Journalist Susan Faludi with her father in Budapest in 2010.

Journalist Susan Faludi with her father in Budapest in 2010.

In 2004, journalist and author Susan Faludi received an email from her father. The two had been estranged for years. He had been a volatile figure in her life and as an older man he moved back to Budapest, the city he had fled under the Nazis. The content of the email was that Stephen Faludi was now Stefanie Faludi. Her father had undergone gender reassignment surgery. For Susan Faludi, who has spent her career writing about feminism, the news presented many new questions about gender. But her search to understand her complicated father ultimately became a bigger quest about the meaning of identity. Susan Faludi joins Diane in studio to discuss her new book “In the Darkroom.”

Guests

  • Susan Faludi Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Susan Faludi's father had a few names over his lifetime. He was born Istvan Friedman in Budapest, Hungary. He became Stefan Faludi after fleeing the Nazis. Then, as an older man, he moved back to Budapest and his name changed again. After gender reassignment surgery, Stefan Faludi became Stefanie.

  • 11:07:22

    MS. DIANE REHMSusan Faludi explores her father's different identities in her new book, "In the Darkroom." She's a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist and author. She joins me to talk about gender identity and her father. And throughout the hour, we'll welcome your calls, comments, questions, 800-422-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Susan Faludi, it's great to see you.

  • 11:07:59

    MS. SUSAN FALUDIThank you so much.

  • 11:08:00

    REHMI'm delighted to have you here. Susan, to start us off, would you read from that point where you receive that email from your dad?

  • 11:08:18

    FALUDIYes. I'd be glad to. So this was in July 7, 2004, so almost 12 years ago and it was an email that -- the subject of the email was "changes." "The email was from my father. 'Dear Susan,' it began. 'I've got some interesting news for you. I've decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho, aggressive man that I have never been inside.' The announcement wasn't entirely a surprise. I wasn't the only person my father had contacted with news of a rebirth. Another family member, who hadn't seen my father in years, had recently gotten a call filled with ramblings about a hospital stay, a visit to Thailand.

  • 11:09:06

    FALUDIThe call was proceeded by an out-of-the-blue email with an attachment, a photograph of my father framed in the fork of a tree wearing a pale blue short-sleeved shirt that looked more like a blouse. It had a discreet flounce in the neckline. The photo was captioned, Stefanie. My father's follow-up phone message was succinct, quote, 'Stefanie is real now.' The email notifying me was similarly terse. One thing hadn't changed, my photographer father still preferred the image to the written word. Attached to the message was a series of snapshots.

  • 11:09:48

    FALUDIIn the first, my father is standing in a hospital lobby in a sheer sleeveless blouse and red skirt beside, as her annotation put it, quote, 'the other post-op girls.' Two patients who were also making what she called the change. A uniformed Thai nurse holds my father's elbow. The caption read, 'I look tired after the surgery.' The other shots were taken before the operation. In one, my father is perched amid a copse of trees modeling a henna wig with bags in that same pale blue blouse with the ruffled neckline.

  • 11:10:25

    FALUDIThe caption read, 'Stefanie in Vienna Garden.' It is the garden of the imperial villa of an Austro-Hungarian empress. My father was a long fan of middle European royals, in particular, Empress Elisabeth or Sissy as she was called, Emperor Franz Joseph's wife, who was known as the, quote, 'Guardian Angel of Hungary.' In a third image, my father wears a platinum blond wig, shoulder length with a '50s flip, a white ruffled blouse, another red skirt with a pattern of white lilies and white-heeled sandals that display polished toe nails.

  • 11:11:04

    FALUDIIn the final shot titled 'on hike in Austria,' my father stands before her VW camper in mountaineering boots, denim skirt and a page-boy wig, a polka-dotted scarf knotted at the neck. The pose, a hand on a jutted hip, panty-hosed legs crossed, one ankle over the other. The email was signed 'love, from your parent, Stefanie.' It was the first communication I'd received from my parent in years. "

  • 11:11:36

    REHMSusan Faludi reading from her new book, "In the Darkroom." I must say when I read that, I thought, first thing that bounced into my mind was what was Susan's reaction to that email?

