Jennifer Finney Boylan Comes to Fantasia Fair
by Steve Desroches
Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine. Caitlyn Jenner coming out as transgender. The Pentagon lifting the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military. These are just a few of the major milestones achieved in the ongoing pursuit for justice and equality for the transgender community. America is finally not just talking about transgender issues, but also listening as trans people are increasingly allowed a voice in a national conversation.
Writer and transgender activist Jennifer Finney Boylan sees much to be optimistic about. Transgender rights are gaining acceptance, especially among the younger generation, giving hope for the future. Boylan, who is coming to Provincetown for Fantasia Fair to accept the Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award and to give a keynote address, sees this as a golden age for the transgender community. However, she is acutely aware of the backlash to such progress and the continued violence cast upon the trans community, especially trans people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged. It’s a time to be hopeful, but also a time to organize and for the LGBT community at large to watch out for each other.
“In many ways these are the best of times for transgender people in that we are more visible than ever before,” says Boylan. “We’ve had some pretty high-profile movies and TV shows, Transparent not the least of which. In some ways these are the glory days. And yet with increased visibility comes an incredible push back.”
Currently the Anna Quindlen writer-in-residence at Barnard College, Boylan is the author of the 2003 bestseller She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, about her experiences as she transitioned from male to female. Already a successful writer and professor at Colby College, where she was voted Professor of the Year in 2000, this autobiography launched her, and transgender issues, into a more thoughtful plateau, with Boylan appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, 20/20, NPR, 48 Hours, and The Today Show, as well as writing guest op-ed’s for The New York Times, traveling the country on a speaking tour at colleges and universities, writing her 2013 memoir Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, and acting as a consultant for Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show I Am Cait and the Amazon series Transparent. Boylan continues to be a veritable force in the quest for transgender equality.
As more and more trans people speak out and are heard in the media, especially in light of anti-trans laws like HB2 in North Carolina, the increased visibility has led to increased support, with a boycott on the Tar Heel State that includes folks like Bruce Springsteen cancelling concerts and the NCAA pulling seven events out of the basketball-obsessed state. But Boylan also notes that there has been an increased, robust conversation and debate within the trans community. And at times Boylan notes the discussion can turn divisive.
“If there’s a change for us as a community to make, it’s that we can be insular and that the only way of being trans is our way of being trans,” says Boylan. “We need to keep this tent big. Everyone needs to understand that there is no wrong way to be trans. It’s all cool. I like to say, ‘This dress is big enough for all of us.’”
Of course no contemporary discussion about trans issues can avoid Jenner, as it seems the story of trans people in America is very much Before Caitlyn and After Caitlyn, for better or for worse. Boylan appeared on I Am Cait, along with other well known trans people like Candis Cayne and Kate Bornstein, and in a famous moment of the show whacked Jenner on the head with a rolled up newspaper out of frustration about her conservative views. While she states she doesn’t agree with Jenner politically, and that she doesn’t think Jenner understands that she is part of a community that has been oppressed, she says it’s important to remember that the LGBT community is not a monolith, noting most polls show 25% of LGBT people voting Republican, and that Jenner has raised and donated millions to trans causes, including a July visit to Provincetown to support Camp Lightbulb. Jenner has also met privately with politicians like Senator Ted Cruz and other Republican leaders to promote trans equality, which she says is a good thing.
“We’re not all going to agree,” says Boylan. “Would I be happier if Caitlyn was a Democrat? Yes. Would I be happier if everyone was a Democrat? Yes. But that’s not going to happen.”
Boylan’s traveled to Provincetown several times before, once to attend Fantasia Fair. As the longest running trans event in the world, Fantasia Fair, and other trans events like Southern Comfort, have been and continue to be vital to the general wellbeing of the trans community and its culture. Boylan notes that when many of these events began, the idea of living a life as your true gender did indeed seem like a fantasy. She remembers the melancholy on the last day of events like the Fair, where people left with these big suitcase, having packed away a part of themselves that might not come out again for another year. But as things have changed, fantasy has moved to identity.
“The name Fantasia Fair is a bit of an anachronism,” says Boylan. “My life as a woman is not a fantasia. They could change the name to Reality Fair, but nobody would go to that.”
Jennifer Finney Boylan receives the Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award on Monday, October 17 at a gala banquet at the Central House at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Provincetown, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are required. Boylan will deliver Fantasia Fair’s keynote address on Tuesday, October 18 at 1:30 p.m. in the Cabaret at the Crown and Anchor, as well. That event is free and open to the public. For tickets and more information visit fantasiafair.com.