Stuck in the Middle with You by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Stuck in the Middle with You by Jennifer Finney BoylanStuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Published by Crown on April 30, 2013
Genres: LGBT, Parenting
Pages: 304
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.
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five-stars

New York Times bestseller and acclaimed author Jennifer Finney Boylan returns with a remarkable memoir about gender and parenting, including incredible interviews discussing gender, how families are shaped, and the difficulties and wonders of being human.
A father for ten years, a mother for eight, and for a time in between, neither, or both ("the parental version of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo"), Jennifer Finney Boylan has seen parenthood from both sides of the gender divide. When her two children were young, Boylan came out as transgender, and as Jenny transitioned from a man to a woman and from a father to a mother, her family faced unique challenges and questions. In this thoughtful, tear-jerking, hilarious memoir, Jenny asks what it means to be a father, or a mother, and to what extent gender shades our experiences as parents. "It is my hope," she writes, "that having a father who became a woman in turn helped my sons become better men."
Through both her own story and incredibly insightful interviews with others, including Richard Russo, Edward Albee, Ann Beattie, Augusten Burroughs, Susan Minot, Trey Ellis, Timothy Kreider, and more, Jenny examines relationships with fathers and mothers, people's memories of the children they were and the parents they became, and the many different ways a family can be. Followed by an Afterword by Anna Quindlen that includes Jenny and her wife discussing the challenges they've faced and the love they share, Stuck in the Middle with You is a brilliant meditation on raising – and on being – a child.

 

I read Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders years ago and was quite moved by it. I was excited to receive an advance copy of her new memoir, Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, which releases later this month.

Boylan’s voice is kind, open-hearted, and never judgmental. There is a touching example of this right away, in the memoir’s first several pages. Boylan is not a radical, militant activist; she’s not trying to win our approval. She is simply herself. No matter how different the reader may feel he/she is from the author, it quickly becomes apparent that we and our families are all “nontraditional” in our own way; but we have so much more in common.

Boylan has a way of pinpointing just how profound some moments in a parent’s life are. She speaks of parenting in such an honest, open way. She is brave enough to say things I wish other parents would admit more often. I highlighted so many sentences that were an encouragement to me as a mom.

This memoir is a thoughtful exploration of the way gender roles affect the way we view ourselves as parents, and the way we view our own parents. What qualities make a woman a mother? A man a father? What criteria should we use to define ourselves, and where should that come from? Although Boylan’s transition from man to woman may have sparked these questions, I found it worthwhile to allow myself to challenge common attitudes and responses. Often the things people typically use to define “womanhood,” for example, alienate large groups of women (myself included). Boylan has an incredibly balanced view, fair to all, and shows how gender is a much more complex topic than many have considered.

I loved the layout of the book. Boylan breaks up her own narration with “time outs” (that made me chuckle) featuring interviews with others about their own families. She didn’t need to do this. Her writing feels very fresh and would have been just as much a joy to read straight through. But it worked, and it was nice to have that change of pace periodically. The people she interviewed – Augusten Burroughs, Richard Russo, and Ann Beattie, to name only a few – are incredibly varied in their experiences, but these conversations also gradually and gently exposed common threads. I also enjoyed the afterword: Anna Quindlen’s interview with Jenny and her wife, Deedie; it made me want to reread She’s Not There.

Boylan’s reflections on parenting are frank and deeply perceptive. I laughed and I cried. Stuck in the Middle with You is a powerful book that encourages us to be true to ourselves, and connect with each other not through labels, but as fellow human beings.

five-stars