whom see the current political system as in need of a fix, and who yearn for someone to face down Congressional partisanship, the gridlock-fighting equivalent of Chamberlain’s resistance against the charging Alabamians on Little Round Top in 1863.

    Maine primary voters decide this week between the Republican and Democratic Party candidates who hope to run for Olympia Snowe’s Senate seat. The front-runners, according to polls, include Charles Summers, the Secretary of State, on the Republican side, and State Senator Cynthia Dill and former Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on the Democratic. Angus King, running as an Independent, commands 56 percent of the vote in a three-way matchup with Summers (21 percent) and Dunlop (12.1 percent) , according to a recent poll taken by the Maine People’s Resource Center.

    If King is elected, and if, as some observers predict, the Senate winds up with 50 Republican Senators and 49 Democratic and/or affiliated Independents, then Angus King — who won’t say which party he’ll caucus with — may indeed provide the swing vote in the upper chamber (if, that is, President Obama wins re-election).

    It’d be hard to find a more popular politician in Maine than King, except, perhaps, for Chamberlain himself. And by popular, I mean the Colonel has a beer named after him, Shipyard’s Chamberlain Pale Ale. (According to a commenter at, it has a “delicious nose” and is “well balanced,” which is more than you can say about most senators.) He’s the one 19th-century Mainer most Americans could probably name, thanks in part to Jeff Daniels’s generous portrayal of him in the film “Gettysburg.” The high point of the movie may be the moment Chamberlain orders the charge, shouting “Bayonets!”

    When I took my teenage sons — lifelong Mainers, both of them — to Gettysburg two years ago, they immediately squatted down behind the wall on Little Round Top, picked up tree limbs to use as rifles, and took aim. “The Colonel’s orders,” my older son explained with deadly seriousness, “are to hold this position to the last.”

    On June 8th, I visited King’s campaign headquarters in Brunswick for a conversation with the candidate that was, by turns, literary, historical and paradoxical. The first thing I noticed upon entering the offices were the three portraits hanging on the wall — Ronald Reagan, Margaret Chase Smith and Bobby Kennedy. When I asked about this unlikely grouping, King said, “If I’m not confusing to people, they aren’t paying attention.”

    “I think I’m on to something politically,” he added. “As I go out and talk to people, the No. 1 thing that people want to talk about is the gridlock in Washington. It comes up 90 percent of the time. More so than health care, energy, the price of gas. People are really angry and fed up. The most common comment, ‘Go down and fix it.’ ”

    Angus King

    The excerpt from “The Passing of the Armies” I’d heard him read described the surrender of the Confederates at Appomattox. It was Chamberlain whom Grant appointed to receive the surrender, and the colonel created great controversy in the North by ordering his men to give the Southern troops a full salute as they lay down their weapons. “Ah, is this Pickett’s Division?” Chamberlain wrote later:

    This little group left of those who on the lurid last day of Gettysburg breasted level cross-fire and thunderbolts of storm, to be strewn back drifting wrecks, where after that awful, futile, pitiful charge we buried them in graves a furlong wide, with names unknown!
    How, Chamberlain asked, “could we help falling on our knees, all of us together, and praying God to pity and forgive us all!”

    It’s hard to imagine a contemporary politician making a gesture as conciliatory as Chamberlain’s. “But compromise in human affairs is utterly necessary in order to do anything. The constitution itself is rife with compromises. The U.S. Senate itself is the product of compromise,” King told me. “To have people going to the United States Senate who say they don’t believe in compromise is paradoxical and ironic, because it wouldn’t exist but for compromise.”

    Politicians who aspire to independence, however, can be thwarted by the binary nature of the Senate. “The current partisan system is severely broken,” King said, “and we can’t fix any of the problems that face the country until we start to talk to one another. Therefore, my intention and expectation and hope is to remain as independent as I can as long as I can. If I can remain fully independent and simply vote on issues according to what I think is best for the country and best for the people of Maine, that’s what I’ll do.”

    King will caucus with one of the parties if he has to, however. “If the rules are such that I have to make some commitment to one or the other of the caucuses in order to have a committee assignment, then I’ll do it, because it wouldn’t be fair to Maine to go down there and not be a fully effective, functioning senator. The question then becomes, what does caucusing mean? Part of my decision will be based upon what the two caucuses offer in that regard. If one of them says, ‘All you have to do is vote with us once, to organize the Senate, and after that you’re a free agent, but in exchange for that you’ll be able to be on committees,’ that’s an appealing offer.”

    On the whole, King governed from the middle of the road during his tenure in Augusta. He took the controversial position of requiring all school employees to be fingerprinted. He also began the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which provided Apple laptop computers for all middle schoolers.

    He’s supporting Barack Obama for president in 2012, as he did in 2008, after supporting Kerry in 2004. In 2000 he supported George W. Bush.

    Maine has a long history of autonomous politicians: Margaret Chase Smith, who delivered her “Declaration of Conscience” on the Senate floor in 1950, criticizing Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee; William Cohen, the lone Republican in Bill Clinton’s cabinet; or, for that matter, outgoing Senator Olympia Snowe herself. (The National Republican Senatorial Committee ran an anti-King ad shortly after he announced his candidacy, suggesting that King had made a secret deal with Democrats to caucus with them, an accusation King describes as “bunk.”)

