Jennifer Finney Boylan: I would call it a literary novel of suspense. Of course, in some ways, I'd like for people to think that there's never been a book like this exactly. There aren't a lot of writers who are doing what I'm trying to do.Is there any connection between the way you play with genre and your trans experience, in the sense of not doing things the way people would expect?
I've always loved the way that gender and genre are almost the same thing. It makes sense, in a way. When you change gender, you sort of change genre. So when I went from male to female, as a writer, I also went from fiction to nonfiction. I published three or four novels under my previous pen name, and when I came out, I started writing nonfiction. For a while, I was convinced that this was because—and I'll say this as un-pompously as I can—living a life based in truth and authenticity meant my writing would depend less on invention. The fact that I'm back in fiction now may only mean that I'm more comfortable in myself.
Not to spoil the book, but it does have a major trans character.
"You can say what you like about Caitlyn Jenner, and a lot what you would say I wouldn't disagree with, but the day after she came out, everyone in this country knew a transgender person."
It's worth noting that there's a trans character of an older generation. She comes in contact obliquely with a young trans person who's in high school. It's two very different generations and ways of being in the world, and I really liked writing about that.I know that when I first came out, I was determined to not be seen as trans. Passing was really important for me. I tried really hard at passing. And I respect people for whom that's important. It's become less important for me, though. As time has gone on, I identify more with the younger person in the book than the older one.There was this moment in the book where the trans character said something like, "I guess I'm more forthright or aggressive about saying how I feel because I have this past." It really made me think about the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie situation, when she implied that trans women weren't women. I was wondering if you have thoughts about that?
First of all, I love her. I think she's one of our most important authors, and I revere her—she is speaking about black experience in a way that has not been spoken about before. I'm a big fan of hers.When she spoke about the differences between trans female experiences and cis experiences, she was, in some ways, saying a thing that's true. If you're a late transitioner, your experience in the world has been different. What she didn't say and what I wish she said was that that makes one no less a woman. Trans women are women. We're a particular kind of woman, but our womanhood is not to be interrogated, questioned, or criticized. No one deserves to have their humanity as the subject of a clever thinkpiece. When I see these pieces about, "Are trans women really women?"—unless you're a transgender person, shut the fuck up.
There are a lot of trans writers, and I think that's great. But most of us are writing essays and blogs and columns and memoirs. Or people are writing theory. There are a lot of people who write fiction, but not many that have been trained as fiction writers and novelists, who have had careers as writers. There are so, so many great bloggers now—Brynne Tannehill is great. Monica Roberts is great. It's amazing.
More than one person has told me something like, "The best thing that came out of Caitlyn Jenner was the conversations that Jenny Boylan and other trans women had on her show."
"I can't sing like Candis Cayne. I can't act like Jen Richards. I'm not beautiful like Janet Mock. But I can tell a pretty fucking good story."
Especially in season two. Was it a mistake? I don't know. We began season two with a big political argument, and we ended the season opener with all of us essentially fighting her. I think it turned a lot of viewers off. People watch those shows for escape. Even if they don't, a lot of people don't want to hear that Caitlyn Jenner was a Ted Cruz fan.Nonetheless, I think I Am Cait was maybe the most radical show that was on television for trans experience. And that message had to be delivered through the medium of a Ted Cruz voter. Some people threw up their hands and said "No, I won't listen to that." I think we lost a lot of people that way, but there were a lot of cool conversations we had. The conversation around t-r-a-n-n-y I thought was particularly interesting, because it showed how we each come to that word. We managed to do it in a way that was respectful of each other shone a light on the diversity of our community, and the fact that‚ hello, duh, we don't all agree on everything, including transness itself.Having been on a reality show and exposure to that type of celebrity, what drew you back to writing?
I think I was kind of a failure on TV anyway. I don't really care about being pretty, for one thing. On that show, I tried to talk about writing and storytelling now and again, because it's what I know how to do. I can't sing like Candis Cayne. I can't act like Jen Richards. I'm not beautiful like Janet Mock. But I can tell a pretty fucking good story. It's the only thing that I can do and know that I'm doing the thing I was born to do.Interview has been condensed and edited.Follow Meredith Talusan on Twitter.