Q&A: Author Noelle Howey

To get to the larger question, I think that there is more of a stigma attached to acting feminine. If you think about it, women who wear their boyfriend's shirt, for example, are considered sexy as opposed to a boyfriend wearing his girlfriend's shirt — that would be classified as a sexual fetish or something considered distasteful.

While it's hard for anybody to move across gender lines, female-to-male transsexuals have a slightly easier time than male-to-female. When you're a male-to-female, like my dad, you're no longer accepted by men as a man, but you're no longer accepted by women as a woman. You live in this world that's in between the two.

I think that for somebody raised male and particularly somebody who had positions of power, like my dad, that can be a very hard place to be.

Lucas Bronsman asks:

Your grandmother is like the unmentioned "fourth girlhood" in this book and a fascinating character. I felt like she added a whole other dimension to the themes of the book. I'm curious to know how you feel about her importance as a character in the story.

Noelle Howey

She's actually my favorite character in the book. I almost wanted to write a book exclusively about her because to me she embodies so many of the tensions that get addressed in the book.

It's difficult enough to be a powerful and attractive woman nowadays; it was even more so in the 1950s. I think that my grandmother was such a creature of her time. She tried to be the perfect housewife; then she tried to be the perfect executive; then she tried to be a socialite in the Reagan years; then she tried to be an activist in the Clinton years.

I think that in some ways her character to me is a microcosm of the rest of the book.

Dale asks:

Your book jumps around between several different time periods, starting in the '50s and ending in the '90s. How do you think things may have turned out differently if your family's story began in the '90s?

Noelle Howey

I think it would have been a completely different book — and that's probably a good thing. This is not to stay that gender is something we have grappled with as a society and conquered; that's not the case. People still tend to view transsexualism as a vaguely gross or often funny predicament.

But that said, there are so many more resources now for people who are transgendered and there are so many more discussions about what it means to be guy or a women. If my dad were a teenager now, he could join a transgender youth group and march in transgender parades.

That could never have happened in the 1950s — or the '80s for that matter. This is a very recent phenomenon.

maureen asks:

What do you think we should be teaching high school aged kids about gender? Any thoughts?

Noelle Howey

I think the most important thing is that there shouldn't be so many judgments placed about where you fall on the gender spectrum — meaning ultra-feminine at one end and ultra-masculine on the other.

Schools, along with every other institution, have a responsibility to communicate the fact that a diverse student body — diverse in every sense, including gender — is a perfectly healthy thing.

We're a long way from people even thinking in those terms. I don't necessarily blame schools specifically. There is no one, two or three ways of being a man or a woman or a family. If schools helped to promote that idea, I think we'd all be a lot better off.

Erica asks:

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