    I asked King if there is something particular to Maine that has created an environment friendly to autonomous politicians. “I think it may go back into the history of the state,” he said. “The people who built this state were independent in the sense of what they did. Who built Maine? Farmers, fishermen and foresters. Those are essentially independent pursuits. The people who came here were flinty, tough, resilient independent people.”

    It may be that King is exactly the right man for the moment, like the Colonel on Little Round Top. But there’s another Chamberlain as well, the one who infuriated people with his autonomy, not least by his refusal to support the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. “The Republicans assumed he was going to help them (with the impeachment),” noted King, “that he was going to tilt in their direction, and he didn’t, and they never forgave him. He probably would have been a United States Senator. But he was considered too undependable, and independent.”

    After our conversation, I left the King campaign headquarters and drove through the rain to the Pine Grove cemetery, where Chamberlain is buried. His stone was covered with coins left by admirers — pennies bearing the portrait of Chamberlain’s commander in chief. Chamberlain, who died in 1914 of the wounds he received at Petersburg, Va., is said to be the last casualty of the Civil War.

    I’d asked the governor what the colonel would say if he found himself in Washington in 2012.

    “Charge,” said King. “Bayonets.”

    Jennifer Finney Boylan is professor of English at Colby College in Maine. She is the author of twelve books, including “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders.” Her next book, “Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders,” will be published by Random House in 2013.

  • Blog

    “What Kind of Times are These?” On Adrienne Rich and Trans-Misogyny

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    This piece of mine ran last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s online blog, “Tenured Radical,” hosted by historian Claire Potter.

    What Kind of Times are These?

    © Jennifer Finney Boylan

    Historian Claire Potter

    Last week, as prelude to an evening of poetry,  my colleague Peter Harris– a writer and a professor here at Colby College–gave a short reading from Adrienne Rich’s  “What Kind of Times Are These.”   “She burned through the fog that I lived in like an acetylene torch,” he said.  “I had never seen anyone so intensely Alive with a capital A.   I felt my life change in an instant.”

    “This is not somewhere else but here,” he read. “Our country moving closer to its own truth and dread/its own ways of making people disappear.”

    We all nodded, sharing a sense of love for the poet who had died the previous week, at the age of 82.

    As Peter headed back to his seat, however, one of my students suddenly catcalled from the back of the room.  “She may have been a great poet,” he said, “but she also hurt transgender people!  She helped Janice Raymond write ‘The Transsexual Empire,’ a book that is still oppressing trans men and women everywhere.”
    There was a lot of murmuring in the room at this moment, as you might imagine.  The host for the reading, poet Adrian Blevins, reclaimed the podium and said, “Thank you.  Perhaps we can find the words to talk about this issue after the reading.”  Moving right along.

    We did talk about the issue after the reading, although a lot of what we talked about was whether it was appropriate to denounce someone during a moment devoted to her memory. The word we most frequently found, as it turned out, was “awkward.”

    And yet I was grateful, as one of the only openly trans people in the room, that someone had said something.  On the way home I thought about Rich, and her genius, and her “trans-misogyny,” and above all, about  the inscrutable contradictions in the lives of artists.  It’s true that she counseled Raymond during the writing of 1979‘s execrable Transsexual Empire; Raymond writes that a transgender person, rather than being a vulnerable soul desperately trying to find peace and wholeness, is actually some sort of gender spy, determined to “colonize feminist identification, culture, politics, and sexuality.”  Rather than responding to transgender people–men and women– with compassion and love, she essentially compared us to some cultural cousin of the aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
    Rich is credited by Raymond in the forward to her book as having provided “constant encouragement.”  In one chapter of the book, Raymond refers to Rich describing trans women as “men who have given up the supposed ultimate possession of manhood in a patriarchal society…”  Trans-men (people born female), for their part,  don’t appear to be on her radar at all.

    My awareness of all of this work complicated my mourning process, to say the least.  On the one hand, as for so many readers, Rich’s poetry opened doors for me and changed the way I saw the world.  Her words encouraged me to believe in language as an agent of change.  “A revolutionary poem will not tell you who or when to kill,” she wrote, “what and when to burn, or even how to theorize.  It reminds you.. where and when and how you are living and might live, it is a wick of desire.”
    One of the “wicks of desire” lit for me by Rich’s work was the hope of living an authentic life, a life defined not only by my queerness but by my love of my wife and my sons.  Rich’s work simultaneously inspired and criticized that hope.

    And yet, I keep wondering whether it’s fair to judge an artist by a single statement;  surely she was not alone, among second-wave feminists, in feeling a sense of uncertainty around the lives of trans people. My friend, the historian Claire Potter, notes, “Some of Rich’s greatest achievements are difficult to separate from her essentialism.  In my view, fighting transphobia wherever it appears is intimately linked to understanding how some liberation movements gain solidarity and traction by isolating other oppressed people whom they perceive as insignificant.”

    Still, I would much rather celebrate Rich’s passion for language and feminism and social change than dwell on her contribution to a dated book that, of course, she herself did not even write.

