I’m currently reading Jennifer Finney Boylan’s book, Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders.
Jenny’s premise in this book is to explore the nature and character of parenting, in light of her experience of being a transgender parent of two sons. She has interludes between her story where she interviews others about their ideas and experiences of parenting.
Her interview with Edward Albee, American playwright, recently deceased in 2016, struck me when I read it. I knew I was in for it at the end of Jenny’s introduction: “Albee being Albee, of course, he started asking me questions the moment I stepped through the door.” I love that. As much as I love finding answers to things, you can’t find an answer without good questions.
Edward Albee was a gay man, who didn’t have any children of his own. He was adopted and referred to his adoptive family as “those people.” He was, however, a teacher, and Jenny Boylan, once upon a time, was one of his students.
I started thinking about a blog post as I read this quote from Albee in the interview:
“If life is not complex, what’s the point of living it?”
What’s the point, indeed. What a great question. As much as we may all yearn for simplicity sometimes, a removal from problems, our greatest moments are usually born from adversity. Many of us have to struggle to find out who we are, and that’s the most complex part of our lives.
More quotes from Albee that continue the story:
“…there are some of us who want to find out – create ourselves – and others who wish to be whatever they want us to be.”
“There is no one to tell you who you are except yourself.”
“Because a lot of people have to abandon all the things that they’re supposed to be and their entire upbringing if that’s not who they are.”
“It was a wonderful feeling of liberation that I could get on with the business of being who I was. I knew what I was giving up. I wasn’t crazy. I knew I was giving up wealth and comfort and all of that stuff, but I’d gotten my education. I’d gotten what I needed. Enough to spend the next ten years undoing a lot of stuff and finding out totally who I needed to be.”
“Don’t you have to be ruthless if you’re going to become who you need to be? Don’t you have to be ruthless?” “….you have to be ruthless in response to other people’s reaction.”
Ruthless. The choice of that word in the context of that sentence…ruthless. It’s beyond the platitudes of ‘never give up’. ‘Maintain your integrity’. Definition: “Without pity or compassion, cruel, merciless.”
This hit me. Jenny didn’t mention this, but I wonder if it hit her too. A current flowing in this book is the worry of the effects that her transition is going to have on her sons; that her sons didn’t have a typical father figure. The concern is palpable. The struggle her family went through to survive and remain intact was not negligible. Like many trans people that I know, there’s a regret too – ‘I’m sorry I’ve put you all through this, just so I can be me.’
I know that feeling. I’ve apologized for being myself much more often than I’ve allowed any praise for who I am into my heart. You can’t be apologetic and ruthless at the same time. Edward Albee was utterly unapologetic about being himself, including being a gay man in a time where that was more of a challenge. Trans issues are front and center stage now, and not whispered about in the shadows. It’s time to be more ruthless and much less apologetic.
When Jenny pressed for what Albee would have wanted to have taught a son of his own:
“That when you get to the end of it you should be okay with the fact that you dealt pretty honorably with yourself and other people and didn’t compromise too much.”
A noble goal indeed.
With many thanks:
Boylan, Jennifer Finney. Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders. Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.