Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of “She’s Not There,” is your average middle-aged mom who has spent a life in two genders. Born James Finney Boylan, Boylan has always been conscious of identifying herself as female, even at a young age.
In a telephone conversation, Boylan spoke of the many opinions people, including educated, form about transsexuality. “A lot people think it’s about being gay or lesbian which it’s not; or it’s a choice or a decision and it’s not.”
During the phone conversation, she responded to a number of questions:
Why did you write the book “She’s Not There?”
There are so few transgender people in the public eye, that there aren’t any role models-I’ll be quick to say that I don’t see myself as anyone’s role model, necessarily. But almost by definition, when most transsexuals make it to where I am they vanish off the radar. The only transsexuals that we see in the public eye are the people who are in mid-transition and look bad. You know, the dreaded man in a dress. We don’t think of them as well-adjusted average people and, in fact, most of us are.
There are tens of thousands of us in the United States, but we think of it as rare because when transsexuals get to the point where I am they stop identifying themselves as transsexuals; they identify themselves as male or female and they move on. People ought to know that transsexuals aren’t crazy marginal lunatics. They’re people who have been given a strange twist of fate, but it easily could have been anybody else.
As my sister-in-law [who was afraid Boylan had been sick during the “morphing” stages] said, “Thank God it’s only that you’re a woman. I thought it was something serious.” Secondly, if you’re a writer, writing is what you do. I’m in the business of telling stories and these stories, as far as I know, had never been told, at least not in this way, and some of them are really good stories and I couldn’t not tell them.
Do you think any stereotypes have been reduced since the book has been published?
Well, I don’t know. Even among male-to-female transsexuals the narratives vary widely. My story is just one story and there are also a lot of other experiences that need to be told. To that extent I don’t think I’m a role model, but I do think that I am someone who you can attach a faith to this condition. There are so few of us in the public eye, you sort of become a role model by default, simply by standing up and telling your story. But I’m not encouraging people to be like me, I’m encouraging people to become themselves and find the courage to tell their own story.
Has surgery improved your life?
Surgery certainly improved my life, but let’s very quickly emphasize that surgery is not the most important part. That’s the thing that everybody fixates on because it’s the most salacious and unimaginable-well, at least to a lot of guys who can’t imagine bidding farewell to Mr. Lucky. The surgery is like having a divorce; anyone who has had a divorce knows that it’s not the divorce that finalizes the decision, but rather it’s all the events which occurred leading up to the day of the divorce.
Do you like the attention/publicity that the book has received?
Like most writers, I have a love-hate relationship with it. I have published many books and some of them were ignored by the public and by critics. This book has gotten a lot of attention and I’m grateful for that. I think if you’re a writer you can never be in the business of complaining of having readers or of finding new readers. For me, to be a writer means to get out and talk to readers and people want to talk about this book. People want to know what’s going on now and what the next chapter is going to be.
Are you glad to have completed your book tour?
I love talking to readers and giving public performances-I’m a big ham! The only part I don’t like is being away from the family. I don’t like being away from Grace or my children as often as I have had to be.