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She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders

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She's Not There is the story of a person changing genders, the story of a person bearing and finally revealing a complex secret; above all, it is a love story. Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the remarkable territory that lies between men and women, examines changing friendships, and rejoices in the redeeming power of family. She's Not There is a portrait of a loving marriage - the love of James for his wife, Grace, and, against all odds, the enduring love of Grace for the woman...
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Overview

She's Not There is the story of a person changing genders, the story of a person bearing and finally revealing a complex secret; above all, it is a love story. Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the remarkable territory that lies between men and women, examines changing friendships, and rejoices in the redeeming power of family. She's Not There is a portrait of a loving marriage - the love of James for his wife, Grace, and, against all odds, the enduring love of Grace for the woman who becomes her "sister," Jenny.

She's Not There explores the dramatic outward changes and unexpected results of life as a woman: Jenny fights the urge to eat salad, while James consumed plates of ribs; gone is the stability of "one damn mood, all the damn time."

While Boylan's own secret was unusual, to say the least, she captures the universal sense of feeling uncomfortable, out of sorts with the world, and misunderstood by her peers. Jenny is supported on her journey by her best friend, novelist Richard Russo, who goes from begging his friend to "Be a man" (in every sense of the word) to accepting her as an attractive, buoyant woman. "The most unexpected thing," Russo writes in his Afterword to the book, "is how in Jenny's story we recognize our shared humanity."

As James evolves into Jennifer in scenes that are by turns tender, startling, and witty, a marvelously human perspective emerges on issues of love, sex, and the fascinating relationship between our physical and our intuitive selves. Through the clear eyes of a truly remarkable woman, She's Not There provides a new window on the often confounding process of accepting ourselves.

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  • Jennifer Finney Boylan
    Jennifer Finney Boylan  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
It may be voyeuristic curiosity that first prompts you to crack the binding of Jennifer Finney Boylan's first-person story of gender switching. But as you tuck into this amazing memoir, you'll find yourself transfixed less by the before-and-after photos than by an affecting, impossible-to-put-down narrative.

Jennifer spent the first 43 years of her life as James, the noted author of novels The Planets and Getting In, co-chair of the English Department at Maine's Colby College, and best friend of Pulitzer Prize–winning scribe Richard Russo (Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool), who contributes a touching afterword. Boylan begins her frequently self-deprecating and humorous tale with James's Philadelphia Main Line boyhood, then moves on to girlfriends and college; blissful first years of marriage to his wife, Grace; and the birth of his two sons.

It's against the backdrop of this achingly "normal" life that James comes to terms with the realization that he was born transgendered. "It has nothing to do with a desire to be feminine," Boylan writes, "but it had everything to do with being female." With hormones and surgery, James becomes Jenny, now a female faculty member of Colby College, a "sister" to his wife, and "Maddy" (that's Mommy+Daddy) to his children.

"The problem, as this memoir illustrates, is that the transgendered person's experience is not really 'like' anything," writes Russo -- which explains why this story is so startling. While Boylan's charm and wit endear him to the reader, we can't help but wonder about the untold memoirs in his story: the wife who lost a husband, a mother who lost a son, and two children who lost a father. Sallie Brady

The New York Times
Although this story is by no means pain-free (one friend commits suicide), Ms. Boylan places her emphasis elsewhere. What she accomplishes, most entertainingly, is to draw the reader into extremely strange circumstances as if they were utterly normal. It's easy to feel, as Mr. Russo apparently did, when being told by his friend's doctor that sexual reassignment surgery and novel writing require similar precision. — Janet Maslin
The New Yorker
James Boylan grew up feeling that he was a woman trapped inside a man’s body; in his early forties, he chose to risk everything, including his marriage, to pursue another identity. This journey is the subject of Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoir She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders. How could James—who renamed himself Jennifer—explain to his wife, Grace, and his best friend, the novelist Richard Russo, that he hadn’t felt at home in his own skin? The most moving parts of the book are the e-mail exchanges with Russo that Boylan reproduces verbatim. As much as Russo wants to believe his friend’s account of himself, he doesn’t find the character of Jenny credible: “Here, you insist, is THE REAL ME, the me I’ve kept a secret all these years. And yet [it] seems mannered, studied, implausible,” Russo writes. Russo misses the old familiarity: now, he explains in the afterword, he guards against small slips (“he” for “she”) that reveal how much he wants James back.

Noelle Howey remembers her father, Dick, as a distant presence in her childhood; he would come home, fix a drink, and retreat to his corner of the living room. So Howey feels that she gained rather than lost a parent when Dick divorced her mother and became Christine. As Christine, she was “kinder, nicer, tidier, better with children, interested in flowers and birds and chick flicks,” Howey writes in Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods - My Mother's, My Father's and Mine. It was “like the transformation of Mr. Hyde into Miss Jekyll.” Yet she wonders, “If all these wonderful traits were inside my father all along, why was gender the only means to let them out? Why wasn’t loving me—or my mother—enough?”