  • 11:11:57

    FALUDIWell, naturally, it surprised me. It was a bolt from the blue for many reasons. First of all, my father, at the time, was 76 years old. Second of all, my father and I had been estranged for a quarter of a century and the reason for that was that my father was a pretty hyper-masculine, macho...

  • 11:12:28

    REHMControl freak.

  • 11:12:29

    FALUDIYes. And controlling of his children, domineering to his wife, didn't allow my mother to work, seemed to be, you know, cut out of, you know, the rulebook of how to be a household patriarch.

  • 11:12:50

    REHMA macho man. And the fact that he even went to Budapest was really shocking, wasn't it?

  • 11:13:03

    FALUDIYes. I mean, one can do a whole story on why did he go back to Budapest. My father was a Jewish teenager during World War II who survived by his wits on the street with false identity papers and a stolen fascist armband. He was passing as a Christian. My father came from a very wealthy Bourgeois family that lost everything, including many of them lost their lives during the war. So when -- and my father returned to Hungary in 1990 after the fall of Communism.

  • 11:13:45

    FALUDIAnd as I was working on this book, some of his, you know, compatriots or simply just Hungarian Jews I knew would fixate on that as the big mystery, you know. Why did he back to Hungary? That was the center of the drama as far as they were concerned 'cause they just couldn't imagine it.

  • 11:14:03

    REHMSo did you actually begin the book after you received that email?

  • 11:14:13

    FALUDIWell, I called my father after I picked myself up off the floor and after a few days of just reeling, not so much about the gender change itself, but about the fact that I thought I had my father pegged. And what I realized was I didn't know anything. You know, and here I am, the so-called expert on gender issues. So it called a lot of things into question. And then, by the end of the week, we got on the phone. And you have to remember, we hadn't really spoken to each other. I mean, we had some, you know, email exchanges.

  • 11:14:54

    FALUDIAnd my father, in the course of that conversation, said "write my story." And I said, okay. I'm going to come over to Budapest and see you and so I arrived with what, I guess, in journalistic terms would be my reportorial security blankets, my reporter's notebook, my, you know, at that time, my cassette tape recorder and many, many tape recorders and a ten-page list of questions. So I approached it, to begin with, as a journalist. Whether I was actually going to write this story or not, for publication, I wasn't sure.

  • 11:15:37

    FALUDIBut this was a way in for me, to talk about it with some safety.

  • 11:15:43

    REHMSusan, talk about the breakup of not only your relationship with your father, but your mother's breakup with your father.

  • 11:15:58

    FALUDIYes. Well, this was the beginning of the women's movement in the '70s and I lived in a very traditional sort of lower middle class suburb of New York where most of the women stayed home and the men went to work and the men were often, you know, from the greatest generation, that they were kind of the silent former GIs who either didn't say much or, you know, who whacked their kids around when they didn't behave. And my father very much was trying to fit into that mold.

  • 11:16:37

    FALUDIAnd to an extreme. Aside from the mold itself, my father always, you know, had a kind of smoldering anger to him, but it didn't really erupt into physical violence till the end of my parent's marriage, my mother was seeking a divorce, as were many women up and down the street who woke up after, you know, reading "Betty For Dan" and wondering what they, you know, wanting to reclaim their lives and do something with their lives.

  • 11:17:08

    FALUDIAnd my -- so my father, who desperately resisted this and ultimately, you know, with his fists and with -- one particularly awful night, after several temporary restraining orders to keep him out of the house, he broke in with a baseball bat and a knife. And that was the moment that shaped my feminism.

  • 11:17:38

    REHMI totally understand. Susan Faludi is a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist and author. Her new book is titled "In the Darkroom." We are going to be taking your calls, comments, after a short break. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, Susan Faludi is here with me. We're talking about a book her father actually asked her to write. It's titled, "In the Darkroom." And in it, she talks about the estrangement she had had from her father until the day in 2004 she received an email informing her that her father had undergone a sex-change surgery. He no longer wanted to be the macho man he had been as her father, as husband to her mother. He decided he wanted to be a woman. Why do you think that was, Susan?

  • 11:21:04

    FALUDIOh, the reasons for that are, you know, deeply embedded and complex. I think my father -- I mean, my father's desire to be a woman was undeniable and I think came from, you know, a very early place. I mean my father had told me about putting on women's clothes when he was eight or nine. And -- but, you know, my father's identity quests were multiple.

