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Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods---My Mother's, My Father's, and Mine Paperback – May 2, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (May 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312422202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312422202
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #812,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If the only time you think you've seen a transsexual is on the Jerry Springer show, Noelle Howey's thoughtful, funny memoir of her suburban childhood with a cross-dressing dad may leave you wondering where all the fireworks are. The first half of Dress Codes is like anyone's story of parental neglect. "I had a dad possibly like yours," Howey explains, "sullen, sporadically hostile, frequently vacant." It was her loving mother who eventually confided her father's secret when Howey was 15, by which time it came as a relief that the remoteness, the drinking, the mood swings were not the young Noelle's fault, but the result of her father's constantly stifled "yearning for angora." Although the early chapters are interesting, Dress Codes really takes off at the halfway point, when her father realized he was not a heterosexual male transvestite, but a woman. His sexual transition, and the family's awkward adjustment to it--including the author's inability in high school to keep any secret aside from this One Big Secret--is written with warmth and insight, and colored with a lonely girl's lingering disappointment. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this rich memoir, Howey details not one life, but three. It's a difficult juggling act, but it pays off beautifully, for the story of her father's coming out as a male-to-female transsexual is only part of a larger narrative of growing up female in America. Howey's writing is neither sensationalistic nor condescendingly cheery; this is a loving portrait of a girl's complicated relationship to her father's femininity and her own. The author, co-editor of Out of the Ordinary: Essays on Growing Up with Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Parents, nicely juxtaposes her childhood dress-up games and clandestine sexual experimentation (she wanted to be Madonna) with her father's secret penchant for soft scarves and pumps (he dreamed of becoming Annette Funicello). As a teenager, Howey was impatient with the attention that her father's adventures always garnered and told her parents, both of whom she enjoyed a healthy relationship with, about her sex life: "It was a power maneuver on my part.... Dad kept raising the bar of what Mom and I could accept with equanimity, and I felt justified in doing the same." She is no less forthcoming about the odd celebrity status having a transsexual parent granted her at her ultra-liberal college, elevating her "above all the other upper-middle-class white chicks in thrift wear roaming the commons." Howey's candid, funny writing gives this memoir the cast of fiction, perhaps not surprising in a book honest enough to admit "we all reconstruct our lives in reverse, altering our own anecdotes and stories year after year in order to make them more congruent with our present-day selves." Agent, Karen Gerwin. (May)Forecast: Sure, there are lots of books out there on families with transgendered parents. But how many are memoirs? And how many are as funny and candid as this one? Howey's work will do splendidly.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 29 customer reviews
I just happened upon this book in a store the other day, and ended up reading the whole thing in two sittings.
Kim Johnson
Her candid, funny writing is a pleasure to read; there are times of sweet sadness revealed here, but also of hilarious irony.
Rob Hardy
It's a terribly sad story, painful and emotional on many levels, yet ultimately triumphant and always very FUNNY!
Michelaneous by Michele

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There have been a number of interesting books by men who have changed into women, starting with Jan Morris's _Conundrum_, and including _Crossing_ by Deirdre McCloskey a couple of years ago. McCloskey's change was devastating to the family of which she had formerly been father, and she was locked out of their lives, but we did not get to read the family's side of the story. Now, Noelle Howey, in _Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods - My Mother's, My Father's and Mine_ (Picador), has let us hear from the daughter of such a family, but the results are outstandingly different. "This isn't a tragedy," she writes. "It's just nonfiction." It is a memoir brightly told, often achingly funny, and sympathetic to all concerned. There will be those who argue that a father who imposes such a change on his family makes a mockery of family values, and it is true that Howey's family had serious struggles and the marriage did not last. But they loved and helped each other through the crisis and afterwards, and you can't find better family values than that. Far from being the story only of a man who had to change his gender, _Dress Codes_ succeeds in telling how mother, father, and daughter all came of age and found their true selves.
