In In the Darkroom, journalist Faludi explores her father’s life and gender transition.

In writing about your father, when did you realize the memoir was going to dig deeply into the history of Hungary?

From my first visit to Budapest to see my father after her operation, it was clear to me that if I were to understand her, I needed to understand the nation she came from, the nation that my father, as a boy, deeply identified with, the nation that then defined our family as alien simply for being Jewish. So, very early on it became evident to me that the story of my father’s quest for personal identity and Hungary’s quest for national identity were deeply intertwined.

With the current discussions around LGBT rights, could you comment on the book’s timeliness?

When my father had sex-reassignment surgery and I started writing about it in 2004, the question of transgender rights and related legal issues weren’t even on the table. It’s breathtaking—and heartening—how speedily the climate has changed (at least in the U.S.). To comprehend my father’s gender change, I spent a lot of time talking to transgender people, consulting the authorities and the literature on the subject, immersing myself in the history and the current debates on trans identity. And I hope I’ve added to the discussion. But I don’t pretend to present here a verdict on the matter. This book is not a corrective or a valedictory or any kind of decree on transgenderism. It’s an exploration of one particular daughter’s experience with one particular father.

How do you feel now that your father has passed on?

I don’t believe in anything so tidy as closure. But my father and I did grow to have a real and deepening relationship—for the first time since my childhood and our quarter-century estrangement. My father ultimately apologized for some of the violence she perpetrated during my youth, and in my way I apologized for allowing our separation to continue over so many decades. And I’m grateful for that reconciliation. Maybe even more important, though, the process of writing the book freed me from living with the caricature I had of my father. As a child, you don’t see the vulnerability and frailties of your parents—only their power. Writing the book freed me from the “demon” I’d demonized. My father went, in my mind, from symbol to human.

Did your work as a journalist help keep you on an even keel while addressing such a personal subject?

My training as a journalist taught me to ask questions first, to challenge my assumptions, to look for the hidden story, and to perceive rather than to moralize. So, yes, it helped a lot. And like a lot of journalists, being armed with that reporter’s notebook and a list of questions gives me a certain fortitude. I’m not sure whether I’d have been able to open up the discussion after such a long silence without the tools of my trade. But in the end, I also had to drop the stance of outside observer. This was my story as much as my father’s.