Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders: A Memoir
“. . . a warm, often humorous, sometimes painful, but always very personal account.”
Parenting under the best of circumstances is difficult. Imagine what it is like for a transgender parent. Jennifer Finney Boylan’s new book Stuck in the Middle with You looks deeply into a family’s saga rarely discussed publicly or so positively.
Ms. Boylan is a successful author of 12 books and a professor at Colby College in Maine. For the past quarter century she has been married to Deirdre Finney Boylan. When they married, Jennifer was Jim. They have two sons, Zach and Sean. The boys call her, Maddy—a term coined by her eldest son, Zach, who said, “That’s half mommy and half daddy.”
Ms. Boylan transitioned while her sons were young. She discussed the transition in an earlier book, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. This time Ms. Boylan is talking about her parenting experiences.
As she puts it, “I was a father for six years, a mother for ten, and for a time in between I was both or neither, like some parental version of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo.”
That line reflects the book’s tone. This is not an academic exercise written in a clinical monotone. Stuck in the Middle with You is a warm, often humorous, sometimes painful, but always very personal account of the fears, worries, and triumphs Ms. Boylan experienced as a transgender female raising two children with her spouse, Deedie.
Most people have little or no experience with the transgender experience. Even the LGBT community questions whether transgender persons should be part of the equation. Most of those discussions take place in the legal, psychological and religious realm. B Ms. oylan puts a face on the issue—making this book such a remarkable read.
Ms. Boylan believes it helped to transition while her children were very young. Transgender men and women who transition when their children are older have a more difficult time because the kids are struggling through a time when gender and their roles in the world are being defined.
Transgender issues remain in the shadows. Parenting issues experienced by transgender men and women are rarely discussed. Usually, the stories involve the difficulties their children encounter in coming to grips with a transgender parent.
Ms. Boylan’s book helps us understand the human aspect of being transgender and a parent.
For all the talk about the U.S. being a democratic nation, we remain a very judgmental society. Anyone who looks different or talks different or believes different is suspect. But as Ms. Boylan points out, the boxes others try to put us into often do not fit. Some people break out.
One story that Ms. Boylan recounts is especially poignant. Her sons’ friend was at the house. The boy asked if Ms. Boylan was Zach’s mother. She gave him a half-baked, safe answer and Zach admonished her, “Maddy, you tell him the truth.” So she did. “I don’t know if that seems weird to you, that someone’s insides and outsides wouldn’t match.” To this the kid replied, “That’s not weird, I feel like that all the time.”
Ms. Boylan’s sons insisted that she use their real names this time. Considering they are teens, it speaks volumes for their own development. Ms. Boylan introduces two young men who are smart, perceptive, and have lots of hair. And they have the same concerns, fears, and questions that other kids have about not being embarrassed by their parents.
Ms. Boylan includes a series of interviews with various people. The chapters are conversations with fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and outliers.
Each chapter includes a Q &A: the dad with the autistic son, the son with the dysfunctional parents, Ann Beattie and how she never wanted kids but how she blew up toilets with a cherry bomb when she was a teen. At first, these chapters might seem disruptive, not enough about Ms. Boylan’s journey. But they do add additional depth to the book. Each interviewee talks about varying responses to parenthood: as a child, as a parent, with kids, without.
The interview Anna Quindlen conducted with Ms. Boylan and her spouse, Deedie is the most interesting. Ms. Boylan is now considering whether to stop the hormone therapy because, as she says, “it is not feminizing me anymore.” At 53, she is considering this and understands what happens next: menopause. She is discussing this with her spouse and trying to decide whether to wait for Deedie to be done before she takes the plunge.
Ms. Boylan’s transition affected so many people but she was the only one with any control. The rest of the family was swept up in the process. Her sons had no choice. Deedie says, “I get to be married to the person that I love. I don’t have to be here. I want to do it. What we have built together, as our life and our marriage and our family, is really rewarding.”
In 2010, Oprah Winfrey asked Zach, “So, Zack, what’s your family like?” He answered, “My family is good.” Zach decided that question was a good way to start his college essay.