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She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by…

She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders

by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0872511,051 (3.93)27



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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed reading this book. From She's Not There's first publishing, Jennifer Finney Boylan has become a strong spokesperson for transgender representation, counseling Catlyn Jenner as well as the show Transparent in respect to representation of trans people and the struggle of transitioning.

As for the book itself, it is refreshing to see a work of this importance that balances itself between academia and popular works. Boylan effectively combines her background as both a writer of fiction and a professor, making a book that is available and readable for practically any audience. There are times where the narrative becomes somewhat symbolic, and for readers who are reading this as a book about gender, this can go over the reader's head a bit. However, these moments are few and far between, most of these moments of literary attention are resolved and readable.

In terms of the significance of the gender discourse (for many, the main attraction to She's Not There), the book is effective. Gender is at times a tricky subject to effectively manage. Sociologists like to refer to it as a "social construction," and while most liberal arts students frequently see one dollar bills torn up in class to represent that idea, the personality (read: person-ness) and personhood of gender sometimes breaches this discussion. It is extraordinarily difficult to tell a cisgender person what being transgendered is, since that would essentially be explaining the trans existence, something a cis person cannot know by experience. So, when it came to the political discourse of gender, people who came to accept the validity of gendered political issues did so partially out of trust. This is one of the reasons that a narrative account of gender is so powerful: writers can deal with the abstract though metaphor, symbolism, allegory, etc. In this way, the idea of trans personhood can be communicated across gendered discourses, and this is what She's Not There effectively accomplishes. It is no wonder why this book became renowned for its ability to communicate.


As I may have mentioned, I read this as a part of a Gender in U.S. History class in my university. That semester (Fall of 2017) had a sudden burst in gender discourse at the school, especially so as there were a number of other gender studies courses simultaneously going on. And so, by the mysterious powers that make it that everyone knows each other in academia, the professor for our class and another that read She's Not There lobbied for Jennifer Boylan to come to our school to give a talk. Lo and behold, I now have a signed copy. More importantly I got to know the book and its author better.

At the talk, Boylan also read a few excerpts from her writings, one from She's Not There. I forget the chapter, but it was the escape to Cape Breton Island, a place where I've been. For us New England academic-types, there is something alluring and romantic about Atlantic Canada, and I got to see and hear Jennifer Boylan talk about the emotions of that time in her life, and that place.

I don't know why that experience speaks so much to me. Obviously, getting to see and hear the author of a book you read and analyzed and enjoyed is itself an evocative experience. Yet, the damnable romantic in me finds something indescribable and fascinating about that experience, in a sparsely populated concert hall, listening to a book I've read, set in a place I've been to, and about a feeling that is universal.

My rating has been raised from 4.5 stars to 5 stars, out of sheer respect and gratitude. ( )
  MarchingBandMan | Dec 7, 2017 |
I'm neutral about this one. I'm reading up on transgender, and I was not bored with this story, but it didn't affect me in any positive way either. Well, I guess the struggle with spousal issues was valuable. ( )
  2wonderY | Sep 27, 2017 |
I liked Boylan's writing, and the story was definitely interesting. I've known people who have transitioned (mostly female to male), but I've not known any of them both before and after the transition. Boylan's description of her experience and the honesty and empathy with which she tries to view other people's experience of her transition feels authentic to me. That sounds more patronizing than I intend it to, but what I mean is that it seems like she's really done some deep, difficult work to understand all of the facets of the situation, and I'm impressed that she's able to articulate that so clearly. I also like that she addresses, at least a little, the way that men transitioning to women seem to embrace fairly stereotypical expressions of gender. This is something that's always confused me, and while I don't at all believe that I have it figured out now, I appreciate having a different perspective on it.

Another thing I really appreciate is that Boylan shares some of her negative experiences as a woman, particularly one that takes place in a dark parking lot. There's the sense that she knew the dangers that women faced but these dangers and the sense of vulnerability were theoretical until she'd faced them herself. It feels validating, I guess, for lack of a better word, to have someone who's not always presented as a woman describe her experience of this sort of everyday threat. It reminds me of the Cowboy Junkies lyrics: "Do you know what it's like to be hunted?" Not that I dislike being a woman, it's just that it comes with some very real risks that aren't always recognized or given much credence.

My only complaint with the book is that it leaves some stories hanging and that it makes some abrupt shifts in the narrative that left me feeling confused at spots. It's a memoir, though, so I don't really expect it to be a crisp story. Boylan even addresses this issue, along with the differences between fiction and nonfiction. It's a discussion I've always enjoyed, except when I've been in writing workshops with someone who's defensive because another member of the group didn't like his "fictional" character. "Didn't you know that the main character is based on him?" one woman said to me after I'd stated, in detail, why I found the main character unbelievable and unlikeable. "That's not my problem," was the essence of my response. Because it wasn't. I'm in a writing workshop to improve my writing and to help others improve theirs, not to give out gold stars and fuzzy kittens, and I hope others are willing to do the same for me.

But as far as Boylan's book goes, I quite enjoyed it, and I found the writing compelling enough that I think I'll pick up some of her fiction next. If she handles a subject this personal with such honesty and depth, I'd like to see what she does with fiction. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jun 26, 2017 |
If you have a friend who “comes out” as a transgender person, I would recommend this book as a resource to understand a bit of how they are feeling, or how you can be supportive. However, as a memoir, I thought it fell short.

The author’s best friend remarks at one point that she had always held something back in her writing, and I exclaimed aloud “Yes! That’s exactly what I’m feeling.” In the first part of the book, the vignettes from her life as a man are choppy and disjointed and I felt like she was describing something that happened to someone else, a long time ago (and in a way, that is exactly what she is describing, but it doesn’t make it any easier to read) The latter part of the book, where she describes her “coming out”, including pasted-in e-mails felt *too* personal, I was squirming and thinking that I shouldn’t be reading this.

Oh, and I get the title, it’s from a song that is mentioned several times in the book, but it’s off-putting, and the cover art is awful. I hope a future edition will have a different picture
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
I was lucky enough to meet Jennifer the day I bought this book, and she's as witty as her writing is. Beautiful book, beautiful story. ( )
  KRaySaulis | Aug 13, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jennifer Finney Boylanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Russo, RichardAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0767914295, Paperback)

The provocative bestseller She’s Not There is the winning, utterly surprising story of a person changing genders. By turns hilarious and deeply moving, Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the territory that lies between men and women, examines changing friendships, and rejoices in the redeeming power of family. Told in Boylan’s fresh voice, She’s Not There is about a person bearing and finally revealing a complex secret. Through her clear eyes, She’s Not There provides a new window on the confounding process of accepting our true selves.

“Probably no book I’ve read in recent years has made me so question my basic assumptions about both the centrality and the permeability of gender, and made me recognize myself in a situation I’ve never known and have never faced . . . The universality of the astonishingly uncommon: that’s the trick of She’s Not There. And with laughs, too. What a good book.” —Anna Quindlen, from the Introduction to the Book-of-the-Month-Club edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:42 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A memoir that tells the story of a person who changed genders chronicles the life of James, a critically acclaimed novelist, who eventually became Jenny, a happy and successful English professor.

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