on September 8, 2003
I went into reading this book with more then a bit of skepticism, having seen other examples of transgender people telling their story fall short of what I have known and experienced (yep, I am a transgender M to F myself). Anyway I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Ms. Boylan writes with a grace and a style that made the book easily readable and one for me that I wanted to read, rather then had to read.
Some people might criticize the relatively light tone she takes with some of the darker issues she had to face (like a disapproving sister) but after reading so many doom and gloom tales that over emphasize that side, this was a breath of fresh air.
As someone like Ms. Boylan who is going through transition as a family (with some differences in terms of family dynamics) I can say that the emotions she writes about, her and of those around her, if lightened up, are real. Her spouse deals with this differently then many spouses would, for sure, but the pain and the hurt expressed is true in my experience. Likewise, the uncertainty of people around a transitioning person is portrayed very well here, especially in the relationship with her friend Richard Russo. I am glad that Jenny made the point that not only is the person transitioning, so are the people around them.
I also would like to comment on some of the other reviews, who imply that Jenny "glossed over" the pain of her family, or implied she was some sort of typical middle age man just "doing his own thing". I suspect if she glossed over the raw emotions it was to protect her family and their privacy, not about trivializing them. As far as this being some sort of middle age crisis and a 'choice', forget it. As someone who is there, I can tell you it is no choice when someone transititions at this age (or later), by then it is do this or perish as a person.
I recommend this book to all readers, no matter of who they are. It is well written, and I think it serves as a gentle and informative (though not complete) portrayal of a complex subject and of someone finally becoming themselves.
Jennifer Finney Boylan has written a tremendously moving and sometimes funny account of her transformation from male to female. (At one point she opines about taking speech lessons from a Hungarian voice specialist: "'Great,' I said. 'So I'll talk like a Hungarian woman.'")She is obviously a fine writer and reading her story is quite effortless. For me this is a bittersweet memoir because of all the anguish that Ms. Boylan's transformation causes, particularly for the wife Grace, who comes across as being terribly decent and loving. (I do not mean to imply that Boyland is not decent and loving, quite to the contrary.) Grace expresses her feelings about all that is going on very poignantly: "You asked me if I thought this was necessary, and yes, I do. I think it's taken incredible bravery and courage for you to be the person you need to be, and I'm not going to stand in the way of that. I would never keep the person I love from being who she needs to be. But I can't be glad for you, Jenny. Every success you've had as a woman is also a loss for me."
Both Jennifer and Grace are brutally honest in how they feel; at times I found their honesty almost too painful to read.
But shouldn't everyone have a friend like Richard Russo! What a supportive and thoroughly caring person he is. Boylan's best friend, he writes a warm and loving afterward to this story.
on July 29, 2003
Jennifer Finney Boylan's book offers a look into the true story of the life of a transgendered person. In it she recounts her struggles to be male, all the while feeling inherently female in the wrong body. As a mismatched mind and body, the author gives the reader a sense of the confusion that results, that is, until the day James realizes that, he would be happier if he became a woman. From childhood through adulthood, including marriage as a man to a woman and fatherhood, Ms. Boylan takes the reader through the process of hormone therapy and surgery to become Jennifer, all the while gently and lovingly working through the bumps of taking longstanding relationships along for the ride.
Boylan presents her life story with sensitivity, warmth and humor making it a very good read. I recommend this book for its entertainment value and the opportunity it presents to educate the reader about this little known condition.
Jennifer Finney Boylan spent her first 40 years as a woman in a man's body. She's Not There : A Life in Two Genders is Jennifer's story about growing up as James, knowing with "heartbroken conviction" that she was living in the wrong life, and hoping to be "cured by love."
James Boylan met and married Grace and became a professor at Colby College in Maine. Together they raised two sons. Boylan's life included playing in various bands, writing and publishing successful books, and constant excruciating dissonance and concealment. At age forty-two, after years of therapy and exploring transgender issues, Boylan began the transition to a female body. This was achieved through hormone therapy and eventual gender reassignment surgery.
We are led to understand that she didn't DECIDE to make this transition, but rather stopped resisting it. Boylan's writing is often wry and even funny, but she never tries to conceal the pain of her transgendered life and the redemptive integration of her reassignment. She moves back and forth in time, framing the story with an emotionally revealing opening and then varying the intensity throughout.
The impact on Boylan's family and friends was "atomic." Boylan chose fictional names for the non-public people in this memoir, and her choice of the name Grace for her spouse cannot be by chance. After years of marriage, Grace mourned the loss of her husband while finding enough love and faith in her life partner to stay in the relationship. Unstinting in her own self-exposure, Boylan leaves a veil of privacy over the nature of her spouse's accommodation to this change.
In a riveting afterword (from which my title line is taken), Boylan's closest friend, author Richard Russo, explores his own response to Jennifer's transition and its impact. Russo writes of Grace: "Years earlier, her heart had inclined in the direction of another soul...We love whom we love. In the past two years, for Grace, everything had changed and nothing had changed. Her heart still inclined, as was its habit."
She's Not There : A Life in Two Genders is a beautifully written story of hope, inviting us to reassess the meaning of love and friendship. To call it a book about sex change would be to sell its message far too short.
Linda Bulger, 2008
on October 31, 2003
Well, as yet another transsexual, I read this book after seeing good reviews in the local paper and a few other places, not really expecting much frankly, because most books I have tried to read written by transfolk have been....well, bad, frankly. Or way too preachy, at the least.
