Book Review: In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
This review is painful to write. The book was painful to read. I suspect that it was painful for Faludi to write it. Faludi is an excellent writer; one that I’ve enjoyed reading before. But in this book, she must confront the confusion of having a father become a post-op transwoman, at a very late age. As a reader with my background, having transitioned as a teenager, I remember MY confusion meeting such late transitioning transwomen with no clue as to how different they are from our conception of who and what a transsexual is and/or should be like… reading her book is like revisiting that confusion all over again, but with the addition emotional pain of having known a father all of one’s life – and NOT being able to reconcile the cultural image of a transsexual and the reality of knowing an agressively masculine man as one’s father.
Much of the book also deals with Hungary itself, which frankly, held no interest for me. Other readers may feel differently. It should be no surprise that as the book unfolds, told as part travel log to Hungary where her father now lives, part family history flashback that we see disturbing instances of inappropriate autogynephilic, even exhibitionist, behavior in her father such as entering her room while only half clothed, asking her help to get dressed, asking her to participate in wardrobe selection, excusing this behavior as “Oh, come now; We’re all women here.”
Later in her visit, the exhibitionist behavior is even more open, as Stefanie asks, “Can you leave your door open? You close it every night when you go to bed.”
“Because I want to be treated as a woman. I want to be able to walk around without clothes and for you to treat it normally”
“Women don’t ‘normally’ walk around naked,” Susan replied.
Also, clearly, Stefanie Faludi, as she is now, is totally clueless as to the level of privilege that she has enjoyed during a lifetime as a man before transitioning to an extremely non-passing transwoman in retirement, reveling in her ability to use gender stereotypes when it suits her, “Now that I’m a lady, Bader (neighbor/handyman hired to do odd jobs) fixes everything. Men have to help me. I don’t lift a finger,” giving Susan a pointed look, “You write of all of the disadvantages of being a woman, but I’ve only found advantages.”
In Stefanie’s wardrobe Susan finds a treasure trove of classic, over the top, cross-dressing fantasy outfits that as she describes it,
“might have outfitted a Vegas burlesque show: a sequin-and-beaded magenta evening gown with a sweep train, a princess party frock with wedding-cake layers of crinoline, a polka-dotted schoolgirl’s pinafore with matching apron, a pink tulle tutu, a diaphanous cape, a pink feather boa, a peek-a-boo baby-doll nightie with matching ruffled panties, a pair of white lace-up stiletto boots, a Bavarian dirndl, and wigs of various styles and shades– from Brunhilde braids to bleach-blond pageboy to Shirley Temple mop of curls.”
Stefanie even shares with Susan her collection of forced feminization fiction, downloaded from the internet, some of it written by her father, her character, “submitting to the directives of chief housekeeper while an all-female crew of iron-handed maids order “Steven” into baby-doll nighties, Mary Jane shoes, and a French chambermaid’s uniform.” Of course, her father waves all of this away, “I haven’t looked at that website for two years at least. It was just a–, like a hobby. Like I used smoke cigars, but I gave it up This was all before.”
“Now I’m a real woman,” she said, “But I keep these… as souvenirs. I put a lot of work into them; I don’t want to throw them out.”
Susan Faludi lets us in on the big secret about such transwomen,
“A reigning tenet of modern transgenderism holds that gender identity and sexuality are two separate realms, not to be confused. “Being transgender has nothing to do with sexual orientation, sex, or genitalia,” an online informational site instructs typically. “Transgender is strictly about gender identity” Yet, here in my father’s file folders was a record of her earliest steps toward gender parthenogenesis, expressed in vividly sexual terms. And here in FictionMania and Sissy Station and the vast electronic literature of forced feminization was a transgender id in which becoming a woman was thoroughly sexualized, in which femininity was related in terms of bondage and humiliation and orgasm, and the transformation from one gender to another was eroticized at every step. How to tease the two apart?”
In the book, we can see Stefanie trying to rewrite her history, especially in denial about her having violated a restraining order, breaking into her estranged wife’s house, and attacking her mother’s new boyfriend first with a baseball bat, then stabbing him with a knife, sending him to the hospital. Stefanie tries to play the abused woman in her retconned life narrative. It was all his ex-wife’s fault for not being accepting of him as a feminine soul. Fortunately, Susan, having been there, doesn’t buy into it.
