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'I'm Living In The World With No Secrets,' Says Trans Activist Jennifer Finney Boylan

What does it mean to be a woman who had a boyhood? That's the question LGBTQ activist Jennifer Finney Boylan set out to explore her new memoir, Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs.

43:10

Other segments from the episode on April 21, 2020

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 21, 2020: Interview with Jennifer Finney Boylan; Review of album Future Nostalgia.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you're interested in issues related to gender or dogs, I think you'll be interested in what my guest Jennifer Finney Boylan has to say. She's a prominent voice in the LGBTQ movement and has written extensively about being a trans woman.

In her new memoir, she writes that in her early life, when she was living as a boy, then as a man, there were times she found it impossible to express the thing that was in her heart. But the love she felt for dogs was one she never had to hide. And when she felt unlovable, that didn't stop her dogs from loving her. The memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs," which she describes as a book about the seven phases of her life and the dog she loved at each moment.

Boylan writes an op-ed column published in The New York Times on alternate Wednesdays in which she's lately been writing about how the pandemic is affecting her life. She was an adviser on two TV series - "Transparent" and "I Am Cait," about Caitlyn Jenner. From 2013 to '17, she co-chaired the board of directors of the LGBTQ rights group GLAAD. Boylan is the inaugural Anna Quindlen writer in residence at Barnard College of Columbia University.

Jennifer Finney Boylan, welcome back to FRESH AIR. How are you and your family?

JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, we're doing well enough. I think in this isolation period, people find themselves either too alone or too crowded in with the rest of their family, and we are definitely in the latter camp. There are five of us right now in the house - my wife, my daughter, her fiance and my brother-in-law. And every day is like Thanksgiving dinner.

GROSS: (Laughter) And how many dogs do you have now?

FINNEY BOYLAN: We're down to one right now, which I guess is a blessing because - you know, because they get old, and the older they get, the more trouble they are. Actually, they're trouble when they're young, too. I take that back (laughter). They're always trouble. But that's why we love them.

GROSS: So at the beginning of the pandemic, you were in New York teaching at Barnard. But then Barnard, like so many colleges, shut down their classes. So you moved back to your - you know, your more full-time home in rural Maine. You live in New York just during the spring semester, when you teach at Barnard. Can you talk a little bit about the differences between your experience of the pandemic in New York versus rural Maine?

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, of course, I left New York City when things were just starting. I was scheduled to come back home here to Maine for spring break. So when things began in New York City, it was really very early, but you could see it in people's faces. It's a crowded place. People are trying to avoid each other. There was really this element of fear.

And here in Maine, you know, I really don't see that many people. There's one member of the family - my wife is the one who's going to the grocery store. And when she does, she puts on a mask. She goes out once a week at most, if she can, except for today, when she had to take the dog to the vet, actually. But that's a different story.

GROSS: What's wrong with your dog?

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, the dog has started peeing on the couch, and it's worrisome. We don't know if it's - if she's just upset or if something else is going wrong. And going to the vet is weird, too, because we have to arrange to go to the vet, open the door, let the dog out, they come out, they grab the dog. So we have to hand off the dog without any human contact. So it's all weird.

GROSS: So in your New York Times column, you wrote about an incident on the subway in New York just before you left New York for your home in rural Maine. And, you know, a guy comes in on the subway car and starts ranting. Tell us what he was saying...

FINNEY BOYLAN: Right, and of course...

GROSS: ...And what impact that had on you.

FINNEY BOYLAN: ...You know, a ranting person on the subway is not that unusual. But this particular day, this man got on the subway and he started screaming about the coronavirus, and he was blaming it on gay people, although that was not the phrase that he used. And he was just kind of screaming and yelling about how we were all going to get sick and how it was all to be blamed on LGBTQ people. And we got to - I think it was Penn Station, and just the car emptied. People just ran out of the car.

But for some reason, I stayed. Maybe it was that I just kind of wanted to look him in the eye, or maybe it's just that - I don't know. Maybe I've lived in New York too long, and I was sitting down and I didn't want to get up. But he looked at me, and I looked at him. And, you know, I don't know what people see when they look at me. I think - and this is the issue of passing, which is highly volatile, one within not just the trans community but in all communities of people who are protected as long as people perceive us as not being different. But as soon as people do perceive our difference, then we can really feel endangered.