  • 11:21:32

    FALUDII sort of think of my father as an identity Zelic, you know, and went from being a, you know, a Jewish young man during the Holocaust, trying to pass as a Christian, to, you know, a kind of multiple quest for national identity. My father became a, you know, went to Copenhagen and tried to become a sort of film entrepreneur and then to Brazil where he was taking photographs in the outback. And then ultimately to the U.S. where he became the all-American, suburban commuter dad and a commercial and fashion photographer in Manhattan, working with a lot of well-known, prominent commercial photographers in Conde Nast. My father's specialty in photography was altering images.

  • 11:22:25

    REHMHah. Interesting.

  • 11:22:27

    FALUDIYes. My father gave me many gifts as far as metaphors for her condition.

  • 11:22:33

    REHMHow did he and your mother meet?

  • 11:22:36

    FALUDIThey met in Greenwich Village at a party in the '50s. And my father was living on the Upper West Side with -- in a sort of a immigre community of, you know, Eastern European refugees. He remembers, in 1956, hearing about the Hungarian revolution and thinking, oh, I should go back, which is sort of mind boggling when you keep in mind that more than half a million Hungarian Jews were murdered in the course of the war. And one in three Jews who died in Auschwitz were Hungarian.

  • 11:23:25

    REHMSusan, when your father left, what happened to you?

  • 11:23:33

    FALUDIWell, I became a feminist.

  • 11:23:37

    REHMHow old were you at the time?

  • 11:23:39

    FALUDII was 17 -- 17, almost 18, and so about to go off to college. And, you know, seeing, experiencing that violence and, beyond the violence, the institutional response to it, that my father was, you know, sort of released right away. He got a, just a slap on the wrist. And, you know, there were very few consequences. My father was allowed to pay a very minimal amount of child support. And, you know, witnessing my mother's struggle to support two children, get a job after having not had a job for 20 years, all that went into my determination to lead an independent life that didn't follow any of the molds and that, you know, challenged the cultural edicts about how men and women should behave.

  • 11:24:53

    REHMHow did you manage to pay for college?

  • 11:24:57

    FALUDIFortunately, I had a scholarship and it was back in the days of the 3 percent student loan. And my mother also gave me money.

  • 11:25:09

    REHMReally quite a story. But from that time when your father left until 2004, had you not been in touch with him at all?

  • 11:25:28

    FALUDIOh, we were in touch on and off. We would send the occasional letter. I mean, in 1990, my father moved to Hungary. So that put an ocean between us. Before that, we -- I was in New York for a year. And so we saw each other a few times then. And then for events, you know, a family wedding, a family graduation. But always sort of across a crowded room, not a meaningful encounter.

  • 11:25:56

    REHMAnd he was the same person at that time.

  • 11:26:03

    FALUDIWell, as far as I could tell. I mean, you know, I wasn't spending a lot of time with my father. So I probably am the last person to make that judgment. But when I returned to Hungary in 2004 to see my father, you know, after she had had the sex-reassignment surgery, what I found hardest to accept was not the fact that she now identified as a woman, but all of the ways that she hadn't changed and all of the ghosts that haunted both of us, all the baggage from our past. And that's what we really, ultimately, had to work on.

  • 11:26:46

    REHMAnd give me a kind of example that you experienced as a child with your father. You know, he was clearly such a complicated person. And you talk about how he asserted his masculinity, even to you as a child. Give us an example.

  • 11:27:18

    FALUDIWell, my father was retooled himself at that point as this big mountaineer sportsman and sort of dragged me -- the reluctant, sullen teenager -- along with all of these escapades. In retrospect, I think that was actually a great thing. I shouldn't have been so cranky at the time. But you know how 13 year olds are. We went, for example, we did this huge bicycling trip across the Alps, all through Switzerland, into Italy.

  • 11:27:59

    REHMJust the two of you?

  • 11:28:01

    FALUDIJust the two of us. And there were -- we did a lot of rock climbing, all these, you know, sort of ultra, sort of ultimate sports that -- before a lot of people were doing them, before we had rock-climbing walls in gyms.

  • 11:28:19

    REHMAnd did you enjoy those times with your father?

