In May 2003, Kelly is watching an interview with Jennifer Finney Boylan on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Boylan is an English professor at Colby College in Maine and is a “very pretty and normal-seeming woman.” Kelly is surprised to learn that Boylan is transgender and is excited to learn about her.
In contrast to the anxiety that stirs in Kelly when she sees most news about transgender people, Boylan’s story allows Kelly to recognize someone who can be a positive role model, and someone whose pride in themselves allows them to advocate for other transgender people.
Boylan explains that she knew from the time she was six years old that though she was born male, she felt entirely female. She knew that she would be ridiculed, and so continued to live as a man. But she describes how the secret ate at her; that she knew something was wrong. She explains, “I think people know what their gender is based on what is in their hearts.” This is affirming to Kelly, who sees the same understanding in Wyatt.
Boylan’s story foreshadows Wyatt’s own struggle with being transgender, but not revealing this part of himself to his friends. This is yet another cost of not being able to be proud of one’s own identity.
Boylan continues, telling Oprah that there are tens of thousands of people in America who are transgender, but are living “in silence and shame because they are afraid to speak the truth.” Oprah asks Boylan about the origin of her condition. She says that no one knows, but that she believes there has to be a medical component because it feels so innate to her. Kelly believes this as well.
Boylan’s words here highlight not only her own struggle with having to keep her identity a secret, but also the struggle of others. It implies that, if these tens of thousands of people were able to be out and proud, they could be a supportive and trailblazing community for one other. But of course, they cannot all be out because of the dangers and discrimination they face.
Boylan explains that there is now a protocol for transgender people to “transition” from one gender to the other. These include hormonal and surgical treatments that allow individuals to transition to the opposite gender of their birth. Kelly buys Boylan’s book, knowing that she could be a role model for Wyatt and that her words might also help Wayne understand Wyatt’s identity better.
Kelly recognizes that Boylan could be a role model for Wyatt, but also that she can help remedy some of Wayne’s ignorance about what his son might be going through and the kind of life that he might be able to lead.
For Wyatt’s seventh birthday, Kelly buys action figures from a TV show she thinks Wyatt had been engrossed in. When he is disconsolate at receiving them, he explains to her that he only watches the TV show because he likes the “pretty house” that the characters live in. Kelly feels like she has failed her son, and views this as the tipping point: she knows that he is transgender. The next day she goes out and buys him a Little Mermaid playset, and every Wendy, Dorothy, and Cinderella toy she can find.
The tipping point of Kelly’s mentality demonstrates that it is not Wyatt who has to change his mindset, since he already has a very clear idea of who he is. It is Kelly who must change the way that she thinks about her son in order to make him happy and to allow him to be the person he knows he is.