    The culture has made big strides in its understanding of transgender people since 1979, when Transsexual Empire was written. It seems as if each month brings news of more progress for trans people. The Miss Universe organization, for instance, announced this week that trans contestant Jenna Talackova–disqualified earlier from the Miss Canada pageant–will now be able to compete. (Full disclosure:  the author serves on the board of directors of GLAAD, which helped negotiate the policy change.)  In the last year, several trans people have managed to comport themselves in the public spotlight with dignity and grace, including Chaz Bono, who proved on Dancing With the Stars that being the son of Sonny and Cher doesn’t interfere one bit with a man’s ability to do the tango.
    Meanwhile, when Mike Wallace died this week at 93, there was a similar sense of mixed emotions among LGBT Americans.  On the one hand: the twenty Emmy awards.  The Peabodys.  The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.  On the other:  the 1967 CBS News report, “The Homosexuals,” an hourlong special that generally condemned the “deviant” gay lifestyle;  the interview of at least one of the participants was later edited to make him seem “less happy.”
    Wallace later said, “I should have known better,”  and regretted his participation in the program.

    But for thousands of LGBT people around the country, the name of Mike Wallace will always be associated–along with his many triumphs–with a program that made our lives harder.

    Mark Antony said that “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” but I’m not sure.  Is it only by our worst moments that any of us should be judged?

    A life is full of so many moments.  I can attest that my own life has contained, in equal measures,  things I am proud of as well as things that bring me shame.  I am hopeful that it is my good works that will outlive me, and not my mistakes, although odds are that when it’s time to write my own eulogy,  it will not be the love I tried to bring to my wife and sons that is first remembered, not the sentences hammered out slowly over long Maine winters, but instead, some fool thing I said on some talk show when an interviewer caught me by surprise.  In spite of what I hope has been a good life as a teacher and a parent, my tombstone will almost certainly read:  Asked Oprah Winfrey How She’d Like It if She Had a Penis.

    If Adrienne Rich did not know the words, in 1979, that would provide solace for readers like me,  she still wrote the poems that enabled me to find that language for myself.  “I came to explore the wreck,” she wrote, in her most famous poem, “The words are purposes. The words are maps.  I came to see the damage that was done, and the treasures that prevail.”

    I met Rich, once, fleetingly, at an AWP Conference.  I held a door open for her as she entered a hotel, and she passed through that open door, moving slowly with her cane.  She paused upon the threshold, and looked at me.  Her eyes were full of passion, and fire, and love.

    “Thank you,” she said.

  • Blog

    Don’t forget the damage Mike Wallace did to LGBT people

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    As the media pours out the love for Mike Wallace this week– most of it absolutely well deserved, it’s worth remembering a dark moment for him, for CBS, and for LGBT Americans generally.  The show, “CBS Reports: The Homosexuals” is full of half-truths, distortions, and just plain lies.  It surely harmed the cause of civil rights for gay men and lesbians, and trans people were hardly even on the radar.

    Wikipedia reports, “For his part, anchor Mike Wallace came to regret his participation in the episode. “I should have known better,” he said in 1992.[25] Speaking in 1996, Wallace stated, “That is — God help us — what our understanding was of the homosexual lifestyle a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that’s what we heard from doctors — that’s what Socarides told us, it was a matter of shame.”[27] However, Wallace was at the time of broadcast close friends with noted designer James Amster (creator of the landmark Amster Yard courtyard in New York City) and Amster’s male long-term companion, men whom Wallace later described as “a wonderful old married couple” and “[b]oth people that [he] admired”. Despite this personal knowledge, Wallace relied on the American Psychiatric Association’s categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness rather than his own experience in creating the episode. As recently as 1995, Wallace told an interviewer that he believed homosexuals could change their orientation if they really wanted to.[16]

    The complete Wikipedia entry on the show is here.

    I know what my friend historian Claire Potter would say, “Historicize, historicize, historicize,” and that’s a good approach to take to most things.  Surely the public perception of the lives of gay and lesbian Americans has changed since 1967 in ways almost impossible to over-state at this hour.  Still, looking back, it’s a dark hour, especially for those of us for whom the struggle for full equality continues.

    Here’s a short recap version of the episode.  Make sure you have something ready to throw at hand.CBS News:

    The Homosexuals, CBS, 1967

  • Blog

    JFB reading Friday at Grinnell College, Grinnell Iowa

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Greetings, culture lovers (as Bullwinkle used to say, in the character of “Mister Know-it-All”).  Here’s a quick note that I’ll be reading at Grinnell  College, in Grinnell, Iowa, on Thursday April 5, at 8 PM.  Don’t have the exact building here, but I’m sure the reading wouldn’t be hard to track down once you’re on campus.  If you’re an Iowan and would like to reach out, please come.  I think this is my first time in Iowa since 1982, when I was writing a story for  “High Times” magazine, god bless its heart, on the “Five Strangest Places in America.” Several of them were in Iowa– The world’s largest coffee pot, the world’s smallest church, the world’s largest bull, and so on.

    In the years since then, it’s become clear to me that the world is full of strange places, and that Iowa is probably neither more nor less full of them than anyplace else.

    Still, it’s a delight to be asked back, and I am looking forward to meeting  readers and students.  Looking forward!


    jenny Boylan

    world’s tallest woman.

