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Hi, E. M. Hamill!


YOUR BOOK

* What factors led you to feature a genderqueer main character?  Do
you draw on personal experience (whether your own or other folks in
your life), or were you more intrigued by the concept of being
genderqueer?


I’ve been bisexual all my life, though I’m not genderfluid like Dalí is. It’s something I never had the courage to express when I was younger for a variety of reasons, and then it felt like it was too late. Now that I’m older, wiser, and one of my children has also come out as non-binary, I am finally comfortable expressing this part of myself. Especially after the last election, I felt compelled to speak out at last and be counted with all my brothers and sisters. It’s never too late.


Even though my main character, Dalí, has been shattered by loss, I wanted them to be a person who revels in the fact they are attracted to all genders, and doesn’t hide who they are. They accept this part of themselves without shame, as they should. It was kind of cathartic.



* Are there other gender-bending science fiction novels or
gender-variant characters in science fiction that inspire you or that
you're particularly fond of?



The show “Earth: Final Conflict” fascinated me. The aliens in the show, especially Da’an, were genderless, and I loved that.  Of course, Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, that most omnisexual of beings in the universe! Who doesn’t love him? One that doesn’t get a lot of notice is Inara from Firefly, who was decidedly bisexual. Lastly, most recently, “Sense8” and it’s diverse array of queer relationships and actors spoke to me on a huge level.


* Some science fiction operates as a sort of "intellectual
laboratory" to play out "what if" scenarios, and some is more of a
vacation fantasy, creating a fascinating different world to put
characters into, and so on.  Is there a 'tradition' or sub-genre of
science fiction that your book is a part of?



I would call it a space opera in the vein of Star Trek or Star Wars, with deliberate allegories to modern day social and human rights issues. Aliens and humans work alongside each other, and deep friendships or relationships develop as a result. 


* Is this a stand-alone book or are you working on a series?


This can be read as a stand-alone, but I definitely left the door open for more books featuring this character. I’ve already started writing their next mission.


* What sort of audience do you anticipate for DALI?  When you were
writing it, did you have an audience in your mind that you were
writing for?



I hope it appeals to all readers of science fiction, but especially to fellow queer readers. I also hope it resonates with mainstream sci-fi fans, because fiction opens doors to new ways of thinking.


* If you could inhabit the world in which your story takes place,
would you do so for a weekend, a year or two, or the rest of your
life, or would you pass on that option entirely?


Oh, a year or two, because you can’t get from our solar system to Zereid quickly!

* Did you have the idea for DALI floating around in your mind for a
long time before you wrote it, or did you write it more or less as it
first came to you?


Once Dalí started talking, they didn’t stop. I finished the first draft in six months, which is really fast for me!

* Aside from the science fiction element of it, you describe the book
as an "adventure"; is it a suspenseful action-thriller, or a big
drama with large social forces squaring off, a personal odyssey with
a central heroic figure... how would you characterize the plot?



I would characterize it as a suspenseful action-thriller, or spy drama. There are elements of a personal odyssey as well.


* How long did it take you?  If you've written and published
previously, how did this one compare to the others in terms of the
ease and speed with which you wrote it?


My first book took me five years from start to finish, but only two after I got serious about it. The second book in that series was easier. Dalí took six months to write, six months to edit, and I signed a contract with Nine Star Press in early 2017. 


WRITING


* What's your favorite environment to write in?  Do you have a studio
or do you just work in any convenient place?


I have a big recliner in front of my picture window. I get up before everybody else does, because it takes silence and solitude to get me in the zone. I have a small writing space carved out in our utility room, but it’s less comfortable! It’s the place I go when everybody else is awake.

* Do you do a lot of formal planning, with notes and databases or
spreadsheets and research, or do you work more spontaneously and
impose any additional needed order later on?


Nope. Total pantser. I love that improvisational writing mode. I start with an idea or a single scene that’s been in my head, and run. I break a cardinal rule by doing some heavy editing as I write, and also afterwards. 

* What's your main writing tool?  Do you write using a standard word
processor, a dedicated book-authoring software package, a fountain
pen and a ream of parchment, dictate your tale into Siri, or
something else?  What do you like about your preferred tool?



My trusty MacBook Air. It goes with me when I’m waiting to pick up kids from extracurricular stuff, in doctor’s waiting rooms, on long car trips…it’s an extension of my consciousness by now! Tool wise, I love AutoCrit software. Best investment I ever made. 


* Do you keep the contents of your book private until you like the
form it has taken, or do you like to solicit early feedback from beta
readers and friends?



As soon as I have the first draft out of my head, I run it by my alphas to see if it sucks or not! My betas don’t get to see it until the later drafts. I have the best critique partners ever.  You can’t have them; they’re mine.


* Do you write in 3rd person past tense omniscient, 1st person
present tense, or some other combo of perspective and grammatical
tense?  How does this affect the ways in which you include the
thinking of your main character and, if relevant, the internal
thinking of other characters in your stories?  Is this something
you're consistent about or have you (for example) written some
stories as an omniscient narrator and some from a 1st person
narrator's vantage point?



I write in both. My first three novels are third person past/omniscient, but Dalí was my first person/past tense debut, other than a few short stories. I’m not a huge fan of present tense as a writer or a reader, with one notable exception: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.


* Who were and are your favorite authors?  Have they generally been
writers who write in the same genres that you write in?


Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula LeGuin, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Madeleine L’Engle, David Brin, Piers Anthony, Gregory McGuire, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Robert McCammon, JRR Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…I could go on way too long!  I write sci-fi and fantasy of all flavors, so they’ve all influenced me in different ways. I am a lifelong, voracious reader. I make occasional forays into paranormal and historical romance, with a few well-loved literary fiction books.

* What has been the most useful feedback you've ever received about
your writing?


Every bit of feedback I receive is useful. This is why I value my editors and CP’s above all. Most recently, it was to pay attention to body parts, especially eyes, wandering off to do their own thing…LOL

* Have you ever tried cowriting or being part of a collaborative
writing experience?  Is that something you would recommend, or
recommend against?



I haven’t yet. I’ve only heard horror stories, but there’s proof out there that it can work with the right partnership.


E. M. Hamill: NineStar Press hosted author page, primary website

DALÍ will be available in print and in e-book format from Amazon.



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ahunter3: (Default)
Naturally, once I had a publication offer from NineStar, I wanted to see who my colleagues were and get a sense of how my book would fit in among the rest of their line. NineStar is LGBTQ-centric but most of it is fiction with LGBTQ characters. My book is nonfiction but it's a narrative with (hopefully) the same kind of story arc and reader-identification with characters that makes fiction fun to read.

Anyway, one of the titles and descriptive blurbs caught my attention and I ordered it and, when it arrived, found myself quickly drawn into it. Yeah, I'm in good company :)

The main character in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL is a high school student named Sam. Sam's situation and experience is different on many simultaneous levels, I discovered, as that situation emerges a bit at a time. Sam's mother and teachers refer to him as "Amanda": Sam is transgender and is not out to anyone yet. Most transgender narratives follow the main character's musings and inner conflicts and put on display for us the process by which they come to realize they are transgender and need to come out and do something about it. We meet Sam as a person who has already done all that internal processing; he knows he's a guy, he's planning a post-graduation future in which he will escape the conservative Mormon-dominated Idaho town he's currently in and get himself to a more tolerant place. He's already made his way into a bar catering to gay lesbian transgender and crossdresser people (during a school field trip) and experienced what it was like to manifest outwardly as the person he is on the inside. And he's already thinking about hormones and surgeries.

In a previous review (Tea and Transition) I noted that it did not sit well with me to be deprived of that narrator's self-discovery process. In fact, it felt like I'd come in after the story's main drama, with her already self-identifying as transgender. That should, theoretically, have affected me the same way in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL, but it didn't. I think it works as well as it does because Sam, despite his post-questioning confidence about his identity as one of the boys, is not generally out yet and is coping with daily experiences under the tension of being in girl drag and constantly misgendered, on the one hand, while being subjected to transphobic violence from a small contingent of hostile students who know his secret, on the other.

