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Jennifer Boylan reflects on transgender activism
by Sarah Toce
2015-12-16


Let's face it: mainstream and LGBT media do not always get it right—especially when referencing transgender lives. Decorated New York Times columnist and best-selling author Jennifer Boylan has made her life an open book, quite literally, in an effort to facilitate positive change from within—and outside of—the community.

"We've seen great progress made," she said. "I'd like to see that progress continue. Stories of trans lives, in all their many different permutations, need to become more commonplace. To some degree, I'd like to see some stories of trans people for whom being trans is not the most important thing in their lives; I'd like to see us defined not by our gender status but by the thoughts in our brains and the love in our hearts—like everybody else."

Trans women of color are being murdered at an alarming rate, but the crimes are not being reported or shared. Boylan wrote an op/ed for the New York Times on this subject as recently as Aug. 22.

"The long and the short of it is that progress is being made for trans people," Boylan explained. "But the progress is not being made for everyone, and if you are a person without privilege in this culture, being trans means you are at [an exceptional] risk for violence and danger."

Boylan hauntingly asked, "Do these women's lives matter any less than mine?"

The Supreme Court's passage of national marriage equality this past June will inevitably leave more space for other pressing issues that affect the transgender community, specifically.

"Transgender issues of every stripe—from education to access to health care to ending the plague of violence in our community," Boylan said. "Reclaiming communities of faith; there's a sense that spiritual people are all anti-LGBT; or, conversely, that LGBT people are not people of faith. Neither of these things is true. And finally, I'd like to see the LGBT movement become less dominated by white people, and to break down the barriers of race and class in the movement."

As far as an urgent call to action, Boylan rendered, "There are a lot of urgent calls, but nothing quite so urgent as ending the violence against our people, and against transgender women of color in particular."

The publicity surrounding Caitlyn Jenner is shining a wide light into the trans community. Even so, misconceptions are commonplace and all over the map.

"I think that there is still confusion among cis people about what it means to be trans," Boylan said. "I think there's still not a general culture-wide understanding of the differences between gender identity and sexual orientation."

Boylan contributed to Trans Bodies, Trans Selves—a book considered to be a modern manual for the trans community because it relays that there isn't just "one way" to be transgender. Deciding to work on Trans Bodies, Trans Selves was a no-brainer for the advocating author.

"[Editor] Laura Erickson-Schroth is the guiding light behind that book," Boylan said. "She was the one woman volcano that got so many people in the community involved, and which brought lots of disparate voices together. That's what appealed to me in particular—that this was going to be a compendium not of exactly what to do, but an encyclopedic record of the very many different ways there are of being trans, and to celebrate all of them."

One voice Boylan could easily relate to—her own. In her book Stuck in the Middle with You, Boylan chronicled being stuck in the middle of motherhood and fatherhood and the identities that come with both realities.

"I still think that having a father who became a woman helped my sons become better men," she said. "It made them understanding of difference; it made them open their hearts and root for the underdog; it made them prioritize, in their own lives, living their truth, whatever that might demand."

As a transgender mom with two grown sons, Boylan reluctantly agreed to give advice to trans parents, when prompted.

"I am not really in the advice business, since I think everyone had to find their own path, and each path is unique to the lives we are living, and the environment in which we find ourselves," she offered. "My life advice, such as it is, is threefold: 1 ) Be true to yourself; 2 ) therapy helps; and 3 ) read all the time."

One item Boylan's fans are reading now is the updated and expanded She's Not There.

"I think the end of She's Not There in 2003 showed a couple stepping out onto very thin ice," Boyland said. "It was not clear where Grace [as I call her] and I were going to stay together. Now, 12 years later, the dust has settled, and we are more in love than ever. Our family has thrived."

Also thriving is Boylan's commitment to the media machine GLAAD. The 57-year-old currently sits on the board as co-chair.

"I think we're [GLAAD] the best organization on the country on [transgender] issues, outside of nonprofits like National Center for Transgender Equality, whose work is solely focused on that one issue," she said. "We have been doing this work for years and years now, long before trans advocacy was even on anyone's radar. GLAAD's longest serving employee is trans man Nick Adams, who for well over a dozen years now has been one of our community's guardian angels. He is now director of transgender media. But there are plenty of trans people at GLAAD, throughout our staff as well as on the board of directors. We have four trans women on the board, including the legendary Marci Bowers. We are the first LGBT nonprofit to have a transgender woman as co-chair of the board of directors. That would be me."

Boylan's come a long way from the haunting feeling of transparency she once disclosed in her early works.

"I think if you reach a certain age, you're always negotiating your way between the person you have been and the person you become," she said. "In my case, that means figuring out what it means to be a woman who had a boyhood. I think the key is seeing your life not as two stories, but one—not as a before and an after, but as a continuous series of experiences woven together."

As a method of learning more about herself still to this day, Boylan has dedicated herself as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

"It's remarkable how little good scientific research has been done on transgender issues, and on transgender health in particular," she said. "I am hoping that good science will be part of our ongoing understanding of ourselves."

Good science and a good Boylan book ( or two ), perhaps.

More about Jennifer Boylan and her career are at Article Link Here .


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