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

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  4,981 ratings  ·  473 reviews

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 be

Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 10th 2004 by Broadway Books (first published July 1st 2003)
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She's Not There by Jennifer Finney BoylanWhipping Girl by Julia SeranoRedefining Realness by Janet MockA Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate BornsteinBecoming a Visible Man by Jamison Green
Transgender Memoirs and Biographies
1st out of 95 books — 34 voters
Middlesex by Jeffrey EugenidesThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerTipping the Velvet by Sarah WatersMaurice by E.M. ForsterTales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Best LGBTQIA literature
109th out of 729 books — 751 voters

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Community Reviews

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way back in 1994, when jennifer finney boylan was still james finney boylan, i found myself in freshman english with this amazing, fun, empathetic, creative professor. he was inspiring in his energy even for us, the lowest of the low - the students who were not aspiring english majors, the students who were taking EN115 because we had to. but man, what a great class jim lead. interestingly, the topic in our small (20 students) section was gender roles and archetypes of men and women. we read cos...more
This is one of those books that I enjoyed so much that I can try to understand that some readers might not have liked it for legitimate reasons, but I don't really get it.

Jennifer's writing is brilliant, and she can capture the riotous absurdity of an event with amazing clarity and compassion. Apart from any aspects of her transsexuality, she's a great writing, and although I tend to avoid memoir, I would have read about her life and memories even if she'd had a conventional sexuality. The episo...more
There were a few things I loved about Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir "She's Not There" - mostly the insights into the differences between male and female.

But when I finished, I felt like SOMETHING definitely wasn't there.

I wanted more from the memoir.

I wanted to know why Boylan always identified with women, even though she was born male - the deep psychological reasons. Was her father not home enough? Not loving enough? Did she have an especially close relationship with her mother? Was there so...more
May 20, 2007 Juliet rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone. absolutely everyone.
This book blew me away. I couldn't put it down, and was alternating between laughter and tears the whole time. Boylan presents such a compelling and captivating exploration of what it means to be a woman through beautiful writing and a very open presenatation of her own life. It's been a long time since I read a memoir this good. The book made me think about myself, my thoughts about love, and my celebration of being female. I recommend it for everyone.

I don't think that Boylan's story tries to...more
Jun 22, 2007 Beth rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who want to be educated on basic transgender issues
Poorly chosen title, terrible cover concept (why cut a woman in half?!)... but the book is well written and should educate a lot of people about trans issues. I myself was a bit surprised about the author's naivete when she was first transitioning--clearly, while living as a straight man, she had never met trans people or even gay or lesbian or bi people who were out. Quite a sheltered existence, considering she was a sophisticated college prof at Colby. So her story is probably more important,...more
Jul 07, 2008 Leslie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the variety of human conditions
Shelves: favorite
I finished the book - it was a quick read.
1 - It's very well written - the author is an English professor in an East Coast college...
2 - It takes courage for a transsexual to make the transition.
3 - It takes courage for the wife of a transsexual to watch her spouse make the transition.
4 - I am SO glad I never had to deal with this dilemma
5 - I wonder what it takes to live with the knowledge you are not what you seem. Courage, fortitude, integrity.
6 - I wonder how many others in this world live w...more
Dec 08, 2008 Wistaria rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No one!
Recommended to Wistaria by: I bought it because it was cheap and looked interesting.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Liz (Consumed by Books)
I was really excited to have this chance to read this book for my Intro. to Women' and Gender Studies class because my father recommended it to me. I really enjoyed the book, but not in the ways that I expected to. I also have to say that I think that memoirs are hard books to review, because they are about personal experiences and there's so many different things that one can take away from a memoir.

I went into this book thinking that I would learn more about what it means to be transsexual and...more
May 02, 2007 Kaitlin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Colby Grads!
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
I took a couple classes with Jenny and one with James, so I'm prejudice. But, I loved it despite that. I think the struggle to come to terms with something you already know but don't want to face is beautifully portrayed here. She talks about how she needs to be selfish in this decision, but at the same time, it tears her apart that she is breaking the hearts of those around her. All in all, it is a hopeful story and I really enjoyed it.
Jul 23, 2007 Shelly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: students and feminists
Shelves: bookclub
I did not expect to like this book, I think it had to do with a fear that it would be a shallow treatment of a really complex bunch of issues and the goofy cover image (who IS that supposed to be? Every time I closed the book I questioned the mystery of how these things get decided).

