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Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods--My Mother's, My Father's, and Mine

3.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  409 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
"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 ga
ebook, 368 pages
Published May 2nd 2003 by Picador (first published 2002)
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Jul 16, 2012 Jayne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Divorce is complicated and painful even without a big family secret to conceal. Adolescence is anguishing in even its easiest incarnation. And there is simply no best time for a parent and spouse coming out as a cross-dresser.

Dress Codes gets us through all three of these potentially shattering crises with more humour than pathos, in this highly readable, fully autobiographical family saga. Covering ten years of the author’s life, with flashbacks to her parents’ youth and adolescence, the book
Jan 11, 2016 Marsha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ms. Howey’s book about her father’s gradual change from a man who loved women (albeit in a very lukewarm fashion) into a woman who loved men and then loved women doesn’t plot a smooth, straight and easy path, by any means. Shifting uneasily between her story and those of her parents and grandparents, her tale of transgender confusion, child rearing, social stigmatizing and unequally discomforting acceptance veers from one scene of depression, mood swings, awkward parenting and equally awkward ad ...more
Aug 23, 2013 Sonja rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
A daughter's story of the way her family changed for the better once her father came out as transgender and embarked on the transition to being a woman. Very interesting, sensitive account.
Sophie Lynne
Apr 28, 2016 Sophie Lynne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting take on the issues surrounding later-life transition. Ms Howey opens up her life, as well as those of her parents, to inspection, comparison, and enlightenment.

We who transition live a life of Fear. My biggest fear is not my own death at the hands of those who hate me, but of the effect my transition will have on my young daughter (to whom I came out when she was 6.)

She will live her own life, and hopefully be stronger for the experience, as it appears Ms. Howey has become.

I rec
This book begins by throwing the reader into the middle of the author's unusual and shockingly frank after school activities. It was honestly a bit of a shock, to be thrown into the story in such an, um, personal way. Especially shocking since her parents played such a big role in this book and were instrumental in recounting so many of the details of her childhood and surely read each word. Call me a prude, but it really caught me off guard.

Because of this startling beginning, it took me a litt
Nov 16, 2013 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting story by an interesting woman, despite the fact that so much of the story is about her reaction to her parents and her grandparents. Noelle's father is the strong silent type of man, whose only passion is acting. Noelle's mother is a no-nonsense, practical woman who doesn't think she's interesting. Noelle's father is strong and silent because his big fear is that people will know he likes dressing up in women's clothing. Then he decides to come out. You'd figure that would make en ...more
May 01, 2011 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Someone on a message board I frequent mentioned reading Dress Codes, and it caught my interest enough that I added it onto my Amazon order the last time I had a gift certificate. It's the memoir of a girl whose father is a transsexual who "came out" and decided to live as a woman while the author was a teenager.

Ms. Howey weaves together her own childhood stories with those of her parents and grandparents, and largely creates a portrait of a typical suburban American family life. While she talks
Mar 18, 2014 HeavyReader rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: family members of transsexual people; anyone interested in transsexuality
Shelves: queer, life-stories
This is the story of a woman born in a man's body and how she goes about correcting the mistake. This is the story of the woman who loves that man/woman, even though they never have the passionate sex life she hopes for and expects. This is the story of their daughter, the story told by that daughter (and sometimes the daughter's writing style reminds me of David Sedaris). This is the story of three people who love each other even when they don't understand each other, even when they hurt each o ...more
Aug 11, 2010 Tamara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir of a suburban childhood with a cross-dressing dad. The first half of Dress Codes is like any other story of neglect. "I had a dad possibly like yours… sullen, sporadically hostile, frequently vacant." It was her loving mother who eventually confided her father's secret in the midst of the teenage angst that is 15. This news came as relief, explaining the remoteness, the drinking, the mood swings, reassuring that these were not the young Noelle's fault, but the result of her father's const ...more
Mar 16, 2008 Monica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: KOTs, interested folks
This is the only published memoir I know of written by the daughter of a transgender MTF parent. I believe it's author is editing Real Simple magazine these days. The book portrays just what the title suggests. Howey lays out her own childhood growing up with a closeted transsexual father, supplemented with each of her parents' childhood memories. As she grows into a young woman, Howey's father undergoes a transition into womanhood herself.

