In the Dark Room
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.