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She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders (2003)

by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1803212,243 (3.94)34
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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» See also 34 mentions

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Memoirs like this are difficult to review. I can't argue with someone's life experience or emotions; I can really only critique my reaction to it. I liked this book for its literary merit but didn't love It. It was a lot less linear than most memoirs, and I had a tough time relating to the seemingly random anecdotes. I also didn't not care for the tie jumps in the story and lack of introspection at some of the events. Boylen is a great writer and it definitely felt like something written by any English professor, but something was missing for me. ( )
  JustZelma | Dec 20, 2020 |
Reminded I have this books because I just read an interesting essay of hers comparing JRR Tolkien and Henry Darger. Continuing my effort to understand transsexuality, if I can. So far she has reminded me of a Elton John song I adore but had forgotten, "Come Down in Time".
I'm at the point where she's aware she's trans but unable to go forward with change because it would hurt so many people. That makes so much sense to me, and I'm thinking a lot about my own gender issues.
  piemouth | May 6, 2019 |
I enjoyed reading this book about Jennifer Boylan's transition from male to female. While still a man, then-James Boylan had married a woman. He loved her very much and believed his desire to be female was behind him. When that proved untrue, now-Jennifer and her wife , along with their two children, faced an uncertain future with few guidelines. I found the story of their relationship to be especially powerful, as was the way Jennifer's long-time best friend, while supportive, nonetheless struggled with the transition.

The book is honest, often funny, and gave what was, at least to me, a new perspective on being transgender. ( )
  LynnB | Apr 20, 2019 |
this is not quite a group of essays put together into a memoir, but also not quite a flowing memoir with chapters. it's kind of between these two, which is unusual. but it's well written enough that it's not an issue at all. it's funnier than i expected, although she's known for comedic writing; the type of comedy makes me doubt that i'd be into her fiction work, even though it was very well received.

anyway, it was good, but i wish there was more of the stuff that i'm always interested in - the relationship stuff. how a relationship changes and shifts either because of the transition or the secret kept (in the afterword richard russo really nails this feeling i wanted more of, because i know it existed in the telling: "Of all the couples we knew, the Boylans had the marriage most like our own, and if Grace had not known the truth, never even suspected it, then what in the wide world was truly knowable? If you can be so wrong about something so fundamental, what could you trust? Or, more to the point, who?"). it's not that i need the cis person's view on it or want to center the cis person (although his afterword really is excellent), but i wanted to hear more about how their married relationship changed or evolved. it ends with her saying that they aren't like sisters but they aren't like lesbians either. what does that mean? i am less interested in the issues of sex and genitalia and more interested in what this fundamentally does to a relationship and/or their identities. what we did see in the book as far as people's reactions was remarkable. not everyone supported her (either in the way she needed or at all), but mostly she seemed to get great support that i wish everyone else received. but her relationship with the people closest to her are the ones i'm most interested in. we do get some of that with her best friend, but i'd have liked more about her and her wife.

still, this was good, and it showed a story that most people probably weren't too aware of or talking about when the book came out in 2003. not exactly what i wish the book was, but still good and worth reading. it's also a little interesting to see how some of the things she talks about have changed, both in the language and in the practicality of transitioning. i also thought it was interesting that once she fully transitioned (for her that meant surgery) she no longer called herself transgender. sometimes i wonder about why people choose certain labels, so i thought this was interesting.

"In the end, what it is, more than anything else, is a fact. It is the dilemma of the transsexual, though, that it is a fact that cannot possibly be understood without imagination."

"Above all, I wanted my friends and family to know that Jenny was not a stranger, that she was someone they already knew. It was a puzzle, though - if Jenny was so very much like James, didn't that mean she was not really female? And if she really was female, didn't that mean that she was someone unknown? That I could be both unambiguously female and, at the same time, the person they had always known seemed impossible. Yet it was an impossibility that was largely true." ( )
1 vote overlycriticalelisa | Mar 24, 2019 |
I went in expecting a kind of typical trans memoir (given that this one is now something of a classic) and yeah, there's definitely some of that, because Boylan's life matches up fairly neatly with a lot of narratives about trans people. She's very reflective, though, and very self-aware of how it might read to other people. (Sometimes it felt a little name-drop-y, but I would say generally not enough to be annoying.)

My least favorite part of this book was the time spent on her wife's struggle, which is interesting given the opposite reaction most (I'll just GUESS cis people's) reactions that Boylan notes in the afterword. I will say I deeply appreciated her wife's note at the very end, because I think it cleared up a lot for me re: that being a moment in her life that was hard but not impossible. Obviously this is colored by the fact that I am a trans person who has done a social transition, and have also had to hear how people around me were so good for accepting me, etc., so if you're trans and that narrative of how good it is the people who loved us before we came out are just for continuing to love us, wait until the end because I do think her wife does a solid job of brushing that aside.

My FAVORITE part, though, is how funny Boylan is in this. Trans people are funny, and I loved seeing her little jokes about transition because they felt so genuinely trans in a way that is to me distinctly different from cis humor. Those little moments--and they are little, though I wouldn't say the book is overall like dark or whatever--were like a breath of fresh air, and I'm really glad. ( )
  aijmiller | Feb 14, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jennifer Finney Boylanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cunningham, CarolineDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Russo, RichardAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werner, HoniCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Providence always did put the right words in my mouth, if I would only leave it alone.

--Huck Finn
For Katie Finney (1948 - 2002)
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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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