Growing up in a haunted house while inhabiting the wrong body.
Back then, Jennifer was James, living with his family in a dilapidated Victorian mansion on Philadelphia’s Main Line. While Boylan’s first memoir (She’s Not There, 2003) took place mostly in her head or dealt with the physiological process of transformation, here she turns outward to provide the backdrop for James’s desire to change gender. The house was lousy with ghosts: disembodied footsteps, a sentient blue fog, a woman with blond hair and white nightgown, reflected in a mirror. Also in residence were the author’s pleasing parents and a freewheeling sister; an array of fairly kooky relatives floated in and out. James had a secret. He, too, was haunted. A female spirit lived in his body: hopeful, wraithlike, translucent. Doubtless, this was vexing, but Boylan takes it as an occasion to provide much polished humor, some of it dark, most of it simply sparkling. Cross-dressing provides gloriously colorful moments. “Reading Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger in German while wearing Playtex products,” James had to hastily change clothes when he heard his sister heading toward his room. One time his father nearly caught him in the attic trying on his sister’s wedding dress: “Did he know, as he stood there atop his ladder, that his son was gathered in a baroque clump behind an army trunk in the corner?” As James wrestles with his conundrum, Boylan surrounds him with an appealing cast of friends and family. She draws a particularly striking portrait of her mischievous grandmother. Love abounds, the kind that must have helped James make his move despite the fact that he’d married and fathered children. Boylan’s vivid atmosphere and characterizations and use of dramatic irony and comic relief give this memoir a bright, shimmering force.
A lovely, heartening piece of work.