And so most of the time when people look at me, they see a middle-aged woman. But not always. Sometimes when I open my mouth (laughter), people can tell my history, which I admit makes me a little sad. But, you know, it is what it is. Anyway, this guy looked at me, and he said, I'm sorry; I'm just scared. And, you know, I didn't reply, but I just kind of thought about that. I wondered, he's not behaving well, but he's not so different from - it's not so different from the way I feel. We're all scared.

GROSS: But...

FINNEY BOYLAN: That was the day it really hit me. That was the day I knew that the world had changed.

GROSS: I know you're in touch with a lot of people who are trans. Do you think that there are particular health issues now or health insurance issues facing people who are trans in this period of the pandemic?

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, I think - the trans community is a pretty large community, and there are a lot of different people in the community. And yet I think, as a whole, we have a lot of people who are unemployed because people have reservations about hiring people who are trans. And because we're not employed or we're self-employed or people are doing sex work, we don't have health insurance. We don't - so there are all sorts of ways in which transgender people are at the margins, and a crisis like this hits people at the margins first.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jennifer Finney Boylan. Her new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs."

Why did you want to frame your life in terms of the dogs you had during each stage of it?

FINNEY BOYLAN: I think there are a couple reasons. One of the things I wanted to write about was this question of what it means to be a woman who had a boyhood. And I want to be really respectful and careful because there are a number of transgender women who would take issue with my using that phrase - having had a boyhood. There are many people who feel that they always were who they are, and to refer to an earlier part of your life differently is really disrespectful.

But even though I respect that view, for me, I came out and transitioned in my 40s. And so, I mean, I always knew who I was, but the rest of the world didn't know it, and so I had a kind of a period of socialization and, you know, walked through the world appearing to be male. So I had this experience, and it's an experience that I now struggle to connect to. And so that's the question - what does it mean to be a woman who had a boyhood?

And it struck me that dogs provided the perfect way of talking about that experience because I had a different dog at each of the different moments of my earlier life. So there was the dog that I had when I was a boy. There was a dog for when I was a teenager. And there was one for when I was a cool college boy. And there was one for when I was a husband and a boyfriend and a father.

And so in some ways, it's a memoir of masculinity kind of told the way an expatriate might speak of the country of their birth. There are times when I struggle to remember what it was like to live in that world, but then I remember the dogs, and it becomes really clear.

GROSS: Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it seems to me, when we think about dogs and gender, we don't necessarily think so much about the dog's actual gender; what we think about is if it's a male kind of dog or a female kind of dog. In other words, like, the cute fluffy dogs are usually considered, like, dogs for women and girls, and, like, the larger short-haired, you know, dogs are often considered a more, like, male dog. And...

FINNEY BOYLAN: The kind that would bite you.

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY BOYLAN: The kind that would bite you is the man's dog. Yes, there - and there's not just dog people and cat people in the world; there's also big dog and little dog people. And we've had...

GROSS: And fluffy and not fluffy, yeah.

FINNEY BOYLAN: ...Big dogs for virtually my entire life. Right.

GROSS: Yeah. So you've had, like...

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, my wife and I are having this conversation right now. As the dog that we have right now gets older and older and I've begun the dreaded conversation of, you know, maybe - have we thought about getting another dog? Maybe we should get a puppy. And my wife kind of looks at me like, well, one, you're crazy because we're not doing this again. And two, if we were to get another dog, how about, like, a little dog, a city dog? Well, to me, a little dog - you know, I can't say I'd rather have no dog than a little dog. But, you know, I've always had these kind of giant monsters. And I don't know. So is that a residual thing from my earlier life that I want a big dog? I don't know.

GROSS: During your boyhood, as you describe it, did you like having dogs that were perceived by the world as masculine dogs?

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, you know, I didn't think of it that way. I mean, I had a very tenuous relationship with masculinity back then anyhow. I mean, no one would have ever mistaken me for Tom Brady when I was young (laughter). I was - you know, my main hobbies were raising sea horses and growing Venus flytraps.

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY BOYLAN: And the dogs that we had - I mean, I think I had this image of myself as, like, you know, with Timmy and Lassie. But I was no Timmy, and the dogs that we had were definitely not Lassie. I mean, the first dog we had was this mule-ish, snarling, resentful Dalmatian who was named - and I can't believe we named the dog this - Playboy. But then, you know, my family had a very strange tradition when it came to naming the pets. We also had a cat that my sister named - and this is the actual name of the cat - Buh-Boing (ph).

GROSS: (Laughter).