  • Blog

    JFB Keynoting N.E. Women’s Studies Ass’n Conference 3/31

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Hey, New England Fem-a-teers.  I’m delivering the keynote address this Saturday, March 31, at 12:30 PM, at the New England Womens’ Studies Association Conference.  The talk title is “STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: Parenthood in Three Genders.”

    The theme of this years conference is:  IDENTITY • MEMORY • TESTIMONY

    Here’s a link to the conference’s home page; that site also provides a complete conference schedule.  Events kick off Friday afternoon with a walking tour of Maine Women Writer’s History in Portland.

    Hope to see you there!

  • Blog

    “Maybe not in my lifetime, but in yours I feel sure.”

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    An Address to a consortium of allies attending independent high schools in the Philadelphia area– Haverford, Episcopal, Shipley, Agnes Irwin, Penn Charter, Springside, Friends Select, Germantown Friends, and Baldwin.   These are the rough notes (from which I frequently strayed) for the speech given at Penn Charter, March 15, 2012, to an audience of roughly 500 students and their teachers.   The  talk was sponsored by the Multicultural Resource Center, run by the amazing Karen De Gregorio.

    Hello everyone.  Thank you for having me.

    Okay, so first off?  If any of my Haverford teachers from the 1970s are here?  Can I just say:  you guys look different too.

    It may surprise you to learn that I haven’t come all the way from Belgrade Lakes, Maine in order to talk to you about what it means to be transgender.  By which I mean, specifically that if you haven’t been freaking out about how you suspect you really ought to be a member of the opposite sex by now… you can probably cross it off of your list of things to worry about.  It‘s not something that’s likely going to start bothering you simply as result of hearing me talk to you today.  It’s a fairly rare condition, and learning about it  today isn’t going to do you any lasting harm. Which is roundabout way, I suppose, of reassuring you that it’s not contagious. I hope that’s a relief.

    Let’s also pause to say that if there are some of you who are struggling with our gender identity, and you want someone to talk to about it, you can probably start just by e-mailing me. My e-mail is jb(at) And If you didn’t commit that to memory, you can find it on my website, and if you send me a note, I’ll write you back and we can have a conversation about it all.  I’ll keep it confidential too,  if you want.  You should know that I’m an English teacher, not a therapist, and  that the things that turned out be true in my life may  not be of much use to you.  But still, I’m always glad to help, if I can.

    There. That’s out-of-the-way.

    What’s probably more important to address than the specifics of transgender experience – which by the way I will try to loop back to later in this talk – is the more important subject of  what it means to be different. What’s strange, if you think about it, is that on paper, anyhow, we all say we value individuality, difference, people pursuing their dreams. You have to think that on some level it’s  the thing that we value above all others;  it’s even in the Declaration of Indenpendence, for crying out loud, our national reverence for the pursuit of happiness–  whatever happiness might mean to each Ameircan citizen.  AT the same time– and especially in high school–there’s this insane pressure to conform, to be like everybody else. And yet over time you find out that everybody is struggling with something, even – sometimes especially – the cool people.

    My experience of being transgender–can you imagine that, a  transgender girl at an all male school, Haverford, in the 1970s–  what’s the expression?  DUDE.  My experience meant that I was suffering – from my earliest memory of being alive – with something so fundamentally weird that it was almost impossible to explain to other people.  I mean, that really is one of the worst aspects of being trans, at least for me it was. The thing that was so fundamental to my sense of self, the certainty that I had a spirit that was a different gender than the body in which I found myself –  was something that other people have probably never even thought wants about ever even possibly being a problem. What was it like? It was really hard.

    Overtime I guess what I’ve learned, though, is that everybody’s carrying something in their hearts. And even if it’s not something as strange is being trans, that doesn’t make any less hard if it’s the thing you’re struggling with.    Whether  its sexuality, or gender identity, or race, or being bullied by others, or eating disorders, or being OCD or ADD or autistic, or just your own impossibly weird parents,  everybody has a burden to carry.  It can be a hard life, this one, and it can be hard even if you’re relatively normal.  Not that  I’ve ever met anybody who’s actually normal, but you know.  I can imagine that if there are such people, they have a hard time too.

    So. How do you survive when in your private heart you know you don’t fit in?

    Well one-way fitting in is to pretend you’re something you’re not. To put up a brave front and do what you have to do in order to get along.  Learn to be a first-class fake.

    I’ll pause here to plug a relatively new book series of mine, Falcon Quinn.  I actually have a couple copies here.  Falcon Quinn is kind of a bizarro-world Harry Potter;  only with monsters instead of magic.  Our hero Falcon, and his friends find themselves, at the age of thirteen, turning into monsters– Banshees, Sasquatches,  Chupakabras,  Wind Elementals,  Abominable Snowmen, frankensteins.  they get sent to a special school where they’re taught how NOT to be monsters, how to imitate human beings. So they literally can survive in the world without people trying to kill them with stakes or silver bullets.  The question in Falcon Quinn, then, becomes:  is it better to be something you’re not, if it means survival?  Or should you embrace your true self, if your true self is, say, a zombie?

