A Conversation With Author Susan Faludi on Her Surprising New Book

November 17, 2016.

I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.

That was the email Susan Faludi, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and award winning author, received from her 76-year-old father Steven Faludi. He sent it along with several attached selfies of himself in blouses, skirts and wigs, explaining his decision to fly to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery. Faludi appeared in City College’s Steinman Hall recently to share the story from her latest book “In the Darkroom” during a talk and discussion.

Faludi, best known for her groundbreaking 1991 book “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women,” has generally focused on the ideas of feminism and arguments that surround it. Her 1999 book, “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man,” brings attention to how the traditional masculinity collapses. Other books include “The Terror Dream,” and “Complaints & Disorders.”

Her latest book marks a departure, a story she says was far from easy for her to write. “I’m not sure I could have done this without being a journalist,” Faludi stated to the CCNY audience. “Because in a way, when you have a very difficult parent, it’s easier to just let it go.”

However, the idea of being the journalist quickly faded when the natural emotions as a daughter came into play. The author admitted the struggles of her relationship with her father, who she had been estranged from before he became Stefanie. “In truth we never had a good relationship,” Faludi said. She remembers her dad, who passed away in 2015, as macho aggressive, narcotic, domineering, and violent while growing up. “All of which sparked my early feminism,” she explains.

One of the questions that continuously lingered was whether or not this was just another one of Stefanie’s “quick changes” or was this really him? After Faludi’s father escaped the Holocaust during WWII, he went through a series of re-inventions such as documentary photographer, all American commuter dad in Westchester county, muscular sportsman and alpine mountaineer, and high end commercial photographer in Manhattan where he specialized in altering images.

An excerpt from the book reveals that her father believed Stefanie was his “real self:” I was role playing as a man. Now as a woman, I am not role playing anymore. It’s who I am now. Since the operation I’ve developed another personality.

Writing “In the Darkroom,” taught Faludi an important lesson: She learned through the process to picture her parents as being less symbolic and more human. “As children we don’t think of frailties and vulnerabilities,” she stated. “[But] we did come to a zigzag way of understanding and awareness of where each of our struggles came from.”

By Krystal Rivera, with thanks to CCNY’s student paper The Campus.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and best-selling author of Backlash, on her new book, In the Darkroom, a finalist for the 2016 Kirkus Prize

Susan Faludi’s extraordinary inquiry into the meaning of identity in the modern world and in her own haunted family saga. When the feminist writer learned that her 76-year-old father—long estranged and living in Hungary—had undergone sex reassignment surgery, that investigation would turn personal and urgent. How was this new parent who claimed to be “a complete woman now” connected to the silent, explosive, and ultimately violent father she had known, the photographer who’d built his career on the alteration of images?

Susan Faludi is the author of the bestselling Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, and The Terror Dream: Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America.

“In the Darkroom is an absolute stunner of a memoir – probing, steel-nerved, moving in ways you’d never expect. Ms. Faludi is determined both to demystify the father of her youth – ‘a simultaneously inscrutable and volatile presence, a black box and a detonator’ – and to re-examine the very notion and nature of identity.” – The New York Times

“A searching investigation of identity barely disguised as a sometimes funny and sometimes very painful family saga… An out-and-out masterpiece of its kind.”    – The Guardian113