FINNEY BOYLAN: And you had to say it like that - Buh-Boing. How did this happen? I even can't tell you. But I also know that one of the saddest and weirdest days of my young life was the school bus that I was about to get on one day ran over Buh-Boing or glanced the cat as it ran across the road. So I had to get on the school bus and went to school, and I - my mother took the cat to the vet. And there's my mother standing at the vet's with this semi-flattened cat in her arms. And the vet said, what's the name of this cat? And my mother, my poor mother, had to look him in the eyes and say Buh-Boing.

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY BOYLAN: So I don't know. Playboy was not Lassie. Playboy was not even Rin Tin Tin. Playboy would steal the Thanksgiving turkey off the table and chase after motorcycles and bite your friends. So, you know, it was a difficult relationship. However, the one person in the world who loved Playboy without reservation - and the feeling was mutual - was my father, that he would just get down on the floor and ask that question that has haunted me my entire life, who's a good boy? Who's a good boy? And I remember being very jealous in some ways of that dog because my father could love this horrible dog without condition, whereas for me it was harder because, you know, I didn't know who was a good boy, but I knew it wasn't me.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jennifer Finney Boylan. Her new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORATONE'S "FRONTIERS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jennifer Finney Boylan, who's written extensively about her life as a transgender woman. Her new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs." It's about seven stages of her life and the dogs she had in each of those stages.

So you tell a story about one of your dogs who was always acting up, was overly sexualized, would hump everybody and everything, would knock down visitors, peed everywhere. But if you tried to tell this dog no, he would just bark. And neutering didn't change things. So you took him to the vet. And the vet said he needs better training, but that there was an experimental hormone therapy you could try. But the vet gave you a warning about how this would change the dog's behavior, that the dog would never be the same dog again. And then you thought about...

FINNEY BOYLAN: Yeah (laughter).

GROSS: You thought about maybe you should take the hormone. So like, how old were you? And what did you know about hormone therapy? And tell me what was going through your mind then.

FINNEY BOYLAN: We tried to help Matt the Mutt. But nothing we did would help. So we took him to the vet. And the vet said, well, you should train the dog. But here's this experimental protocol where you could have - there was some female hormone, which was supposed to feminize the dog. I remember the vet saying the phrase, he might not be the same dog afterwards. And I remember thinking, so what? He's going to not ask for directions if he...

GROSS: (Laughter).

FINNEY BOYLAN: ...Is going out to some other dog's house or something? And anyway, we were - I was given this sample of (laughter) female dog hormones or something. And I'm driving home. And I - and so I'm thinking, you know, someone - the vet has just slipped me the female hormones that I've been hoping for, because I knew - I had a - I knew that hormone therapy was a thing that transgender women could take to be restored to themselves. But I also knew that, probably, I shouldn't be taking the dog's medication (laughter). I don't know what that would've done to me.

But I thought about it. I really thought about it. I thought, well, I could - what if I took just one? I don't know. Maybe I would have gotten fleas or something. But I threw them in the trash. In the end, I thought, no. I can't do this. This is just too crazy. Even for me this is too crazy. And I came in. And my mother said, how'd it go? And I said, you know, the doctor says we should take him to dog school, which we did, and which had no effect.

GROSS: How old were you?

FINNEY BOYLAN: I think I was 20. I think this was my...

GROSS: OK.

FINNEY BOYLAN: ...Senior year at Wesleyan.

GROSS: So you wanted to take female hormones at that point. You wanted to transition but felt that you couldn't. And if you did anything, it had to be through subterfuge and secrecy, like taking your dog's hormone pills, which you ultimately decided...

FINNEY BOYLAN: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...Not to do. So what was that like for you at...

FINNEY BOYLAN: It just didn't seem like a careful protocol (laughter). In those days, coming out as transgender was unknown territory - at least it was for me. You know, I barely even had a word for the thing that I felt. And as much as I knew I wanted to live my true life, I also felt that if I lived that life, it would almost surely lead to a life of marginality, of violence. And that - I just thought I'll be - I might well be killed, that there was no place in the world in which I could live. There was no place in the world for me to be.

So the idea - I mean, even if - I mean, the idea of taking dog hormones was probably a non-starter. But even if I'd gone to a doctor and been given the chance to take the medication that I needed, I probably still would have been very reluctant to do it because I was just too afraid. And I thought that I would be - I thought I'd be wrecking the rest of my life. I thought I would never be loved by anyone except for, maybe, my dog. I thought that I would never have a family. I would never have a job. I would - it seemed like my best life might well cost me my life.

