She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan: Book Review

she's not there a life in two genders by jennifer finney boylan cover

She’s Not There is a well-written, funny, and also at times painful memoir about a trans woman who transitioned in her early forties. Although it takes place not too long ago (it was published in 2003, and Jennifer transitioned in 2001-2003 or thereabouts), times were really different then, in particular for trans people.

I found the stories of how she was treated when people saw her as a man versus when they saw her as a woman to be really interesting and eye-opening, sometimes horrifying. As the spouse of a trans man, I admit I found Jenny’s wife’s and friends’ reactions to be a little puzzling; but as I said, times were different, and I also recognize that not everyone feels the way I do (or did) and can be so happy for the person finally deciding to follow their truth and transition.

Some of the language in this did bother me some – namely a lot of the language around ‘becoming a woman’. To me, Jenny always was a woman, regardless of hormones, surgery, clothes, or makeup. Also, the phrase ‘former transsexual’ truly baffles me. Once you do hormones and surgery, you’re no longer trans? I don’t think that makes sense.

I do recognize that the person who wrote this is trans and thus she is fully entitled to use whatever language works for her and I, as a cisgendered person, am in no place to criticize it; that said, I know many (younger) trans people today would not generally agree with some of it. But language evolves, even inside of 15 years, and so do attitudes and understandings of what it is to be trans (or gay, or a woman, or anything else – you name it).

All in all, this was a great book that gave a very real glimpse into the inner struggle of what it’s like to be trans, and all the pain and long years of contemplation and even fighting against it that many people like Jenny live through. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about what trans people go through from a first-hand perspective. – Anne ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


 

This is my second time reading She’s Not There and I’m glad I revisited it. There were so many great stories I had forgotten about.

This memoir follows a trans woman’s journey as she transitions genders later in life.

Jenny’s stories are sad and humorous – ultimately though, the message that I found throughout each chapter is absolutely one of hope.

As a trans man, I enjoyed this book a lot. I think it makes a good read for non-trans folk to get a glimpse into the life and daily battles of a trans person, encompassing the ups and downs in the periods before, during, and after a gender transition.

I also appreciated how an anecdote about a magic trick from childhood makes it full circle when Jenny later visits a magic shop with her children in one of the final chapters.

Some of the phrasing (such as ‘becoming a woman’ and ‘former transsexual’) felt a little awkward to me, but I think that could largely be because of how language adapts and changes over time and the phrases I personally use. I still think the book is a great resource, an entertaining read, and a really insightful look into the life of a very inspiring writer! – Jake ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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