    There’s a scene in Bride of Frankenstein– the old version, with Boris Karloff– that strikes me as emblematic of what adolescence can be like.  The monster comes upon a mirror one night, and he’s never seen a mirror before– and thus doesn’t know that the terrifying thing he’s looking at is actually himself.  AT first he’s scared, as all the humans are when they first see the monster.  But then, slowly, it dawns upon him that the terrible thing he’s seeing is himself.  (acted this out, complete with groaning).

    For me that was what it was like to be a teenager, and I suspect, that on dark days, it’s what  it’s like for everybody.  (groans)

    I remember when I went to the Haverford school, occasionally other students and what frequently teachers, including the headmaster, would make comments or jokes about transgender, or gay people, and  the punchline was always something about how messed up you have to be if you’re one of those people.

    What could I do, except to stand there with a stupid look on my face and laugh and say yeah. I guess you would have to be pretty messed up ha ha ha ha.

    It puts me in mind of the Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell, who, back in the 1970s, was the swing vote in a case called , Bowers versus Hardwick. That  case held that  sexual acts taking case  between consenting adults done in private, ought to be legal. Justice Powell, who wound up voting against the case, later turned to his clerk, and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a homosexual.”

    As it turned out, his clerk was gay.   But because he was in the closet,  he couldn’t tell Justice Powell.  At the time, all he could  do was turn to Justice Powell, and say, “Actualy, I bet you do.”

    The other strategy, of course, is to live your truth out loud.  But how do you that?   Bob Dylan has a tune called  Absolutely Sweet Marie, in which he sings,, to live outside the law you must be honest.

    What I say, and what I learned at the Haverford school all those years ago, was that to live outside the law you must be smart.

    I would never consider myself one of Haverford schools better students.  In fact, last year when I spoke at Haverford, my old biology teacher, Mr. Alford, came up to me after my talk and showed me a test that I had taken back in 1973, a test on which I’d  gotten a  29.  Out of 100. Thanks Mr. Alford.  What a great memory!

    Look I wasn’t a great student at Haverford school by any means. But in spite of my grades, Haverford school did do one incredible thing for me. It woke me up. I had these great teachers, most of them anyway, including Edward Hallowell and Todd Pearson and Robert Ulysses Jameson.  they taught me how to write, and how to read critically.  They gave me the very thing I needed to survive– the ability to trust my wits, and the faith that if I worked hard enough, I would find the words to explain the thing I felt in my heart.

    So thanks guys. I’m not sure that I am exactly what you had in mind when you devised your curriculum. But one way or another,  the gifts you gave me in your classrooms actually helped to save my life.

    So how is it that you connect other people? How do you explain to people the thing that’s in your heart if that thing it’s in your heart is almost unimaginable for other people? Will you can give them lectures, I suppose.  I know that there are plenty of  teachers who think that that’s a good way of getting information across to people.

    But lectures can only take you so far. Over time, I’ve I found that the best to make people understand what you feel is by telling them a story.

    Among professors of creative writing, there’s an old cliché, show don’t tell. You’ve probably heard people use that line before. It’s a way of suggesting that in stories the best strategy is scene setting and dialogue,, as opposed to telling, through narration and summary and exposition. It’s probably advice you’ve heard before, if you’ve ever tried to tell a story– show don’t tell.

    This thing is, this  turns out to be true in life as well. If you want people to know something show don’t tell people what you believe.  Show it.  Live your truth out loud.

    It was Gandhi himself who said, Be the change you wish to see.

    That doesn’t mean that if you want to work for civil rights for trans people you have to change your sex. Which I hope comes the relief and most of you.

    What it does mean is that if you want to change the world, treat people were different from you as if they are human. Treat them as vulnerable, fragile, noble, complicated people who just like you, are trying to make sense of this strange and wonderful and terrifying life

    You want to change the world? Be more loving.

    Okay, so with all that in mind, I want to read you a story from this collection that came out last year called IT GETS BETTER.  Some of you probably know about this project; it was created in response to a series of suicides of LGBT young people, including the celebrated case at Rutgers which is actually going to trial right now.   The idea was to remind young people that life is long, and that there are good reasons to have faith in the future.  There were a lot of contributions, not only from people like Ellen DeGeneres and Barney Frank, but from President Obama as well.   This piece was my mine.

    (At this moment I told the story from the It Gets Better anthology.)

    In the early morning rain

    By Jennifer Finney Boylan

    © 2003 & 2010 Jennifer Finney Boylan. A slightly different version of this essay appears in Jenny’s memoir, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (New York: Broadway/Random House, Inc.)  2003.  Used by permission.

    When I was young there was a time when I figured, the hell with it.  I’d never even said the word transgender out loud.  I couldn’t imagine saying it, ever.  I mean, please.

    So instead, one day a few years after I got out of college,  I loaded all my things into the Volkswagen and started driving North. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew I wanted to get away from the Maryland spring, with its cherry blossoms and its bursting tulips and all its bullshit. I figured I’d keep driving father and farther north until there weren’t any people. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do then, but I was certain something would occur to me that would end this transgender business once and for all.

    I set my sights on Nova Scotia. I drove to Maine and took a ferry out of Bar Harbor. I drove onto the S.S. Bluenose and stood on the deck and watched America drift away behind me, which as far as I was concerned was just fine.