Though regarding mystery, this book ultimately touches on what Russo sums up in his loving afterword - mysteries "which reside at our human center, constitute the deeper truths of our being" whcih "we often keep sec...more
This book has everything to do with how a transgendered individual goes throughout their life with such a difficult secret. Jennifer goes through her life as James because she feels like she has to, in order to keep her life and family together. As James, she felt like she could be "cured" of her need to be a woman by finding love. Eventually, she finds Grace, who is uniquely understanding, and raises a family. But even then, even with her successful life as a man, she needs to be a woman. The t...more
Jennifer Anne
This is an autobiography of a trans woman (someone born with male physiology, but who has always known they where cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually female). She is a Professor of English at Colby College in Maine and transitioned (changed the gender she presented to the outside world) about ten years ago at about age 45 while at Colby. She was and still is married and has two sons that she fathered with her non-trans female partner.

This book was very literally life changing for me, but i...more
Jul 29, 2011 Laurie added it
The story of Jennifer Finney Boylan's sex change is an engaging one, because Boylan is an engaging person, with a writer's ear for what makes a telling detail. Also, since she is a comic writer, her tone is very light, even though she speaks of sorrow, concealment and pain. Too many memoirs pour on the melodrama, which this one doesn't. We learn a lot about what leads to the decision to have sex reassignment surgery. For a man who has already had children and has a loving marriage, the decision...more
there was part of me (the part that studied american studies at a liberal arts school and used the word "intersectionality" in over a dozen papers) that was critical of and disappointed in this book. jenny never acknowledges the way her transition experience was shaped by her class and race privilege. her expensive surgeries and cushy job in colby college's english department hugely shaped her experience, yet jenny seems to have no awareness or interest in exploring these things.

that said, i cam...more
Sharon Rosenberg-Scholl
"Having an opinion about transsexuality is about as useful as having an opinion on blindness. You can think whatever you like about it, but in the end, your friend is still blind and surely deserves to see."

This was a captivating book, as evidenced by the fact that I had every intention of going to bed an hour ago, but found myself unable to do so until I reached the end. With poignancy and great humor, Boylan tells her story of growing up Transgendered and finding her way to allowing herself to...more
May 30, 2008 Jackie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who is willing to have their mind and heart opened up
Shelves: pleasure-reading
What a wonderful and startlingly honest book this is! The world is not an easy place for the transgendered, especially during transition: jobs are lost, relationships strained or broken, even strangers can be cruel. All because someone wants to be physically what they are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Finney takes you through every painful step of the process--and shows you some of eventual joys. This book is about love and self respect above all else, being true to yourself no m...more
I had trouble with the stream of consciousness style.........but I got used to it.

I must have missed something. I looked at the reviews on Amazon (to see if I'm the nut, usually) and most reviewers said something to the effect of how this book gave them some grand understanding of transgender.

I found the treatment relatively superficial in that regard. I do like her sense of humor so I'm going to get one of her novels to read.
Writer's Relief
With a fine balance of humorous wit and emotional depth, Jennifer shares the story of her transition from being a man (“James”) to being a woman in her memoir SHE’S NOT THERE. As someone who didn’t know much about the transition process, I was fascinated. After spending 43 years as a man, married, with two children, “James” decides to risk everything to become Jennifer, the person she felt she was always meant to be. It’s encouraging to see the support “James” receives when she finally reveals h...more
This is a memoir about one person's experience as a trans woman and has the advantage over some books in this area by being less polemical and reflecting a more "writerly" approach. It also reflects a more white, middle-class, liberal lifestyle and upbringing; Boylan's experience is not that of all trans people and I think the incident Russo describes in his afterword at the end makes this quite palpable. Still, it is worth reading merely for the fact it humanizes a subject that is foreign to th...more
R. C.
I don't get the title, unless it's meant to make readers argue with it and say, "But she was always there!" which is something many transfolk long for people to say, I guess, about the person they have always felt they are. I'd suggest, instead, A Normal Transition: How the Privileged and Naive Cross Genders.

It was a great read, the ever-praised funny+poignant memoir. The tale was well-structured but also interesting at pretty much any random point you might browse into.

The author is as normal...more
Please take this review with a grain or two (of salt please), since it was one of those one-night skims (one night scans?) As skims go, I was pretty involved in it, though.
This is the first proper autobiography or memoir of a trans* person I've read, all the other related books on my shelf being chiefly theory, science, or politics. Frankly, though, this is what I want to curl up in bed (literally) and read. Philosophy, science, and political tracts belong to the 'angrily checking off the damnin...more

I'm glad I read Jennifer Finney Boylan's account of life as a transsexual undergoing a male-to-female transition. A novelist and English professor at Colby College, Boylan writes with humor and eloquence. It is also an inspiring real-life lesson of how accepting a transgendered person's family and friends can be. Jenny is certainly a blessed person.