So you know, I did - I just kind of - what's the phrase? - I soldiered on hoping that it would all get better. I also had this belief that love would cure me. I felt that if I were loved deeply enough by someone else that it would help me get out of myself. And I know that seems like a - maybe that seems like a silly thing to believe. But I think it's very human. And it's not only transgender people who believe that a great love will transform them into the person that they want to be instead of who they are. And the fact that it rarely succeeds, that particular philosophy, doesn't mean that it's any less understandable or human.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here. And then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jennifer Finney Boylan. Her new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs." She writes extensively about being a transgender woman, including in her New York Times column, which is published every other Wednesday. We'll be back after we take a short break.

I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT SLOCUM'S "DAYS OF PEACE (WITH LARRY GRENADIER AND GERALD CLAYTON)")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Jennifer Finney Boylan, who's a prominent voice in the LGBTQ movement and has written extensively about being a trans woman. Her new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs," which she describes as a book about the seven phases of her life and the dogs she loved at each moment. She writes an op-ed column, published in The New York Times on alternate Wednesdays, in which she's lately been writing about how the pandemic is affecting her life. She was an adviser on two TV series, "Transparent" and "I Am Cait," about Caitlyn Jenner. And she's the former co-chair of the board of directors of the LGBTQ rights group GLAD. She's the inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University. And when she's not teaching during the spring semester, she lives in rural Maine, where she's talking to us from now.

So you didn't come out as trans until after you'd been married for, probably, over a decade - I think around 12 years - and married to a woman. So you were considered by the world and considered by your wife to be a straight couple. What was the turning point for you in deciding that you had to become you, that you couldn't - you had to address who you thought your authentic self was?

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, it was not exactly one day. It was less of a decision than, like, an erosion, maybe. It was - you know, I was determined to make the best of the situation. That's the only way I can describe it because I thought that coming out as trans was just going to be too hard a life to live. But I remember there was one day when a barrier came down at a railroad crossing. And it was snowing. This is probably January of 2000. So it was the new millennium. I remember that. It felt like we were in a new era. And I just watched the cars of the freight train going by and started kind of daydreaming and thinking that question. How long are you going to wait before you live your actual life?

Eventually, the barrier went up. The train disappeared down the tracks. But I was just sitting there in my car in this kind of daze until cars behind me started honking and wondering what was wrong with me. So that was the day I came home. And I said to my wife, you know, I think I want to get back into therapy. We had talked a little bit about the gender question before that moment. But that was the moment that I thought, you know, I cannot keep living a life in which I'm not really myself.

GROSS: What was your wife's reaction?

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, she's a social worker. So her first reaction was, well, good, good. Therapy is a good thing. She wanted me to be happy. But she also felt, once it became clear that transition was coming right ahead, then she had a dilemma where she had to think, well, I have to help the person that I love most in the world at this moment of their crisis, right? But in so doing, I might lose the person that I love. And it's kind of an unsolvable dilemma. And yet, here we are, still together after 32 years of marriage now - 12 as husband and wife and 20 as wife and wife.

GROSS: Did she feel that she lost the person who she loved? Did she feel that you became a different person? Or...

FINNEY BOYLAN: I think she felt that way early on. And to be honest, like a lot of trans women in transition, I kind of went into this pink cloud for a little bit. And I was experiencing all the things that I had wanted to experience but had never been able to be. So you know, I wore a lot of makeup. I was a real girly girl for a little bit. And I went to a voice therapist, who had me speak in this very feminine voice. And I was taught how to have my sentences go up at the end of every sentence so that I would sound more female.

And so (laughter) I really did spend a time as a kind of an annoying person, actually. And I think my wife was very concerned about that. In time, as I got used to my new body and my new self, I became a little bit more androgynous again. And my voice fell back down here. So in a funny way, I came back to myself. And we came back to each other in that way, although, now, as two women.

GROSS: When you were more girly when you first transitioned, were you more, quote, "feminine" than your wife was?

FINNEY BOYLAN: I'm not sure. I certainly got more pleasure out of it.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FINNEY BOYLAN: I mean, I was, essentially, going through a second adolescence at age 40. And a lot of the kind of trial-and-error things that girls go through and women go through when they're 5 and 10 and 15 were things that I was having to figure out. And even now, there are some things that I'm still trying to figure out, like doing a French braid. Like, I don't know. I'm 61. I begin to think that ship has sailed. I'm probably never going to learn how to do that now.

