Back in the early 1990s, Susan Faludi was, along with Naomi Wolf, a feminist poster girl for the post-Clarence Thomas Year of the Woman in politics that, in order to fight the plague of sexual harassment in the workplace, elected as President … Bill Clinton.
Faludi’s 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women was a huge bestseller as part of the frontlash that put Bill in the White House. Granted, it was kind of lame and lowbrow, although not as dopey as Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth, but that’s what elite opinion wanted at the time.
Since then Faludi’s career has been rather low profile with only three more books, in part, I like to imagine because she’s actually, like Susan Brownmiller, kind of a good person and has had qualms and second thoughts about simply churning out Feminist Red Meat. Her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, for example, was more sympathetic to Average Joes than had been expected.
Now she has a memoir, In the Darkroom, about her father that sounds like a useful addition to the literature of transsexualism. We have quite a few (not necessarily plausible) memoirs by various writers who decided in later life to announce that, even while fathering all those children, they were always women on the inside. (This has hardened into an ideological orthodoxy that you publicly question at some peril to your career.)
But now we have one from a writer whose father has made such a claim.
From the Belfast Press:
By Eilis O’Hanlon
Big change: Susan Faludi has written about her father going through reassignment surgery
In early 2004, Susan Faludi, author of the feminist manifesto Backlash, received an email from her father, Steven, revealing that “he” was now a “she”, having undergone gender reassignment surgery in Thailand. The news didn’t come as a total surprise. Faludi had heard rumours that the father to whom she’d barely spoken in 25 years had been exploring this option, but it was definitely a shock in one other sense.
“I’d always known my father to assert the male prerogative. He had seemed invested – insistently, inflexibly, and, in the last year of our family life, bloodily – in being the household despot. For as far back as I could remember, he had presided as imperious patriarch, overbearing and autocratic, even as he remained a cipher, cryptic to everyone around him.”
I’ve known one high achieving man who later announced he was transgender, and when I knew him he was widely considered the biggest prick around. Perhaps it’s a pattern among autogynephilic late-in-life transsexuals?
Now, suddenly, here he was announcing his pristine identity as a woman called Stefanie, declaring: “I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.”
Soon Faludi is headed to Budapest, where her Hungarian-born father had decamped after his erratic, violent behaviour led to divorce from Faludi’s mother, to investigate this cipher further, intending, she admits, to draw up a charge sheet against him. “I wasn’t sure I was ready to release him to a new identity; she hadn’t explained the old one.”
This mindful switch between pronouns becomes a feature of the book. Faludi carefully uses “she” and “her”, even while wracked with doubt about her father’s new persona, not least when, in the middle of a disagreement, that old prerogative reasserts itself: “I am still your father”.
This father figure, what’s more, was always an adept liar and fraudster whose lifelong credo has been “getting away with it”.
A professional photographer by trade, her father was skilled at manipulating images, and Stefanie makes herself no easier to know than Steven, declaring herself to be uninterested in the past, only the future.
Is this, the author wonders, just her father’s latest guise behind which to hide the true self? If so, it’s not one she finds particularly edifying.
Faludi wants to understand her father, but finds that “every road into the interior was blocked by a cardboard cut-out of florid femininity”. The author takes refuge in the literature, and talks to doctors, psychologists, and other trans people, but much of what she learns heightens her disquiet. Far from enabling her to understand her father, her investigations “were having the opposite effect”.
What’s more, a disturbing edge of sexual fetishism always seemed to be lurking just below the surface. She notes that it’s one of the basic tenets of transgenderism that identity and sexuality are different things, but Faludi finds them constantly conflated.
“The transformation from one gender to another was eroticised at every step.”
Here’s a fine 2007 New York Times article about the war that various super-high IQ late-in-life transgender types like Donald/Deirdre McCloskey along the with SPLC, always sniffing out new sources of revenue, conducted against scientists who were disclosing to the public the role a particular sexual fetish plays in the highest profile type of transgenderism.
The screensaver on her father’s computer is of Stefanie dressed as a French maid, with blonde curls like Susan’s as a child, reaching down to adjust a stocking, while the ‘How To’ manuals advise those who think of themselves as women to “practise submission with sex toys in front of a mirror”.
… As Faludi says, the trend since Freud has been to accept that the real psychological origins for a person’s behaviour are complex, often hidden deeply from plain sight, but a fear of giving offence to those who identify as transgender has meant that there is no equivalent examination of the range of reasons why a human being might feel they are in the “wrong” body.
Accepting their own self-diagnosis without question might avoid confrontation with those for whom transgenderism is a matter of faith, but it does so at the expense of intellectual honesty. What if they’re actually “seeking womanhood to reclaim [their] innocence, be exonerated from the sins of a male past”, or “craving the moral stature that comes from being oppressed”? Or simply wanting to be a woman to “feel special, celebrated, loved”?
The book culminates in a shocking scene, when her father finally talks about the time when, outraged by her desire to attend a Christian summer camp with a friend, he burst into the teenage Faludi’s bedroom and repeatedly bashed her head against the floor, shouting: “I created you. And I can destroy you.”
I always assumed over the last quarter of a century that Faludi was of Italian Catholic ancestry. You learn something new every day.
She asks if he remembers what he said.
“I remember exactly what I said,” her father replies. “That they exterminated the Jews, and how could you do this?” Faludi concludes: “I didn’t correct her. Whatever the actual words, I understood this is what they meant to her.” She reaches over, squeezes her father’s hand, and says: “It’s okay.”
The scene is presented as a touching moment of bonding and forgiveness, but it’s genuinely horrifying.
I haven’t read the book, but it sounds like another example of a widespread pattern in postwar feminism: bright Jewish daughter grows up angry (sometimes with good reason, as in Susan Faludi’s case) at at least one member of her Jewish family. But she learns that she’ll be rewarded if she generalizes and intellectualizes her resentment toward a Jewish relative into blaming her animus on Society or Men or Stereotypes or anti-Semites or whatever it is that gentiles can be badgered into feeling guilty about.
White guilt is the worry that your ancestors were too ethnocentric; Jewish guilt, as I learned from reading Philip Roth, is the worry that you aren’t ethnocentric enough for your ancestors.
Jewish guilt turns out to be more personally useful.