Jennifer Finney Boylan is an author, an activist, a mother, and a transgender person. Like all Americans, her identity is complex. Boylan shares her experience of coming to terms with her identity in the memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Born as James Boylan in 1958, Jennifer internally knew her gender was female. She constantly hid her gender identity from an early age and looked for ways to “fix” her internal struggle. Growing up as a boy, Boylan looked for “cures,” such as love from his friends and family or sexual encounters with girls. The fact that Boylan focuses on her own internal struggle in this memoir shows how pervasive the rejection of LGBT culture is in our society. Before anyone ever expressed disapproval of transgender people to Boylan or before she realized laws did not exist to protect her rights as an American citizen, she knew others would not understand or accept her identity. As she explains,
“What it [gender] is, more than anything else, is a fact. It is the dilemma of the transsexual, though, that it is a fact that cannot possibly be understood without imagination.” 
Boylan begins her memoir by meeting a former student from a college course she taught, Love, Literature, and Imagination. In the class, Boylan mostly covered the “mythic hero” and “people trying to find the courage to do something impossible.”  This line sets a precedent for the work in showing Boylan’s experience in reconciling with her biological sex and her gender identity. She knew from an early age to internalize her questions of identity, “as a child I surely understood enough about my condition to know it was something I’d better keep private.” The courage necessary for James Boylan to openly become Jennifer Boylan says a great deal about our society’s level of tolerance and acceptance.
Reading Boylan’s work made me wonder how our ideas of the norm present barriers for those who do not fit in categories we have created as a heteronormative society. Boylan’s work She’s Not There provides a bridge for audiences, much like myself, who do not have a thorough understanding of the transgendere experience. Boylan eloquently explains that being transgender is not a choice or a lifestyle, “being transgendered is about identity.” The theme of courage reappears throughout Boylan’s work and inspires her activism for transgender equality. In May 2007, Boylan spoke to the National Press Club about the world she wanted to “wake up to.” She describes a society where transgender people do not face discrimination for their identity, but are seen as humans with something valuable to add to democracy. She envisions a world where transgender people, or gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, can come out without fear of losing their job or experiencing hate crimes.  Boylan works to achieve this world through her service as co-chair for the board of GLAAD, an organization that exposes the challenges to equality the LGBT community faces through media coverage and representation in entertainment. GLAAD’s mission of educating the public and influencing the media’s presentation of the LGBT community works to promote understanding, increase acceptance, and advance equality.  The work of organizations like this expose deeply held stereotypes and misunderstandings of the LGBT community and cause us to think about what equality means in a country labeled “the land of the free.”
Boylan’s memoir illuminates the challenges imposed by society that transgender people face. Boylan does not tell stories of violent hate crimes or active discrimination she experienced in her memoir. Rather she shows the subtle ways our society creates difficulties for people who do not fall within a prescribed norm. There is the fear of losing a job or not being able to find employment if openly identified as transgender. There is the cruel possibility that friends and families may turn away and reject a person’s identity, a reality that cannot be governed by law. Boylan’s work provides greater understanding to the internal struggles of a transgender person but perhaps more importantly the work questions why transgender people should struggle at all. Why is it that Boylan at an early age knew with conviction that her gender identity was female but also knew it was better to keep this private? Recognizing the entrenched notions that create barriers for our fellow citizens can help us break them.
 Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 22.
 Ibid, 4.
 Ibid, 21.
 Ibid, 21.
 Jennifer Finney Boylan, “I Want to Wake Up” (speech, National Press Club, May 2007), There From Here, http://www.jenniferboylan.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/pressclubspeech1.pdf.
 “GLADD’s Mission,” GLAAD, http://www.glaad.org/about#mission.
Image: © 2007 Photos by James Bowdoin