  • 11:28:25

    FALUDIWell, like I said, I, you know, I wanted to be anywhere but with...

  • 11:28:28

    REHMSure.

  • 11:28:29

    FALUDI...you know, but -- as I think is typical of most children, they want to be anywhere but with their parents at a certain age. I learned a lot. But I think the problem was that my father was such a shut-down person that I -- when I look back at it, I can think of almost no conversations we had. My father had sort of two modes, either, you know, not saying any -- almost mute, or this kind of verbal logorrhea, where my father would just hold forth, using sort of really technical, procedural points to -- this kind of wall of words that was intended to hold people off.

  • 11:29:14

    FALUDIAnd one of the remarkable things, when we did finally reconnect in 2004 and then over the next 12 years, my father -- I think because my father was really determined to show herself to someone and had chosen me as the person who would be the perceiver, as she liked to say, you're the one who listens to me -- began to open up. And that was a great gift, a great gift for me.

  • 11:29:43

    REHMOpen up how?

  • 11:29:46

    FALUDIWell, you know, this wasn't night or day. It's not, you know, like my father took some estrogen and then became this, you know, cozy, cooperative and I don't believe in any of these essentialist notions anyway. So that would -- I wasn't looking for that. But in relative terms, given where my father started.

  • 11:30:06

    REHMHad been.

  • 11:30:09

    FALUDIAnd my father would tell me about her life. It was always a challenge. It was probably my greatest journalistic challenge to -- my father was my most difficult reportorial subject. She had this cat-and-mouse way of playing with me. So the more I leaned in and showed interest, the more she would clam up. But then she would, you know, 10 minutes later or a day later, give me another little shard...

  • 11:30:43

    REHMTidbit.

  • 11:30:43

    FALUDI...of information. So it was this sort of massive jigsaw puzzle. And the hardest thing to get out of my father was her past. And of course that was the thing I was most interested in. And there was always kind of a struggle between the daughter who wanted the history, who wanted the complexity, who wanted to know how all these different aspects shaped the life, was up against the father who was the image alterer or the image manipulator, you know, the sort of master Photoshopper before the days of Photoshop, who wanted to just erase all that.

  • 11:31:21

    FALUDISo I would say, you know, tell me what it was like living in what my father called the royal apartment in Budapest as a child? And my father...

  • 11:31:30

    REHMAs a child.

  • 11:31:31

    FALUDI...you know, let's go see that apartment. And my father would say, oh, why do -- we don't need to do that. That's ancient history. It's not relevant. I'm somebody different now. So there was always that struggle between my father wanting -- claiming that she had become a new person and that the past was the past and sealed away, and my persistence in arguing otherwise. And toward the end of my father's life, she became much more interested in opening that door. And that was a great moment for me. Because that's really what I wanted to see was my father whole.

  • 11:32:07

    REHMDid she talk about her own relationship with her own parents at that point?

  • 11:32:13

    FALUDIYeah. Yes. Which was very problematic. She particularly was resentful of her mother and kind of glorified her father. But I wound up going to talk to the diaspora of my family on both my grandmother and grandfather's side, so both the Friedmans and Grunbergers, who were after the war strewn from Sidney, Australia, to Tel Aviv, Israel...

  • 11:32:41

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:32:41

    FALUDI...to Basel, you know, the classic Holocaust survivor tale. And what I was able to piece together was a very troubled childhood. My father was the only child who was basically raised by nannies and governesses and tutors, while his parents went out every night socializing and, you know, sort of living the grand -- what remained of the sort of Austro-Hungarian life, which I think is one reason why my father was always so fascinated...

  • 11:33:15

    REHMMm-hmm.

  • 11:33:16

    FALUDI...with that period and really in a way wanted to go back to it and reclaim that glamour.

  • 11:33:21

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a number of callers. I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First, to Stephanie in Adelphi, Md. You're on the air.

  • 11:33:45

    STEPHANIEHi. I'm a middle-aged transwoman as well, much to the surprise of most of my family, just like you’ve mentioned with your father. And I've always thought that there are two problems with transpeople, particularly transwomen. They always say, well, I always knew and I'm glad to be rid of that person. Those are the two things -- the two myths we tell ourselves to be happy with the very difficult choice we've made. And so you mentioned that your -- unfortunately I haven't read the book and I would love to -- that your father cross-dressed around eight or nine and certainly there were some problematic behaviors that he had to say the least.