Stryker uses a concise canvas with a handful of well-developed ancillary characters: the teacher and secondary-story-narrator Todd Keegan; his sister with her own complex past, Julie, who also gets to narrate some chapters; Scarlet, his trainwreck of a mother; and his stunted brother Stevie. Other characters pass by in the background as part of the social scenery, but the main interactive tensions are between these people.

Switching the observational viewpoint from one character to another is a sophisticated and somewhat challenging approach to writing. It can be off-putting to the reader if the transitions aren't clear, creating confusion, and doing it well requires that the reader feel adequately comfortable behind the eyeballs of each character who narrates. There's a risk of context-switching within too short a sequence, usually because the author wants to reveal the internal thinking of more than one participant. At worst, this results in what authors and editors call head-hopping. But Stryker deploys it skillfully. Within the first couple sentences of each new chapter, the reader is made aware of who is telling the story, and it's done without boldface chapter subtitles. Sam is the primary vantage point from which we experience the tale, and his story is the central plotline; when we're inside Julie's or Todd's head, it is sometimes for the purpose of developing their stories and revealing to us things that Sam isn't present to see, but also on occasion to view Sam and his situation as it appears from the outside.

If I have any negative criticism to make of Stryker's writing, it's his tendency to describe a brief action snippet and then dive immediately into a long protracted internal monologue, often with a flashback to a previous incident, and then continue with the current action. It sometimes left me confused about what was happening in the current moment, requiring me to flip back and reread; and at times the action sequences were described without enough clarity about who had said what, where they were physically located, and what they would have seen or heard, so that I had some difficulty making sense of their actions and motivations. He does quite a good job describing people's internal consciousness, but describing scenes and people from an outside observer's viewpoint is something he does less well.

But there wasn't enough of that confusion and perplexity to keep me from turning the pages. The story itself, the situation in which Sam is embedded and the intrinsic tensions and conflicts thereof, creates a dramatic flow that held me and my attention sufficiently that I carried the book with me everywhere and read it pretty much nonstop from start to finish.

As has often been noted, there aren't enough stories about female to male transitioners. THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL paints a very likable and admirable Sam, who is very much the hero of his own story.

The Simplicity of Being Normal. James Stryker. Albuquerque NM: NineStar Press (1970). Available digitally from NineStar or in print form from major retailers such as Amazon

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My book, The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, is scheduled to be published by NineStar Press on November 27 of this year. This year is, coincidentally, also 40 years since I graduated from high school, and therefore the 40th reunion is imminent, scheduled for September 23. I haven't been to a reunion since the 10th in 1987 but it's too irresistibly tempting to attend this one under the circumstances. With any luck, between me and my publicist John Sherman, we'll manage to get me booked into a space where I can speak to an audience and read some from the book and combine that into the same trip.

The first major chunk of my memoir is set in Los Alamos. (The second and third sections are divided between Los Alamos and Albuquerque NM. I may describe Albuquerque as the second story setting in a later post).

A handful of the specific events described in my book as well as the general social environment portrayed there may be recognizable to other people in my Los Alamos graduating class from their own recollections.



Los Alamos was neither an especially safe venue nor a nightmarishly horrible hellhole in which to grow up as a sissified feminine male person. It is most famously known for being the community where nuclear physicists developed the atomic bomb during World War II, and it is still very much an intellectual science-centric community with the scientific laboratory dominating much of the culture. The population is less than 15,000 people and, as is typical of towns of that size, folks tend to know each other or to know of each other, and that is especially true of students in school. Physically, it's at high elevation (over 7000 feet) and is spread out along the top of several mesas interspersed with deep canyons, and there is a lot of undeveloped land immediately near the schools and houses.

It was (and is) a somewhat old-fashioned town in many ways. The highly educated scientists were disproportionately recruited from small colleges in small communities, so there's an interesting tension between the tendency towards sophistication that comes with being an intellectual with an advanced degree and the conservative outlook that reflects those small-town origins.

It wasn't the conventional central-casting junior high and high school environment reflected in so many books and movies. First of all, it wasn't anywhere near as athlete-centric, although yes we had athletic students and, true to stereotype, I did have a lot of conflict with the male sports-centric boys. But whereas in some towns (at least as described by other authors in their own books) the entire school's social life seems to revolve around male athletic boys and their cheerleader girlfriends, in Los Alamos they were just one clique and not an overwhelmingly dominant one, and there was a lot of overlap with other social clusters that mainstream America doesn't tend to associate with athletes, such as Yearbook Committee or the drama club and so forth.

The most popular kids often belonged to several factions, such as student government and school sports and Olions (the theatrical drama and performing-arts kids) and choir and band and orchestra, and to know and interact with people from more than one social cluster.

I started off as a new kid in town in 8th grade and did not integrate into the society of the junior high school very effectively. I wasn't particularly nice or pleasant to the other kids and held myself aloof, and also had a rather thin skin about being teased and mocked, which wasn't a good recipe for speedy acceptance. Almost overnight I acquired a reputation. In a small town, all new kids get a fair amount of curious attention; in my case I became a source of widespread amusement. Eighth and ninth graders aren't widely known for their tolerant attitudes or their easy acceptance of people who are different, and these small-town dynamics made it worse for me, but I think it is important to point out that I didn't start off being very tolerant of their differences from me either. I was often a hostile and judgmental sissy, glaring at masculine boys and disapproving of their way of being in the world. It's just that I was just severely outnumbered!

The social clusters where I eventually put down roots were the Boy Scouts (which tended to have a high concentration of geeky boys who liked to read science fiction), band and choir, and, finally, the loosely affiliated cluster of kids who attended pot parties. The latter group is a counterintuitive group for a kid like me to have found welcome, but that, too, is heavily shaped by factors that were specific to Los Alamos. Unlike larger communities, or the suburbs of built-up metropolitan areas of the country, the kids in Los Alamos did their partying mostly outdoors on that undeveloped land I was talking about. And one thing that meant was that you did not need an invitation to be at a party, nor was the party taking place at some host's home, a host who might declare some unpopular kid unwelcome.

The general attitude of adults — parents, teachers, policemen, etc — towards teenagers was an interesting combination of permissive and dismissive. Our behaviors were tolerated with very little effort to shut us down; we were not generically regarded as troublemakers nor our inclination to gather as a worrisome precursor to vandalism and other crime. That hands-off attitude also manifested as a disinclination to insert themselves into our affairs and change how we treated each other, and as a consequence of that I was pretty much on my own, interacting with a contingent of kids my own age who had very few constraints on their behavior towards me.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Yes, I'm officially being published by NineStar Press, with a release date of November 27 of this year. The final editing has yet to occur (I'm waiting to receive the first set of change requests from the editor assigned to me) but they're already ramping up in various ways, including creating an author's page for me on their site.


I'm doing some of my own ramping up, preparing a centralized mailing list for LGBTQetc centers, women's studies / gender studies programs at colleges, and independent and/or LGBT-centric book stores. My publicist will be back from vacation late this week and will help me craft a set of emails to pitch to them the idea of having me come speak and/or consider my book (to sell, in the case of bookstores; to have a copy or two on shelf in the case of LGBTQIA centers; to use as assigned reading in the case of gender studies / women's studies classes).

Meanwhile, I thought I'd celebrate the end of querying by posting some of my favorite rejection letters from lit agents and publishing house editors!


Most rejection letters are, of course, boring and have little to offer in the way of entertainment value. There are the genuine non-form-letter variety, which tend to be succinct and blunt little things:

Not for me-thanks anyway.

Paul S. Levine

-------

This is not for me, but thank you for the look.

Caitlin Blasdell

--------



... then there are the impersonal form letters which tend to have some generic reassurances (it's all subjective, keep querying other agents, etc) to all those authors like me who fill up the agents' slush piles:



Thank you for your query. Having considered it carefully, we have decided that LMQ is not the right fit for your project, and so we are going to pass at this time.

Tastes and specializations vary widely from agent to agent, and another agency may well feel differently. Thank you for thinking of our agency, and we wish you the best of luck in your search for representation.