    There was someone walking around in a rabbit costume on the ship. He’d pose with you and they’d snap your picture and an hour or so later you could purchase the photo of yourself with the rabbit as a memento of your trip to Nova Scotia. I purchased mine. It showed a sad looking boy—I think that’s a boy– with long hair reading a book of poetry as a motheaten rabbit bends over him.

    In Nova Scotia I drove the car east and north. When dusk came, I’d eat in a diner, and then I’d sleep either in the car or in a small tent that I had in the back. There were scattered patches of snow up there, even in May. I kept going north until I got to Cape Breton, which is about as far away as you can get from Baltimore and still be on dry land.

    In Cape Breton I hiked around the cliffs, looked at the ocean. At night I lay in my sleeping bag by the sea as breezes shook the tent. I wrote in my journal, or read the poetry of Robert Frost, or grazed around in the Modern Library’s Great Tales of Horror and the Supernatural. I read one up there called Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.

    In the car I listened to the Warlocks sing In the Early Morning Rain on the tape deck. I thought about this girl I knew, Grace Finney.  I thought about my parents.  I thought about the clear, inescapable fact that I was female in spirit and how, in order to be whole, I would have to give up on every dream I’d had, save one.

    I stayed in a motel one night that was officially closed for the season, but which the operator let me stay in for half price. I opened my suitcase and put on my bra and some jeans and a blue knit top. I combed my hair out and looked in the mirror and saw a perfectly normal looking young woman. This is so wrong? I said to myself in the mirror. This is the cause of all the trouble?

    I thought about settling in one of the little villages around here, just starting life over as a woman. I’d tell everyone I was Canadian.

    Then I lay on my back and sobbed. Nobody would ever believe I was Canadian.

    The next morning I climbed a mountain at the far northern edge of Cape Breton Island. I climbed up to the top, trying to clear my head, but it wouldn’t clear. I kept going up and up, past the tree line, past the shrub line, until at last there was just moss.

    There I stood, looking out at the cold ocean, a thousand miles below me, totally cut off from the world.

    A fierce wind blew in from the Atlantic. I leaned into it. I saw the waves crashing against the cliff below. I stood right at the edge. My heart pounded.

    I leaned over the edge of the precipice, but the gale blowing into my body kept me from falling. When the wind died down, I’d start to fall, then it would blow me back up again and I didn’t. I played a little game with the wind, leaning a little further over the edge each time.

    Then I leaned off the edge of the cliff at a sharp angle, my arms held outward like wings, my body sustained only by the fierce wind, and I thought, well all right. Is this what you came here to do?

    Let’s do it then.

    Then a huge blast of wind blew me backwards and I landed on the moss. It was soft. I stared straight up at the blue sky, and I felt a presence.

    Are you all right, Son? said the voice.  You’re going to be all right. You’re going to be all right.

    Looking back now, I am still not sure whose voice that was.  You can call it god if you want.  Or my guardian angel. The ghost of my father, maybe.  I don’t know.  Does it really change things all that much, to give a name to the spirits that are watching out for us?

    Still, from this vantage point—over twenty-five years later –it feels to me as if that voice was coming from my future self, the woman that I eventually became, a woman who, all these years later, looks more or less like the one I saw in the mirror in the motel. Looking back on the sad, desperate young man I was, I am trying to tell him something. It will get better.  It will not always hurt the way it hurts now.  The thing that right now you feel is your greatest curse will someday, against all odds, turn out to be your greatest gift.

    It’s hard to be gay, or lesbian. To be trans can be even harder.  There have been plenty of times when I’ve lost my hope.

    But in the years since I heard that voice–Are you all right Son? You’re going to be all right–I’ve found, to my surprise, that most people have treated me with love.  Some of the people I most expected to lose, when I came out as trans, turned out to be loving, and compassionate, and kind.

    I can’t tell you how to get here from there.  You have to figure that out for yourself.  But I do know that instead of going off that cliff, I walked back down the mountain that morning and began the long, long journey toward home.

    Returning to podium.  Okay.   So I will be happy to answer your questions about anything you want to know at all.

    (A round  of question-answering and ad libbing, followed by a concluding paragraph about the journey of the mythic hero.  I also read from the ‘crisis of conscience’ scene in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  I encouraged the students to find their courage, to be  themselves, to slay their dragons, and to be kind.)

    I also quoted, somewhere in here, lines from Paul Simon:  “I believe in the future, we will suffer no more.  Maybe not in my lifetime, but  in yours  I feel sure.”

    Thank you.

  • Blog

    Hearts & Stars: JFB News from All Over

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    I came downstairs one morning to find that my son Sean had created this heart-shaped circle of origami cranes.

    So there’s a little news…  dates set for the publication of my next book as well as the 10th anniversary edition of SHE’S NOT THERE.  Some family journal entries. And a calendar of spring travel.  Heavens, as Dorothy liked to say.  How people come and go here.  (The origami heart-shaped circle of cranes I post in as illustration here was made by my son Sean, who stayed up late one night making birds from paper.  And demonstrating his own coolness, and the wonder of the world.)

    First off, next week kicks off a month or two of travel.  Some of these events are open to the public.

