Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Last Time I Wore a Dress

Scholinski, Daphne. With Jane Meredith Adams. The Last Time I Wore a Dress. New York: Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1997. Print.


Liking to wear jeans and T-shirts may be a big no-no for women in places like Iraq, but here in the U.S. of A you wouldn't think it would get you committed to a mental institution. But for Daphne, it did. 


To say Daphne Scholinski has an indomitable spirit would be an epic understatement. She grew up in an unhappy home, thankfully her parents divorced, but still neither her mother or father seemed to want to be a parent. Her mother went off to "find herself," leaving Daphne and her little sister to live with their dad, who wasn't a caretaker (even for himself). She was a lonely, angry and misunderstood teenager, who was confused regarding her sexuality, but was not crazy. She was understandably depressed; her parents emotionally abandoned her. She was in desperate need of a nurturing figure and the protection a child should expect while being parented in any loose sense of the word; she might not have been molested continuously by stray neighbors and random passers-by if she'd had those things. She certainly wouldn't have been put in a mental institution during her formative teenage years (from 15 to 18), years critical to her mental and social development and formation of identity.

Writing this memoir, Daphne had the help of Jane Meredith Adams; I am unsure how much of the writing was strictly Daphne's, but her voice rings out in such a raw, ripping, painful way that I heard her loud and clear. When talking about her father's girlfriend she wrote: "She couldn't understand why I didn't get along with my father. She looked at him and saw a guy who tickled her on the couch and I saw a guy who beat me with a belt until I stopped crying. So we were in two different movies."  When discussing her disappointment in a new therapist at the hospital she writes, "Even this man with the kind blue eyes wanted me to cover my face with makeup. The bruises underneath my skin (figurative) - didn't he want to put his finger lightly on each one and say, Tell me about it?"  and later she reflects on "Why the thing they cared the most about was whether I acted the part of a feminine young lady. The shame is that the effects of depression, sexual abuse, violence: all treatable. But where I stood on the feminine/masculine scale: unchangeable. It's who I am." She is so honest, so forthcoming, it is amazing to think she could pull down the massive walls of self-protection she must have needed to withstand her harrowing, amazingly painful nightmare to reveal to her readers such a candid account of her teenage years.

At once both funny and horrifying, Daphne's memoir reads like a novel; she is quite graphic with her descriptions, and it is organized with flashbacks and backstory so artfully threaded throughout her narrative that it never bogs down, but feels as immediate and page-turning as any fiction novel, yet it is real. What was done to her is so wrong it raises the hackles of any reader, but also speaks intimately to those teens grappling with questions of sexual identity and preference, and helps them explore themes of rejection, belonging, self-acceptance and above all strength of the spirit.

Daphne Scholinski is an inspiration. 

Genre: Memoir/ Multicultural (GLBTQ) 

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