Elizabeth Wagele

The Career Within You

The Story of a Trans Father

Feminist Susan Faludi studies her authoritarian father.

Posted Jul 05, 2016

E. Wagele photo
Source: E. Wagele photo

I was interested in this Economist article (“Daddy Dearest” June 25 2016) about Susan Faludi’s book, In the Darkroom because Ms. Faludi had an authoritarian father like I did. I wondered how she came to terms with him after a 25-year estrangement. I had an authoritarian father too, though he showed no signs of wanting to be a woman.

My father was hard on me, but I ended up liking him as much as anyone I’ve ever known. I was a 5-Observer child (in the Enneagram system) who hated conflict and wanted to please. I was afraid of him, his criticisms, and his angry voice. I later wished I had stood up for myself more. A 5 also, he cherished having quiet atmosphere in which to read. I believe he softened when I was a teenager: more civilized, and more interesting.

Ms. Faludi had been estranged from her father for 25 years when she received an e-mail saying, “I’ve had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.” She welcomed the opportunity to find out more about her previously inscrutable and remote father. He had been a persecuted Jew in Budapest (and a hero for masquerading as a Nazi sympathizer in order to save his parents during WWII) before he went to America and became an “imperious patriarch”, her father.

But as Stefánie, her father was “no less hot-tempered, long-winded, enigmatic and uninterested in the past he had been as Steven.” Stefánie didn’t want to revisit her youth and rarely left the house. Instead of disclosures, she preferred “superficial exposures, proudly parading before her daughter in negligees and barely tied robes. Ms Faludi found that the sex-change ‘had only added a barricade, another false front to hide behind.’”

The article continues, “As a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist, Ms Faludi has made a career of stripping away artifice. She pores over old letters and documents and patiently tracks down family members and schoolmates. The person who emerges is often just as overbearing and oppressive as the father she grew up with, even after the transition. ‘Stefánie had this very dominating style, like a hammer coming down,’” recalled a transgender woman who knew her after her operation. “As a feminist, Ms Faludi is startled to find Stefánie embracing a ‘florid femininity’ that she herself had rejected. The author is discomfited by the stereotypically girlish memoirs of trans women, who thrill to become ‘the exact sort of girl I’d always thought of as false.’”

Another reason I was interested in this article was that I had been haunted for a long time by a frightening dream where a transsexual woman chased me. In real life, I had known her years before as a man. When I told this dream to a psychologist, she told me those planning to transition should see a therapist to make sure they aren’t motivated more by wanting to run away from themselves than because of their real gender identity.

I heard from mutual friends that the transgender woman I dreamed about had a hard time with her three children, who could not accept the change.

I think my own father had wanted to have children, but he led a life of the mind and daily interacting with young kids wasn’t his cup of tea. As adults we both found we had plenty in common and the past became unimportant.

• See my two most recent books: The Enneagram of Death and The Enneagram for Teens. More on wagele.com.