Picks and Pans Review: The Last Time I Wore a Dress

updated 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

Daphne Scholinski with Jane Meredith Adams

Even now, it's always the same question: Why don't you act more like a girl?" begins Daphne Scholinski in this memoir of her high school years, which she spent being treated in several Chicago mental institutions for "gender identity disorder"—or, in layman's terms, acting like a tomboy. After this provocative introduction, we learn in bits and pieces that Scholinski was initially institutionalized for behavior problems, that her sad young life also included random sexual abuse by neighbors and caretakers, membership in a street gang and "a touchy and violent" father who had been traumatized by his military experience in Vietnam.

It is easy to understand why Scholinski, now an artist who lives in San Francisco (and was invited to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing in 1995), focused on the diagnosis and treatment of gender identity disorder. We learn for example, shockingly, that her therapy included regular instruction in makeup and hair styling—and this was in the 1980s: "Three years in three mental hospitals for girly lessons," she writes dismissively—and at a price of $1 million.

But Scholinski shortchanges other aspects of her life; enough of her warmth, wry humor and guts show through to keep us turning pages, but her complex, brutal story deserves a better telling. (Riverhead, $23.95)

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