Prof. Jennifer Finney Boylan, the inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence, is possibly best known for the memoirs she has written about her experiences as a transgender woman, her leadership role at GLAAD, and her mentorship of Caitlyn Jenner on the E! show I Am Cait. She has also been a regular New York Times contributing opinion writer since 2007, and the Times recently announced that her writing would be featured even more frequently than before. While many of Boylan’s columns look at issues directly relevant to LGBTQ Americans, her insightful pieces often take a broader view, shedding light on various aspects of the human experience, a recent selection of which are featured below.
In a piece about the death of a family dog, Boylan muses on the elements of her family’s history with their rescue dog Indigo, noting that “when you lose a dog, you not only lose the animal that has been your friend, you also lose a connection to the person you have been.” She revisits that theme of connecting to the past in “What’s the Right Age to Read a Book?”, in which she recalls the books that changed her life as a teenager and how, when rereading them now, she can catch “a fleeting, intimate glimpse” of her younger self. “The books we love change over time,” she says, “because readers change too.”
Some columns enliven the more mundane aspects of life. During January’s “bomb cyclone” snowstorm, Boylan recounted the “Great Ice Storm” of 1998, which knocked out power for more than 300,000 residents of Maine (and more in upstate New York and Canada), where Boylan has lived with her family for much of her life. With two young children to amuse and no television or other electronic distractions for eleven days in the dark, Boylan and her wife had to improvise and found that silly games not only fended off boredom but brought their family closer together. An article about funeral ashes looks at why it matters where our remains find their final resting places. And in an essay about the pronouns that individuals choose for themselves, she explains why she honors these pronouns in her Barnard classroom and why the inevitable evolution of language is necessary for a more just and compassionate world.
Boylan also writes about how we view ourselves and the world around us. In a recent article, she discusses participating in a “mirror meditation” session, pioneered by fellow Barnard professor Tara Well, which—unlike selfie photos published to garner approval from peers—asked her to contemplate her appearance in a mirror with the goal of increasing self-acceptance and confidence. The lines on her face, Boylan writes, were unnerving at first but also served as reminders of a life well-lived. And Boylan has also confronted her hearing loss, asking why eyeglasses are fashionable but hearing aids are not, while encouraging readers to explore the scientific advances that contribute to a long, healthy life.