By Laura Fraser, Shebooks editorial director
I was so proud yesterday when a friend—and Shebooks author—Jenny Boylan went to the White House to meet the President. She went as co-chair of GLAAD, there to witness Obama signing an executive order protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination at work. I was excited about the legislation—which is long overdue, and big praise to Obama for signing it—but also just thrilled that a friend was being recognized for her work.
It was a big week for Jenny: In addition to going to the White House, she had an op-ed piece in the New York Times, writing about her boyhood from the perspective of a transgender adult, and was on Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” program on NPR, talking about “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.” In between all that, she managed to write a blog for the Huffington Post to let people know about her recent Shebook, a sweet and comic novella, “I’ll Give You Something to Cry About.” And it’s been a big summer: Jenny was named a Professor of English at Barnard College, and that’s enough of an honor without having to add that she’s the first woman not born a woman to achieve that kind of post.
All of this speaks to the fabulousness of Jenny, and all she has achieved in making the world more normal and accepting for transgender people. But to her friends who remember her as Jim, it is especially affecting and gratifying to know that she is doing all this as Jenny, in the full flower of herself.
I’ll be honest, when my old roommate Jim, whom I knew in college and shared an apartment with in New York, called to tell me that he was having a sex change, I was shocked. I didn’t know anyone who had done such a thing, and Jim didn’t seem like a good candidate. He was such a cool guy—funny, cerebral, and, well, boyish. But the longer I thought about it—and Jenny was there to talk about it—the more it all made sense. Jim had never felt that comfortable in his skin. There always seemed to be a ghostly presence of another self hovering nearby. When I saw Jenny during her transition, it felt like she was finally herself. She looked great with long hair and highlights. She seemed relaxed in her body the way it takes most people born women in this culture decades to achieve.
One of the things Jenny has done is made us realize that transgender people are not so different than the rest of us. They are our friends; their challenges with who they are and where they’re going in their lives are like ours. As she wrote in her recent NYT piece, “The world is full of souls who struggle to find the younger person they once were within the body of the older person they have become. Struggling to make that connection is not the unique territory of transgender people.”
I have kind of forgotten that Jenny used to be Jim. The important stuff—the humor, the good writing, the heart—are the same, only more so. She’s grown into herself the way we all do, with luck, and with more than a little soul-searching and effort. She’s had a much harder time doing that that than most of us, and she’s done it with spectacular results.
It’s wonderful that an old college friend can call with a start-up venture and ask the best-selling author of 13 books to write a piece for something called Shebooks, and even more wonderful that she not only agreed, she insisted on doing it for free. That’s a friend; that’s a classy lady. I hope you all will read her novella, which did, in fact, give me something to cry about.
So did seeing her meet Obama.