Cover image for Dress codes : of three girlhoods--my mother's, my father's, and mine
Dress codes : of three girlhoods--my mother's, my father's, and mine
Howey, Noelle.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador USA, 2002.
Physical Description:
xvi, 332 pages ; 22 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ777.8 .H68 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HQ777.8 .H68 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"There's no news like hearing irrefutable proof that you're not the sole cause of your parents' woes, your father's drinking, your unshakable feeling that you're not put together quite right and finding out the problem all along was your father's unrequited yearning for angora." --Noelle Howey from Dress Codes

Throughout her childhood in suburban Ohio, Noelle struggled to gain love and affection from her distant father. In compensating for her father's brusqueness, Noelle idolized her nurturing tomboy mother and her conservative grandma who tried to turn her into "a little lady." At age 14, Noelle's mom told her the family secret straight out: "Dad likes to wear women's clothes."

As Noelle copes with a turbulent adolescence, further confused by the male and female role models she had as a girl, her father begins to metamorphose into the loving parent she had always longed for--only now outfitted in pedal pushers and pink lipstick. Could becoming a woman make her father a completely different person? With edgy humor, courage, and remarkable sensitivity, Noelle Howey challenges all of our beliefs in what constitutes gender and a "normal" family.

Author Notes

Noelle Howey is the co-editor of Out of the Ordinary: Essays on Growing Up with Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Parents, winner of two 2000 Lambda Literary Awards. She has also written for Ms., Jane, Mother Jones, Teen People, Bitch, Mademoiselle, and Self. A finalist for a GLAAD Media Award, she received a 2001 Nonfiction Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. An Ohio native, Noelle Howey lives in Minneapolis with her husband.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Growing up, Howey felt anything but close to her father. Distant and awkward, Dick didn't seem to know how to relate to his daughter. Out of place even in his marriage, Dick feels most comfortable when he dresses in women's clothing. Howey charts Dick's boyhood, his manhood, and his "girlhood" --when he leaves Howey's mother, Dinah, and decides to start living as a woman, and eventually to become one. Howey also tells her mother's story: her growing up, dating Dick on and off and marrying him, and the troubled marriage that follows. Dinah herself has a second girlhood of sorts when she rediscovers her sexuality after Dick leaves. And, finally, Howey tells the story of her own girlhood, growing up with mixed feelings about her father, adjusting to his new identity, and happily, growing closer to him as he discovers who he is. Introspective, honest, and intelligent, Howey's memoir will appeal to readers not just as a story of transgenderism but also simply as the story of a family that has to redefine itself. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When we think of a typical American family, we do not often think of a family that comprises a transgendered father, a tomboy mother, and their daughter. However, this is the very dynamic of this touching autobiographical account of Howey's growing up under anything but ordinary circumstances. Dress Codes is a candid and compelling look back at how teenager Howey and her mother struggled with her father's transformation from a bad-tempered dad to a loving transgendered woman. Readers will both laugh and wince at the numerous issues Howey and her family have to come to terms with as they learn to grow both individually and as a family. Howey (coeditor, Out of the Ordinary: Essays on Growing Up with Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Parents), who has written for various publications, including Glamour, Jane, and Self, details her own evolution along with her family's with honesty, grace, and wit. Highly recommended for all public libraries. Sheila Devaney Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-At first glance, this memoir seems to be the stuff of certain afternoon talk shows: macho, brooding Daddy wants to be an extroverted girl; Mommy is practically a nun; and the daughter, Noelle, has sadomasochistic tendencies. However, the book has incredible depth and a believable honesty that transport the topics of gender dysphoria and sexual coming-of-age beyond sensationalism. All three family members seem to have a decent grip on their inner selves, yet they go through agony trying to harmonize what they know is real with how they actually live and relate to others. Noelle has the angst, cynicism, stupid dramas, wise moments, and mood swings that can be expected from an adolescent. Her bitterness at her father is palpable, as is her tender frustration with her mother. These emotions subside in fits and starts when Dad comes out as Christine, the woman she always has been inside. Freeing herself from trying to play the role society expected, Dad finds herself free to be a real father to Noelle. His coming out ultimately results in divorce, but ironically the family becomes closer and is happier than ever. With her sharp humor and sensitivity, Howey manages to entertain, console, and enlighten readers. The book is impossible to ignore, and impossible to put down.-Sheila Shoup, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.