What to Read: ‘Self-Made Woman: A Memoir’

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Your own two hands.

That’s what it took — plus a bit of paint, pencil or pen, rouge and ribbon and rickrack — to make that of which you are proud. You did that. You made it with your own two hands. As in the new book “Self-Made Woman” by Denise Chanterelle DuBois, it takes a lot to craft a new life.

It began near a lakeside cabin in Wisconsin.

DuBois says she was four then, a curious little boy who loved the water — until she fell in and nearly drowned. Once fished out, she was dressed in girl’s clothing while hers dried, and she was enchanted. She fought her mother’s demands that she give the clothing up. That was the beginning of DuBois’ lifetime journey toward womanhood.

Though her parents were both alcoholics and abusive, Catholic school nuns were the ones who showed DuBois that sexual stimulation could come from humiliation. In grade school, she preferred playing with girls because she was a girl herself, but teachers and nuns forbade it. When embarrassed in class, she felt stirrings; she asked playmates to spank her, and she learned to welcome negative attention.

This led to petty theft and a secret life: DuBois began sneaking into her sister’s closet to wear her clothing. She broke into random buildings to steal panties from strangers, and she lost a babysitting job when her client’s child caught her wearing her client’s lingerie; the ensuing humiliation only enhanced the experience. She dabbled in domination by being a slave to women who wanted her money. She experimented with drugs and alcohol; there were run-ins with the law. She became suicidal.

And yet — there were bright moments in her life. DuBois fell in love with a woman who went along with fetishes that had grown into full-blown obsessions. She made friends — albeit, friends who were into drugs. She got married. And she started learning what it would take to be the woman she always knew she really was…

“Self-Made Woman” is a lot of things. It’s sad. Poignant. Scary. It’s also TMI sometimes and, at just over 200 pages, it’s a bit too long.

From Wisconsin childhood to womanhood in Bangkok, author Denise Chanterelle DuBois tells readers of a multi-city, lifetime self-search, in an account that feels overly detailed and overstuffed. Reading it is akin to being held captive by someone who really needs to tell all, including unabashed details about the world of submission and female domination. Those details are titillating for those who share DuBois’ fetishes, but cruelty and graphicness make them wince-worthy. Add in memories of drug and alcohol abuse and an account of imprisonment that seemed rushed and you could have a mess of unreadablility, were it not for the overall uniqueness, vulnerability, and the truthfulness in this tale.

When the story itself lags, those are the things that redeem it. They’re what make this matter-of-factly-told memoir one that sets itself apart by its brutal honesty. It’s what will make you want to put “Self-Made Woman” in your hands.

 

“Self-Made Woman: A Memoir” by Denise Chanterelle DuBois

c.2017, The University of Wisconsin Press

$26.95 / higher in Canada

224 pages


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