  • 11:34:38

    STEPHANIEAnd so the -- so I was wondering if you could say a little bit more about whether he claimed that, oh, he always knew? And was he really glad to be rid of that person? Or was he one of those people who was -- who, like me, I haven't abandoned my previous life. It's like, I didn't want to get a new Facebook profile or something like that. I am that person as well and...

  • 11:35:02

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:35:03

    FALUDIYes. Well, Stephanie -- and I love that your name is Stefanie, like my father's -- my father went back and forth on that. I think there was a part of my father that wished, as probably we all wish, you know, we could hit the restart button. And particularly since my father had this darkness in her past and, you know, in some ways wanted to be absolved, particularly from the violence. So there were reasons to want to say, okay, that's it. I'm a new person now. But of course none of us can do that. And I think my father came to understand that and came to -- I think the reason my father ultimately wanted me to write her story was because she knew I was going to, you know, excavate all of the aspects of who she was before.

  • 11:36:02

    FALUDIAnd my father would joke about, oh, Susan, you know, my daughter Susan, she comes off as really soft spoken and nice, but then she really gets in there and digs up everything. So my father what she was getting into and I think, you know, as you so rightly point out, we can't survive without trying on the past. That's so much a part of who we are.

  • 11:36:31

    REHMI wonder how you felt the first time you saw her.

  • 11:36:40

    FALUDIWell, it was in the airport. And, you know, what -- and my father was dressed in sort of a sedate, kind of matronly appearance, wearing the pearl earrings my father wore throughout her life. When -- she actually, at one point, thought she would have the name Pearl instead of the name Stefanie. And, you know, what I thought was, oh, there are so many ways that this is -- my father is still the same, the same, you know, faraway look in the eye, the same anxiety. And my heart, you know, my heart went out to her at that point.

  • 11:37:25

    REHMSusan Faludi, her new book is titled, "In the Darkroom." Short break. More of your calls, your comments, when we come back. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and author Susan Faludi is with me, and she has a new book about her father's transition from male to female. The book is titled "In the Darkroom." And here's a statement from Twitter. When covering trans people, please use correct pronouns. Been listening since the start of the program, and I'm tearing my hair out. And then there's a footnote, Diane, you should ask Susan what pronoun she uses.

  • 11:40:53

    FALUDIWell that's a good question, and thank you for raising that because it was -- one of the dilemmas in the book, I mean, in referring to my father, I refer to my father as she, but then when I'm going into the past, when I'm talking about my father as, for example, a teenager during World War II, my father's experience was as a Jewish teenage male.

  • 11:41:18

    REHMA male.

  • 11:41:19

    FALUDISo it flipped back and forth. And I know that can be confusing. I say my father throughout because that was my father's request, and in general I sort of took my cues from my father and what her preference was. But my father liked to say whatever else, I'm still your father.

  • 11:41:43

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:41:44

    FALUDIWhat's funny about all this from a Hungarian point of view is that in Hungary, and not to make light of it, but that in Hungary the pronouns are not gendered, and you can always tell a Hungarian, including my father, when they're speaking English because they'll mix it up. So my father was always saying, you know, you know, tell your brother to go clean up her room or, you know, tell your mother he's late.

  • 11:42:14

    REHMInteresting. Here's a comment from our website, saying my lady friend and I were discussing just last night about how gender identity forms at an early age, about four, and whether societal forces or biology influences a person to identify with a gender different than that assigned at birth. Do you, "In the Darkroom," delve into these issues?

  • 11:42:52

    FALUDIWell, I'm not a scientist and not a brain scientist. This is more, you know, this is a complex, nuanced, I hope, portrait of one particular person and they journey they took over a series of identities. So I mean, ultimately this is not a book about -- I'm certainly, you know, not offering a corrective or a verdict on the transgender experience. I draw in a lot of trans experience and trans history. I've talked to a lot of trans authorities and advocates to try and understand my father better. But ultimately I can only weigh in on that one person, and even there it's a partial and fragmentary and often frustrating exploration for me.

