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Keynote Speakers

Mary and Donald Collins

Bios for Keynote Speakers Mary Collins and Donald Collins

Authors, At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces (Beacon, 2017)

Mary Collins worked for 25 years in Washington, DC as a writer and editor for a range of clients, including the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution. She has traveled the United States as a guest speaker on a range of topics that center on themes she explores in her five nonfiction books. She is currently a Professor of Creative Writing and Director of the Writing Programs at Central Connecticut State University. Learn more about her work at or email her at

Donald Collins is a trans advocate, writer, and cum laude graduate of Emerson College in Boston. His culture and commentary writing has appeared in PopMatters, Salon, Next Magazine, among others. He has spoken on trans issues on the college circuit, including Wesleyan University, Emerson and Trinity College. Contact him at

At the Broken Places:

A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces


Mary Collins & Donald Collins

On Sale Date: April 25, 2017

 “I sometimes have trouble believing that I ever lived the life of a mom with a daughter,” writes Mary Collins. At the age of 16, Mary’s daughter J. announced that she was transgender and would be taking the necessary steps to begin living as Donald. Distressed not just by the life-changing news, but also by the fact that J. was just a teenager at the time, Mary tried to find ways to slow the process down. His mother’s lack of support was a source of pain and frustration for Donald. The rift between parent and child continued to grow and at some points, they recall, there was a fear that it might never be mended. “My mom needed more time,” Donald writes, “and I had no more time left to give.”  

In At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces  Mary Collins and Donald Collins have crafted more than just a memoir about what it means to have a trans family member. The book is also a practical resource guide for families caught in what the authors describe as the “muddy middle;” the place where so many people get stuck on their way to fully accepting a loved one’s evolving identity. By balancing the perspectives of both parent and child, they have tried to create a space for greater understanding, in hopes that it will provide families with the kind of guidance that they felt was lacking for them. “This book represents our best efforts, our worst shortcomings, and our frequent misunderstandings,” writes Donald. Additionally, Mary notes, the book represents their attempt to heal from the hurt they inadvertently caused each other in an effort to return to a loving, more empathetic space. “This book represents the neutral territory we created.”

At the Broken Places moves back and forth between essays written by each of the authors with Donald tracing his experience transitioning both emotionally and physically into his authentic self, and Mary reflecting on her struggle to understand and offer support – which she admits was not always easy or possible. In addition to their personal story the book includes a collection of first person stories that the authors gathered from other parents and transgender youths, as well as interviews with medical professionals working in the area of transgender health. The book also includes a suggested reading list and a "word bank" feature to help others use and understand proper terminology. 

In sharing his personal story, Donald offers a look inside the process of coming to terms with a trans identity. He writes about his experience with starting hormone therapy, getting top surgery, and having a hysterectomy, and discusses the ways that these changes helped him to form a relationship with his body for the first time. However, though he writes openly about these experiences, he also laments the fixation that so many people have with the bodies of transgender individuals and counters that narrative with valuable insights into the thoughts and feelings that drove his decision making.  “We’re obsessed with the physicality of trans bodies,” he writes, “but so much of the long-haul gender-identity work is mental and emotional.”

Throughout her essays Mary emphasizes that, as a parent who wanted to be supportive but was struggling with a deep sense of loss, she found little space to sort out her emotions. People around her expected her to be fully supportive or categorically opposed to what her child was doing, offering no timeline for her to come to terms with her feelings. Though Donald was only 16 when he started on his journey, legally neither his schools nor his medical practitioners had to disclose any information to his mother, and often didn’t. Mary directly confronts the idea that parents are supposed to be fully supportive of their trans-child’s decisions with no questioning or conflict, or face a justified estrangement; Donald and Mary were themselves estranged for six months, and struggled for years to communicate well.  She addresses the need for more nuance and sophistication around the conversation of how trans family members impact those who love them. Mary writes that though she was grieving the loss of her daughter, that did not mean she didn’t love her trans son, even though that’s how others saw it. “Education, counseling, and medicine” she writes, “need to rethink how they handle not only their trans clients but also the people around them. Right now there are limited services for parents like myself.”

Both Mary and Donald write that they, at first, were hesitant to revisit the traumatic period in their lives, but were driven by the desire to process their experiences and create the type of resource they know families need. Together, writing from a stronger and more unified place, the two have created a book that they hope will serve as a primer on the evolving medical, academic, and cultural understanding of gender; and also as a deeply personal and compassionate look at the experience of transitioning – not just for the individual, but for the family as a whole.

"When one person in the family transitions, everyone transitions. At the Broken Places is a profoundly vulnerable and brave account of a son struggling to be seen by his mother, and a mother learning to see her child as he sees himself. A necessary and beautiful book."

—Jill Soloway, Creator, Transparent


“This is the best, most thorough narrative of trans experience I've read: mind, body, and soul. The two conflicting points of view expand the reader's consciousness, placing us smack dab in the middle of the heart of it all. And the heart of it all is the model of two people who, despite deep disagreements, maintain love and respect for one another.”

Kate Bornstein, author of A Queer and Pleasant Danger and Gender Outlaw


“An altogether invaluable and accessible addition to the growing body of transgender literature.”



At the Broken Places

Mary Collins and Donald Collins

$15.00 Paperback Original


E-book: 978-0-8070-8836-6

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