Sincerely,

Lippincott Massie McQuilkin


-------

Dear Author,

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to consider your query—thanks for sending it.

Unfortunately, the query didn't appeal quite enough to my own tastes to inspire me to offer representation or further consideration of your project. I wish I had the time to respond to everyone with constructive criticism, but it would be overwhelming, hence this form response. 

This business is highly subjective; many people whose work I haven't connected with have gone on to critical and commercial success. So, keep after it.


I am grateful that you have afforded me this opportunity to find out about you and your project, and wish you the best of success with your current and future creative work.

All best wishes,
Eddie Schneider



One variety of more personal rejection letter that would come in from time to time was where the agent said they couldn't take on my book because it was too much like one they already had in their lineup. That was always encouraging to read after getting so many generic rejections that I started to worry that the concept or topic just wasn't regarded as worthy of publication:



Dear Allan,

Strange as this may seem, I currently represent a project that is directly competitive with yours. In good conscience, I can't take on a project that competes with the property I am now pitching. I wish you well, but have to pass on this. Best, Maryann Karinch

=======

Hi Allan,

Thanks for thinking of us!  I'm afraid, however, it is a little too close to something we have forthcoming and potentially forthcoming on our list, so I have to decline. I wish you the very best of luck.

Best,

Lauren MacLeod


=======

Allan: Thanks but I already did a similar book, BOTH SIDES NOW with Dylan
Khosla and my list is too small for another....Best of luck.

Sharlene Martin

=======



Then there were the "platform" rejection letters — the ones that basically said my writing was good and it sounded like a good story but that they'd have a hard time hooking me up with a mainstream commercial publisher because I wasn't a household name, a writer with a following, a celebrity, etc.

Incidentally, I ultimately ended up doing as Alice Speilburg suggests below — putting my energy into querying small independent publishers instead of querying literary agents — but it made sense to try the lit agents first, since many of them don't want to take on a manuscript that's already been seen by a bunch of publishers.



Dear Allan,

Thanks so much for sending your heartfelt memoir. The big issue standing in the way of my taking you on is not editorial, since you write cleanly and smoothly. It's a matter of platform, that built-in audience who knows the author through some form of media. With the comparisons you gave, it's the authors and their reach beyond the book world that distinguishes them. Feinberg has long been a rights advocate in the spotlight, Boyle had a successful writing career as a man, and the Scholinkski was a case that got media coverage that led to a book deal, not the other way around. Publishing is an industry that can ride a wave but is not so great at making them. It's a shame that a good book is no longer enough, but I see a tough road ahead without a really impressive platform. I appreciate the chance, though, and wish you luck connecting with an agent who doesn't share my reservations.

Christopher Schelling

=======

Dear Allan,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to consider The Story of Q. I do like the subject here, but I'm not convinced that you have the platform for this to reach a mainstream audience in the current market. Your background lends itself better to a university press, and if you want to go a more consumer/trade route, it would have to be through a niche publisher like Seal Press. I'm afraid it's not right for me, but please keep in mind that mine is a subjective opinion and others will feel differently. I wish you the best in finding a good home for your work.

Sincerely,

Alice Speilburg




Finally —— and these are my real favorites —— there were the rejections where the lit agent or publisher didn't feel that they could place it with a publisher but fundamentally liked my idea for the book and mostly liked my writing. Many of them made observations about my story arc or my character development that reassured me that readers will probably "get it"; and several told me that they wanted me to know that I had something fundamentally good here, which would serve a purpose, that the world needed more such books:


Dear Mr. Hunter,

Thank you for your query. It sounds like you have quite a story to tell. I'm afraid I will not be able to take you on as I work predominantly with our agency's existing clients taking care of all their subsidiary rights matters. I wish you luck with your publishing endeavors and thank you for taking the time to write me.

Sincerely,

Joan Rosen

=======

Hi Allan
Thank you for your submission. As a gay man myself (who grew up in the
70s/80s!!) I read it with a great deal of interest. Unfortunately I didn’t
love it enough to take it on. I don’t have any constructive criticism
because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your writing. I think
it’s just a matter of finding the right agent who will work with you to
present to the best editorial team. Given your theme and writing skills I
don’t doubt that you’ll find him or her. Thank you for thinking of me and
giving me a shot at it.
Best,

Kevin O'Connor

=======

Dear Mr. Hunter,

I wanted to commend you for your story and personal fortitude. It takes great strength for an individual to dare to be different. Unfortunately, we are not sure that Ross Yoon is the right match for you. As a four-person operation, we must limit ourselves to a very small client list, accepting a fraction of 1% of the manuscripts we review every year. In this ever-tightening market, the list of publishers we work with increasingly demands authors with broad, national media outreach and international bestselling potential, and I'm we afraid we don't see any of them biting on this.

This is by no means a final judgment on your work. The Supreme Court decision two weeks ago indicates that we are experiencing a different social climate in which LGBTQ issues no longer fall on deaf ears. Your memoir may find traction as we progress towards greater social change. I encourage you to look through recent deal listings on www.publishersmarketplace.com to find the agent that’s perfect for you.



Thank you again, and best of luck to you.


Elizabeth Smith

=======

Dear Allan,

Thank you for sending me your memoir "The Story of Q," and my apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I found much to admire, particularly the depth of character you convey and your clear and engaging writing. This memoir shines a unique light on how sexuality and gender develop and evolve, and the narrative you've crafted uses a more subtle approach that doesn't hit you in the face with the narrator's sexuality, just as a person's sexuality doesn't necessarily hit them in the face at any one moment.

Ultimately, however, while the story has the potential for exposing a truly unique perspective, the memoir is overloaded with extraneous development that makes it difficult to pick out what bits are going to be the most important when piecing together the whole. Given these reservations, I'm afraid I must decline offering representation.

Thank you for the opportunity to read your work and we wish you all the best in your writing endeavors.

Yours,

Serene Hakim

=======


Hi Allen

Thanks for the submission. While I totally get what you're doing, I just don't think I'm the right agent for it, so for that reason I'll be stepping aside.

I wish you much luck with the book and in your search for representation.

Best,

Renée C. Fountain

=======

Thank you for querying. I do very much believe you have the kind of story that should be heard, but I'm going to have to pass on this. Publishing is a subjective business, though, and I'm sure you'll hear many different opinions during the querying process.

Best of luck in your agent search,




Rachel Kory


=======

Dear Allan Hunter,

Thank you so much for sending us the query for your memoir The Story of Q, which we have read with interest. The narrative is compelling but we are taking very few new clients on at this time and therefore we must pass.

One of the challenges with writing memoir is keeping the story in scenes so that it flows narratively rather than as a series of told incidents (and then this, and then this). I wonder if you might find ways to write more scenes, like in the opening with the boys who are violent. I really connected with you (the character) in that scene.

I hope this is not too discouraging, as the writing is strong and we wish you all the best with your submissions and in securing representation for this project.

Thank you so much for sending this our way.

I hesitate to use the word "brave" when describing your story, because I know that word can be offensive to some in the LGBTQ(xyz) community, but please know you have all the love and support in the world and that the publishing industry is starting to open its eyes to the need for these kinds of stories.

I'm personally a huge fan of Caitlin Kiernan (though she writes sci-fi/fantasy) and I can't wait to see more diversity in literature.

All my very best, and please make sure you keep submitting, as I know this agent stuff can be slow and disheartening!


brandie coonis

=======



Oh, and here's how my statistics finally play out:


The Story of Q -- total queries to Lit Agents = 974
Rejections: 966
Outstanding: 8

As NonFiction— total queries = 748
Rejections: 741
Outstanding: 7

As Fiction— total queries = 226
Rejections: 225
Outstanding: 1

The Story of Q -- total queries to Publishers = 24
Rejections: 16
Outstanding: 7
Publisher Went out of Business after Making Offer: 1
Accepted for Publication (current): 1


(presumably those remaining 8 "outstanding" queries to lit agents and 7 to publishers will eventually be added to "rejections". I age them out as rejections at 3 months without a response if I don't get an explicit rejection letter)

I didn't quite make it to 1000 queries, but damn I came close!