(Kate Taylor)
The Washington Post
Boylan's depiction of femininity, as James becomes Jenny, is fascinating and often hilarious.—Judith Warner
Publishers Weekly
Boylan is 45 years old, but for more than 40 of those years she was James Finney Boylan. A Colby College professor and author of four books of fiction, Boylan has a good comic ear, and that humor keeps the book, which tells the story of Boylan's passage from male to female, on track if somewhat trivialized: most scenes are breezy and played for laughs. When Jenny is attacked by a drunk outside a bar, it goes largely unremarked upon; how does the man who always wanted to be a woman feel when suddenly assaulted for being just that? And when the reader is given an insight into Boylan's feelings, the news is often delivered secondhand: during a conversation with a therapist, in a letter sent to colleagues or during frequent visits with her best friend, novelist Richard Russo (who also provides a touching but similarly lightweight, afterword). Boylan's friends and colleagues pat her on the back for her courage, and yet we get hints this is only half the story: Boylan's adoring mother is mentioned often, while a disgusted sister warrants only a short mention within a brief paragraph. Boylan may be choosing to accentuate the positive, but this leaves the story feeling incomplete, which is odd given the book's striving to feel whole. The book is frequently poignant ("As it turns out, we're all still learning to be men, or women, all still learning to be ourselves"), yet those moments don't cut to the quick of the story it has to tell. (On sale Aug. 26) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Can someone who is not transsexual understand the thoughts and emotions of a person who is? In this revealing autobiography, Boylan (English, Colby Coll.), an acclaimed writer of such novels as The Constellations and The Planets, hopes to convey these complex feelings to the public. With bluntness and sincerity, Boylan opens up about the 40 years she spent living as a man, about being trapped in the wrong body, the awkwardness of never feeling appropriately dressed, the desire to live outwardly as the opposite gender, and the overwhelming longing to fit in with the mainstream. This, as she points out, is especially true when the majority of the public's knowledge of transsexuals comes from "the small fringe of the community that feels driven to behave badly on The Jerry Springer Show." Boylan names each chapter after a significant moment in her life, highlighting momentous occasions or episodes of self-discovery. Often humorous and illustrative and always enjoyable and enriching without being preachy, Boylan selflessly offers the reader all the painful details of her life as sacrifice for a better appreciation of what it means to be transsexual in today's world. Her book will do more for raising awareness of the transsexual experience than Jan Morris's Conundrum. Recommended for all libraries and special collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/03.]-Mark Alan Williams, Library of Congress Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The limpid, soul-rich story of novelist James Boylan (Getting In, 1998, etc.) becoming Jennifer Boylan. From early on, Boylan says, the idea "that I was in the wrong body, living the wrong life, was never out of my conscious mind-never." In the beautifully guileless way he has of describing his feelings, he recounts wearing women's clothes-"I'd stand around thinking, this is stupid, why am I doing this, and then I'd think, because I can't not." Because he has mercifully inherited the buoyant optimism of his mother, an optimism that will serve him well over the years to come, he is able to recount, with comic aplomb, such tidbits as, "Earlier in the evening I'd sat on a chair in that room wearing a bra and reading Lord of the Rings." He was 16. He figured if he had sex, then his sense of himself might change, or if he fell in love, maybe then. Well, he does fall in love, with the remarkable Grace, and they have children, and he gets tenure and high marks from his students at Colby, and develops a close friendship with novelist Richard Russo, also teaching at Colby. And he still wants to be a woman. In writing as sheer as stockings, artful without artifice, he explains the process of becoming Jennifer: both the physiological, which has a comfortable tactility, and the emotional repercussions among his nearest and dearest. These aren't so easy-his wife's saying, "I want what I had"; his children thinking of him, in the midst of hormonal makeover, as "boygirl"; Russo telling him that Jennifer "seems mannered, studied, implausible." Yet they all manage the sticky web of circumstance-this mysterious condition-in their own fashion, and that makes them lovable. There's a particularly poignantmoment, when they're attending a wedding and Grace turns to Jennifer, asking if she wants to dance. Serious, real, funny. Told so disarmingly that it's strong enough to defang a taboo. (Photographs)
From the Publisher
She’s Not There, the Running with Scissors of sex-change stories, brings irreverence and a merrily outrageous sense of humor to this potentially serious business.”
—Janet Maslin, New York Times

“Beautifully crafted, fearless, painfully honest, inspiring, and extremely witty. Jennifer Finney Boylan is an exquisite writer with a fascinating story, and this combination has resulted in one of the most remarkable, moving, and unforgettable memoirs in recent history.”
—Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors and Dry

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767914291
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/10/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve books, including most recently, Stuck in the Middle With You. She is a regular contributor to the op-ed page of the New York Times and a professor of English at Colby College in Maine.

