On this episode of Family Secrets, Dani Shapiro talks with author, columnist, and activist Jennifer Finney Boylan about the secret she kept from everyone, even herself, until it threatened to rip her family apart. Jenny knew from a young age that she felt like a girl, describing nights when her family would leave her alone in the house; she would race to put on a dress and makeup and jewelry and would stand looking in the mirror “with a sense of profound joy, because there’s the person that I am! There’s the girl that has lived in my heart and I never get to see except when no one’s home! But also profound sorrow, because...I know I can’t live in the world as myself.” It took her decades to come to terms with the truth and express it. “It was like I had the nuclear codes. Here it is, here’s the way to blow up my life. All I’d have to do is walk outside.”
She talks about her childhood growing up in the country in Pennsylvania, about her parents, and what it was like keeping her secret each day. It was crushing, “because you don’t have the language...to share your fundamental truth with the people who love you.” Jenny had gotten married and had two children with her wife, DeeDee, before she came out as transgender. She tells a story about stepping on a tiny sliver of glass that got lodged in her heel. After a couple of days, she was uncomfortable, but dismissed it; after a few weeks, she was so miserable her wife went to the pharmacy for painkillers. When she came back, Jenny was sobbing uncontrollably – and not because of the glass. “I had been walking around with this thing that I was pretending didn’t hurt. But it did hurt.”
She’s been so lucky, she says; she went to therapy. Her wife stayed with her, her children accepted her. Even her mother was understanding when she came out to her. But when Jenny’s own child told her she was trans, as well, Jenny admits she didn’t handle it well. “I was afraid. I thought, ‘Did I do this? Did I somehow make this look like fun?’” Her own life had been so difficult, she didn’t want her child to experience it. But when her daughter came out, “she didn’t spend years going around to everyone and apologizing,” like Jenny had. “She posted on Facebook, ‘Hey, I’m trans, this is my new name now.’ And most of her friends were like, ‘Oh, good for you.’ And that’s what twenty years has done.” Hear Jenny’s profound story of love, acceptance, and the power of living your truth on this episode of Family Secrets.
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