Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting In Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan; With an Afterword by Anna Quindlen. Crown, 2013.
by Samantha P.
What a book! An emotional roller coaster for me. Laughter and tears. And so enjoyable a read.
It took a bit of getting used to the flashbacks which she employed to provide background material necessary to an understanding of the piece about which she was writing. But well before the end of the first section they just seemed to blend in and add to the flow of the story line.
The book is divided into three sections, corresponding to the three stages through which Jennifer passed on her way to womanhood.
The first section follows James as he wrestles with the conflicting demands of children, family, and the never ending pull of the need for release from transgenderism. She recalls, “I still believed, on some fundamental level, that love would cure me.” “You can’t fault a person for hoping that love will make her into someone else, someone better.” “Back when I was a man, though, the gender business was something I fought against…. I just wanted to be like everybody else.”
I could feel the inner turmoil when she said, “Still, the burden of the secret that I did not disclose remains with me. It’s a hard thing to live with, the weight of having so profoundly hurt the person I love.”
But the passage that brought tears to my eyes was when he picked up his eldest son and gave him a big hug. “He hugged me back, and as we held each other it occurred to me, not for the first time, that so much of the love we offer our children comes not because we are such warmhearted beings, but because we so desperately, thirstily, crave love in return.”
That set bells ringing for me.
The first section ends with a collection of conversations with fathers and sons.
The second section covers the transition period, one of great turmoil and family adjustment. It is in this section that my emotional roller coaster got its heaviest workout. I could feel the intensity from the opening episode. Having gone through much the same experiences myself, it was easy to identify with, “It wasn’t that she was suddenly thrilled about being married to a woman, and it wasn’t that I, for my part, was sanguine about being married to someone who had mixed feelings about me. But as we weathered that hard time together, we were reminded that there are a lot of things that entwine lovers together…. And if its true that Deedie’s love helped me traverse the ocean between men and women, then it’s also true that my love for her helped her traverse a sea of her own”the one between mourning and solace.”
She concludes, “In the years since “transition” we’ve often been asked how it was our family survived the whole miserable business. Looking back on it all now, it seems inevitable that the love our family shared was bound to triumph, that the things that bound us together were fated to prevail over the things that were tearing us apart.”
As you can imagine, this second section ends with conversations with some of those whom I would place “in the middle.”
The third, and final section, expands on family life, and parenting, after the turmoil has died and life has returned to some degree of normalcy. Still, there were parts that tore into me with the gut-wrenching reality of my own life. The death of her mother was particularly poignant, and for me, very difficult reading. Still, it emphasized how great could be the love between a mother and her daughter.
But it was the description of her relationship with her wife, Deedie, that hit home hardest.
“I’d hoped that as the years passed, she’d find herself more attracted to me, in spite of the bosoms. But this wish—alone of so many of the insane, ridiculous wishes I’d carried in my heart all those years—had not been granted. Deedie could spend her life with me and love me as her soul mate. But she could not kiss me.”
Still, parenting remains the overall theme. “… I’d always imagined myself waking up as a young woman, some sort of beautiful teenage thing. It hadn’t occurred to me that someday I would sit up in the middle of the night as a mother of two.”
Following on from Jennifer’s story, the concluding set of conversations continues the exploration of relationships between mothers and daughters.
But that’s not the end! There follows a beautiful vignette of the author’s conversation with one of her sons as he tries to explain to his mom what he wants to do with his life. So beautiful! And I won’t spoil it by telling you anything more. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.
An Afterward by Anna Quindlen, author and speaker, involving conversations with both Deedie and Jennifer just adds the icing to the cake.
I’ve read the book twice now, and will undoubtedly read it again. A delightful read indeed!