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She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  11,140 ratings  ·  953 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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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  11,140 ratings  ·  953 reviews

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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: motley-crew
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
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
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
May 24, 2019 rated it did not like it
Wow. I wasn't expecting a book about a trans woman's life experiences to be a hate read. But damn if it didn't turn into a hate read.

Ok so let's get on the same page: This is a memoir from Jennifer Finney Boylan. She is a creative writer and an English professor at Colby College. She was born a man, but from an early age identified as female. She married a woman, they had two kids, and transitioned in the early 2000s with (including a gender reassignment surgery). She and her wife are still marr
Memoirs are hard to get right: too much honesty and everyone will come away hating you, too littleand everyone comes away hating you and thinking you're a phony. Then too, many people who have had interesting lives aren't able to articulate them very well. Then you can read a couple of hundred pages and still never have a clue what the author is like. And those who are good at turning their personal history into charming anecdotes are rarely also good at placing their narrative into a bigger con ...more
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
May 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
I took a couple classes with Jenny and one with James, so I'm a little prejudiced. But, I loved it despite my inclination to love it already. 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. ...more
May 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is definitely an interesting book: the memoir of a transgender woman who made the transition in her early 40s, after marrying a woman who had no idea of her gender issues, having two kids, and building a career as an English professor in rural Maine. It seems to be pretty heavily fictionalized, which makes for entertaining reading, with lots of dialogue and some moments of comedy.

But for all that this is a memoir about the author’s personal journey, I found her emotions understated and inn
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful story of M to F transition that's both amusingly engaging and deeply emotional. Husband, father, and professor fulfills destiny to become female. What amazing bravery! I was especially fascinated by the difficult process her wife went through, losing her husband without losing love. SO interesting.

Clearly a case of don't judge a book by its cover (who signed off on that?). Or title. I still don't get it.
S. Wigget
I didn't expect this to be such a funny, quick read. ...more
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
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012, non-fiction, lgbtq
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
Ai Miller
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,
Jul 05, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs-i-adore
**Be sure to read the 2013 edition, which includes afterwords by both Jenny and her wife Grace.**

I started this book on a whim during a particularly boring desk hour and quickly checked out the physical book and ebook and (a few weeks later) the audio. It's a memoir about one trans woman's experience growing up, coming out, and transitioning in her 40s, but it's also a memoir about love and loss and healing and hope and what it's like to carry around an enormous secret for forty years. I found m
Nancy Vincent
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.
Denise Lauron
I really enjoyed this book. It took a serious topic and dealt with it with humor. I loved the honesty of the book, and how times have changed in the time the original book was written.
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: https://www.wnba-centennial.org/book-...

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
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I devoured this book. It’s a memoir that’s hilarious at times, and sad too, like any life well lived. It’s also very well written. Most importantly for me, it really helped me understand what it feels like to be transgender. My niece, Michaela, is transgender, so this issue is near and dear to my heart. Their situation is different, but it still increased my understanding of what Michaela, my almost 6 year old niece, might feel.

The author transitions from a man to a woman after she's a happily
Jul 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
I’m grateful to the author for sharing her story of being a transgender woman with honesty, grace and humor. It was also helpful to hear the viewpoints and the struggles of her wife, her family, and friends. I learned about some things I was curious about, but in the end, my main takeaway is that “All we can do in the face of this enormous, infinite anguish is to have compassion.”
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
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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

Articles featuring this book

The fall book season is shaping up to be one of the busiest and best in recent memory, and we’re not just saying that. If you’re the kind...
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“As it turns out, we're all still learning to be men, or women, all still learning to be ourselves. pg 197” 10 likes
“...I really did "choose" to be Jim every single day, but that once I put my sword down I haven't chosen Jenny at all; I simply wake up and here I am.” 8 likes
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