It was Jennifer Finney Boylan’s She’s Not There (SNoT) that finally provided the lubrication that loosened up the strained communication between me and Mary Jo at the end of the summer. We had entered one of those uneasy periods of not talking about it while we went about our duties — not a complete freeze, but one of those times where the emotion and turmoil have gone underground for your psyche to process before you venture out to another person again and see if you can get a little further. We were over at Barnes and Noble with the kids and she came up to me holding SNoT and said “Let’s read this.” Not “I’m going to read this,” or “you need to read this,” but the bedtime-read-it-aloud-together kind of reading.

And we did, one chapter per bedtime (I read slowly, with characters’ voices and that sort of thing — probably a habit from all that reading to our kids), and the strangest thing happened. Jenny’s story is so close to mine, her childhood thoughts so similar, her inner monologue so familiar, that I was often compelled to look over and say, “Mary Jo, I said this very thing,” or “I have felt exactly the same.” And she’d either nod and then process this information for a day or we’d put the book down and talk about that episode until we fell asleep.

As we got closer to where I was at the time, a steam locomotive rolling down the tracks of transition to “he’s gone” and “she’s here,” the reading got closer and closer to our own reality and that fun, novel-reading distance we had from the characters diminished to the point of getting uncomfortable. With the ending unknown and the ending precisely what we both desperately wanted to know about (if Jenny’s story is just like mine, then the outcome is material to our life, right?), we both secretly skimmed ahead at different times one week when we had quit reading because it was just too damned frightening.

Something about that final fearful week, whether it was Richard Russo’s wonderful afterward or the inevitable ending of any TS story in the hospital, broke all the ice and Jo and I entered an unbelievable thaw that continues to today. We have embarked on a journey that recognizes that love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.

So that’s my obligatory fealty to Jenny. It’s true and heartfelt and tells you all about myself if you’ve been reading. I am the same age as Jenny, work in the same profession (same department, same blend of administration and teaching, even), have two boys the same age, taught abroad, followed the Grateful Dead, write furiously (theory, mostly, and definitely not fiction or creative non-fiction), play music, and am married to the woman who completes me intellectually, physically, and emotionally.

In short, Jennifer Finney Boylan is my doppelgänger. As such, she’s sometimes the most comforting thing I can think of, as when I’m contemplating my impending coming out to my university and see Colby College in my mind’s eye or when I’m planning on telling my best friend and hope he’s going to be my Richard Russo. She’s also a playfully malicious presence, for she’s already written the book I wanted to write (in therapy once, Chuck said, “Hey, you ought to write your story — I bet no one’s taken this angle before,” to which I had to hang my head and say “well, yes they have” and give him a handful of SNoT as proof). Every time I think of new things or new projects related to my transgendered nature, turns out Jenny has already been there. I figure I can either mutter “bitch” under my breath or push my creativity up a notch and my thinking three years into the future, and instead of thinking WWJD, try to picture how I’m going to make my own scholarly, writerly, and teacherly way in the world.

Now that I express it this way, I realize that my relationship with the book and the author is all good, one side of the coin reassuring and comforting and the other side of the coin prodding and challenging. Thanks, Jenny.