Well, this book is not preachy. It's not clinical. It doesn't beat the reader over the head with the subject. Boylan writes very matter-of-factly, with humor, and taking things in stride -- yes, she has been very lucky that the people in her life have been accepting for the most part; however, people who discount this book because she has had good luck are doing themselves a disservice. Not every transition has to involve being committed, disowned, destitute, or nearly killed. The problem is that the vast majority of well-adjusted trans people end up fading into the woodwork, as she states at one point, and don't want to make a big deal of their past.
This is the book that I have given to friends and family to try to help them understand what I'm going through, because it is easy to read, it's not a complete downer, and it does a good job of expressing the feelings I have (although I obviously don't feel exactly like Boylan). If you are looking for an insight on transsexuality, this is a good primer.
on March 31, 2005
I was assigned this book for two seperate sociology classes. For the first class, after I bought the book, I opened it one night and couldn't put it down. Yet for the second class, the next semester, it had turned into a much more difficult read. Jenny skims over much of her life as James, picking out the parts that would appeal to the readers hearts the most--the encounter with Onion, time in Europe, the birth of his sons--and hiding the negatives. She even goes so far as to tell the readers, at the end, that she did skip over or change the negative stories that were told and invented dialogue. This made me wonder just how much of the book is true, and if this would be better placed on the fiction shelves.
I cannot complain about the writing--after all, she is an english professor--but what I can, and do complain about is the lack of information about her family. Between her surgery and the time that this book was completed and sent to the printers, what changed?
Had this book been a bit more balanced, then this would have been worth 5 stars.
on January 25, 2004
"Life is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself" -George Bernard Shaw
"She's not there" is a great primer, of sorts, for those outside the Transgender community to assist in understanding the stuggles and sacrifices that Transpersons go through to be themselves. It is not a dry, 'medical grade' book, (which there are plenty of), but it puts a human face on a facet of life theat is puzzling to many.
Honest, witty, and extremely well-written, I picked up this book and finished it in 5 hours. Not that I'm any sort of literary demon, but because I myself am also Transgendered. So much of this book resonates as true, (in my experience), that it now serves as an 'Transgender 101' reading list book for my friends.
If you are Transgendered, or know someone who is, this book will go far in bridging the education gap of this misunderstood, and oft maligned segment of our society.
on January 28, 2016
And in indeed it will. This book is beautifully written and a carefully crafted story of one woman's journey into the often trying world of a sex change operation. What I admired abut the author was that she never feels sorry for herself; but rather is continually concerned abut how her decision will impact on others, especially her children and devoted wife Grace.
She delves deeply into the psychological impact on co-workers on her complex long-held secret. I admired her wit and irreverence in the face of this life altering decision. This is quite a book! And as her grandmother wisely said, "Love Will Prevail". Indeed it did. Of course, there are many transgenders that don't have happy endings to their journeys, we must take that into consideration. But I do believe that if you are in the process, tortured by a life of hiding a secret, this book is worth reading. I am a heterosexual senior, and it opened my eyes!
on August 5, 2003
I was reluctant to read another tell-all by yet another transsexual. As a "trans" person and sociologist studying these issues, who has read a thousand books on the subject, the last thing I wanted to hear was another account of playing dress-up at age three and all the sordid details thereafter. Yet friends insisted, despite myself, that I read just the first chapter. I was hooked by the author's delicate, nuanced brushstrokes. The short story format and staggered chronology gave me the feeling of how this life had been interrupted and jerked around by the social forces of stigma and conformity. I felt intimately connected to the author and, ultimately, to my own life.
on September 17, 2008
From his earliest memories as a three-year old, James Finney was never without the awareness that he was "in the wrong body, living the wrong life." As a youngster, a teenager, a college student, a husband deeply in love with his wife and two children, and a professor of English at Colby College in Maine, Boylan countered that unsettling consciousness for several long decades with "an exasperated companion thought, namely, 'Don't be an idiot, You're not a girl. Get over it.'" This deeply human memoir tells how James never "got over it" and how at the age of forty-three he finally had sex reassignment surgery that completed his transgendering to Jennifer.
Boylan says that her journey caused her "an almost inexpressible degree of private grief." She discovered that gender identity was far more complex than sexual attraction, cultural expectations, cross dressing, extended therapy, biology, or even genetics. It was not a choice for a certain lifestyle. She tried mightily to "accept who I wasn't," knowing that transgendering from male to female would "mean only loss and grief" for many people. In that herculean but ultimately futile quest she was aided by having inherited her mother's "boundless optimism." She counted her blessings, and especially the "greatest years of her life" in marriage to Carol and their two children. James knew full well that finally transitioning to a female would cause his beloved Carol untold grief, loss, and a sense of betrayal, and that he would bear his own grief and guilt as a result.
In the end, Boylan describes her transgendering from James to Jennifer as more like an "erosion" or "forced conscription" than a decision. This story is a powerful one because of its transparency. Most people supported her; her sister has never spoken to her since she transitioned. As you would expect, her memoir is partly a plea for understanding, but even that is not compromised by polemical or partisan zeal. James transgendered to Jennifer "because I can't not." After all the explanations and anguish, she concludes, "What I have come to realize is that no matter how much light one attempts to throw on this condition, it remains a mystery" (248). At the end of the book Boylan offers thirteen questions for discussion and eight books for further reading. Her sequel memoir called I'm Looking Through You was published in 2008.