DRESS CODES by Noelle Howey


Of Three Girlhoods--My Mother’s, My Father’s, and Mine
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A startlingly candid account of growing up with a father who changed from an undemonstrative, unhappy male to a warm, affectionate lesbian.

Here, the co-editor of Out of the Ordinary: Essays on Growing Up with Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Parents (not reviewed) weaves together her own and her parents’ sexual hopes, fears, and fantasies. When she interviewed her parents for this memoir, Dick Howey was, apparently, as open about his sexuality as Noelle is about hers. The result often reads like a breezy novel deepened by poignant and even painful passages. It was in 1986 that Dinah Howey told their daughter, who was then 14, about her father’s penchant for cross-dressing, swearing her to secrecy. Six months later, Dick moved out and gradually began a transformation that involved gender dysphoria counseling, estrogen injections, and learning to speak, write, and smile like a woman. While dealing with her father’s transgenderism, the author struggled with the task of developing her own identity. Fortunately, as Dick became more feminine, he also became more loving and open, radically altering a distant (verging on nonexistent) father-daughter relationship. By 1990, when Noelle was a college freshman, her amicably divorced parents jointly threw a coming-out party announcing to friends and colleagues that Dick was now Christine, and when Christine flew to Belgium for sex-change surgery in 1994, Noelle accompanied her. (“Dad” has now become “Da” in the text, and “he” and “him” are now “she” and “her.”) By book’s end, the author has become “best friends” with both her mother and her father. Christine, who briefly dated men, recognizes that she is a lesbian; Dinah is happily married to a testosterone-laden alpha male; Noelle has worked her way through some wrong boyfriends and recovered from a bout of clinical depression.

Mom never quite comes into focus, but this moving portrait of a nontraditional family both educates and entertains.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-26921-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2002


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