Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Susan Faludi has made a career writing insightful books about gender like Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. But she was floored when her own father came out as transgender. She recounts his story and grapples with their relationship in her new memoir, In the Darkroom (June 14).
What made you want to write about your dad?
My father asked me to write her story. Beyond that, I’m a writer–that’s how I figure things out. And it was a way to make sense of my relationship with my father and how it was changing since the news of my father’s gender change. I felt like I couldn’t continue to write honestly about gender or feminism, or any of the attendant issues, without admitting to my own personal experience.
You say it came out of the blue. Did you go back and look for signs?
I always knew that something about my father was not quite right. My father always seemed to be trying on different roles, different identities, whether it was the alpine mountain climber or suburban dad writ large with the fedora and the constant building. Mostly what I was focused on when I was a child was that my father was very aggressive and domineering and symbolized to me all the unattractive aspects of being a controlling patriarch.
He stabbed one of your mother’s male friends in the stomach.
It was not a good moment. It never occurred to me until later that perhaps that itself was a mask to hide from the world my father’s true desires. Hypermasculinity was an attempt to cancel out the feminine yearnings he felt inside.
You’ve written about gender all your career. Did your dad’s experience change the way you see anything?
I think it reinforced and made personal a lot of the observations, a lot of the conclusions I came to in Stiffed. How stifling, stultifying, our idea of a man can be to the human being inside that mold. That masculinity itself is a great burden.
This appears in the July 25, 2016 issue of TIME.
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