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ahunter3: (Default)
Nowadays on LGBTQIA group chats and in leftist social discussions, the phrase "radical feminism" most often appears in a pejorative mention -- TERFS ("trans exclusive radical feminists") being castigated for their intransigence about female-spectrum transgender people, or disparaged for being anti-sex and anti-free-speech as exemplified by the MacKinnon-Dworkin pornography ordinance from a few decades ago, or accused of lying about data and making up statistics and being these vindictively hateful people who just want to blame males for everything.

Not that any of that would be a major surprise for the radical feminists I read throughout the 70s 80s and 90s. They knew they were hitting a nerve and were accustomed to receiving bad press and misrepresentation. I am sad to see them undercredited and disregarded by those who benefit from their insights though.

To review the basics, feminism in a broad general sense was a beacon of hope for me growing up, because its overall attitude towards gender was "hey, if it's sauce for the goose, it's sauce for the gander" -- that, regardless of whether men and women were different or were just regarded as different, it wasn't defensible to use a different yardstick of acceptable behavior. They pointed out the inconsistencies and folks recognized the unfairness. For me, as a gender invert, an exception to society's general rules about males and their personality and behavior, this translated as "hey, if it's OK for girls, it's OK for me; and if it's not OK for girls, then it's not right for the boys and hence it's not right to pressure me to be that way".

Now, RADICAL feminism, specifically, came to people's attention as it began to pinpoint topics that more mainstream feminism in the 70s shied away from: specifically sexuality, both in the sense of sexual orientation (yes, lesbian pride) but also more analytically in the sense of analyzing sexual politics, the politics of sexuality and sexual behaviors. Kate Millett taking contemporary depictions of sex and sexuality and holding them up for us to see how much they were about sex as an act of conquest and hostility, and about the eroticism of men having power over women. Susan Brownmiller writing about rape not as a horrifyingly deviant act but as a horrifyingly normative extension of how things otherwise were between the sexes, and as part and parcel of that overall situation. By going there, by having the courage and nerve to speak of such things as if they could perhaps be otherwise, and daring to condemn these situations instead of accepting them as a shameful but permanent part of human nature, radical feminism was the core from which central feminist tenets and understandings came in the 80s.

Catherine MacKinnon observed in 1987 (Feminism Unmodified), "...our subordination is eroticized in and as female; in fact, we get off on it to a degree, if nowhere near as much as men do. This is our stake in this sytem that is not in our interest, our stake in this system that is killing us. I'm saying femininity as we know it is how we come to want male dominance, which most emphatically is not in our interest."

Adrienne Rich, Jill Johnston and others questioned the "natural" centrality of heterosexuality, positing a different sexuality -- a sexuality between women but specifically different because, unlike heterosexuality as it existed and tended to define sexuality altogether, it could be mutually affirming, sensuous, not violent, an alternative to a conventional model of sexuality in which women's role was that of "natural sexual prey" (Rich) to men.

For me, that resonated powerfully: as a kid, I considered myself to be akin to the girls, regarding them and respecting them as colleagues and seeking them as friends, and now as a sexually adult person I wanted that mutually affirming sharing form of sex and wanted nothing to do with the adversarial and predatory model that was predominant in all understandings and portrayals of "wild uncivilized sex".

Nor did I find much to interest me in the non-wild, tamed, civilized version of sex, for that matter. Here there was a disparagement of sex itself as suspect, as something people should abstain from for a prolonged period after attaining the age of feeling the full appetite for it, and even after that should only engage in sex within very narrowly defined permissible channels. Here, perhaps, was a model for engaging in sex (eventually) without embracing all that adversarial and predatory hostility, yeah, sure, but it was basically saying that yes, sex IS like that, it's just that being like that is bad and naughty so sex is bad and naughty and we will therefore put sex in a cage. And even in this context, sexuality was not going to be mutually affirming, not as far as I could see: the nice girls had to preserve their reputations and also refrain from tempting the boys, and the boys were to suppress their desires and not sully the chastity of the girls, and then when he could adequately support a family he could get married and then she'd let him do it to her. The sexuality inside the cage was the same sexuality; the notions and understandings of it were still polarized and painted a picture of male sexuality that I wanted no part of.

Radical feminists tended to see sex as insurrection; they observed that even though it was politically dangerous to women in the current context, putting women in the position of sleeping with the enemy and eroticizing male domination, it was treated as dangerous by the patriarchy as well, and for good reason. The same intimacy that threatened women with too much identification and connection with their oppressor was a threat to the patriarchal system and its requirement that women be perceived as other.

Jan Raymond and Mary Daly, among other radical feminists, have indeed been hostile to any acceptance of transgender women. Those who have expressed such sentiments are not the entirety of radical feminism, though. Buried among the more publicized nasty sentiments, though, have been radical feminist voices whose concerns about the transgender phenomenon mirror, almost exactly, the concerns now being voiced by nonbinary activists: that jumping the fence, as it were, is not a radical solution to the fence between the genders, insofar as it leaves the fence intact. Neither the radical feminists nor the current wave of nonbinary genderqueer folks have a sufficient excuse for being as intolerant as they've often been towards people who simply feel that they personally will be happier when transitioned so as to be treated and perceived as the persons that they are. But it is a gross oversimplification to portray radical feminism as intrinsically opposed to transgender people.

Radical feminists spoke of the centrality of gender polarization. They said the political dynamics between the sexes was the central keystone issue in our society, and that the sexual dynamics as made erotic within patriarchal heterosexuality was the fundamental building block around which our political power arrangements were patterned. It wasn't the first time that one social factor had been pinpointed as the central core of all politics -- Marxism had done it with labor and the ownership of the means of production -- but it was the first to come along in a century and it took some common-place everyday understandings and inverted them to make sense of them in new ways: it wasn't that the awful world of competitive social and economic posturing tended to invade and corrupt the intimacy of sexuality and sexual relationships but that the corrupted form of sexuality and sexual relationships eroticized and rendered irresistible those forms of interaction and made them present everywhere that people interacted.

Society as we know it, as many of us conceptualize as human nature, is sexual subject-object polarized adversarial dynamics, writ large. Robin Morgan wrote about feminism as the "larger context":


For almost two decades, I've written about, lectured on, and
organized for the ideas and politics of feminism for the sake of
women ...as a matter of simple justice. If, in fact, these
were the sole reasons for and goals of the movement and
consciousness we call feminism, they would be quite
sufficient...nor is it necessary to apologize for feminism's
concerning itself 'merely" with women, or to justify feminism on
the "please, may I" ground that it's good for men too... In the
long run, it will be good for men, but even were it
permanently to prove as discomfiting for men as it seems to be in
the short run, that wouldn't make women's needs and demands any the
less just. So the fact that I place feminism in a "larger
context" is neither an apology nor a justification. It is simply
to show, once and for all, that feminism is the larger
context
... The "Otherizing" of women is the oldest oppression
known to our species, and it's the model, the template, for all
other oppressions. Until and unless this division is
healed, we continue putting Band-Aids on our most mortal wound.

The Anatomy of Freedom


Marilyn French wrote about power as the central patriarchal obsession, and taught us to recognize power by its own central imperative: the possession of control. Everywhere, she said, we see the sacrifices made in the name of obtaining and retaining control, as if it were an intrinsic good and a necessity in and of itself. And here again is the eroticized sexual imperative, the attempt to seize and make things happen according to one's own will and without concern for the will of that which is being controlled except as a possible impediment to be conquered.

Within the pages of lesbian radical feminism, as lesbian feminists sought to explain why this was important beyond the expressed choice of who to have sex with, came the growing recognition that in both gay and lesbian sexuality the people involved are not anchored by the body in which they were born to a preordained scripted role -- you weren't tied to being butch or femme, to being the man or the woman, on the basis of your bodily sex; and that that was, itself, radical. It wasn't how patriarchal heterosexuality was constructed and hence it was a threat, which went a long way towards explaining the hostility reserved for gay and lesbian people.

