Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
hen Jennifer Finney Boylan was born, her parents named her James because physically she was a boy. She never really felt comfortable as a male, though. James comforted himself by hiding feminine outfits in his room, locking the door on occasion to put on the clothes and the sex that seemed to reflect his true self. He and his older sister grew up with conventional parents in a warm family environment. When he fell in love with Dierdre, he kept his inner yearnings to himself, since he and Dierdre shared such a deep love for each other that he was sure that he would now be able to live happily as the man that he physically was for the rest of his life. After the young couple became the busy parents of two little boys, however, James found himself growing more and more conflicted about his own gender. He had never shared this secret desire with anyone, but the more he thought about his role as father to his sons, the more uncomfortable he was being James. He had to tell Deirdre.
ames got a job teaching American literature at University College Cork in Ireland in 1998, and '
I'd finally come out to my wife in the months before we left America, told her I had gender issues, that I wasn't sure how deep they went, but that I hoped she could stand it if I cross-dressed once in a while. She'd been strangely sanguine. Sure, why not, she'd replied. Fantasy's a good thing.
' Perhaps during that busy time, preparing to move for a while to another country, with two young boys and her husband, Deirdre didn't realize how much this revelation was going to mean to her husband or their marriage and family. When James finally decided that he needed to actually become a woman, she struggled to understand and accept that new reality. James became Jennifer, and they remained married, surprising friends and family, some of whom, including his sister, were estranged.
fter their children were born, James spent more and more time thinking about how his sexual confusion was going to affect his sons. Becoming Jennifer only increased the worry, and
Stuck in the Middle With You
is the product of that concern. The little boys, Zach and Sean, were still young when James became Jennifer, and their biggest problem seemed to be what to call their parent now that he was no longer Daddy. Zach suggested Maddy, a combination of Mom and Daddy, and Sean's contribution was the somewhat humorous Dommy, which the family agreed was too silly to consider, so Jennifer became Maddy.
he book is really about what it means to be a parent, be that mother or father, and whether the roles of each parent are significantly different. There are a number of interviews within the book with famous people or people who have a different take on parenting. These are separated into chapters with the headings of
Conversations with Fathers and Sons
Conversations with Waifs and Angels
Conversations with Mothers and Daughters
. I found these chapters to be the most interesting part of the book. Richard James Savarese talked about his adopted son who is autistic and mute, but who thrived after being adopted and loved and eventually finished college. Timothy Kreider, who was adopted as an infant, eventually decided to attempt to contact his birth mother and discovered a whole new family with half sisters twenty years younger than Timothy. He says, '
I felt totally blindsided by this affection for them. I mean, I adore them horribly. I can't help it.
' There are eleven interviews and each is an interesting and sometimes unique discussion of different types of parenting.
oylan's sons did not seem to be affected adversely at all by his sex change. There is a concluding chapter in which Anna Quindlen interviews both Jennifer and Deirdre, and in this chapter as well as the rest of the book, the author seems to be telling us that the most important aspect for any child is to have a loving mother and/or father, and that the sex is far less important than that the child is loved and the family is happy.
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