    On March 15, I’ll be speaking to a large consortium of private school students in the Philadelphia area– students from (I think) Haverford, Episcopal, Penn Charter, Agnes Irwin, Baldwin, Shipley.  This will sort of be an “encore performance” of the talk I gave in December 2010 at Haverford, my alma mater.  That event was life changing and wonderful, so I’m hoping this one is not a comedown.  The event itself will be at the Penn Charter School, with two talks– the first to the students at 10 AM, the second to teachers, at 4.

    That weekend, I’ll be going to the beach house  in New Jersey I used to go to with my high school friends, and lo and behold, I’m retreating there once more with the same group of men, now aged 53.  “There are places I’ll remember, all my life, though some have changed.”

    Following week will see me in New York City for GLAAD media awards gala on Saturday March 24.  I will be hosting a table.  If you’d like to join me, please send me an email.

    The week after that, April 4, I will journey to Grinnell, Iowa, for a reading.  Schedule there is still emerging, but I’ll be the guest of the English Department, and will give a talk as well as sitting in some classes.

    It is possible I will be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the week after that, although that’s still in flux, so stay tuned.

    That’s it for travel except for the second GLAAD gala, which will be in San Francisco on the weekend of June 2nd– so if you’re West Coast based, prepare for me to ask you for your support.

    Next up:  pub dates have been set for my 2013 books. Looks like May of that year, in time for Mother’s Day to support my book on parenting– and on the differences between motherhood and fatherhood– STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: PARENTHOOD IN THREE GENDERS.  That will also be the date for the publication of the expanded 10th anniversary edition of SHE’S NOT THERE, which includes a new preface, a new last chapter (bringing the story up to date), and a new epilogue written by my wife Deedie (called Grace in the book).  Looking forward to all of that, and what will probably be a vigorous promotion and touring schedule all around it.

    Finally, the future looms in all kinds of ways up here in Maine. For one thing, my older son has been accepted E.D. to Vassar College, which is amazing.  He’s in Spain this week, doing an intensive  language course in Madrid (and seeing the sights).  Brother Sean departs for three months as an exchange student in Capetown South Africa  by April third.  By the time he gets back, Zach will be off for his summer as a camp counsellor.  So the whole family won’t really be all together again until August– and then, just fleetingly, as we’ll be preparing to send Zach off to college shortly thereafter.

    In order to celebrate and note that, we are intending to climb Maine’s Mt. Katahdin  together in late August.  And look all around at the broad world.

    Last weekend, I made pizza on a Saturday night. Deedie and I had martinis, and we all watched Harrison Ford in Witness on TV.  It was nothing special, just a fun Saturday night with my boys, my family, all of us together.  But it occured to me that such days are not endless.  In fact the days of this version of our family now begin to seem short.

    We raised our boys to leave us– that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  But it’s a moment worth noting.  I love them all so much.

    Came back from playing in a rock and roll band in a bar late last night, stood there in the driveway looking up at the early spring sky.  Four stars in a row, on either side of the setting moon.

    What is this world?  What is this life?

  • Blog

    When Hogwarts was called “The Moon:” on the 50th Anniversary of the flight of Friendship 7

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    February 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the flight of Colonel John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. My sons, who are fifteen and seventeen, do not know who he is.

    This was made abundantly clear during a recent family trip to Florida, when one day, between our time at Animal Kingdom and Epcot and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, I dragged the family over to Cape Canaveral.  There, we boarded a bus to view launch pads 39-A and 39-B, rode something called the “Space Shuttle Launch Simulator,” and gazed upon the silhouettes of the Mercury-Atlas and the Gemini-Titan and many others relics in NASA’s somber and beautiful “rocket garden.”

    “The Atlas was the rocket used for the last four Mercury missions,” I excitedly told my sons, “replacing the less powerful Redstone used by Alan  Shepherd and Gus Grissom in the suborbital missions of Freedom 7 and Liberty Bell 7.  But it was John Glenn who first rode the Mercury Atlas in Friendship 7, and it was the power of the Atlas that enabled Glenn to attain Earth orbit.”

    My son Sean checked his watch.  “Don’t be like that,” I suggested.

    “Like what?”


    “Why shouldn’t we be bored?” my sons asked, reasonably enough. “There’s nothing to do here!”

    “Because,” I said.  “Space is important!”

    “Maybe to you,” said Zach.

    The day before, we’d been to the new Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios, a park whose corporate symbol is a giant spinning planet Earth.  The family had awakened in our vacation condo at dawn, then screamed down the highway in order to be in the park  at “rope-drop,” the moment when Universal officially opened and the crowd of many hundreds began stampeding toward the Wizarding World.  We’d wound up waiting in a 30-minute queue at Hogwarts anyhow, before at last being loaded onto our “broomsticks” and rocketing around the Quidditch field and having dragons breathe faux-smoke in our faces.

    In the Sixties, Hogwarts was called The Moon,  He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named  was known as Nikita Kruschev, and The Boy Who Lived was Colonel John Glenn.  It’s hard now to imagine the obsession we had then with the progress toward outer space, but I can assure you that each launch from Cape Kennedy was anticipated by my friends and me with the same breathless wonder that my boys later reserved for the release of each successive volume  of J.K. Rowling’s  brilliant heptalogy.