It is clear from reading the book, that Susan Faludi has done her homework regarding the transgender scene of today. Susan takes a number of well earned swipes at famous transsexual memoirists and authors for their anti-feminist statements and attitudes, among them Julia Serano, Nancy Hunt, Jan Morris, Deirdre McCloskey. She also does the same with the so called “TERFs”, most especially Janice Raymond. There is even a passing reference, with one of the very few footnotes in the book, about Bailey, Lawrence, and Dreger being unfairly attacked for discussing autogynephilia. Unfortunately, she never once explains about the two type taxonomy, leaving the reader with the notion that perhaps ALL MTF transfolk are like her father.
If I have any issue with the book, it is this failure to cover this other big secret in the transgender world.
Or, Are TrannieHawks Gay, Straight, or What?
First, we need to define who we mean. We are not talking about straight men who fall in love with a woman only later to learn that she is a post-op transwoman. We are talking about men who specifically seek out transwomen, especially pre-op transwomen. We use the scientific name for this specific sexual interest, “gynandromorphophilia“. A common question about these men is, are they straight, gay, or what?
Many insist that those who date and especially marry transwomen are bisexual, or perhaps closeted homosexual. A recent paper by Hsu et al has conclusive evidence that this is NOT the case. As shown here, gynandromorphophilic (GAMP) men are much more like heterosexual men in their sexual responses, as measured by a ‘peter-meter’ and by self-reported arousal to pre-op transwomen, here defined as gynandromorphs (GAM). Note that GAMP genital sexual arousal is slightly, but robustly, higher than their attraction to natal females. Given their much lower response to males, we can rule out describing them as “bisexual” or “homosexual” in any real sense. Also note that for all three groups, gay, straight, and GAMP, their subjective arousal seems to be understating their actual arousal to transwomen relative to male and female stimuli. This suggests that there may be a bit of social desirability bias in all three groups of men. That is to say, admitting to finding transwomen “sexy” is ‘not the thing’ to do, even for gynandromorphophiles.
The question that comes up is; what is different about tranniehawks and conventionally straight men? As has been remarked upon by many, including by me, most of them are also autogynephilic. In this study, that hypothesis was tested and found to be true. Using Blanchard’s Core Autogynephilia Scale (0-8), the mean score of the GAMP subjects (N=24) was 2.88 (SD=3.47) compared to the straight subjects (N=21) score of 0.35 (0.99) and that of the gay subjects (N=21) of only 0.06 (0.24). Even more interesting is that when we further divide the GAMP groups into those who self-identify as “bisexual” and “heterosexual”, we see a difference between their autogynphilia scores of 5.20 (3.46) and 1.21 (2.42) respectively. This is very much in keeping with other research that shows that autogynephilic (AGP) men often exhibit “pseudo-bisexuality” (aka: psuedo-androphilia) in which their interpersonal autogynephilic sexual ideation includes fantasies of having sex with men, as women. The data suggests that while most of the GAMP subjects were highly AGP, a few might be only mildly autogynephilic.
It should be noted that most MTF transkids, including myself, do NOT like having relationships with GAMPs, partially due to unconsciously recognizing their essentially autogynephilic sexuality which is self-reflective and partially due to GAMPs’ focus on pre-op genitalia, which given the “avoidant” nature of most MTF transkids, makes them exceedingly uncomfortable.
Newer Essay on Autogynephilies and Gynandromorphophilia
Previous essay on personal experiences with TrannieHawks
Commentary on the mutual gynandrophmorphophilic relationships between autogynephiles in my essay on transsexual marriages.
Essay on “Avoidant” behavior in MTF transkids
Commentary on MTF transkids (HSTS) not comfortable with gynandromorphophiles in my book review of Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen
Commentary on MTF “true transsexuals” (transkids) not comfortable with gynandromorphophiles by Dr. Robert Stoller and on “avoidant” behavior in his 1968 book, “Sex and Gender”.
Essay on Autogynephilic Psuedo-Androphilia.
K. J. Hsu, A. M. Rosenthal, D. I. Miller and J. M. Bailey, “Who are gynandromorphophilic men? Characterizing men with sexual interest in transgender women”