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Read an Excerpt

The exuberant memoir of a man named James who became a woman named Jenny.

She’s Not There is the story of a person changing genders, the story of a person bearing and finally revealing a complex secret; above all, it is a love story.
By turns funny and deeply moving, Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the remarkable territory that lies between men and women, examines changing friendships, and rejoices in the redeeming power of family. She’s Not There is a portrait of a loving marriage—the love of James for his wife, Grace, and, against all odds, the enduring love of Grace for the woman who becomes her “sister,” Jenny.
To this extraordinary true story, Boylan brings the humorous, fresh voice that won her accolades as one of the best comic novelists of her generation. With her distinctive and winning perspective, She’s Not There explores the dramatic outward changes and unexpected results of life as a woman: Jenny fights the urge to eat salad, while James consumed plates of ribs; gone is the stability of “one damn mood, all the damn time.”
While Boylan’s own secret was unusual, to say the least, she captures the universal sense of feeling uncomfortable, out of sorts with the world, and misunderstood by her peers. Jenny is supported on her journey by her best friend, novelist Richard Russo, who goes from begging his friend to “Be a man” (in every sense of the word) to accepting her as an attractive, buoyant woman. “The most unexpected thing,” Russo writes in his Afterword to the book, “is in how Jenny’s story we recognize our shared humanity.”
As James evolvesinto Jennifer in scenes that are by turns tender, startling, and witty, a marvelously human perspective emerges on issues of love, sex, and the fascinating relationship between our physical and our intuitive selves. Through the clear eyes of a truly remarkable woman, She’s Not There provides a new window on the often confounding process of accepting ourselves.

Author Biography:

JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN is cochair of the English department at Colby College, where she was voted Professor of the Year in 2000. As James Finney Boylan, she wrote the critically praised novels The Constellations, The Planets, and Getting In, as well as a collection of short stories. She lives in Maine with her family.

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Foreword

1. Do you feel that Boylan had a choice in becoming a woman to the world?

2. What responsibility does Jenny have for Grace and their children? What responsibility do they have to her?

3. Have you ever known someone who made a gender transition? How did the change affect people who knew the person before?

4. How central a role do you believe gender plays in our identity? How much different and in what ways do you believe you'd be if you were a member of the opposite sex? Do you think that some traits are inherent in one gender?

5. Discuss Boylan’s experiences buying a car and buying a pair of jeans. Have you witnessed or experienced similar situations? Do you notice the differences in expectations and attitudes in the ways people of other sexes are portrayed?

6. What role does humor play in Boylan’s life and in this book?

7. The title of the book, “She’s Not There,” is the title of a song that Boylan sings. What do you think the title means in this case? Who is not there, and when?

8. What is revealed about Boylan in her friendship with Richard Russo?

9. As a teenager, Boylan believes that love will cure him from his feelings. In what ways is Boylan saved by love? In what ways do people usually expect to be saved by love? How often is it successful?

10. Discuss the concept of “normal” as it relates to Boylan’s narrative, and to your expectations.

11. On her web site, Boylan remarks, “As I look back at the story of my own life, I occasionally feel that being born transgendered was the best thing that could have happened to me. While dealing with this condition made lifedifficult for me, as well as for my family, it's also true that I have been given a rare gift in life, the gift of being able to see into the worlds of both men and women with clear eyes.” Do you feel that you know more about these worlds as a result of reading Boylan’s book?

12. Boylan says that her first awareness of being transgendered occurred when she was about three. What do you remember about your earliest sense of your identity? How often do you feel that what the world sees in you is at odds with what you know to be true?

13. After reading the book, did you identify with Boylan more or less than you had expected?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Do you feel that Boylan had a choice in becoming a woman to the world?

2. What responsibility does Jenny have for Grace and their children? What responsibility do they have to her?

3. Have you ever known someone who made a gender transition? How did the change affect people who knew the person before?

4. How central a role do you believe gender plays in our identity? How much different and in what ways do you believe you'd be if you were a member of the opposite sex? Do you think that some traits are inherent in one gender?

5. Discuss Boylan’s experiences buying a car and buying a pair of jeans. Have you witnessed or experienced similar situations? Do you notice the differences in expectations and attitudes in the ways people of other sexes are portrayed?

6. What role does humor play in Boylan’s life and in this book?

7. The title of the book, “She’s Not There,” is the title of a song that Boylan sings. What do you think the title means in this case? Who is not there, and when?

