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Every Monday the Journey with Jesus posts a new essay based upon the Biblical Lectionary, a film review, a book review, and a poem or prayer.

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The Journey with Jesus: Book Notes

Reviews By Dan Clendenin

Jennifer Finney Boylan, She's Not There; A Life in Two Genders (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 307pp.Jennifer Finney Boylan, She's Not There; A Life in Two Genders (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 307pp.

           From his earliest memories as a three-year old, James Finney was never without the awareness that he was "in the wrong body, living the wrong life." As a youngster, a teenager, a college student, a husband deeply in love with his wife and two children, and a professor of English at Colby College in Maine, Boylan countered that unsettling consciousness for several long decades with "an exasperated companion thought, namely, 'Don't be an idiot, You're not a girl. Get over it.'" This deeply human memoir tells how James never "got over it" and how at the age of forty-three he finally had sex reassignment surgery that completed his transgendering to Jennifer.

           Boylan says that her journey caused her "an almost inexpressible degree of private grief." She discovered that gender identity was far more complex than sexual attraction, cultural expectations, cross dressing, extended therapy, biology, or even genetics. It was not a choice for a certain lifestyle. She tried mightily to "accept who I wasn't," knowing that transgendering from male to female would "mean only loss and grief" for many people. In that herculean but ultimately futile quest she was aided by having inherited her mother's "boundless optimism." She counted her blessings, and especially the "greatest years of her life" in marriage to Carol and their two children. James knew full well that finally transitioning to a female would cause his beloved Carol untold grief, loss, and a sense of betrayal, and that he would bear his own grief and guilt as a result.

           In the end, Boylan describes her transgendering from James to Jennifer as more like an "erosion" or "forced conscription" than a decision. This story is a powerful one because of its transparency. Most people supported her; her sister has never spoken to her since she transitioned. As you would expect, her memoir is partly a plea for understanding, but even that is not compromised by polemical or partisan zeal. James transgendered to Jennifer "because I can't not." After all the explanations and anguish, she concludes, "What I have come to realize is that no matter how much light one attempts to throw on this condition, it remains a mystery" (248). At the end of the book Boylan offers thirteen questions for discussion and eight books for further reading. Her sequel memoir called I'm Looking Through You was published in 2008.