To say "patriarchal heterosexuality" was, and still is, somewhat akin to speaking of "women's lingerie" or "earthly lifeform" -- our conventional understanding of the category completely eliminates any need for the adjectives because those are the only forms we have tended to encounter.

Genderqueer sexual politics is radical sexual politics, and especially so the specific formulation of gender inversion: whether we refer to it as "heterosexual" or choose not to, to posit sexual relationships between male people and female people in which the participants are not gendered as men and women, respectively, elaborates on the radical departure from subject-object adversarial dynamics spoken of by the lesbian feminists; specifically, it extends it to where it is needed the most, directly dismantling what we've been describing as the core of the whole system. Untying male-female sexual possibilities from heterosexuality as we know it.

"Why", you may ask, "is it necessary to embrace gender inversion? Isn't it more useful to discard gender and embrace absolute gender equality instead? And if the female role is and has been on the receiving end of patriarchal oppression, of what conceivable value is it to issue a loud political hurrah for males styling themselves as feminine and wanting to be the girl in their relationships? Isn't that just making a fetish of the accoutrements of being one of the oppressed?"

Firstly, let's consider the limits of "let's just be equal shall we" optimistic idealism against the backdrop of the current eroticized 'devil boy chase angel girl' polarization. We go bravely forth (or we send forth the subsequent generation, all consciousness-raised and socially aware) into a social world that knows there may be sexually egalitarian people. It also knows to expect the continued existence of people in the traditional mold. The social milieu of expectations therefore is newly open to equality while still entirely familiar with the orthodox which is gender-specific. Anyone who has had to spend an evening doing arithmetic homework knows that when you do averages, the average that you obtain is less than the higher number, so when you average out the expectations of sexually egalitarian and sexually orthodox, your result is going to be sexually orthodox by some amount.

Secondly, yes, I can understand the misgivings about a set of traits and behaviors marked as submissive and subservient and offering them to males as a desirable experience and identity. But it is the subject-object adversarial worldview that tends to see things only in terms of power over and of domination or submission. Exactly WHAT is it that males are deprived of in a patriarchal context? Does it not strike you as odd that a patriarchy, a system of male power and privilege, should deny freedoms to its males with such intensity as it denies variant gender expression? The answer is that power is not a substance owned by the powerful. Power is instead a relationship that defines all parties involved, the powerful and the oppressed alike.

It's not about seeking subserviency or making a fetish of being dominated; there is and has always been an encoding of traits as feminine as part and parcel of encoding power as male, AND no, the boys don't get all the good ones. You're never going to understand this if you don't understand that some things are more desirable than power. But yes it is not a desire to be oppressed (by women or anyone else). I share Robin Morgan's and Marilyn French's radical feminist vision of a world no longer anchored by the obsession with controlling others.

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Back in April, I showed up for my annual appointment with the tax consultant and slid in across the table from him and exchanged pleasantries. Provided the usual clump of documents and expenditure summaries on cue. Towards the end of our session, I said to him, "Hey, I'm going to have a book published later this year. I'll be doing promotional activities, and there's also a publicist... anyway, I've been doing related speaking engagements for awhile now, can those be included on next year's taxes as an expense even if they predate 2017?"

And he said, "Oh, congratulations! What's it about?"

Not long after that, I was chatting with my primary client (I'm a database developer) and explaining that I might be taking time off, two days here and three days there, on fairly short notice over the next year because I was trying to get some speaking engagements to promote my book, and the conversation quickly swung around to the same question.

In neither case had I specifically planned to explain to these individuals about being genderqueer, what genderqueer means in the first place, or why I thought it was important to tell the world all about it.

In fact, my attitude towards these folks was remarkably similar to the attitude that many folks -- the ones most inclined to say things like "I don't see why you need to bring up all that personal stuff, can't we all just be people together, can't you rejoice in your own unique individual identity instead of needing to label yourself" -- tend to recommend to me. I was figuring that neither my tax accountant nor my database client had any particular reason to know or to care about my gender identity, and frankly whatever gender assumptions they made based on my visual appearance as a male-bodied person were not of any particular concern or interest to me either.

I'm also a singer in the local community choir. I sing baritone. The other choristers there are a fairly conventional sampling of suburbanites from a Republican-majority county, mostly upper-middle-aged and beyond retired professionals. I don't always feel as if I completely fit in there but they make friendly overtures and make me feel welcome and I enjoy participating; I've never deliberately done things that would trigger confusion or "alien in our midst" responses there; it was, once again, an environment where I didn't quite feel driven to express and explain my gender identity, although it was a more personal activity than my business dealings with the tax consultant or my database client.

Well, last year around this time, someone in Manhattan organized a performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony and requested volunter singers for the choral movement with the proceeds to go to the victims' families down in Orlando in the wake of the shootings. So I attended and showed up attired in a situationally-appropriate skirt. During rehearsal, one of the tenors from our community choir hailed me and said it was good to see someone else from our choir there, then glanced down and added, "Umm, is that a kilt?"


To be honest, I don't always handle it well. Unrehearsed and uncontemplated outings are awkward. I feel a mixture of enthusiasm for explaining the topic to anyone genuinely interested, reticent wariness about giving someone a five-minute overview lecture in reaction to passing comment, and annoyance that I can't just blithely toss off a three-or-four word phrase and rely on it to explain as much as needs explaining. Or think I can't.

I do wish for a world where this isn't necessary. It's not something I greatly enjoy doing. Despite what seems to some folks to be an appearance to the contrary, I don't actually get off on perpetually explaining to folks what a peculiarly variant individual I am. Dating back to when I was an elementary school student, I've just wanted to be understood for who and what I am -- a coarse approximation would do -- instead of correcting badly wrong misapprehensions or coping with that special flavor of perplexed curiosity that makes one feel like a pale-bodied multi-legged bug someone just discovered upon overturning a rock.


I have described myself previously as an outlier -- an exception to the general rule, not uniquely so but among the minority who comprise such exceptions. That's the limit of reasonable expectations of normalization, I think, and I'm OK with that: that folks would often find me odd and unusual, but would recognize a term for that specific oddity when it was offered as explanation, and would nod and say "Oh, OK". Some term that is short and pithy instead of paragraphs of explanation. So, yes, a box to put myself in.

Boxes aren't intrinsically bad horrible things that take away folks' freedom and confine them and strip them of their individuality. Especially not when self-chosen. They can be quite cozy and comfortable and protective. They can limit the sense of being out in the open and full exposed. And it's not just us peculiar minority folks who rely on them. I bet most people don't do their best sleeping out in the unenclosed fields! Don't begrudge me my box.

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June is Pride Month!

So, in one of the LGBTQIA-centric Facebook groups I participate in, someone posted a link to a pride month calendar -- similar to this one -- and because it was June 2 at the time, said "Happy Lesbian Pride Day".

It wasn't terribly long before someone said in reply, "Why do we have to have all these separate days for specific categories of people? That's silly! Pride Month should be about us coming together as a community and it should focus on our solidarity and diversity and how coming together empowers us. It shouldn't be about dividing up the calendar so each little unique identity gets its own separate day!"

That, of course, is practically an echo of what mainstream straight folks often say about us, our activism, and Pride Marches and Pride Month altogether: "Can't you just be a person, can't we all just be people together, can't you rejoice in your own unique individual identity instead of needing to label yourself and making a big deal about your labeled difference? Why does everyone have to be doing identity politics, anyway, it's so divisive!"

And of course, the moment I point out that this kind of comment IS, in fact, reminiscent of what mainstream straight people say about Pride and etc in general, there's going to be some people, like those white well-dressed gay guys over there, see them? They're wincing because they're expecting me to say "Check your privilege" and start comparing them to cisgender white males or something. And to say that the less socially visible parts of the LGBTQIA spectrum, like intersex people and genderqueer people (and definitely nontransitioning gender inverts like me), benefit from a little special attention if our identity is prominently noted on one of those calendar days (my specific one isn't, by the way). Which I am (or, rather, I just did).

But relax, be at ease. I'm not winding up to blast anyone for not being sufficiently oppressed and marginalized enough to get off the blame-hook as being part of the problem, or to accuse anyone of keeping us more-marginalized types from escaping our silence and darkness.

