The Diversity Lecture Series hosted by the Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Learning Center concluded this season with Jennifer Boylan, an author and advocate for the LGBTQ community March 16.
“I love coming to Grand Rapids,” Boylan commented after the event. “Look at this beautiful space, these beautiful people. There’s some people here who may have never heard a transgender person speak before.”
Boylan started her lecture by telling the story about how she came to terms with being transgender. She explained that for 40 years, she lived as a man and hid her true self from everyone, including her family.
She told her mom that she wanted to become a woman in 2004.
Her mother is an evangelical Christian Republican, so that didn’t make it any easier to tell her.
“I said, ‘Mom, I never told you because I was afraid. I thought you wouldn’t love me anymore,’” Boylan said. “Right on cue, that’s when I started to cry. My 85-year-old mother got up. Actually, she sat down on the loveseat next to me, and looked down and said ‘I could never turn my back on my child. I will always love you.’ I said, ‘But mom when everyone finds out that I’m your daughter, isn’t that going to be a scandal? Isn’t that going to be embarrassing?’ Mom said ‘Well, quite frankly, yes. But I will adjust.’”
Boylan told part of her story about a road trip to Nova Scotia she took when she was still a man. She talked about how trapped she felt inside herself.
In the middle of her story, Boylan began singing lyrics from a song called “In the early morning rain,” by the Warlocks, which seemed to take the audience by surprise. She said this song led her to think hard about the choices in her life.
“I thought about the clear inescapable fact that I was female in spirit, and how in order to be whole, I’d have to give up on every dream I ever had,” Boylan said.
Boylan said that the word “transgender” is an umbrella term, used to describe a variety of different ideas about gender identity.
She explained that drag queens like to perform to show their gender identity, while a cross-dresser tends to wear clothes of the opposite sex in secret. She also described a transsexual as someone who looks to the medical field for answers, such as getting surgeries and taking testosterone injections.
Boylan kept feeling like she wasn’t explaining things in a way for the audience to grasp without keeping people from confusion.
Because of this, Boylan stopped several times throughout these explanations and repeatedly said, “There are transsexuals in the world.”
This made people laugh and it lightened the mood among the audience, as they laughed to ease any tension that may have been there.
Boylan explained the term “cis,” pronounced “sis,” a term used to describe someone who identifies as the gender they were naturally born as.
Boylan said that cis people can help people in the transgender world, by accepting them and listening to them. She also talked about some resources to help people understand.
“There’s a lot of great books you can read. There’s Kate Bornstein, Susan Stryker, and Chaz Bono,” Boylan said. “There’s a wonderful book called ‘Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.’”
Boylan said that the best way to help people is to open your heart.
“Open your heart,” said Boylan. “We are in this lovely, lovely church, with certain Christian overtones. But you don’t have to be in this building or subscribe to this faith to know the inescapable truth that we are here to love each other.”
The audience applauded with excitement.
“What can you do, but open your heart and show them love?” Boylan asked. “And if you don’t know how to do that, start just by trying. Have a conversation, and if you can’t do that, make them a cupcake.”
Boylan addressed the allies in the crowd.
“If you want to be an ally, then make a friend, your sister, brother, or your mom feel safe,” Boylan said.
In conclusion, Boylan emphasized that if people just love each other, and really listen to someone’s story, it can help us understand each other better.
“It’s like my mother said,” Boylan commented. “It’s impossible to hate anyone whose story you know. Because of the work that I’m doing and others do, a lot of people are now known in the world that didn’t used to be known. It’s good work to do.”