Saturday, October 16, 2010

Haunted by Gender and Phantoms...

Dark spirits can be buried deep inside the darkened corners of our psyche. What we hide within is often more terrifying than shapeless forms in an old spooky house. When you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even transsexual there's an invisible reality within your life, only revealed when you intentionally show your true self to other people. Before that moment you're a hidden ghost haunted by your sexual identity. Perhaps, as one author revealed, you can be haunted by real ghosts at the same time.

In Jennifer Finney Boylan's book I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir the transsexual English professor writes about her early life in the Lemuel Coffin House outside Philadelphia. Coffin and his business partner Joseph B. Altemus purchased 400 acres around 1881 to create the town of Devon along the Pennsylvania Railroad route. Lemuel passed away in 1895. Boylan's family moved there in 1972. I'm looking Through You chronicles her early life in the haunted house as well as a 2006 return visit to what remains her mother's home with a paranormal investigator named Shelly from Batty About Ghosts whom she found on Meetup (where, as we know, all knowledgeable ghost busters can be found).

In her youth (then known as "James"), Boylan had experienced several unexplained phenomena in the house. The tower, removed in 1944, had been the sight of the death of "some kid" according to a neighbor. There were footsteps coming from the creepy attic, a woman she dubbed "Mrs. Freeze" who appeared in the bathroom mirror before impending disasters, foggy forms, and doors opening and closing by themselves. As a teenager it proved less frightening than humiliating to explain to friends staying overnight, "Now don't worry if you see a blob come out of that closet. Usually it will go away if you whistle Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. If that doesn't work, try the Ninth."

During the revisit with the ghost hunter they may have discovered the ghost of her father in the bedroom where he passed away. Even with all she has experienced, Boylan does not believe in ghosts. "You don't have to believe in ghosts to know what it means to be 'haunted.' I think we all have ghosts of one kind or another. When we're young we're haunted by the people we may become; when we're old we're haunted by the children we used to be." Her book draws parallels between growing up a gender-confused youth seeking acceptance internally as well as societally and the ghostly glimpses from the past making their presence known to a few people. It's a look at what "haunted" truly means.

I'm Looking Through You is a delightfully humorous and fascinating read. For many of us who know less about transsexuals than we do about hauntings it proves to be very educational as well. Watch a brief video tour from the author here:

No comments: