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She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  7,661 Ratings  ·  721 Reviews
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
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 10th 2004 by Broadway Books (first published July 1st 2003)
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Feb 19, 2008 rated it liked it
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
May 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Diane Barnes
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-2016
To be honest, this is not a book that I would ever have considered reading had it not been assigned for our June selection in my real person book club. The person who chose it is a psychologist who wanted some insight into the subject of transsexuals and their feelings. It is also very timely because this book club is in NC, and we all know about the "bathroom issue" that NC has created. I make the drive several times a year because our book club has been together for 25 years.

This is the story
Julie Ehlers
I loved this book. In those first disturbing post-election days, it was very difficult for me to find a book that didn’t feel either totally trivial or wrist-slittingly bleak, but She’s Not There fit the bill. A significant work in the canon of trans literature, this memoir leavens its own importance with a very healthy dose of upbeat humor. And the writing is just great—I hadn’t realized the author was a novelist and creative writing professor, and I definitely wasn’t expecting the skilled, eng ...more
Jul 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, memoirs
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
May 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 22, 2007 rated it liked it
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
May 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Colby Grads!
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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.
Nov 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People trying to understand transsexuals
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: for-me, queer-lit
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
Jul 05, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Rachel León
Aug 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtqia
(Probably 4.5 stars) Here's a fantastic memoir with lots of humor and heart about Jennifer Finney Boylan's journey as a trans-woman. I listened to the audio book, which was so much fun it was hard to turn off. I wanted to keep listening because it had me laughing and completely spellbound. (Finney Boylan is a wonderful performer.) Interestingly Finney Boylan is best friends with novelist Richard Russo and the audio book included two afterwards, one by Finney Boylan's wife, then second by Russo. ...more
Women's National Book Association of New Orleans
The Women's National Book Association sent this book to the White House today (March 22) in honor of Women's History Month:

From the Women's National Book Association's press release:

From early in his life, Boylan felt “that he was in the wrong body, living the wrong life.” He knew that he was meant to be a woman. She’s Not There traces the life he led trying to fit in—dating women, marrying, having children, forming friendships with men as a male—until, a
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've followed Jenny Boylan's story since she first appeared on Oprah years ago to talk about her experience of being trans , and I've been friends with her on Facebook for some time now too. Yet for some reason, I wrongly assumed that this book was popular because of its subject matter and not because of its incredibly engaging writing. I also assumed that since it was published in 2003, it might be somewhat outdated in its perspective on trans identity. I was misguided on both counts. Boylan is ...more
Jennifer Anne
Sep 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 29, 2011 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
Jul 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Writer's Relief
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Sharon Rosenberg-Scholl
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"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 Transgender and finding her way to allowing herself to l
May 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Picked this 2003 book up off a library display and found it immensely engaging and eye-opening. A college English professor writes about his decision, in his 40's to transition to the female he has felt himself to be since childhood. Fascinating to read about how his wife and sons handled the change. Equally fascinating to realize that a person could go through something so traumatic and painful and emerge on 'the other side' with sense of humor intact. The author freely admits he had been a 'go ...more
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 01, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Jessica Culhane
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a quick read. I enjoyed Boylan's wit (the letter to NASA was a nice touch) and insights into gender differences. I had trouble with the sections where she describes her wife's reactions - they seems kind of callous. Not saying that Boylan shouldn't have taken any of the steps that she did, but it seems like she had trouble acknowledging how it was affecting others. It's possible this just didn't come across correctly through her writing style.
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
The funniest thing that happened in this book is when Rick Russo refers to Eugene Schrang as "Big Pussy."
Sophie Cayeux
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: personal-reads
I enjoy life stories and I have a great interest for transgender male-to-female biographies. I read this book in a straight session only stopping to eat and sleep. What appealed to me about Jim/Jenny’s experience is the optimism throughout the story: that he/she is convinced that all will be well with enough effort, good will and a lot of love and respect for one another – and this is exactly what happens: there is a happy ending and a fulfilled life. I acknowledge that transgender biographies o ...more
Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: family-drama, memoir
Back in the late 60's, early 70's, I worked for an attorney who represented the psychologist and surgeon who performed transsexual surgeries and it was my job to type the 18 page Medical Consent to Surgery. I had an opportunity to read many biographies of the patients and many were identical to Jenny Boylan in that they felt they were female (male) from a very early age. Jenny is frank, often humorous, courageous and honest and I enjoyed reading the details of her journey from James to Jenny.
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a well written memoir by a writer, college professor and transgender woman who shares what it was like for her to grow up feeling that she was a female in a male body. She tells about going through reassignment surgery with her wife and close (male) friend at her side. I appreciate that her friend wrote an afterward sharing how it felt to be Jennifer's friend as she went through this process. I had the opportunity to meet Jennifer at the Printers Row Lit Fest--cool lady!
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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 about Jennifer Finney Boylan...
“As it turns out, we're all still learning to be men, or women, all still learning to be ourselves. pg 197” 7 likes
“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
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