I'm not choosing sides between those two positions so much as I'm putting them both out there so we can look at the sensible good points that exist in each of them.

Let's start with Gay Rights. Think about this: the people seeking gay rights basically wanted to be mainstreamed. They were tired of gay people being targeted for different treatment. They wanted to be accepted as the nice guys next door, get married if they wanted to just like anyone else can, teach in your schools and sing in your church choir and go on dates to the local movie theatre and NOT stand out as different.

But because it wasn't already like that, they had to draw attention to what they were being put through. "Look, this is how it is for us", they said. And they challenged negative perceptions of gay people, things that folks said and believed about gay people that were used as justifications for not treating them as people like any other people. "Hey, over here, look at me, I am one of the people you described that way and it isn't true. Don't be hating on me, I'm not so different from you!"

Thus, in order to make progress towards the goal of being mainstreamed and being accepted and treated as people like any other people, it was necessary to talk about the categorical difference and make a social issue of how people in that category were subjected to different treatment.

Lesbians, at some point, became vocal about not feeling very recognized or included in gay rights. "Everyone pretends like on the one hand it doesn't matter what women do with each other anyway, and on the other hand to whatever extent women-identified women are subjected to discrimination and hostility and unfair treatment, hey, getting gay rights for all gay people will fix stuff up for us too. But we have our own experiences, our own specific concerns that aren't a carbon copy of the concerns of gay males, and we're tired of being erased and ignored. We need to be included in making policy and setting goals and having our experiences described and respected too!".

So after awhile, this sunk in enough that the specifically inclusive phrase "gay and lesbian" became common.

Fast-foward by a couple decades, and we've got this ever-expanding acronym and a Pride Month calendar that's soon going to need more than one months' worth of days. The specifics aren't uninteresting or unimportant, but at the moment I want to stress the recurrent common pattern: some marginalized people came together to speak collectively about the barriers to being accepted and understood as ordinary people, and then, within that community, a subset of the participants felt that they needed to point out who they were and what they were being put through before they could really feel like this was THEIR movement and that it was giving THEM a voice, because otherwise the movement wasn't all that much about them and people like them. And then another subset followed their lead and did likewise.

If you were a bird, and you wanted to fly, you would need to beat your wings. And beating your wings means some of the time you are lowering your wings, while at other moments you are raising them upwards. It takes both motions to accomplish the beat.

We need a sense of connection, community, solidarity. We want shared identity, the sense of having an identity-in-common that bridges differences, the rejoicing of coming together in peace and joy. That's the upbeat.

We need the separate experience of our unique situations to be understood and validated. We want to be heard, to have any collective understanding include us and our individual viewpoints. We need to challenge any uniform aggregate sense of "us" that leaves our individuality excluded and our specific vantage point unseen and unheard. That's the downbeat.


Let's fly.


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I was listening to NPR last week while eating breakfast and they were discussing the release of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and talking about the rise of disco music in the '70s.

I confess: I'm one of those people who really dislike disco music.

It's a point of divergence between me and male gay culture (if not each and every gay guy) and, in our larger culture, disparagement of disco music by males is more than marginally associated with homophobia. It gets worse: I like rock, hard rock, the cultural home ground of many of the males known for chanting "disco sucks!" and the form of 20th century music associated with grandstanding males strutting around onstage with their penis-guitars angled upwards and out at the audience.

Disco was hated and ridiculed, we are told, by rock audiences for being light and happy fun and, in particular, for being associated with the urban gay scene. Not wanting to be tagged by others as belonging to that homophobic cohort, I've been a lot more reticent about my opinions of disco than I was as a young adult, but I still don't like the stuff.

For me, being genderqueer was an indirect factor in becoming a fan of hard rock, odd though that may seem to some folks. I walked the hallways of junior high school in the early 1970s as a male who had spent elementary school identifying with the girls. My hormones were kicking in and my sexual attraction to girls was becoming a lot more imperative and important to me, but within a few short years I found that it was going to be complicated to be a male who was one of the girls and was also into them sexually.

Being attracted to girls gave me something in common with the boys. There hadn't been many other factors that did and I had done what I could to repel classification as one of them, because I considered them violent, abrasive, stupid, coarse, crude, hatefully mean, insensitive, and disgusting. You know, snakes snail and puppy dog tails and all that.

But right around this time I became increasingly aware of an alternative portrayal of maleness, the flower child hippie countercultural guy. He was willful and rebellious but peaceful, nonviolent, and accepting. Everything was cool except being a downer and disapproving of someone else's thing, and we could all do our own thing, you dig? He wasn't into all that military violence-glorifying stuff or the authority-struggle impetus to be the one to boss others around. He grew his hair long and played music and wrote poetry and talked about love, gonna love one another right now, and all men are your brothers. He was, in other words, a lot more like the girls than the conventional notion of how boys were supposed to be.

And the bonus was that he was sexual, he was sexually active, girls found him cute and there was a model of sexuality that was a lot more mutual-sounding. On the one hand, get rid of all that puritanical uptight rule-making stuff about sex being restricted, let's set it free, forget promises and marriages and sexual jealousies and possessiveness, just do it when it feels right. On the other hand, no more putting down of girls for putting out, no more enshrining virginity, all this freedom is supposed to be for both sexes, and that means no heavy trips being laid on girls trying to make them do stuff.

So although I didn't get there overnight, I gradually drifted towards this new identity. It didn't feel like I was turning my back on being like the girls but it allowed me to embrace an identity in common with the boys. And so for awhile in my life boys were not "them" and instead there was some semblance of "we".

And "our" music was rock. Rock was passionate, fervent, serious emotive music. It was associated with hippies and social change and "meaningful" things.

But then disco took over. There were a limited number of radio stations in northern New Mexico and they changed format and stopped playing Led Zeppelin in favor of dropping the needle on KC and the Sunshine Band. Songs warning us about the grand illusion or reaching for higher consciousness at the risk of going insane were replaced by songs about boogie fever. Disco infested the airwaves, it stole our stations, and it was everywhere, unavoidable.

Disco seemed airheaded, frivolous, and yet also seemed to from a colder social world of popularity-seeking and of flirting on the dance floor and appearances being above substance; it came from a world of velvet ropes and lines of people waiting while other people, cuter people and celebrities, were allowed to cut in and be admitted.

I was initially oblivious to how much macho masculinity still remained just below the surface of the countercultural male role. In my book I delineate the years of embracing this identity only to be disappointed and to find myself marginalized and ridiculed and left out. It was still too much masculinity and it was not where I belonged. I was similarly -- and simultaneously -- oblivious to the more aggressively masculine preening bragging and sexually threatening element in rock.

By the time I'd reluctantly jumped ship on the countercultural male identity thing, I'd passed through the years generally regarded as folks' musically formative years. I may roll my eyes when Robert Plant sings "gonna give you every inch of my love...way down inside, woman, you need it", but I still thrill to the driving sound of Kashmir.

I don't like disco's beat. I don't like that "boomp THUD boomp THUD" simplistic squared-off sound. I don't like the way that any fill-in notes from the instruments all tend to fall directly on subdivisions of the main beat; disco doesn't tend to syncopate, and it pounds mechanically like clockwork. It doesn't tend to have delicate fragile passages or thrilling driving phrases or soaring majestic constructions. Most of it sounds like short repeated loops with no build, like listening to the squonk and clatter of the escalator motor at the 51st street station platform.

But yeah, it's also my ponderously serious and boringly sincere personality coming to the fore. I've been told that if I were put in charge of film and theatre, every subsequent production would be a heavy-handed morality play with a Big Important Message with which to beat my audience over the head. I've been told that I really ned to learn a lighter shade of expression and learn how to entertain gently and gently season that with just a briefly sprinkled evocation of social relevance. And that I need to realize that disco was, for many people, a joyous celebration of finally being able to dance and move and flirt in a world that used to raid and batter and lock up gay guys simply for being in a gay-tolerant establishment.

