Monday, March 24, 2014

A Review of 'She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders' by Jennifer Finney Boylan

"She's Not There is the story of a person changing genders, the story of a person bearing and finally revealing a complex secret; above all, it is a love story.  By turns funny and deeply moving, Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the remarkable territory that lies between men and women, examines changing friendships, and rejoices in the redeeming power of family.  She's Not There is a portrait of a loving marriage-- the love of James for his wife, Grace, and, against all odds, the enduring love of Grace for the woman who becomes her "sister," Jenny.

To this extraordinary true story Boylan brings the humorous, fresh voice that won her accolades as one of the best comic novelists of her generation.  With her distinctive and winning perspective, She's Not There explores the dramatic outward changes and unexpected results of life as a woman: Jenny fights the urge to eat salad while James consumed plates of ribs; gone is the stability of "one damn mood, all the damn time."

While Boylan's own secret was unusual, to say the least, she captures the universal sense of feeling uncomfortable, out of sorts with the world, and misunderstood by her peers.  Jenny is supported on her journey by her best friend, novelist Richard Russo, who goes from begging his friend to "Be a man" (in every sense of the world) to accepting her as an attractive, buoyant woman.  "The most unexpected thing," Russo writes in his Afterword to the book, "is how Jenny's story we recognize our shared humanity."

As James evolves into Jennifer in scenes that are by turns tender, startling, and witty, a marvelously human perspective emerges on issues of love, sex, and the fascinating relationship between our physical and our intuitive selves.  Through the clear eyes of a truly remarkable woman, She's Not There provides a new window on the often confounding process of accepting ourselves."

Jenny Boylan has such a way with words, but I have to admit, this was a hard book to get through.  I found myself sobbing and relating with a number of the characters.  I had to put the book down at those moments.  On top of those times, I was really grateful that I was reading this book.  It's an honest account written by someone who has struggled with their gender for their entire life and everything that followed.  I was surprised by how... normal it felt.  I'm not sure if 'normal' is the proper word to use.  I guess I expected Jenny's family to have a different feel to it, since she was born a man and had transitioned into a woman while her family was growing up.  But the only sense of difference I felt was between Jenny and Grace-- Grace had a hard time as her husband turned into not her wife (because she was uncomfortable with Jenny being called her wife), but her sister.  That made me really sad.

When I was reading this book, I was mostly curious about what happens during and after the surgery.  The effects and how loved ones were feeling during this process.  Of course everyone was nervous, but in the end, everything was okay and the surgery that Jenny had turned out to be merely the last step in the process.  Not a lot of celebration, just recovery and moving on.

It was nice to have the word "transgender" explained to me by someone older than me and someone who had it together so that she could claim the life that was hers.  I loved that a chunk of the book was devoted to being happy with yourself and putting importance on paying attention to how you feel inside.

Jenny Boylan is very talented and seems to be a very patient and honest writer.  If you're confused about transexuality or want to know more about being transgender and what that's like, this is a great place to start.  It was very helpful for me and quite interesting.

I give 'She's Not There':
Thanks for Reading!


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