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The Last Time I Wore a DressReview - The Last Time I Wore a Dress
A Memoir
by Daphne Scholinski
Riverhead Books, 1997
Review by Dianne Rockenstein, M.A.
Dec 14th 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 50)

"Well, if it isn't Dr Sigmund Fraud". This is Daphne's initial greeting to her psychiatrist at Chicago's Michael Reese Hospital (a long-term psychiatric facility). She liked to "stretch the truth" and be "in control". She liked to play the part of the bad girl. When in school in suburban Chicago, Daphne cut classes, had miserable grades and threatened teachers. She not only lied, but stole and abused drugs. It had become a way of life.

Daphne's mother had no room in her life for a disruptive daughter. Her father tried to live up to his parental responsiblities after her mother left the family, but couldn't. A brief but tragic Army tour in Vietnam trasformed a kind-hearted man to one who was prone to episodes of violence, especially when provoked by a very rebellious and out-of-control daughter.

When visiting her mother in Chicago, Daphne kept company with gang members and a much older, lecherous hit man. The hit man gave her money, drugs and took her out to dinner in exchange for sexual favors.

In 1981 at the age of fifteen years, Daphne finds herself committed to a mental hosptal where she will spend the next three years in three facilities. According to Daphne who narrates her memoir, she is committed for "girly, girly lessons". She claims the doctors' main reason for keeping her locked in mental hospitals was due to the fact that she was seen as not an "appropriate female". Daphne walked tough, talked tough and sat with her legs wide apart. It was who she was. She liked who she was but didn't want to be seen as a "freak". The diagnostic term for this is Gender Identity Disorder.

But, if this were the sole diagnosis, would Daphne have been sent to these facilities at all? Her reasoning is questionable. Conduct disorder and substance abuse seemed to play a much larger role. Daphne thought the doctors were stupid and she knew more than they. She lied to the doctors in order to manipulate them into transferring her to different units, as she pleased.

At her first facility, Daphne experienced being with psychotics, manic-depressives, those suicidally depressed among others who were truly mentally ill. She was given Dalmane to sleep. For inappropriate behavior, she was given Thorazine injections and locked in a seclusion room or physically restrained.

One day out of curiosity, Daphne pretended to be asleep so she was able to witness her 50 yr old roomate receive electroshock therapy. Also, while at Michael Reese, Daphne drank down a containers of oily lighter fluid and tart Sea Breeze hoping to experience "the long sleep of the dead". Instead, she earned herself more time in the seclusion room followed by a period of being physically restrained to a bed on the unit with leather straps.

She was transferred to Forest Hospital with problems listed: depression, running away, substance abuse, lying and stealing. Daphne who thought herself smarter than the doctors, thought it would be "cool" to be a drug addict in rehab. She lied to the doctors and secured a place for herself there. But once on the rehab unit, Daphne couldn't relate to the addicts and found rehab not as cool as she thought it would be.

Part of her treatment at Forest Hospital was to wear makeup, wear her hair and dress in a more feminine style. Also, she was to interact with the male patients daily. Daphne hated the doctors for failing to see her real pain.

At the third hospital, the Wilson Center which specialized in adolescent mental disturbances, security seemed the most lax. Daphne often escaped to secure alcohol, other drugs and go on other adventures. Her major treatment goals there were listed: eliminate her depression and come to terms as a sexual female.

When Daphne paired off with a pretty female patient, the staff accused her of a sexual liasion. Daphne is discharged from the Wilson Center in 1984 after earning her high school diploma there. It was just as her father's insurance coverage ended. According to Daphne, her father's insurance paid a million dollars for her three year treatment. Her credibility is questionable after years of perfecting her fabrications.

Did the hospitals address any of Daphne's mental disorder problems, such as depression? In her narrative, Daphne does not mention being evaluated for possible antidepressant medication treatment. It seems the only treatment she received was a simple Behavior Modification Program which included points for privileges for good behaviors and privileges taken away for bad behaviors. This program could have been conducted on a partial hospital basis or out-patient basis at considerably less cost.

Instead, as a long-term inpatient, Daphne became the foster child of the hospitals, who took her father's insurance money and gave her no meaningful treatment in exchange. Daphne weaves a fascinating story in her memoir, truthful or not. A very interesting story of a young girl's plight.

Now an artist and gay activist in San Francisco, Daphne states she told her story as honestly as she could. How credible is her narrative? The readers must draw their own conclusions. How much truth lies between the covers of this book? The pages seem to be filled with exaggerations, omissions and fabrications but the story makes an entertaining read.

In one of her recent drawings, Daphne pictures herself peering out the small chicken-wire window of the seclusion room. She remembers what she wore- a Michael Reese Hospital gown. That was the last time she wore a dress.

P.S. Dianne now shares her home with: two dogs, three cats and two lovebirds (and two daughters)
 

Review revised December 20, 1999

Dianne is a widow living with her two daughters, two dogs, two cats and two lovebirds in Western PA. She formerly worked in nursing at the VA Medical Center in Butler. After she lost her husband to suicide, she chose to go back to college to study Psychology. She earned her B.S. in Psychology in 1990 and M.A. in Counseling Psychology in 1993. Dianne has worked as a therapist with adult and adolescent trauma clients and in addictions counseling. She has also taught General Psychology on the college level. She is an avid reader, enjoys photography, drawing and painting. She is also an avid animal lover who enjoys horseback riding.

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