Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor at the Barnard College of Columbia University, discussed transgender identity at this year’s Honors Colloquium on Oct. 2.
Her speech, while also part of the colloquium titled “Reimagining Gender: Voices, Power, Action,” was a joint effort with the University of Rhode Island’s Gender and Sexuality Center. Boylan gave her speech, “Transgender Identity and Resistance: The Power of Story.”
Boylan has served on the Board of Trustees for the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction and the Board of Directors for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. She is the author of 15 books, including a memoir titled, “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders.” Boylan gave a presentation about the memoir at Edwards Auditorium in 2003.
According to Boylan, the world today and the world 15 years ago are very different for the transgender community. “The discourse has changed since then,” she said.
The specific term transexual is rarely used in today’s conversation and according to Boylan is “problematized.” Back then, she stated, the discussion was all about what was accepted and what was was not.
However, in today’s world, the conversation has grown. Boylan said since 2003 more terms have arisen to describe a spectrum of gender identities that are all as valid as one another and are completely different, yet fall under the umbrella of being ‘transgender.’
In no particular order, Boylan laid out these terms from “male to female” (m to f) and “female to male” (f to m) transsexuals. These are the people Boylan said, “went the full monte” with surgery to get their sex reassigned. These could be ‘drag queens’ who are gay men who dress as women as a performative gesture or crossdressers who are often straight men who dress as women because as Boylan puts it, “it’s fun!”
Boylan pointed out to anyone complaining about the distinctions between all these different shades of transgender is too confusing, that it doesn’t need to make sense right away. As long as one keeps an open heart and allows themselves to just go and be friends with transgender people, the confusion will melt away she said.
Boylan gave a better example of what happens when you open your heart. She described the American Sign Language sign for ‘transgender’ in which a closed hand is placed upside down over one’s heart, and then it is pulled away from the heart as your hand turns right-side up and your fingers open like a flower budding in the sun, and then your hand is placed back over your heart.