James Boylan was a devoted husband and father to two sons when he began the process to become the woman he felt he’d always been on the inside.
During the transgender journey that’s followed, he’s been a father for 10 years, a mother for eight and for a time in between he was neither, “the parental version of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo”.
Now Jennifer Finney Boylan, she’s written a moving memoir, Stuck In The Middle With You: A Memoir Of Parenting In Three Genders,about how her family has coped and thrived after her decision.
Remarkably, Boylan is still married to the same woman, Deedie, who admits she was initially uncertain about the situation.
Boylan with Deedie at the birth of her son, Zach
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married to a woman,’’ Deedie told the Today show earlier this month. “I was scared about what it meant for my future and our future, but I’m not sure I ever came to that sort of very edge of the precipice saying I can’t stand this. It was hard and it was scary, and I didn’t know what was going to happen, but there was not a time when I said, ‘Forget it, I can’t do it.’’’
Jennifer writes in Psychology Today about the moment – at age 44 - that she broke down in her wife’s arms after realising she couldn’t hide her desire to be a woman any longer:
“I lay in her arms and shook. All at once I foresaw the perilous journey that lay ahead, not just for me, but for all of us.
“Now, fourteen years later, I wish I could have told my younger self that love would, in time, save us. In the wake of my transition, my sons - now a college freshman and a high school junior - would be come better men, and that my wife and I would stay together, our marriage stronger than ever.
“But there was no way of knowing this at the time. Who would ever believe that such an unlikely future existed? Who would believe that America would change so much in a decade and a half that what was once unimaginable could become normal, or that the gender of parents at last could be considered less important than the love in the family?”
Deedie adds: “I think that the wonderful thing about our family is that we’ve been able to build a life that we’re really happy with. I never felt trapped in this. I get to choose every day to stay married to the person I fell in love with 25 years ago.’’
Jennifer’s sons, Zach and Sean, have supported Jennifer throughout the process. They invented the name “Maddy,’’ a combination of Mummy and Daddy, to call her.
“You have to be true to yourself,’’ said Jennifer. “I didn’t want to be raising a family in which I was teaching my sons that it’s OK to lie.”
But she made sure the transition was gradual. “I came out very, very slowly,’’ she explains. “It wasn’t like one day I waltzed in in sequins and said, ‘Now my name is Tiffany Chiffon.’ We worked it out really slowly over a couple of years, and in some ways that transition is still going on.”
The boys were never teased by other kids. “You’d be surprised, actually,’’ Zach insists. “I was never made fun of because of Maddy. I’ve never had anyone say anything negative to me because of who my parents are. I’ve been really lucky.”
And Jennifer hopes her sons, in growing up with a transsexual parent, have learned to be more flexible and openhearted. “I would like to think that this has been a gift to them and not a curse,” she says. “But, as my sons like to say: it’s complicated.”
Stuck In The Middle With You: A Memoir Of Parenting In Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan, is published by Crown, a division of Random House, Inc.