By: Jeffrey Masters
In an interview with the podcast, LGBTQ&A, Jennifer Finney Boylan (author and transgender activist) talks about how the public perception of transgender people has changed over the last 15 years, why that increase in visibility has also created more political opposition, and she explains why she is no longer interested in defending her humanity.
The full interview with LGBTQ&A is available on iTunes and YouTube.
LGBTQ&A is an interview series hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Previous guests include Asia Kate Dillon, Ross Mathews, Trixie Mattel, Laura Jane Grace, Peter Paige, Cleve Jones, and Shane Ortega.
Jennifer Finney Boylan talks about how the public’s understanding of transgender people has changed over the last 15 years:
When I came out as trans, I really had to explain to people what I was talking about. I remember people saying, “So, wait. Transgender…does that mean that you’re super gay?” Which I used to get to get all cross and angry, but now I’m like, “Yes. I’m super gay. I have super powers.”
I did feel this compulsion, or this obligation I should say, to explain, to bring in, and, to some degree, to defend. That was 15 years ago and now my experience is very different. When I speak to people, they are often very familiar with transgender issues. Even the most uninformed audience still has a vague sense of what transgender might mean.
Boylan says that with more visibility in the transgender community, there has been an increase in opposition, most of which falls upon people of color.
The blowback generally doesn’t fall upon me, on white ladies of privilege from New England. The blowback falls on people of color, women of color, particularly in the transgender community, and not only, but particularly people who are doing sex work, some people who want to do sex work and others who have to because that’s the only way to keep the lights on while you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life…how to get from where you are to where you want to be. And it costs a lot of people their lives.
Boylan says in spite of our differences, people must still be treated with kindness:
When I speak to people now, I want people to know as much as they can about the community, but the most important thing that they need to know is maybe not the differences between all of us, but the fact that the main thing you can do is to open your heart, just open your heart. And if you don’t know the difference between someone who’s identifying as a crossdresser and someone who’s identifying as a transsexual woman, if you don’t know the difference between those two things, that’s still OK. What matters more is that you approach them with love and kindness and curiosity, and a deep dive into their sexual and gender identities might not even be the first thing out of your mouth.
Boylan says that the most radical thing she’s done is raise a family:
I have raised two sons in rural Maine in a conservative town, I have been married now for almost 30 years to the same woman, 12 years as husband and wife and almost 18 years as wife and wife, and I think it some ways, there’s nothing more radical than raising a family. Going in and doing your work, it’s the showing rather than the telling.
Boylan says she is no longer interested in defending her humanity against critics of transgender people:
And people will ask me to provide the defense, to provide the counter, and you know what my counter is? My counter is: look at me. Look at my life. You wanna know how I refute you? I refute you by living every day according to what’s in my heart and to the stars by which I pilot my boat, and I’m not here to have an argument about my own humanity. I’m not here to even participate in an argument about my humanity, which I might actually win or lose. Right?
Nobody should have to take part in a conversation in which their sense of self is something that they have to defend, and that’s if you’re nonbinary or binary or mortal or immortal. People should get to be themselves, period.
Click here to listen to the full podcast with Jennifer Finney Boylan and Jeffrey Masters on iTunes or watch on Youtube: