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Author and LGBT activist brings audience to tears

Published: October 18, 2013
Section: News


On Tuesday, transgender woman, professor, author and LGBT activist Jennifer Finney Boylan came to Brandeis for a presentation of her book “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders.” The bestselling memoir is one of Boylan’s 13 published books, which include three novels, a collection of short stories and six books for young adults.

While Boylan always felt that she was a woman, it was not until age 40 that she underwent transition. Formerly James, Boylan was married with two sons at the time of her transition. Raised and socialized as a boy, she explained she always had a “female sensibility.”

During the talk, Boylan shared excerpts from her own writing, sang, played the piano and gave a brief 101 on “trans” terminology. Her reading of a piece titled “In the Early Morning Rain” from the “It Gets Better Anthology” brought many in the audience to tears. In the story, she discussed a journey she went on pre-transition in which she ran away to Canada hoping to figure out her identity crisis and to solve the difficulties she experienced living in the body of a man. In the story she discusses her thoughts of suicide but did not act after hearing a spirit voice tell her that it was going to be OK. She concluded the story with the line “It gets better. It’s not as bad as it feels now,” and states that from that point on she began the long journey toward “home.” Her story gave a clear picture of her experience being trapped in the wrong body, as well as the great strength necessary for being trans.

Throughout the talk, Boylan promoted a philosophy of accepting everyone as “cool,” stating, “We’re all so rough on each other,” but we’re all humans. Boylan referenced this in the context of her “trans 101,” promoting an acceptance of all types of people, and clarifying that being transgender is an umbrella term encompassing more than the male to female transgender women most commonly covered in the media. She further commented on the necessity to call people the names they choose and to make people feel safe. She strongly emphasized the point that we may make mistakes in discussing gender and sexuality with peers, but that we should always stop and apologize when we do so, as the absence of such an apology can be very painful.

Despite the more serious nature of the discussion on defining transgender, Boylan kept everyone engaged with her professorial demeanor and frequent use of humor. Speaking to this issue, Megi Belegu ’16 said, “Boylan made a topic that is very intense more accessible to people with humor.”

After a question and answer session with the attendees, Boylan went to the piano and sang. Everyone in the audience was moved by her musicality and passion. It was clear that she was singing from the heart and that the song, which was about change, resonated with her and her life experiences.
Boylan concluded her talk with an excerpt from her new book, “Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders,” discussing an adventure with her son in which the story concluded with him calling her mom.
Boylan’s presentation was both an informative and entertaining experience for all. Her spirit and strength were infectious, and her candidness made her experience real for all attendees.