THE LAST TIME I WORE A DRESS by Daphne Scholinski


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 This patient's-eye view of life in a psychiatric hospital in the 1980s draws on the techniques of Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted but offers an original perspective on the dubious diagnosis Scholinski was given: Gender Identity Disorder. With a depressed mother and a father traumatized by service in Vietnam, Scholinski had an adolescence marked by physical and emotional abuse at home, teasing by schoolmates about her tomboyish appearance, and sexual molestation by strangers and others in positions of authority. She was turned over to the care of a mental hospital by parents who could not handle her minor acts of juvenile delinquency. Faced with the challenge of diagnosing her problems, doctors at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago decided the short-haired, ripped-jeans-and-rock-T-shirt-attired Scholinski was not ``feminine'' enough. When she became close friends with a new girl on the ward, she was accused of lesbianism. Thus she spent her high-school years locked up and marooned among the delusional, the suicidal, and the schizophrenic, being given ``girly lessons'' in makeup, dress, flirting, and other feminine skills. Former Boston Globe reporter Adams helps create an intimate narrative wherein the complex, ironic voice of the misunderstood young woman takes center stage (speaking of the $1 million price tag of her three-year treatment and her roommate's makeup lesons, Scholinski writes, ``For the price, I would have thought they'd bring in someone really good, maybe Vidal Sassoon''). The reprinting of institutional evaluative documents, Ö la Kaysen, provides effective context for the author's retellings of the hospital experience. Scholinski is now a San Francisco artist and activist who, though she continues to struggle with depression, is free to dress and wear her hair and choose her partners as she wishes. A notable book. Scholinski is a pychiatric memoirist with a powerful voice and a mission: to debunk doctors who continue to diagnose gender identity disorders.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1997
ISBN: 1-57322-077-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1997