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PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT A:

Somebody I'm friends with on Facebook posts this on an LGBT message board: "I made my decision not to go on hormones, and that was a personal choice".

One of the first replies posted was: "Honey I'm sorry... actually I'm not.. if you are not taking the steps to become a woman.. you are not trans.. you are simply a feminine gay man... stop confusing people and making it harder for real Trans people."


PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT B:

On a different message board, I am replying to someone who has referred to me dismissively as "a cisgendered straight guy who really wants to be a sexual minority so he can be part of a movement".

I reply tersely: "No". He quotes that and replies "Yes".

I write: "Being a straight male — being heterosexual — isn't just 'you have boy parts and your sexual attraction is for people who have girl parts'. (If you disagree with that you aren't leaving any room for a transgender lesbian, who, prior to surgery, has "boy parts". Maybe you and your friends consider transgender lesbians to be "straight males" up until they transition, I don't know)"

And to THAT he replies: "I would consider Trans people as the Gender they feel they are, whether they've had surgery or not.

That isn't at all relelvant to your case because YOU AREN'T TRANS! Transgendered people try to live as their preferred gender to the best their social and financial circumstances permit. If they can, they will fully transition, though sadly that isn't possible for a lot of people. You aren't doing that."



PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT C:


On a Facebook-based chat, I have this exchange with yet another person:

Other Person: Your [sic] Gay...A man to have female tendency is a GAY Man how hard is that???....my gawed!!!!!


Allan Hunter: Not hard at all, not for male-bodied people. Which is why I don't identify as GAY, I'm a male-bodied girl who is attracted to female-bodied people. If I identified as gay, people would assume it meant I was attracted to MALE-bodied people, now wouldn't they?

Other Person: Well you can't be Lesbian...

Other Person: Your straight and you like women

Allan Hunter: I don't identify as lesbian because I am male, and lesbians in general do not consider male-bodied people to share that identity with them.

I don't identify as a straight man because I am a girl, or a sissy or a feminine person if you prefer, and straight males have made it loudly and specifically apparent that they don't consider people like me to be men, nor do I wish to be seen as one of them. Also, "straight" means more than "people with female equipment and people with male equipment getting it on". Heterosexuality is gendered, with specific and polarized expectations of the male and the female person -- a "man" role and a "woman" role. I'm a woman or girl and both my identity and the relationships and partners available to me are quite different.

Of course it may be your intention to call "bullshit" on this and say "we don't want your kind and do not consider that you belong". I'm kind of used to that. Rather than just putting my fingers in my ears and saying "no ur wrong", I'd rather go into this with you if you're so inclined. Why is my identity invalid and yours valid? Couldn't I just as easily say "You're a woman like any other, there are no 'gay people', you're just a woman, that's all there are is women and men, and you're making a big deal out of irrelevant things that don't matter"?? {edited: changed gender references}


Other Person: I just said you can't be Lesbian!!!!!

Allan Hunter: Other Person: I agree. I can't be lesbian. I can't be gay. I can't be a straight man. I'm not bi. And transgender doesn't fit either. It's something else.

Allan Hunter: The female people I'm attracted to tend to be butch. Some identify as guys / bois / men. If anyone is going to be the top it isn't going to be me. It's different from being a straight guy, trust me.

Other Person: Then that's your problem....since you strongly believe your A women...Then you need to get a sex change...let's see if that makes you happy.



PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT D:


Back in January, I sent my standard query letter to a publisher that publishes LGBT titles. My cover letter explains that THE STORY of Q is specifically a genderqueer coming-out story. In fact, it was roughly the same cover letter that I posted here back in Sept 2014.

In due course, the editor wrote back: "I finished this yesterday, and after discussing it with the publisher, we're going to have to take a pass on this. It's not a transgender book and definitely not a gay book, so finding a large enough readership to make this economically viable would be tough."

I send this reply, cc'ing my publicist, John Sherman, whom I've been working with: "That is correct. I thought you knew that. It's something else."

My publicist replies to me, responding to my cc: "Yes, it’s something else. Could the subtitle perhaps have been the first clue? Jeez."




** ahem ** [clears throat]

Let's get one thing str... I mean, let's NOT get one thing straight, but let's at least get one thing established, dammit.

I'm not trying to "join" an existing sexual or gender identity club. I am not submitting an application to be approved and welcomed as if this were the Rainbow Homeowner's Association and Community Watch Board or something. When I say "this is my identity" I mean "this is who I am", and you can accept it or you can reject it; you can care, or you can NOT care, but you don't really get a vote on it.


In second grade I was a person. I was a person who perceived myself to be like the girls. I was a person who was perceived by the other kids as being like the girls. I was a person who was proud to be like the girls despite the expectation of the boys (in particular) and the teachers (sometimes) that I would be embarrassed and ashamed of that. I won't say I didn't need and did not seek anyone's approval -- I wanted the girls to accept me and let me play with them. Some did. I was out to prove I was worthy of their acceptance and approval despite being a boy. I won't claim that, in 2nd grade, I had an understanding of sex and gender as two different things -- I didn't, not like that. But I understood that I was LIKE the girls and I wanted to be PERCEIVED that way; I understood that I was NOT like the (other) boys and I did what I could to distinguish myself from them because I did not like being treated as if I were one of them. Who I was had more to do with being "like the girls" than with the fact that I "was a boy". I was between 6 and 7 years old when I was in second grade, and that was how I understood matters at the time.

What that means -- ONE of the things that that means -- is that in third grade and thereafter I was a person WHO HAD THAT HISTORY, a person who already thought of myself in those terms. Hence it was very much a part of my IDENTITY.

So all of my experiences from then on were the experiences of a person WITH THAT IDENTITY.

I didn't invent it as an adult upon reading about being modern gender identities and LGBTQIA people. Do you get that? I'm not just flinging an angry retort in your direction when I say "you don't get a vote on my identity", although yes, encountering people who attempt to negate my identity does make me angry; I'm not in the process of trying on this identity to see if it fits and to see how other people will or won't accept it.

Instead, this identity is who I have been to myself for over half a century. There's no original or "normal" or prior identity I can revert back to were someone to (hypothetically) convince me that I am not really as I describe. My lifetime experiences have been shaped by my perception of myself, just as yours have shaped your experiences.

My adaptive coping mechanisms are the adaptive coping mechanisms of a girl who behaves as a girl who has been through a bunch of specific experiences that people who aren't male girls seldom go through. Those adaptive coping mechanisms reflect the priorities and sensibilities of a girl whose context of operation include

• being in a male body

• being in a social environment where people expect male-bodied people to be masculine and boyish

• being in a social environment that, to the extent it understands and recognizes the possibility of male people being girlish at all, is hostile and contemptuous towards male girls

Those developed coping mechanisms channeled my subsequent experiences: some possible things that could have happened ended up NOT being among my experiences because of how I handled things, and some possible things ended up happening precisely because of how I handled stuff. And of course I was further shaped by those experiences.


Thank you. I'll climb off this soapbox now. This rant has been simmering in the background for awhile now.


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I echo my blog posts on the Straight Dope Message Board, an internet discussion board I've been a part of for two decades. It's a general-topic board where people post thought-provoking posts on a wide range of interesting subjects. For those of you with no familiarity with it, I recommend it: The Straight Dope Message Board

Anyway, there is a current thread titled Not having sex on the first date, which in turn was prompted by author Anna Akana's YouTube video titled Should I stop f*cking on the first date. The ensuing questions concern women and whether or not they refrain from having sex on the first date (or "too soon" by some other definition) specifically in order to fend off being discarded or otherwise perceived in a negative manner by the men that they date.

The Straight Dopers' posted opinions can be conveniently (at least for me and my thought processes) divided into three rough clumps:

• posts that come from a viewpoint that regards the double standard and any relevant beliefs about built-in differences between the sexes as deplorably sexist and either express bewilderment about any modern males who would hold such sentiments or else attribute such attitudes to knuckle-dragging misogyny and express bewilderment about why women would think losing out on the prospect of such guys is any real loss;

• posts that come from a stated belief that there are indeed built-in differences between the sexes, and that the double standard exists as a very predictable outgrowth of those differences;

• posts that do NOT embrace a belief that these differences are inherently built in to male and female nature but which instead emphasize the entirely real existence of the social attitudes and accompanying expectations, and contemplate the behaviors against the backdrop of those social realities and how those behaviors are likely to be interpreted by the other party (who is also embedded in that social environment) in these liaisons.