8. What is revealed about Boylan in her friendship with Richard Russo?

9. As a teenager, Boylan believes that love will cure him from his feelings. In what ways is Boylan saved by love? In what ways do people usually expect to be saved by love? How often is it successful?

10. Discuss the concept of “normal” as it relates to Boylan’s narrative, and to your expectations.

11. On her web site, Boylan remarks, “As I look back at the story of my own life, I occasionally feel that being born transgendered was the best thing that could have happened to me. While dealing with this condition made life difficult for me, as well as for my family, it's also true that I have been given a rare gift in life, the gift of being able to see into the worlds of both men and women with clear eyes.” Do you feel that you know more about these worlds as a result of reading Boylan’s book?

12. Boylan says that her first awareness of being transgendered occurred when she was about three. What do you remember about your earliest sense of your identity? How often do you feel that what the world sees in you is at odds with what you know to be true?

13. After reading the book, did you identify with Boylan more or less than you had expected?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 30 )
Rating Distribution

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(17)

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(6)

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(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    Real Life is Stranger Than Fiction!

    Jenny went though a bizarre experience during her journal from being a man to becoming a woman. Although a happy Jenny is quite truthful and open in telling her story, I felt sad for those around her especially her/his wife Grace and two sons from his/her pre-Jenny life. What would you do if your spouse changed genders? How would you feel if this was your mother or father? Overall this book is worth reading. There were parts that frustrated me but others that made me smile. It held my attention and made me understand the struggle of those who don't feel that thier outward appearance matches thier inner self-concepts.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2006

    Ground Breaking & Insightful !!!

    This is a fantastic book that not only looks at the life of a transgender, but also the life of her family. It is thought provoking and mindful. You struggle with Jenny from childhood confusion, to marriage, fatherhood, coming out, the sex change, and so much more. One of the best things about this book is that it not only focuses of Jenny and her struggle, but also the struggles of her family. This family shows an undying love for one another and support system that every family in Amarica hopes for!!! As a sociology and psychology graduate I found this book to be one of the most beautiful and rememberable books I've ever read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2012

    Excellent story

    This book took me months to read. It is a very personal story, one that I found to be shockingly intimate. The authors use of memory flashbacks, descriptive scenery and the ability to make the reader feel as if they are a silent member of a group is very realistic . Witnessing the experiences in the minds eye and feeling them with the heart. It is as if at times, you the reader, are right there with Jenny as she undergoes her journey.

    The entire book is very well put together. There were times while reading the book that all I could do was think to myself how I understood. I would recommend this book to anyone who is educated and open minded. It will off you the rare chance to share a very real and very personal piece of this womans life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2010

    Fantastic autobiography from a unique prospective

    I picked this book up when it was in the $1.99 bin. At that price it was worth a risk. However, I was pleasantly surprised because this was a really amazing autobiography written by a transgendered woman. The author does a superb job of telling her story and explaining how she first began to feel like a woman. The author doesn't sugarcoat the story and she doesn't bash society for not accepting the choices she's made in life. Instead, the author tells a very human story about a young man not feeling right in his own skin and his attempts to overcome this feeling. Eventually, he realizes that he can never be truly happy as a man and decides to become a woman. Throughout the process, the author describes tough choices and broken relationships, but maintains a good sense of humor. Overall, it was a very very good read.

    I lent this book to a friend whose family member recently announced that he was undergoing the process to become a woman. Though supportive, my friend was unable to fully accept this decision. After reading this book, my friend was better able to understand her family member's choice and it was easier to come to peace with the decision.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic Book About Gender Issues

    This was a wonderful book for someone who is truly interested in the plight of the transexual person. The story is poignant and touching. I would not recommend it for anyone who has discriminatory tendencies concerning gender issues. A truly amazing story!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Good read

    Jen boylan is obviously a very skilled novelist. It was an easy read, and i felt that most things were laid out on the table with little judgment or bias.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    A+

    A++

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Such Impact and Thoughtfulness

    I truly love this book. It is an "Act One" kind of book; It leaves us wanting more...It creates a, "what Happens Next?" for the reader. I am committed to Ms. Boylan's writing for the rest of my time. I highly recommend the "Act Two" novel, I'm Looking Through you."

    Written in an imaginative, thoughtful, and stimulating style, even those who thought they can not identify with transsexuals find that they easily can empathise. When transgender history is written, this will be a keystone of literature that mainstreams us. Thanks for opening your heart, Jennifer!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Honest and funny

    I really enjoyed this frank account of what the author went through in her quest to make her body match her identity. The writing is lyrical and quite poignant in parts and laugh-out-loud funny in others.

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    Posted September 28, 2010

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