Podcast 86, JENNIFER BOYLAN, CLOTHES DON'T MAKE THE WOMAN
JUNE IS PRIDE MONTH. What can you do to advance equality? Start with this Forbes piece.
Trigger warning: this interview contains a brief reference to suicide.
EPISODE 86 FEATURES AUTHOR, ACTIVIST AND NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN
This week’s interview was recorded at the Dark + Dangerous Thoughts symposium at Dark Mofo in Hobart. It’s with brilliant writer and transwoman, Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan - author of She’s Not There, A Life in Two Genders.
Jenny is a New York Times columnist, author and activist. She serves on the Board of Trustees of PEN America, the writer’s association. She is a former co-chair of GLAAD’s board of directors and member of the Board of Trustees of the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. On TV, she advised on and appears in I Am Cait - the story of Caitlin Jenner’s transition. But that’s nothing! Jennifer Boylan’s first big TV moment was on Oprah, and you’re going to hear all about that.
We discuss the transgender experience, and the detail of Jennifer's journey. But we also dig into the role and limitations of clothes in communicating identity and how fashion represents status to the moral imagination, why Kris Jenner believes in the power of the stylist, and fighting bigotry in Trumpland. This is a story about finding yourself, fostering empathy, fighting for equality and our common humanity.
WATCH THE SHOWS…
“The things is I want people to know, they don’t need to buy anything to love themselves and be themselves,” Jenny tells Kris Jenner on I Am Cait. “I set the bar high with my brain.”
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…
STONEWALL This is via BBC: “When half a dozen police officers raided a Mafia-run gay bar on a hot New York night 50 years ago, little did they know their actions would spark a movement that reshaped the lives of generations to come.
Mark didn't throw a brick that night. And he didn't confront a policeman. But he had something that was perhaps as potent as any projectile - he had chalk. It was handed to him with instructions by his friend Marty as chaos unfolded outside the Stonewall Inn, the police being pelted with coins and bottles.
The homeless teenager set off up the street to scribble three words on the pavement. Then he did the same on a brick wall further up the road. Three words. "Tomorrow night Stonewall". That simple message written by Mark was an attempt by Marty Robinson to spread the word, to ensure that a spontaneous act of defiance was transformed into something bigger. An hour earlier, the police had raided the bar in Greenwich Village for the second time that week, but this time on a Friday night at 1am when it was packed.
About 200 customers - lesbians, gay men, transgender people, runaway teenagers and drag queens - were thrown out on to Christopher Street. A crowd turned on the officers who retreated inside for their safety. Gay people were used to running from the police, but this time they were the ones on the advance and the men in uniform on the retreat.
The gay rights movement didn't start that night but it was invigorated by what happened in the hours and days after the first coin was thrown. And all the strides made since, like marriage equality and a more accepting society, owe something to the youths who fought the police and the activists who organised afterwards.
Stonewall has been described as the Rosa Parks moment for gay rights. And just as Ms Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama to a white man had the effect of animating the civil rights movement 14 years before, so Stonewall electrified the push for gay equality. In 1960s America, gays and lesbians were effectively outlaws, living in secrecy and fear. They were labelled insane by doctors, immoral by religious leaders, unemployable by the government, predatory by TV broadcasts and criminal by police.”
June is unofficially recognised as PRIDE MONTH by the LGBT community, and many Pride events occur on the last Sunday in June to commemorate the anniversary of Stonewall.
VATICAN WOES. In the latest religious WTF?! moment, the Catholic Church has released a document rejecting the term transgender. “What can you expect from someone [the Pope] with (at least nominal) complete control over a powerful and fabulously wealthy organization and its 1.2 billion adherents as well as infallibility—as in he is never wrong, can never be wrong, an always-rightness gifted straight from the divine? Not a whole hell of a lot, if that person is the pope, the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church, and your expectation is a religious and charitable institution able to adjust to meet the reality in which it exists rather than drawing ever deeper from a well dug during the Dark Ages,” via The Observer. Read the full article, So Much for a Woke Catholic Church.
DARK MOFO is festival put on by Mona in Hobart each winter. This year, Jenny spoke at 3 sessions, including ++. Clare appeared on a panel called The Dark and Light Side of Adornment. “This year, Dark + Dangerous Thoughts presents varied perspectives from thinkers, writers and commentators on issues of identity politics,” DDT curator Laura Kroetsch said in a press release. “In a world increasingly defined by identity politics , we will consider the merits and dangers when it comes to social group identification—be it in terms of race, gender, sex, class, adornment, and faith, and ask the question, has identity become our new religion?”
“THE MORAL IMAGINATION HAS TO DO WITH OUR ABILITY TO IMAGINE THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT OURSELVES.” - JENNY BOYLAN
CLOTHES AS STATUS. Well, obviously. For a history of the fashion system, from French couture through to modern day modes of adornment, see Wardrobe Crisis, How we went from Sunday Best to Fast Fashion. The film Clare mentions is The Favourite.
“PEOPLE WHO care about fashion, sometimes to me it seems to me that what they like is striking a pose, and playing.” - Jenny Boylan
THE ROLE OF CLOTHES IN IDENTITY "[They] were a way making the thing that I felt on the inside visible on the outside, badly in many cases, because the clothes that I would wear were not designed for me. I would steal clothes from my sister or my mother but I didn't want to wear them. It seemed disturbing."
BIGOTRY The Wall Street Journal writer Clare mentions is Abigail Shrier. In her article Shrier uses the phrase “social contagion” in reference to transition among young people.
Responds Jenny: “Even the headline on that essay is an insult: “When Your Daughter Defies Biology.” An abundance of scientific research makes clear that gender variance is a fundamental truth of human biology, not some wacky dance craze.”
HER DAUGHTER. As Jenny explains on the podcast, many years after she herself came out to her family, she experienced it from the other side – as the parent of a trans child. She wrote a column about her hopes and fears for her daughter, and about culture has moved on: “I’ve noticed something fascinating since my child came out, and it reflects the difference between generations over what being trans means. When I began to share my truth, almost 20 years ago, I spent a couple of years going around to people apologizing, begging for understanding, begging, at times, for forgiveness.
But my daughter’s generation is different. She has never apologized for who she is. Since she came out, her friends have reacted with joy and happiness for her, even — dare I say it? — indifference. Their sense is that being trans is just one more way of being human, and surely no source of shame.”
VOTING FOR TRUMP “Who is to blame? In large measure, my generation. Americans 65 years and older — all my tie-dyed brothers and sisters — favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a considerable margin, seven percentage points, according to exit polls,” writes Jenny in one column.
“It’s shocking to me that so many of the people I grew up with reconsidered the whole all-you-need-is-love thing and decided, upon reflection, that all we actually need is a giant border fence to protect us from Mexican rapists.”
“AN ACTIVIST IS SOMEONE WHO FIGHTS FOR WHAT THEY BELIEVE. ONE OF THE WAYS WE [CAN DO THAT] IS BY WRITING. ONE OF THE MOST COMPELLING WAYS OF CHANGING PEOPLE’S HEARTS IS TO LET THEM HEAR YOUR STORY, TO LET THEM UNDERSTAND YOUR HUMANITY AND HEAR YOUR VOICE. SO, HELL YEAH, I’M AN ACTIVIST! IT’S THE ACTIVISM OF STORY. “ - JENNIFER BOYLAN
Jenny is re-reading Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past. She lists as her favourite writers: Jennifer Egan, George Sanders, Richard Russo.
A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
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Until next time,