And then, there are other things I was told about things that women do that, now, I had to do. Like, I wasn't allowed to have baby back ribs anymore. Like, that was a new federal law, that women only are allowed to have a little salad. And I just kind of remember thinking, really? OK. Well, I guess I'll have a little salad. I mean, I'm making fun of that. Although, in fact, I do worry about food issues now in a way that I didn't pre-transition. But that's a whole other story, I guess.

GROSS: Tell me more about that story.

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, I just, you know, now - I mean, it's so insane. I think to live in this culture means that you're under - you're constantly being influenced by what the culture wants you to be. And if you're a woman, it means you're supposed to be thin. You're supposed to care about how pretty you are. You're supposed to care about a lot of things that maybe you shouldn't care about as much as the culture says you ought. And as a feminist - and I was a feminist before, obviously.

I struggled with it because I felt, so to be a woman in this culture means to - I think what I was struggling with was fitting in, that, you know, I felt like, well, if I'm going to be a woman, do I have to be the kind of woman who I like least? Does that mean that I have to be counting every calorie and kind of constantly deferring to men and constantly being subservient in some ways? I think there's a way in which I felt, well, if I want to fit in, if I want to pass in the world, then this is all the junk that I have to do. And it took me a while before I realized, actually, no. You can fight against that stuff.

You've gone to all this trouble to become female. Why would you become anything less than the person you want to be even if that means being a little more androgynous? But the problem is, if I act a little bit more androgynously now, then people might be able to see that I'm trans when they look at me or when they hear my voice. You know, in some ways, it's kind of like being a teenager still, where you're always wondering, what will other people think of me?

GROSS: And if people think you're trans, do you perceive that as a problem because of discrimination against trans people or because you just don't want to be perceived as trans?

FINNEY BOYLAN: Well, I don't mind being perceived as trans, but it depends on the situation. There are some situations where I can really be put in danger. But I have to say, over the last 20 years since transition, of the times that I felt in danger, most of them have not been because I was trans. Most of them have been because I was female. It's the experience of walking home alone late at night in a strange city and hearing footsteps behind me. It's the experience of - you know, I used to play out with a band and having people kind of come up to me after the concert and kind of coming on to me and not taking no for an answer. So that's been more of an issue for me than being trans.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jennifer Finney Boylan. Her new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE GROUP'S "TELEGRAM")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jennifer Finney Boylan, who's written extensively about her life as a transgender woman. Her new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs." It's about seven stages of her life and the dogs she had in each of those stages.

So one of the big surprises of your life is, you know, you raised two sons. And then when one of your sons was, I guess, in his 20s, he told you that he was going to transition to being a woman. And you had, like, no clue apparently that he was thinking about that. What was it like to hear your son tell you that he was going to become your daughter? Because you went through this with your own mother. You know, you were on the other end of it.

FINNEY BOYLAN: Yeah. I want to be careful because I want to protect my daughter's privacy to some degree here.

GROSS: Yes.

FINNEY BOYLAN: But I'll simply say that when I came out as trans, my expectation was that people should be happy for me. And I knew it was asking a lot of people, but I still had the hope that people would understand that I was doing a difficult thing that was necessary that would enable me to survive in the world. Later, when my own child came out as trans, I was surprised at how much I struggled, at least at first, with it. And I suddenly had this insight into what I'd been asking other people and including my own mother to understand. And in the end, I think I was glad for her. And I love my daughter, and I'm really proud of her. But it's funny how I think having me as a parent didn't make my daughter's transition easier. In some ways, I think it may have made it harder.

We have a lot of our dreams tied up in our children, and it is hard to understand the obvious, which is that your children aren't here to live your dreams. Your children are here to live theirs. When I came out to my own mother 20 years ago, she was 85. She was an evangelical Christian, and she was a Republican. And I had a pretty good sense that my coming out as trans was not going to strike her as the greatest thing that had ever happened to her. And yet I came out to her. I told her the story, and I started to cry. And she got up out of her chair, and she put her arms around me, and she said, I would never turn my back on my child. I will always love you. And I said, but, mom, won't it be a scandal when everyone finds out that I'm your daughter now? And she said, well, quite frankly, yes, but I will adjust. And then she quoted First Corinthians and said, the greatest of these is love. She said to me, love will prevail. And in large measure, it has in my life. So in some ways, what I'm trying to do for my own daughter is to follow the example that my own mother set for me and to allow love to prevail.

