This month’s book review might seem a little out of place on a genealogy blog, but I promise you it’s not. My Name is Philippa by Philippa Ryder is largely a book about family – modern family. Philippa is Transgender and this memoir is her story of becoming the woman she wanted to be from childhood in Ireland. Her account is heart-warming, positive and a lovely read. I demolished it in a day. But the book doesn’t hold back from the experience of growing up as a boy who didn’t feel at home in his body. It was an education for me and I would recommend it to anyone who was curious about the process of transitioning from a male to female body and life. She doesn’t shy away from the effect it had on her immediate family. And because this family story happens in Ireland, it’s easier to relate to, than perhaps a similar story set in Britain or the USA.
Although Philippa, her wife Helen and I, have many mutual friends, we only met for the first time recently. Philippa is my paternal fourth cousin once removed through our mutual ancestors Laurence Lawless and Elizabeth Walsh. They came from south county Dublin and died in the 1870s. We’ve both done DNA tests but don’t share any genetic relationship, which is not that surprising. It has been shown we only match about half our 4th cousins. Amazingly, even though Helen is English, there’s also a possibility I’m related to her on a maternal line, but it’s very far back and we’re still working on it! I love the idea of being related differently to each half of a married couple.
When I first realised that Philippa was a member of my family, I thought about how to record her in my tree and sought her opinion. My master tree is always kept offline. Obviously, she’s in the tree as a woman, but I have left a private note to indicate that she was assigned male at birth. Genealogists and researchers of the future will have to come up with a common consensus on how to respect Trans people while maintaining a traditional sourcing pattern (e.g. linking to a birth index for a Trans person would have their former name, which is inappropriate to use). If someone in your family is Trans, what have you done? In my opinion, the main thing is to be respectful.
Memoirs play an important role in family history. They give context and colour to a life outside the official records of a person and the time they lived in. Even if you never publish one, I do encourage people to write their own stories as they go along – something I often forget to do for myself!