Rock Center   |  May 03, 2013

Keeping a family together after transgender surgery

The Boylan family is redefining the new normal in America. Jennifer Boylan decided to transition to female from a male in the midst of her marriage and after fathering two sons. The family stayed together and says that their love for one another makes their modern family possible. Rock Center’s Harry Smith reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> opening line from literature, happy families are all alike. that was leo tollstoy and lo ago in a different land and he could not have imagined the next story we are about to show you. it is about a couple that faced a crisis that could have ended their marriage and they decided to go wn an entirely different path. they say their task now is making it no matter what. here again is harry smith .

>> reporter: until 12 years ago, deedie boylan was quite sure she was in an ideal marriage.

>> we had a terrific marriage. we were very complimentary. we had a really happy, loving, compatible marriage.

>> reporter: but deedie's husband had been keeping a secret. a secret that would shake their marriage to its core. when your husband told you he wanted to live his life as a woman, what was your reaction?

>> when i first realized what we were looking at and what we were dealing with, i was terrified.

>> reporter: it was as if deedie was being jilted. her husband was becoming the other woman. did it make you angry?

>> oh, sure. it felt like i had been gypped. it wasn't what i signed up for.

>> reporter: they met in college, fell in love , got married, settled in rural maine and had two children. unbeknownst to deedie, jim spent his life feeling he was stuck in the wrong gender but he thought his love for deedie had cured him of that. he thought wrong. jim is now jenny. did you ever think in a million years when you got married that you would go through this transformation?

>> no. i think it is typical for us to think that love will make us in to better people , make us in to the people we hope to be. i really felt that that part of my life was over, but it only took a few years before the feelings returned and returned more powerfully.

>> reporter: after a dozen years of marriage, jim decided to become a woman, even if it cost him his relationship with his wife. you turned to your wife and say, i'm really going to do this. was it easy for her?

>> it was murder. it was terrible to see her suffer with the sense of loss.

>> reporter: while deedie was devastated, jim was finding out what it was like to have his dream come true.

>> i was intolerable for a while. i was giddy. i was giddy in the way of someone who's not been able to have something they want their entire life suddenly gets that thing. i'd wear little stretchy t-shirts and way too much makeup and i was really vergirly in a way that was kind of embarrassing for a 40-year-old and it's one thing to have your husband turn in to a woman. it is another thing to have your husband nurn to a 15-year-old.

>> reporter: once the transition starts in ernest, how difficult was it for you?

>> one of the ways that i dealt with it was so sort of say, look, i'm not your consultant on how to be a girl. i didn't want her to touch my stuff. i didn't want her to wear my earrings. she got the journey of discovering who she really was, and i had to sort of watch the man i had married disappear.

>> reporter: did you ever think of getting a divorce?

>> there are times where i thought i don't know if i want to be married to a woman. but i didn't think we're cutting it off.

>> reporter: at the same time jim was becoming a woman, deedie's sister was diagnose of cancer. in that loss, deedie had a realization. it.

>> became really clear to me that there was a big difference between someone changing genders and someone really disappearing. i'm still married to the same person i married 25 years ago.

>> reporter: is there anything you miss about having a husband?

>> i miss walking through the world like a man and woman. and our, you know, our intimate life has changed.

>> reporter: so if you are a woman who marries a man, right, and the man becomes a woman, are you still heterosexual now if you love a woman?

>> even though i adore my partner, if we're not sexually involved, then my sexuality hasn't changed.

>> reporter: you are not a lesbian.

>> i'm not a lesbian.

>> reporter: yet.

>> exactly.

>> not only were the boylans trying to save their marriage, they were concerned about how the change would effect their children. there was no road map for explaining transsexuality to a toddler.

>> greatest worry i had is what is their life going to be like without a father.

>> reporter: what was your greatest fear about your family?

>> the thing i worried most about was the boys being somehow victimized or picked on or bullied.

>> reporter: jenny has written a book " stuck in the middle with you." it's about the race changing face of the american family . in it she describes the resilience of her sons, zach and sean .

>> your children were small when you made the full transition and they could see this, but they are very young. when did you have the conversation with them?

>> in the beginning, di didn't need to know everything. the way i explained it was, look, i have a condition in which on the outside i look like a boy but on the inside i feel like a girl. so i'm going to be taking some medicine that will make my outsides match my insides.

>> reporter: what was that process like for them?

>> i don't think any younger son sean has much memory of me as a father. that might have a little more. my transition around my children was very gradual and subtle. in fact, i remember the day i first appeared fully enfemme in front of them, i asked do you recognize anything different about me and zach said, you are not wearing your glasses?

>> reporter: the children have grown since those old home movies. zach is now a college sophomore . sean is a junior in high school . zach , do you feel like you live in a normal family .

>> in normal is a family that has a mom and a dad and two kids and a white picket fence , no. i don't live in a normal family . but if a normal family is one where everyone treats each other as equals and with love, then, yeah, i live in a normal family .

>> reporter: to the boylan's surprise, neither sean or zach was bullied. something they attribute in part to jenny being so open in public about her life. jenny is a beloved professor at colby college in maine. she's also one of the best-known transgendered people in america. is there anything difficult for you, personally, about being in this modern family?

>> the only thing that's ever difficult is explaining to people before they come over, hey, my family is a little different. but everyone who i have told, even though it has been a little awkward for me to explain i have two moms. i don't have a regular family, they have understood.

>> the thought that occurred to me a couple of times, does love conquer all?

>> yeah, it must be love. it must be love that makes it possible to forgive hurts and to weather things together and to keep going in a marriage.

>> reporter: as we spent time with jenny and her family, their love for one another was immediately apparent. while jenny and deedie were cooking, we noticed something unusual for teenagers, both zach and sean came in the kitchen. yes, they were hungry but they actually wanted to be near their parents.

>> we're just one big happy family .

>> that might be the weirdest part of all.

>> how about that? harry smith reporting on a very different family in the great state