GROSS: You said you think it might have been harder for your daughter to transition because you are trans. Why do you think being trans might have made it harder for your daughter?

FINNEY BOYLAN: As a high-profile transgender activist, I think I can take up a lot of the oxygen in the room. And, you know, certainly within our house for a long time, I was the kind of example of what it meant to be trans. Well, my daughter's way of being trans is not identical to mine by any means. So I think she had to find room to be not just the woman that she wants to be but also the kind of - to have a transgender experience on her own terms rather than on mine.

GROSS: Does having a transgender daughter now make you think about generational differences in terms of how the culture responds to people who are trans and how trans identity, our understanding of being trans has evolved over the years since - you just started becoming aware of yourself as trans, which was long before you actually transitioned.

FINNEY BOYLAN: Absolutely. I mean, I think for me, when I came out as trans, I felt like I had to spend the better part of a year or two explaining to people what was going on. I was the first transgender person that most people that I knew had ever met or even heard of. I had to explain the situation, and to some degree, I think I spent a lot of time apologizing. I kind of went around and I asked people's permission, which was something my daughter and I think her generation finds absurd. I mean, my daughter came out, she announced it on Facebook, and most of her friends were happy for her, and that was kind of the end of the story. And I think for my daughter's generation, being trans is a thing to celebrate. It's a thing that's fun and which brings people a sense of joy at the variety of life and of the different ways there are of being human. That was not my experience. My experience was very much a feeling that it was something I had to explain and almost apologize for. So it's funny. I think about that line from "Lord Of The Rings" where at the very end, Frodo is leaving. He says something like, we set out to save the shire and the shire has been saved but not for me. I hope that through my writing - and I hope you'll forgive what sounds like the egotism of this, but I hope that through my writing and through the advocacy that I've done at GLAAD and in the work I've done in The New York Times that some of that work has had an effect on making the world a little bit of an easier place for other transgender people and for the next generation in particular. But for me, you know, life has been hard. I mean, life has been joyful, too. I'm very lucky, and I'm really happy, but it's also been - being trans has been really hard. And there are times when I wish I could live in the world that my daughter lives in, the world that some of this work has brought about.

GROSS: Now that you've been out as trans for over 20 years, what do you see as some of the fundamental differences between living life as a man - you knew that you wanted to transition, but you still, in describing your past, you describe yourself as having lived as a boy and as a man. So what are some of the fundamental differences between having lived in as a man and living for over 20 years as an out woman beyond the physical? Just in terms of how you see yourself, how the world sees you, how you make your way through life. I know that's a really big question, but I'm sure it's something you've reflected on.

FINNEY BOYLAN: Yeah. I think there's a couple answers to that. I mean, in some ways, the biggest change is not going from male to female. The biggest change is going from someone who has a secret to someone who doesn't have a secret. And if you have a secret that is as profound as the question of who you are, it's something that's going to eat at you all the time. So it used to be I'd wake up in the morning and I'd think, OK, we're going to do the guy thing again now. And now I wake up in the morning and I don't think about. It in a way, gender has become something I think about a whole lot less. I think it's not just the difference from male and female. It's the difference between being young and being middle aged (laughter). And maybe I'm the wrong person to observe those changes, but I try to live my life with courage as best I can.

I'll be honest and say that tears lie very close to the surface now when they didn't used to. Maybe it's estrogen. Maybe it's simply being older. Maybe it's having experienced - you know, you live long enough, you end up with a lot of arrows in your side. Whatever the reason, it doesn't take much to get me weeping and quite often weeping just because something wonderful has happened. So my emotions are definitely closer to the surface, but then everything is closer to the surface and not only because of hormones but because I'm living in the world with no secrets.

GROSS: Jennifer Finney Boylan, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. I wish you and your family well.

FINNEY BOYLAN: Thank you, Terry, and my love to everybody at WHYY and in the Philadelphia area, the place where I grew up and the station that I listen to. It's been an honor to be here with you.

GROSS: I really appreciate hearing that. Thank you so much.

Jennifer Finney Boylan's new memoir is called "Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs." After we take a short break, our rock critic Ken Tucker will review a new album by Grammy-winner Dua Lipa that he describes as something fresh and much needed. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBBEN FORD AND BILL EVANS' "PIXIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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