A Renaissance Woman

Jefferson nursing student Dr. Jennifer Booker writes book about coming out as transgender in midlife.

Except for maybe a few narrowly focused autobiographies, Jefferson nursing student Dr. Jennifer Booker couldn’t find anything that truly captured the full breadth of coming out as transgender in midlife.

“In a moment of ego, I said, ‘I can write a better book,’” says Dr. Booker, age 56, with a laugh.

And then, she did.

Dr. Booker’s “The New Normal”—a mix of memoir and scholarly work—vividly recounts how she came out to family members, friends and coworkers. In addition, she describes the full transition to be medically and legally recognized as a woman.

“Part of my motivation was to make people understand just how much thought and effort goes into coming out as transgender and to treat it with respect,” she says. “It’s not something that people suddenly decide. You’re risking your friends, your family, your job and your life when you come out as transgender. This is a huge decision, and we don’t do it lightly.”

Aided by her comprehensive notes from the years-long process, she also crafted the book to share the wide range of challenges, as well as joys, that might accompany coming out as transgender.

“I wanted to offer practical details,” she explains. “For example, I had a couple pages of notes on how I felt immediately after gender confirmation surgery. The time to fully get back into your body after surgery was startling. It was so different based on what I had heard. I thought, ‘Maybe someone should know about this.’”

Jennifer Booker sitting at a table in the library
In Dr. Jennifer Booker’s “The New Normal,” she recounts how she came out to family, friends and coworkers.

Educating others is nothing new for Dr. Booker. She most recently taught computing at another local university, and prior to that, she worked as a systems engineer in the aerospace and defense industries—in other words, a rocket scientist. Her resume also includes wildly diverse jobs like massage therapist, licensed pilot and skydiver, Wiccan clergy, EMT and student midwife.

A professed “education junkie,” Dr. Booker has earned degrees in aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, as well as studied feminist theory and psychology.

The area university unexpectedly didn’t renew her contract in 2017, but Dr. Booker calls the sudden life change a blessing in disguise. “I was burned out,” she admits.

It’s not something that people suddenly decide. You’re risking your friends, your family, your job and your life when you come out as transgender. This is a huge decision, and we don’t do it lightly.

After some soul searching, Dr. Booker realized she wanted her new path to revolve around the triad of “women, touch and healing” as a sexual assault nurse examiner. These forensic nurses help women after being sexually assaulted and collect medical evidence to be used at trial.

“It sounded incredibly difficult and ridiculously challenging,” she says, “and probably perfect for me.”

The career shift led Dr. Booker to enroll in Jefferson’s FACT 1-year nursing program as a first step. To celebrate, she got a tattoo of her Burmese python, Fluffy, on the Rod of Asclepius combined with the Egyptian ankh—the symbol of life.

Jennifer Booker got a tattoo of her Burmese python, Fluffy, on the Rod of Asclepius, combined with the Egyptian ankh—the symbol of life.
To honor her acceptance into Jefferson's nursing program, Dr. Jennifer Booker got a tattoo of her snake, Fluffy, on the Rod of Asclepius combined with the Egyptian ankh.

Dr. Booker has found a welcoming environment at Jefferson, a relief considering she must still deal with a strained relationship with her own family after coming out in 2013. She shares many of these tough encounters in her book.

For those dealing with similar struggles, Dr. Booker urges them to find a like-minded community for support.

“If you run into problems with your biological family not being acceptive or understanding, it’s important to invent your own family,” says Dr. Booker, who’s adopting a son with her close friend. “It’s important to find people who accept who you are.”

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Health, Life at Jefferson

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