Book club pick “She’s Not There – A life in Two Genders”

She's Not There/mindfulness/flickr

She's Not There

There were only six of us at my neighborhood book club, The Hogback Mountain Book club, the other night. Others were dealing with end of school responsibilities, illness or other situations that took precedence over the once monthly book club meeting. I had picked the memoir She’s Not There – A Life in Two Genders” a year ago when I read it for the first time. It had left me with a new world view of what it meant to be ourselves; of what it meant to be a woman or a man in this society. I was left with new information on the struggles some have to be the person they think they are, in this case a man who knew beyond a doubt that he was a woman.

This book is about James Boylan’s journey to womanhood as Jennifer Finney Boylan. It chronicles her life as James being in a man’s body, doing manly things, except always feeling like he’s in the wrong body, because it is a man’s body; until finally he falls in love and for a time forgets that he is living unauthentically. He chooses every day to present his persona as a man, a husband and a father. It tells of his struggle to stay a man, untrue to his real identity until finally he can’t take it anymore and tells his wife his horrible secret. The secret that he really wants to be a woman that he’s wanted this since age three.

His wife loves him so much that she wants him to realize his happiness even though it takes the man she married away from her into womanhood. James becomes the woman he has always wanted to be. The book goes on to say that over forty thousand people go through the surgery. That counts for more people than have cleft palate and multiple sclerosis. It is not as small a number as people think. And that’s because most transsexuals suffer quietly. The ones the public hear about are those who behave badly. As Jennifer says the more one talks about it, trying to explain oneself the less like others he becomes.

The book “She’s Not There” is my first excursion into the life of a transsexual and introduced me to the difference between transgendered, gays, lesbians and transvestite. The book is so well written that I found myself able to identify with both Jennifer and her wife Grace. Yes her wife Grace. It is confusing even for those who go the route of sex change. What does that make a family couple?

.I found this memoir unforgettable, wanting to introduce it to others by way of my book club. The six of us talked about what it meant to us as we each in turn tried to answer the questions at the end of the book. We all liked it, one saying it was a good quick read. As it were it opened a world we only guessed at before. All of us but one had no outside experience of what a transgendered person was or had any idea of what the burden of being a transgendered person meant.

And this one person says that the transgendered person she knows works at a service station. When she is done working she wants to do her hair and be feminine but her voice gives her away, making everyone not sure how to react. Most react by laughing at her.

Five of the other transgendered people Jenny meets in her journey commit suicide, finding life too hard to endure. One thing this book clearly addressed is that it is a painful condition to have and not at all easy to cure.  Once the transsexual seeks fulfillment it is at the sacrifice of all they hold dear, at the loss of all their loved ones. For a person to change gender means the end of life as their spouse or family knew it. It takes love and courage to journey down the road where the transgendered person goes. And it is not for the meek or weak of heart.

Jennifer Finney Boylan is co-chair of English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where she has taught since 1988. She wrote several novels as James and has gone on to publish four more young adult novels under a pseudonym and has an honorary MA at Colby. There are other significant achievements you can read about on her web page

What are your stories of the Transgendered/gay/lesbian/transvestites/ in your life? As a blogging friend says on her blog, “No Rules, Just Write”.


About ClaraBowmanJahn

Journal writer. Author of "Annie's Special Day" And coauthor of Edmund Pickle Chin, A Donkey Rescue Story." Proud mother and grandmother of wonderful kids. Wife of brilliant husband. Servant of two cats. Member of Pennwriters and SCBWI.
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10 Responses to Book club pick “She’s Not There – A life in Two Genders”

  1. Patty says:

    Way cool picture at the top. I am a care provider and have gay and lesbian patients. I treat people equally. I think we as people need to know that people are not all the same inside or outside. The more we know, we understand, we become more accepting of differences.


  2. clarbojahn says:

    That is so true. We need to accept people for who they are, differences and all. Thanks for commenting and for stopping by.


    • thank u patty and clar for these resonating thoughts. i luv the idea that there r way fewer dividers between one or another idea/person/theory/science and so forth than we culturally practice. I also believe that it is more friendly to Me and to others to do our best to be in the space of that idea often. keep on!


      • clarbojahn says:

        You’re welcome , Sana. I think we suffer more when we think we are separated from each other. When we realize we are spiritual brothers and sisters we automatically find love in our hearts. I agree with you that we practice cultural differences but there are more similarities than we give each other credit for. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  3. nrhatch says:

    Wonderful review . . . and you quoted me at the end!

    If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the movie, TransAmerica starring Felicity Huffman:

    Bree (Felicity Huffman) gets the shock of her life a week before her final sex change surgery when she discovers a son she didn’t know she had. After bailing him out of jail, the two set out on a cross-country journey riddled with road bumps. Huffman won numerous awards (and an Oscar nomination) for her role as a man longing to be a woman.

    No rules. Just write. 😀


  4. clarbojahn says:

    Thank you for that link and movie suggestion. I will definitely put it on my netflix list. It sure does sound like something I want to see.
    I always appreciate your comments
    Yes, I love your adage of “No rules. Just write”. 🙂 Thanks for letting me borrow it.


  5. widdershins says:

    ‘Transamerica’ is most definitely worth seeing.

    There is so much gender-bending/fluidity going on now – at least in western societies – that I can only hope that children who grow into adults over the next few years won’t have to go through such agonies in order to define themselves. One can only hope.


    • clarbojahn says:

      Yes, agony is a good way to describe the gender identification some have to go through in order to be authentic to their true selves. I had no idea it was so hard.
      Transamerica is on our Netflix queue. Thanks for reading and stopping by.


      • widdershins says:

        You know what I like about reading of your adventures here Clar? It’s how open you are to what comes your way. You’re an impressive woman.


  6. clarbojahn says:

    Thank you for the compliment. Never been called impressive before…:)


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