When she was 14 years old, Noelle Howey's mom let her in on the family secret: "Your dad likes to wear women's clothes."
Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods — My Mother's, My Father's, and Mine, is a poignant account of Howey's struggle with her father's transformation from an emotionally distant dad to an affectionate transgendered woman.
Author Noelle Howey joined ABCNEWS.com for a live chat on Monday, Dec. 9. The transcript follows.
Also: Read an excerpt from Dress Codes, the latest selection in Good Morning America's "Read This!" book club series
Welcome, Noelle, thanks for joining us.
When you first found out about your dad's cross-dressing habit as a 14-year-old girl, you were stunned. How have your feelings changed over time?
Over time, it has become very normal for me — almost to the point where I have to stop from time to time and remember that this doesn't happen in everyone's family.
This has been something I have dealt with and came to terms with about 15 years ago. If I were still dealing with these issues — and if this was still a painful ordeal — I couldn't have written the book. I would still be too involved in coping with it. Now it's kind of old news in my family.
How have the changes that your dad went through altered your perception of gender? Do you now see the divisions between male and female differently than you used to?
That's a great question. I absolutely see male and female differently than most people do. I don't see male and female as something that is just biological. To me there is an element of choice and orientation.
There are women who are masculine; there are men who are feminine. There are so many different kinds of ways of expressing one's gender. Many of them are so subtle that I think even those of us who would never think of having a "gender problem" still grapple with gender issues — like women who feel they aren't feminine or girly enough or guys, like my husband, who feel people expect them to watch sports all the time.
I think the lines are very flexible — more so than people want to admit, most of the time.
I read this after it was shown on the show, and I thought the book was extremely warm and funny. I really enjoyed it. Was writing the book very cathartic for you?
Actually, no. I think writing in your diary should be cathartic in the sense of releasing your emotions and processing things. But when you write a book, you're trying to communicate with other people; it's not just for you.
So I wasn't willing to write this book until I thought that it would be interesting and entertaining for other people — and until I could have a sense of humor about it. I didn't want this to be one of those depressing memoirs everybody always talks about.
Does the author think that the experience would have been more, or less traumatic had it been her *mother* who'd decided to cross over and become a man? Is there more stigma attached to acting feminine, as Madonna suggests in her song, "What it Feels Like for a Girl"?
It would have been harder if it were my mother — mostly because my mother and I were so much closer, so any big change on her part would have been difficult.