Thursday, January 7, 2016

Throwback Thursday: She's Not There

In which I share vague recollections about books I read long ago that have stuck with me. 

I've mentioned Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir before, on my list Memoirs I Didn't Hate and more recently on Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity. But given how frequently I recommend it, I thought that She's Not There finally deserves its own post.

James Boylan was a professor of English at my alma mater, Colby College (I never had a class with him as I, shockingly, was not an English major.) The memoir is about his gender transition and how it affected relationships with friends and family. Boylan is notably BFFs with author Richard Russo, which was an interesting part of the story, but it was her relationships with her wife and kids that were the most affected. Of course, none of it was easy, especially back before the media's transgender enlightenment. And in Maine.

I've always felt pretty lukewarm about memoirs. It seems like the people who write them either have a good story or writing talent, but not usually both. She's Not There is one of the first memoirs I read that had both.

Significantly, it was also the first thing I read that described the transgender experience in a way that made sense to me. I probably won't ever understand it completely, the same way I won't completely understand being black or disabled or a fundamentalist Christian. We simply can't always put ourselves in someone else's shoes. But before reading this I had frustrating questions because transgender people were always the ones who played with the wrong toys as a kid or wore the wrong clothes, and that's not what gender is. Those things are social constructs, and I couldn't understand why you'd change your body so you could wear a dress. Boylan described it more like body dysmorphia which made SO MUCH more sense to me. Honestly, it was kind of a relief to read this book.

Boylan has also more recently written a memoir called Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders. It includes not only her own story, but interviews with many other people including Richard Russo, Augusten Burroughs, and Anna Quindlen and from what I hear is a pretty insightful examination about parenting and family. She also wrote a memoir called I'm Looking Through You, which is about growing up in a haunted house.

Have you read any of her books? What did you think?

No comments: