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

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

Boylan, Jennifer Finney. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Broadway Books, 2004. ISBN 978-0767914291 320 pp. $

It’s my first time to post here!

Being a native Mainer, I like to keep up with local authors. I’m a big fan of Richard Russo, who once taught at Colby College, and his colleague James Finney Boylan, who is a fine writer as well. I recently picked up the new memoir She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan, thinking that I would welcome this new voice who must certainly be James’s wife. To my surprise, I discovered that while Richard was receiving accolades for his wonderful Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Empire Falls, James was becoming a woman.

By sharing her story, Finney Boylan examines the questions of gender identity and sexual identity (two different concepts) and what it means to “be” male or to “be” female, and how her eventual decision to become a woman affected her relationships with those she loves. Married with two children and in love with his wife, she nevertheless had always felt, as early as the age of three, that she would be happier as a female. In her early 40s, she decided to have sexual reassignment surgery, with the unhappy though loving support of her family and best friend Russo. The book charts these choppy waters mostly through presenting vignettes of the years leading up to the decision.

On the Atlantic City boardwalk, at 10 years old, she thought to herself, maybe you could be cured by love. For 30 years she tried to convince herself that love would conquer the thing that had taken hold, indeed was settled in her essential being. It could not. His wife Grace (who, upon learning of his initial need to dress as a woman, had once admonished him, “No pearls before five”) and children and best friend were forced to re-examine their own attitudes, learn how to relate to Jenny as she takes on James’s former roles, and deal with the grief and feelings of loss they experienced when James left them. It’s riveting reading.

review by Macee

Read Alli’s review for another take on She’s Not There!

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