Jim Boylan knew there was something odd happening when he snuck into the extra bedroom to try on his mom and sister’s dresses. But he had to do it. However, as She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders illustrates, being a man who knows he is a woman, in his heart and soul, is only partly about dressing fancy in heels and make-up. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but one that does little justice to the complexity of this topic.
Some of my sociological learning was that women and men are fundamentally the same (despite having different genitals and reproductive systems). We only seem so different as women and men because we are socialized that way. I whole-heartedly agree that a large part of gender is socially constructed, but stopping the argument there does not advance our understanding.
There seems to be something(s) that structure the male and female brain differently, and our socialization tends to amplify these differences (and sometimes creates artificial differences). The wiring of the brain, underlying structure, and hormone amounts and receptors seem to push us in a direction that ends up being interpreted as male or female. I think it is here that explains why some folks identify as transgender, despite their physical attributes to the contrary. They feel like they have the “brain” of the other gender. Some, like Boylan, describe it as the soul of the other gender. But if we lived in a society that allowed for great flexibility in expression of gender and didn’t stigmatize “feminine” males and “masculine” females, this might not be experienced as such a disorienting juxtapositioning of brain, body, and soul.
Jennifer Finney Boylan is an author with a wonderfully smooth and entertaining style of writing. She’s Not There is her memoir which concludes at age 45 with her transition to living fully as a woman. It’s incredibly poignant and honest – the good, the bad, and the ugly – but the humor carries you along.
If you ever wondered what it was like to view the world as a transgendered person, how relationships can endure such a shift, the impact on children, family, friends, and colleagues, what it’s like to experience the world as both a man and a woman, and the value of unwavering love and support, you will find the answers in this powerful book.
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