Howey knows this material is strange, but she specifies that learning about sexuality, at least in current mainstream America, is something most of us do in a stumbling fashion. Her own stumblings are recounted here with good humor, and for the book, she interviewed each of her parents about their own sexual upbringing, a process of hours that she says she will treasure forever.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robin Orlowski on May 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I first came across Noelle Howey's experience in a briefly condensed first-person magazine article, and was delighted to pick up this book which is a more detailed account of her family's transition and restructuring.
Her dad started out as the quintesential "good old boy" but gradually realized that he had to be open with his need to be a female lesbian. The disclosure alternatley reassured and startled the author who realized that American society does not generally supply children of GLBTs with a "what to expect" guidebook.
Although I personally was not undergoing a story simmilar to hers, I was captivated by the frank prose and unyielding love for her father--irrespective of dad's gender. The journey was not easy for any of the family members (indeed, Howey takes care not to gloss over the contradictory feelings and internal frustrations that she experienced during her dad's transformation), but absolutley critical for the family's mental stability.
Our society loves to wax poetic on "family values" but does not neccesarily place compatible actions behind those words. Against all expectations and pronouncements from the larger society, the Howey family dealt with the revelation in a positive and empowering manner that ultimatley made the new family structure a zillon times stronger than their so-called "All American" model.
Even if you do not have a transgendered family member, it is impossible to read this book without crying, laughing or otherwise being reminded that good families come in all formats.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
No matter how many memoirs you may have read, I can guarantee you've never seen anything like this.
This is a true story that is truly amazing in that the characters are such regular "ordinary people." I'm not giving anything away here, but the author's dad becomes a woman. The author purposely blows this "big secret" on about page 3 and you should be able to tell from the title anyway. And while this may sound somewhat sensational and shocking to a mainstream audience, that's not what the story is about. "Dress Codes" is the story of a family that honestly loves each other and stands by one another, even though they don't even come close to resembling the traditional definition of "family."
It's also about what it means to be a woman, which I am not, but it still gave me a lot to think about. It's also about the challenges of adolesence. And growing up in the '80s. And effects of secrets and lies on a person. And so much more.
It's also a unique memoir in that Noelle, the author, is not the only main character. The book alternates between characters, and decades, to illustrate her, her mother and her father all coming into womanhood. Watching the three stories intertwine made it hard for me to put this book down.
All in all, "Dress Codes" was such a pleasant surprise for me. I read it because a friend recommended it to me and I never expected it to be one of my favorite books I've read this year. It's touching, I'm not afraid to admit I got a little teary at one point. It really funny, especially if you grew up in the 80s at all. And it made me step back and think a number of times. Just a very cool book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on August 25, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Recently, my community experienced the shock, horror and burden of having one of its own, a transgendered young man in the process of discovering his true shelf, murdered. This abominable hate crime opened up not only wounds but questions. What is a transgendered person? Is "it" a he, a she, or both? In what ways do transgendered people challenge our notions of sexuality? What does it truly mean to be a "man" or a "woman"? Do any of us have the courage to confront misplaced identity as much as transgendered people muster?
As we confronted the reality of a hate crime and its attendant national publicity, forgotten was the humanity of the victim. Noelle Howey's remarkable memoir, "Dress Codes," achieves the near impossible; she makes a type a real human being. Not only does Noelle's recount her father's evolution from Dick Howey to Rebecca Christine Howey, she does so with aplomb and humor. Every page of this wrenching, honest work is absolutely human. As a result, "Dress Codes" is in part angry, hopeful, remorseful and incredibly funny. The author refuses to pull any punches, instead preferring to let her story (and wonderfully trenchant observations) inform her readers.
The subtitle of Howey's work instructs us that she will be treating three girlhoods, her mother's, her father's and her own. Each person "comes out" and discovers not only the truth of his/her own sexuality, but the essence of his/her identity. And the discovery is never neat, tidy or convenient. Hearts break, marriage dissolves and a sensitive child must come of age, eventually unencumbered by the secrets of her family and the torment in her own soul. There is sufficient grist for the human mill in each of the three central characters for three separate books.
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