  • 11:43:48

    REHMAnd a thought from Twitter. Just picked up this book and noticed there are no photos included. Curious why is that.

  • 11:44:04

    FALUDIWell, you know, it's funny. After I gave it to my editor and a few other people, and then I offered them pictures, and they said, oh, I want to imagine your father the way I've sort of conjured her in the book. And the photos sort of direct me too much. So -- so I chose not to. It was a hard choice because -- especially because I have an extraordinary stash of photos from the 1920s and 1930s that were, you know, salvaged from the Holocaust years of my father in, you know, sort of old world splendor, my grandparents making, you know, this love boat cruise around the Mediterranean in 1938, wonderful photos like that. So I'm still thinking about how to use them and how to use some of the photos of my father and I together.

  • 11:45:10

    REHMAnd of course as you were writing this, all of this news about transgender people, their rights, their ability to go wherever they'd like to go, has been coming to the fore. That was certainly perhaps not coincidental but certainly relevant to what you were working on.

  • 11:45:39

    FALUDIYeah, when I started out, this was -- I mean, it's amazing and heartening how quickly the trans experience has become almost mainstream, you know, certainly helped along by some, you know, sort of celebrities who are trans. And -- but when I started in 2004, this was, you know, basically regarded as a fringe experience. So I think identity -- I mean, it teaches me a lot about identity and its different forms. I mean, the identity that's pursued for -- in the name of LGBT rights is one that's liberating, that's about self-awareness and self-discovery.

  • 11:46:40

    FALUDIOn the other hand, identity can be an oppressive force when it's carried out under the name of nationalistic xenophobia or flag-waving or, you know, in the case of -- we -- the horrific case we saw of the mass shootings in Orlando of, you know, ISIS fundamentalism and homophobia. So there -- which was an example of those two forms of identity colliding in a terrible, terrible way.

  • 11:47:14

    REHMExactly. Here's a question from Facebook. As a prominent feminist author, Susan Faludi is a good person to ask this. Feminism has always meant to be that there is no role, activity or quality that should be denied or condemned in any person because of their gender. However, transgendered people clearly feel there is something about them that is not compatible with their birth gender and that they therefore must change gender in order to live their lives as they wish. What are your thoughts on this apparent tension?

  • 11:48:10

    FALUDIWell, you know, there's been some talk of hostility between certain, you know, kind of radical separatists, feminists and the trans community, and I think it's over -- probably vastly overstated. I think there's a handful of feminists who, you know, who have mostly been and don't want trans women to attend their events, that sort of thing.

  • 11:48:47

    FALUDIBut I think that's really exception and that in fact there is -- it's not so cleanly divided. There are lots of feminists who are pro-trans and lots of trans folks who are pro-feminist. I can only speak for myself, and my feminism is very much rooted in a belief that gender is on a continuum, and gender is fluid, and the newer contemporary generation of trans theorists very much hold to that belief, as well, that we need to challenge the gender binary, as the mantra goes. And I think that's where, you know, feminism and trans ideas are completely in accord.

  • 11:49:43

    REHMLet's take a caller in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Andrew, you're on the air.

  • 11:49:49

    ANDREWHi Diane, thanks so much for taking my call.

  • 11:49:52

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:49:53

    ANDREWAnd thank you, Susan, for telling this story, as well.

  • 11:49:55

    FALUDIThank you.

  • 11:49:56

    ANDREWI guess my question is, you mentioned that this was a sort of identity quest for your father, and certainly she did travel globally and, you know, to Hungary, which was both distant, I guess, but also a return home. And I guess I was curious as much for your father's life as for the narrative you wrote about it, how much you felt that this sort of identity quest or the sort of metaphor of a journey worked for telling this story because gender is -- gender and especially coming out as a trans person is such a narrative journey. At the same time, that seems like gender is something, you know, attachment to gender or detachment from a gender is something you sort of have always lived with, and that's so local and at home for you.

  • 11:50:39

    ANDREWSo I wonder just if there was ever a difficulty in using this sort of idea of a journey or if sometimes it really worked out well, if you had anything to say about that. I'll take my answer offline.

