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She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders Hardcover – July 29, 2003

199 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Boylan, English professor and author of the critically acclaimed novels The Constellations (1994), The Planets (1991), and Getting In (1998), began life as a male named James Boylan. In this autobiography, she details her lifelong struggle with her burgeoning femaleness and the path she followed to become a female, both physically and mentally. For 40 years, the author lived as a man, seemingly happy and even marrying a woman and fathering two children. At a certain point, though, she realized that she couldn't suppress her desire to live as a female and so eventually went through all the steps to become female, including sexual reassignment surgery. There is something troubling about Boylan's lighthearted tone, and while she hints at it, there is no really clear depiction of the havoc this transition must have wreaked on her married life (Boylan's wife was clearly devastated) and on her children (who at times refer to her as boygirl or maddy). But Boylan's well-written and informative book is a worthy contribution to the body of work on this subject. Kathleen Hughes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"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

"In addition to being a complete delight, this book should make us all question what we mean when we use the words love, marriage, and friendship. Jennifer Finney Boylan is a great gift to womanhood."
--Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (July 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076791404X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767914048
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jenny Boylan is the author of ten books, including the brand-new I'M LOOKING THROUGH YOU, a memoir about growing up in a haunted house, as well as a reflection on the nature of "being haunted." Her 2003 memoir, SHE'S NOT THERE was one of the first bestselling works by a transgender American. A three-time guest of the Oprah Winfrey program, she has twice appeared on Larry King Live as well as on the Today Show. She has been the subject of a documentary on CBS News' 48 Hours, and in the spring of 2007, Jenny played herself on several episodes of ABC's All My Children. She has been parodied with eerie accuracy by Will Forte on "Saturday Night Live." Since 1988, Jenny has been a professor of English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 89 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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.
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69 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Laura Richins on September 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Soggyinseattle on July 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Linda Bulger VINE VOICE on March 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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