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Jenny Boylan's Trans Memoir Chronicles Her 'Boyhood' Through Her Dogs

david france

The best-selling author and trans educator reflects on the four-legged companions that helped her navigate the masculine space of her childhood.

The trans experience--both the experience itself and the way we talk about it -- has changed dramatically since 2003 when Jennifer Finney Boylan published her game-changing memoir, She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders.

The book, one of the first best-sellers by a trans author, has since become a seminal piece of the trans literary canon. Now, almost 20 years later, Boylan's latest memoir, Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs, asks, "What does it mean to be a middle-aged woman who had a boyhood?" She grapples with what that answer might look like with the help of Playboy, Sausage, Brown, Alex, Lucy, Ranger, and Matt the Mutt, each of the dogs who've been there with her through her life's many transitions.

"Not every lesson that I took with me from boyhood was necessarily a bad one," she says on the LGBTQ&A podcast. "How do I make sense of it? Through the dogs. I had all those experiences, and even though I can't exactly remember what that life was like, I definitely remember the dogs."

Boylan is careful to note that not every trans person agrees with the language she uses to talk about her life.

"I'm aware that there are many trans-gender women who would not refer to the first part of their life as 'boyhood.' That's really important to respect that." She goes on to say, "I came out publicly as trans when I was 40, which means that, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, I lived a boy's life or a man's life before that time."

The author, now 61, is looking at the trans experience in an entirely new way. When her daughter came out as trans, Boylan says no one was more surprised than she was. "I think she would be the first person to tell you I was not the perfect transgender parent poster child at that moment. I was really concerned for her."

Boylan had to adjust to what it meant for someone to come out as trans in their 20s, almost 20 years after she did. What she saw was profound and new: Being trans is no longer a reason for an apology. With She's Not There, Boylan says, "I felt like I had to be apologetic. I felt like I had to say, 'I'm so sorry, but this is who I am.'" She had to spend time explaining herself when she came out, educating those around her and asking for forgiveness.

"A lot of people thought that I'd made the whole thing up myself. For my daughter's generation and for my students' generation, it's a whole other thing. Being trans means that you can celebrate, you can be happy, and you can be trans exactly as you feel like."

While we have the work of many, including Boylan, to thank for this, there's a bit of melancholy that she feels. She's proud to have been someone who helped change the culture, "but in another way, I feel like, how cool would it be to be in the next generation?" Boylan asks. "My life was really hard. I'm a very lucky person. I'm a very grateful person, but being trans was really hard."

Listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher.

jennyGood Boy by Jennifer Finney Boylan is out now.

LGBTQ&A is The Advocate's weekly interview podcast hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Past guests include Alok Vaid-Menon, Pete Buttigieg, Laverne Cox, Lili Reinhart, and Roxane Gay. Episodes come out every Tuesday.

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