  • 11:50:50

    FALUDIInteresting question. Yeah, you know, I think there is this notion that, okay, there are just these two genders, and you're flipping from one to the other, and, you know, as I was just saying, I don't believe that gender or any of these identities is that stable. So in fact there was a journey for my father in how she thought about being a woman. In the years leading up to her surgery, she was very into this idea of, you know, as she put it in her -- in her Hungarian, with the long, drawn-out vowels, you know, this flamboyant, you know, sort of Zsa Zsa Gabor woman, and then right after, right after the operation my father bought into this kind of 1950s, you know, straight of a Doris Day movie femininity.

  • 11:51:51

    FALUDIBut that -- and needless to say that made her daughter cringe immensely. But that calmed down over a -- over time. And, you know, it's funny, when a trans friend of mine said, said about this, you have to understand that with the transition, it's a little bit like a delayed adolescence. And that helped me because I could think back to when I was 13 and, you know, obsessed with Maybelline, much to my embarrassment.

  • 11:52:24

    FALUDIBut, you know, over time my father came to a much more elastic notion of what it meant to be a woman, and...

  • 11:52:34

    REHMDid she pursue other relationships? Did she have other relationships with men before she died?

  • 11:52:47

    FALUDIAs far as I know, no, and I think she -- my father was a fan of TMI. So I think I would have known. My father had a woman friend who remained -- who my father remained really close to, and there were other women that my father was drawn to, even after the surgery.

  • 11:53:12

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And to Chesterfield, Missouri, Joe, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:24

    JOEYeah, thanks a lot for taking my call.

  • 11:53:25

    REHMSure.

  • 11:53:27

    JOEIt was a pleasure to speak to Ms. Faludi. I've read her writing for years. As someone who also had family members who suffered in the Holocaust, I was wondering if she could speculate on whether her father's experience with it led to such an unsettled life. It sounds like there's more here than just the transition, than the difficulties he had, the identity issues just in general, the macho man identity and so forth. Do you think that there -- you can connect the dots from his traumatic early experiences?

  • 11:53:57

    FALUDIYes, well, I can connect dots, but I don't -- you know, there -- and I don't think you're even suggesting this, but there is -- there is no causal, you know, neat little causal link from my father's experience in the war and my father's gender change. It's more that these two operate as other -- different forms of the experience of otherness and marginalization. And my father -- my father's experience in the war was so traumatic that it couldn't help but infuse everything else.

  • 11:54:34

    FALUDIThere are a lot of issues about gender embedded in the experience of being the target of anti-Semitism, I mean, going back to the Dark Ages, the notion that Jewish men are somehow feminized. And then my father's experience during the Holocaust, Jewish men were in much greater danger because they were circumcised, and so there was an identifying mark on their body, and in Hungary at that time, it was, you know, the dreaded trouser inspections. That's how they referred to it.

  • 11:55:09

    FALUDIAnd finally my father's most heroic moment during the war was impersonating a Hungarian, fascist Arrow Cross officer to save my grandparents from a so-called protected house, whose inhabitants were about to be deported. And that was a drama that I heard a tiny bit about when I was a child.

  • 11:55:40

    REHMHe didn't want to talk about it.

  • 11:55:43

    FALUDIYeah, my father would just -- I would say, well, what happened. And my father would say, well, I had an armband. I said yes, and then my father would say, well, so I saved them. And then when I proceeded to research this book, I went and talked to relatives in Israel who -- including a great aunt who was present in the protected house when this happened, and they confirmed it. And it turned out that my father had also saved her father.

  • 11:56:14

    FALUDISo there was lots of dramas going on here that you could see through the lens of gender.

  • 11:56:19

    REHMSure. Susan, finally and briefly, what kind of relationship did you and your father have at the end of her life?

  • 11:56:33

    FALUDIWell we, you know, we went back and forth a lot. It was -- it was not a straight line to, you know, music up, you know, hugs and kisses reconciliation, but we did come to an understanding. We did become closer. My father asked me -- asked for my forgiveness for one of the acts of violence in -- early on in my teenage years perpetrated against me. And for my part, I, you know, asked to be forgiven for letting the estrangement to on so long. And so we ended fairly well, all things considered.

  • 11:57:18

    REHMSusan Faludi, her new book is titled "In the Darkroom," just fascinating. Thank you so much.

  • 11:57:28

    FALUDIThank you so much for having me.

  • 11:57:30

    REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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