    I cannot tell you the seven horcruxes without consulting Wikipedia (okay, fine: the diary, the ring, the locket, the goblet, the diadem, Nagini the snake, and whoa: Harry himself).  But I can instantly tell you the name of the vehicle the Gemini capsules docked with in 1966 (the AGENA); the only manned Saturn mission to use the Saturn 1-B rocket rather than the Saturn 5 (Apollo 7); and the names  of the three Apollo 1 astronauts killed in the terrible flash fire of February 21, 1967–Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee.

    I am grateful I  grew up at a time when the country had such a strange and outsized dream.  For those of us who observed it all as children, the space race was an important counterpoint to the decade’s hope-shattering violence.  (There is a powerful moment in Lorrie Moore’s novel, Who Will Save the Frog Hospital? when one character of my generation turns to another and says, by way of explaining our youth,  “We ice-skated to ‘Eve of Destruction.’ ‘The western world, it is exploding,’ and we’d do these little spins and turns.” )

    It took longer to get in to the Space Shuttle Simulator ride at Kennedy. than it did to board the Mission: Space ride at Epcot.   The line snaked around the building, and our progress was slow.  To pass the time, my sons relived the awesomeness of the Wizarding World. They’d bought  wands at Ollivanders. They’d drunk butterbeer.  My older boy, a high school senior, had purchased  a set of robes that bore the crest of his preferred house:  Hufflepuff.  (“I’m hard working and loyal!”)  We’d determined which member of the family belonged to which house.  I was deemed a Slytherin.

    At last we were strapped in to the simulator.  We listened to the countdown, which, embarrassingly, gave me chills.  There was an ear-blasting roar, and the faux spacecraft shook so hard I feared my glasses would fly off.  Then a voice from Mission Control said, “We have a serious  problem!  Guidance systems are malfunctioning!  You’re going to have to fly manu–”

    At this moment, all the lights  came on and the doors of the ride  opened.  Our astronaut corps was confused.  At the moment the shuttle was simulating a malfunction, the ride actually malfunctioned.  A man with a huge beard  came into the room and apologized.  “Sorry, man,” he said. “This happens sometimes.”  The representative of the Slytherin house,  predictably,  made a few sarcastic remarks about how running the simulator “wasn’t exactly rocket science.”

    The dude unplugged something, and plugged it back in, and then closed the doors and launched us again.  The second time, when we went through the simulated malfunction, everything went just fine. A few minutes later we stepped out of the simulator and into the Florida twilight, where the sun was now disappearing behind the rocket garden.

    I remembered reading my sons the first Harry Potter book a dozen years earlier, and my younger boy’s love of the description of the Quidditch matches. “I wish I were Harry Potter,” Sean had said, back when he was four.  “I want to fly through the air.”

    I had tried to explain to him that when I was his age, Americans had done just that.

    Standing there on the Florida coast, I saw the moon, shining down upon the earthbound rockets.  It looked very far away.

    Jennifer Finney Boylan is the author of 12 books including She’s Not There, a memoir (Broadway/Random House).  She is Professor of English at Colby College in Maine

  • Blog

    Stragglin’ with the Stragglers

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    So I’m in this new band, The Stragglers.  For She’s Not There and I’m Looking Through You readers, this is not the band I called “Blue Stranger” in those books; that band entered voluntary retirement in 2006.  I’ve been in about half a dozen bands since then, and been thrown out of every one.  I am always told “it’s not me,” but I don’t know. How could it not be?

    I finally have fallen in with a group of musicians so marginal that there is literally nowhere further to fall.  We have a ball together, the five of us. We’ve played out a handful of times, and will probably continue to do so in the years to come.  It’s a jam band, which means that, on the one hand, we only have like five songs, but on the other, since each one is an hour and a half long, we don’t really need more than five songs.  Plus, we never remember how they go, so each time is different.

    The instrumentation is pretty wild too– it’s a classic rock and roll rhythm section of drums, bass, and guitar, with two wild cards– me on keyboards, and Luke on the electric fiddle.  Dave LaGrange– who was part of the “Blue Stranger” circle– plays rhythm and sings and when he feels like it, which is a lot of the time, he whips out a lead as well.

    In truth, the band is pretty freakin’ great–a few originals, but mostly things like Neil Young, Grateful Dead, the Band,  a few bar classics.  Lots of improvisation.  A good time.  I love playing with these guys– a nice slot for a keyboard player to fill.  I get to fill in the holes as I feel them, and then step up and do big piano or organ solos now and again too.

    Anyway, I asked my friends on Facebook if anybody wanted to make a logo for the band, and just like that, four or more logos were drawn up by people I hardly even know, for free.  Amazing thing, the internet.  I said I thought the band emblem should be, “a three toed sloth hanging from a tree,” epitomizing our driving sense of ambition.  So here, for your consideration, are some of those logos. What do you think?

    On stage the band has got problems; they’re a bag of nerves on first nights.” –Rolling Stones, “Torn and Frayed.”

    P.S.  and if YOU are a design nerd, or are just the kind of person who wants to hang around the house messing with images of three-toed sloths, draw up one of these your own self and send it to me.  Thanks. And STRAGGLE ON!