She’s Not There: A Life In Two Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. With an Afterword by Richard Russo. Broadway Books, 2003.

by Samantha P.

ShesNotThereBookThe inside dust cover front flap calls this book “The exuberant memoir of a man named James who became a woman named Jenny.” And so it is. It is a heart wrenching, and heart warming story about a family in transition. Yes, it is the story of a man becoming a woman, but it is also the story of the changes that were effected in the lives of others, from his wife, Grace, to his best friend, Richard Russo.

Written in an entertaining style, the reader will laugh and cry along with Jennifer as she struggles with life, from early days to her final emergence as a woman. Throughout there are many words of wisdom, often overlooked by the reader, but which when thought about bring a deeper understanding of the struggle that all who are transgender experience in their attempt to meet life head on.

It is a book filled with wisdom for those who seek to understand the phenomenon. And, it is a book to help those who are on the path to being in the body which matches the mind.

Early on Jenny gives a description of what being transgender is all about. Without doubt, it is the best I have ever come across. She says: “Being transgendered is about identity.

What it’s emphatically not is a “lifestyle,” any more than being male or female is a lifestyle. When I imagine a person with a lifestyle, I see a millionaire playboy named Chip who likes to race yachts to Bimini, or an accountant, perhaps, who dresses up in a suit of armor on the weekends.

Being transgendered isn’t like that. Gender is many things, but one thing it surely is not is a hobby. Being female is not something you do because it is clever or postmodern, or because you’re a deluded, deranged narcissist.

In the end, what it is, more than anything else, is a fact. It is the dilemma of the transsexual, though, that it is a fact that cannot possibly be understood without imagination.”

Throughout the story of James to Jennifer, the reader will find many pearls of wisdom, far too many to reiterate here, save a few which I found most pertinent to me. For example:

“… no amount of wishing that this were not the case can make it not the case. No amount of praying that you are not transgendered will make you something other than what you are. No amount of love from anyone will make you fit inside a body that does not match your spirit.”

“For many people, transgendered or not, womanhood is thought, wrongly, to be synonymous with femininity — with makeup and stretchy T-shirts and an obsession with Brad Pitt. None of this has a damned thing to do with it, of course, and in the long run, a transsexual who hopes to build a life around high heels and sponge cake is in for something of a disappointment.”

“Worse, it is a mystery that everyone has an opinion about. … Having an opinion about transsexuality is about as useful as having an opinion on blindness. You can think whatever you like about it, but in the end, your friend is still blind and surely deserves to see.”

This is not a book to be read once and then to be put on the shelf, to be forgotten. You will want to read it again.

Do yourself a favour. Get it. Now! You won’t be sorry.