To me, this is a palatable mainstream version of one KO
May 28, 2008 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent - The author's father cross dresses in secret for years (only his wife knows what he is doing) and eventually becomes a woman. The story flips back and forth between the lives of the author, her mother, and her father beginning with their childhoods, which allows the reader to really get to know the characters. There was more information on all of their sex lives than any child should know about their parents (or any parent know about their child) but I'm guessing going through a sex c ...more
Leigh Newman
Feb 06, 2013 Leigh Newman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it's astonishing how Howey is able to both portray her own feelings about her childhood and both of her parent's, so that all three "characters" are full realized people. it takes a compassionate, brave writer. i also like how she skillfully moved around in time, cutting from past to present and back again, in a way that was never confusing. what this allowed her to do was draw "thematic" parallels between her, her mother and her father. For example, lining up her lose of virginity with her moth ...more
Becky Shaknovich
This is a strange book, to say the least. I liked the holistic nature of the story, which covered every family member's reactions to, struggles with, and finally, acceptance of, the author's father's sexuality. I had been expecting to read a book about growing up with a father who is a transsexual. Instead, the author describes the sex lives of her parents and grandparents, as well as her own. I can't imagine how she collected some of the information for this book. At the end, she vaguely discus ...more
Traci  Medeiros
This book didn't blow me out of the water but it was worth the read once I finally made it all the way through. Some parts were extremely poignant in there insight but a lot of it fell short of it's, I think hoped for, dramatic effect. Still, it would be a good start for someone curious about the subject but not ready to dive into something that still is a little intimidating for them. The books structure has a lot to do with this as Howey compares and contrasts many states of womanhood from man ...more
Apr 07, 2015 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit uneven, but well worth reading for the author's openness and honesty about her family. It was very interesting to watch each member of the family make various transitions and adjustments in addition to the obvious transition her father made.
Aug 22, 2011 Hillary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Noelle Howey's father's dad is kind of a miserable jerk, and Noelle feels like it's all her fault. It's only when Noelle's mother tells her about her father's cross-dressing that Noelle realizes the internal struggle he has been facing his whole life. After her parents divorce, and her dad comes out as a transwoman, the family members are all able to rediscover themselves and start building a family that's stronger and more loving than ever before.
This fast-paced family memoir is alternately sad
I admire what Howey did here. The book is honest without being remotely sensational. That is not easy with this subject matter. Because I admire the effort it pains me to not give a higher rating. The last 100+ pages were better, but the first half of this book was so dull. 90% of it should have been cut. I almost abandoned the read more than once. She tried so hard to show us how damaging her father's secret was to the family. and how freeing his coming out was for them that we had to slog thro ...more
Jan 26, 2010 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was just meh. I was glad to see there were some relatable moments, like when the author's father can't fathom that he could have impregnated his wife. That said, I found it awkward - and a bit frustrating - that the author's eventual evolution (which was significant, but I won't ruin it) was left for the last few pages.

The second half went far faster than the first half, though as a memoir it seemed a bit rote.

I do wish it wasn't out of print. I had to buy a used copy because my publi
Mar 13, 2008 ana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was better than my stars rating might suggest. I just thought it was overly long. It was definitely written for people who've never known transsexuals or dealt with many queer issues in their lives, and so for anyone whose read all of the (seemingly) required queer tomes, parts might make you yawn.

Still it was a really good memoir of, as the title states, three girlhoods, and she captures painful, awkward, hilarious adolescence as it is.
Spider the Doof Warrior
This was a great book, but several things-
Did the writer SQUIRM having to write about such things when it came to her parents. You know, their sex lives.
Also, I wonder why we haven't figured out that being transgendered shouldn't be so traumatic for all involved. I felt bad that Noelle's father had to go through so much just to be herself.
This is a good book about healing and coming to terms and finding your identity.
Jul 22, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is very honest and enlighting. The author and her family are very brave to let their experience as a family with a transgender member into the public eye. Its also very readable, even though it does bounce around a bit. It feels like a novel, which helps keep a readers interest. I'm not sure there's another book out there like it, with such a wide spectrum.
Feb 07, 2009 Krista rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2009
I loved this book. It was a fabulous perspective, free of simple reminiscence, of her father who became her father named Christina. I liked the voice, the ability to remember the good and the bad, and that the story wasn't easily whitewashed. They all were who they were, imperfect and broken, but it's nice to see them as a family.
Nov 09, 2008 E rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Dress Codes could have been interesting, but it jumped around too much in time: trying to tackle two parents' sets of childhoods, as well as the narrator, to make sense of the father's transformation of sexual identity and eventual sex change.
I felt awkward reading it, as if I were overhearing prurient family secrets.
Dec 17, 2011 Cindy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Cleveland Heights native writes of 3 girlhoods: her mother's, her father's (he is transexual) and her own. She spent far too long embellishing the story with her childhood and teenage sexuality. She confessed way more than we cared to hear!
The description about it being about 3 girlhoods, mine, my moms and my dads was true but also missed the park as well. It's also about people who discover themselves, who they are really are, and one that many of us can learn from.
Very interesting memoir of Howey's experiences coming to terms with her father's transsexuality. Her accounts of her father's sex change operation in Brussels and her bout with depression were particularly raw and compelling.
Jan 23, 2016 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
Interesting for sure, but it didn't feel like much resolution was made concerning the father's appalling performance as a parent & husband pre-transition. Still worth the time though...
Sep 02, 2007 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
it was interesting, but i remember leaving it on the plane (purposely) when i was finished with it in the knowledge that i would never want to read it again.
Carolyn Ledy
interesting to read about a totally different slice of life. makes me realize what i went through as a child could have been a lot harder...
Jan 22, 2008 brass rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a really great non-academic, non-gender-deconstructionist memoir. a great book for the 'i want to get it' beginners in your life.
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“Changing yourself is supposed to mean hope, at least according to the self-help books and magazine paradigms, but for me - and I suspect many others - it simply means finding new ways to feel inadequate.” 4 likes
“This isn't a tragedy. It's just non-fiction.” 2 likes
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