Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Conversation with Jamie Johnson

     As a mom, there's no escaping the deep-rooted need to keep your children on the right path. But what if one of your kids thinks the path to happiness is through a sex change? And what if the other, while flailing around, trying to find his way, pops out five alternate personalities? How do you keep from having a nervous breakdown? How do you help the entire family find peace again? Secret Selves is the surprising, touching, and sometimes humorous account of a mother trying to ease the panic and accept the unthinkable twists fate has dropped in her lap.

     Jamie Johnson shares how even her doubts and mistakes while raising her two very interesting children helped her to eventually see life through different eyes. Her memoir is a book of hope.

Q - What made you want to write your story?

A - Well, there's a two part answer to that question. First: After the crazy part of my life let me sit down and process what had happened, I thought, My God, what are the chances of having these two kids? Really, it boggles my mind. I thought there must be something I should to do with my experiences. The only thing I could think of was to write. And I know that everyone has their story. When I was in the thick of things during ours, I think I would have appreciated reading a book that gave me hope. So that's what I tried to do. I wanted to give people something that would say to them, "Take a deep breath; you can get through this."

Secondly: I wanted to educate. My kids don't talk much about what they went through. And I know that both of the conditions they faced are highly misunderstood. I am their voice.

Q - How are Kip and Joey doing?

A - They're both doing very well. Kip got married last fall and I have a kooky picture of him & Joey acting-the-fool for the photographer. It sits on an antique sideboard in my living room. Joey says he's happier than he's ever been right now.

Q - Why did you feel the need to use a pen name?

A - There are several reasons why I changed the names and places in our story. My biggest fear was that, somehow, because I had chosen to share our story, something bad might happen to my kids. With prejudice there is always the real danger of violence. But there were other worries too. I didn't want to make their lives more difficult. There are going to be people who judge them; that's just how life is. But I didn't want my kids to face, say, having a tough time getting a job, or worse, losing a job because of me. I also didn't feel like I had the right to share the private moments of our extended family's lives without some measure of anonymity.

Q - If you want to remain anonymous, how do you manage public appearances as Jamie?

A - "Jamie" looks a little different than I do. Her hair is curly. She wears red glasses. She does her makeup a bit differently. Her style is not the same as mine. Now, I know that anyone who knows me well will recognize me right away. But those people already know we're the "characters" in Secret Selves, so it doesn't matter. I look different enough that people who haven't seen me very often will question themselves if they see the resemblance. That's good enough for us. I very much want to do public appearances so we had to find a solution to that. The more I get out there, the more I can raise awareness and educate.

Q - Do your children support your decision to write about what you've been through?

A - Oh yes, there's no way I would have written it if they didn't. They've both read the book and feel very strongly about its messages. I'm sure I drove them nuts when I was writing it though. I asked them questions constantly -- I wanted to make sure I was remembering things as they happened. I wanted our story to be real. I'd often call Kip and say, "Do you remember when..." or "Do you still have that note I gave you when I started calling you Kip?" I think he was amused at first, but I might have become a bit of a pain in his...side, by the time it was finished. Joey read one of the first drafts to make sure everything was accurate. He made notes in red all the way through. At the end, he simply wrote -- Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. That still makes me smile. I wrote the book as a gift to them.

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