However, I was disappointingly less engaged than I hoped. Boylan writes about the events in her life without great insight into how she felt at that

Andie Stockwell Johns
I am speechless.

The thing I liked least about this book, honestly, was the title. Never having heard the song "She's Not There," I guess I might be missing something, but I honestly don't see how it ties in with the story. (Except for the scene at the end where Jenny turns around to talk to Grace and Grace isn't standing where she had been standing before... I didn't really understand the point of that scene either.) I guess theoretically it could be referring to Jim's refusal to admit that he w...more
Jul 28, 2011 Lisa rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lisa by: Mary
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
I agree with many reviewers here that this was a good, absorbing read and well-written. I liked the interplay with Boylan's friend, Richard Russo, whom I had read. (It did come across a BIT sycophantic in terms of that friendship, however.) I thought Russo's afterward also provided a bit of balance and insight, since Boylan's memoir is very interior. There is a lot of info about the steps of the transition and Boylan's changing body.

Two slight complaints: we rarely hear an analysis of the why o...more
One of the challenges of writing a memoir is that you must have an interesting story. The pitch for She’s Not There, the hook, was transgender transformation. It begins with James Boylan’s adolescence, his romantic forays, his life as a bachelor, a married man and father all the way up to the decision to physically become a woman. There are a lot of anecdotes, sarcastic comments and reflections. In the end, the book does very little to unravel the mystery of gender reassignment. In fact, I still...more
This is the safe, sterile, accessible book you'd hand to people you're not comfortable recommending Feinberg or Coyote to, and what stunned me is that the conclusion, written by Richard Russo, felt more personal and open, especially since his is a perspective that gets a bit of a slant to it halfway through.

I think this safe business is in part because large chunks of this book are explanations that someone with no experience with trans* issues requires (word-for-word dialogue of conversations...more
Nov 17, 2013 Carmen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People trying to understand transsexuals
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I'm always interested in reading books that call into question the dominant binary gender paradigm and the idea that gender is a fixed quantity. And at the time I read this, I didn't know any transgendered people at all, and I was (and still am) understandably curious about their experience of gender, the world, and their place in it. I feel that, especially in this polarized era of American politics and so-called "family values" voters ("A-hem", she scoffs.) people who take the very bold leap o...more
Jennifer Finney Boylan tells the story of her life as a transgendered female trapped in a male body and of her eventual transition from male James to female Jennifer. She does this not in strict chronological order, but as a set of vignettes which hop around in time. In fact, sometimes one chapter will have multiple little scenes remembered from various parts of her life. Friend Richard Russo's afterword gives the perspective of one who accompanied Boylan on her transition from James to Jennifer...more
Astrid Falkenberg
An intriguing topic that I have not read much about, and to hear it from the source, in a very well-written format, was eye-opening. It did seem a bit choppy, as the writer moved around a lot, but not hard to follow. It was very real, how the people in her life dealt with the transition, and heart-warming how they stood by her side. It would be interesting to know how she's faring now as a complete woman - one of the things that intrigued me was if her feelings for Grace would change over time,...more
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Jennifer Finney Boylan is a widely praised author and professor.

Edward Albee summed up her oeuvre in 1988: -- "Boylan observes carefully, and with love. [Her] levitating wit is wisely tethered to a humane concern…. I often broke into laughter, and was now and again, struck with wonder."

Jenny's memoir, She's Not There, published by Broadway Books in 2003, was one of the first bestselling works by a...more
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“Although my understanding of exactly how much trouble I was in grew more specific over time, as a child I surely understood enough about my condition to know it was something I'd better keep private. By intuition I was certain that the thing I knew to be true was something others would find both impossible and hilarious. My conviction, by the way, had nothing to do with a desire to be feminine, but it had everything to do with being female. Which is an odd believe for a person born male. It certainly had nothing to do with whether I was attracted to girls or boys. This last point was the one that, years later, would most frequently elude people, including the overeducated smarty-pants who constituted much of my inner circle. But being gay or lesbian is about sexual orientation. Being transgedered is about identity.” 4 likes
“As it turns out, we're all still learning to be men, or women, all still learning to be ourselves. pg 197” 3 likes
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