Within the first clump, one person finds the behavior of misogynists confusing and inconsistent: they want sex, and they'd be unhappy if they were deprived of sex, and yet they're contemptuous of the women who make sex easily attainable. (I made similar points in my blogpost titled What Do Men Want? last March, so I quite understand that bewilderment). Farther down, someone opines that men with this kind of mindset think sex degrades the party who is penetrated, so they have contempt for anyone who would let themselves be so degraded.

Other folks' answers and conjectures come from a more essentialist perspective: that men and women simply want different things (men want sex, women want ongoing relationships) -- sometimes this is stated explicitly, while other people's posts seem to tacitly assume that while surmising that what a person wants on his first date is often different from what he wants over the long haul (without explaining how or why this would differ by gender to create the described situation).

Then, in the third cluster, people ponder the strategic thinking of the participants against the backdrop of these cultural-social expectations: if there are roles and rules and expectations, some people can be viewed as testing their potential partners to see how appropriate and normative their responses are. Another person picks up from there and conjectures about the thoughts in the minds of one person when the other person's behavior does NOT follow those roles and rules, the wonderings and ponderings that person would have about WHY the other person would violate those social norms in such a situation.


Nobody has, as of yet, brought up gender in the sense of being cisgender as opposed to being transgender or genderqueer and how that variable would affect these participants. I, of course, am about to do so.



I am currently combing through Part One of my book, because the publishing editor finds that section (which covers junior high and high school days) to have redundancies and would like me to trim them out. (And I agree with that assessment, by the way). So as I've gone through it paragraph by paragraph, one of the recurrent themes from that part of my life was the powerful aversion I had towards being perceived as "only after one thing".

Insofar as I had always seen myself as akin to the girls and wanted them to see me that way as well, I had also internalized a lot of the same things they did about how we wish to be perceived. And across a very wide spectrum of differences, one of the things I observed about nearly every girl I'd ever known was that NONE OF THEM WANTED TO FEEL AS IF THEY WERE PUSHING SEX ONTO SOMEONE WHO DIDN'T APPRECIATE IT. Some girls wanted to feel as if sex with them were so special and personal that it would only be a possibility under very select circumstances. Other girls were cheerfully enthusiastic about sex with any adequately cute person who was similarly enthusiastic about having sex with them. And many had an attitude all along a continuum in between. But almost no girl had any interest in trying to make sex happen with someone who found the prospect unappealing.

Firstly, because you can't feel very attractive and desirable if you're trying to impose sex on someone and they're acting as if you're insulting them or asking for a huge huge favor. Secondly, because it's humiliating to have to mount a campaign to get someone to do anything with you that should be of mutual benefit, whether it be eating together during lunch or playing jumprope together on the playground or being friends in general or whatever. Thirdly, because it's not nice to make someone do something so personal if they don't want to, and although some girls didn't have any compunction against that sort of thing, many did -- it didn't mesh well with how they like to think of themselves, they weren't mean girls who took delight in making someone creeped out and uncomfortable.


if you think of the behavior from the vantage point of the person doing it, it looks like begging for it, trying to get someone to condescend to do something with you that ought to be a mutually delightful thing if both parties want it. If you think of it from the vantage point of the person you'd be doing it to, on the other hand, it manifests itself as a nasty invasive pushy offensive kind of behavior, and if you aren't comfortable with that notion of yourself (or of being perceived by others in that way), that's not so enticing either.


I have said before that I myself am agnostic about whether or not there are intrinsic built-in differences between the sexes in matters like this. I certainly agree with the people in the third clump, as I described and defined it above, that there is definitely a social reality regardless of whether or not there is a biological reality, and the social reality means that everybody functions not in a vaccuum but against the backdrop of socially shared expectations and roles and rules, and they are definitely gendered and they definitely delegate the horny sex-seeking sexually aggressive behavior of making sex happen to the male people.

The single most recurrent question I get from skeptical and provisionally noninclusive people when I say I am genderqueer and identity as a male girl is "what do you mean when you say you're a girl if you do not wish to have a female body or to be perceived as female?" It's a long complicated convoluted answer, which is why I wrote a book about it, but this issue, the "only after one thing" issue (if we may call it that), that was critical for me. it's the keystone issue. I'm not doing all this in order to win the right to wear skirts when I feel like it. It's this.

So here are some takeaway points:

• If you want to understand why girls in general, and boys in general, behave according to these patterns, it is useful to consider the situation they would find themselves in were they to depart from them.

• If you wish to understand why genderqueer people find it important and necessary to come out and explain their gender identity to the world surrounding them, ask yourself how else would a person proceed if conforming their own sexual (and flirting and dating and related etc) behaviors to those expected patterns is so foreign and feels so wrong to them that they can't go there; and then consider what alternatives may exist and how one would seek out potential partners who do not have those expectations.

• Riffing on the line of thought of one of the Straight Dopers I dumped into the third clump category, YES, consider the thought processes of someone when they do encounter someone who does NOT behave according to the expected conventions. It is reasonable and rational, I think, to assume that the typical person would find it perplexing and worrisome -- not so much that these nonconforming behaviors are WRONG but that they're indicative of someone not caring, in a proper self-preservative manner, for what folks they encounter might think of them. But now let's consider an ATYPICAL person in the same situation and perceiving the same nonconforming behavior. An atypical person whose reaction is an affirmative one. "Aha! I found one!"



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It's been almost exactly a year since I made that announcement the first time around after receiving a letter from Ellora's Cave informing me that they'd like to offer me a contract.

Ellora's Cave went out of business last fall , and I was back where I started from.

This time the offer letter comes from NineStar Press, a fairly new publisher that focuses on LGBTQIA titles. My book fits in better with their lineup than it did with Ellora's Cave's array of steamy erotic romances, and they don't appear to have any skeletons in their closet the way EC did with their public and rancorous dispute with their authors.

I'm relieved; I feel more or less the way I do after a really long hike when I finally stumble into the train station to catch the ride back home. I'm tired of pitching and querying. I wasn't close to giving up or anything but I am happy to stop. I just went to the Rainbow Book Fair at John Jay College last weekend, trundling along a box of 3-page handouts and business cards, hoping to meet some new LGBTQIA publishers, and did, but most of the tables were authors selling their books and most of the publishers were fiction-centric or poetry-centric or were otherwise not interested in a memoir. It's so hard not to become jaded and I worry that I broadcast it, that they'll be able to read between the lines and sense that I don't expect them to want to publish me, you know? So good riddance to that portion of the endeavor, it's nice to put it aside for now (and hopefully for a long while to come, at least until the next book).

Speaking of next book, NineStar included an inquiry about anything else I may have, so (assuming of course that this all pans out) I'll be giving them first crack at That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class when I finally get it ready for the light of day.

I also feel excited, of course, but it's a cautious excited. I've been in this position before and I have no published books sitting on my bookshelf to show for it. In addition to the prospect of NineStar going belly-up after the fashion of Ellora's Cave, unlikely as that may be, it might transpire that NineStar's editors and I reach some kind of irreconcilable impasse or that something in the contractual specifics turns out to be a dealbreaker for me. Or I get a follow-up letter "Oops, we had a board meeting and unfortunately we are rescinding our offer of a contract to all authors not born under water signs". None of this is at all likely but I am wary, twice-burned already (back in 1982 an interested 'publisher' turned out to be an opportunistic vanity press that had somehow learned I was querying), and uninclined to fully count my unhatched chickens.

What else? Impatience for sure. I'm craving the beginning of the editing process and getting all the preliminaries and learning when my book will be coming out. And then gearing up for the promotional activities and trying to obtain book reviews. I wanna get this show on the road.


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Tea and Transition: A Story of Love, the Human Spirit, and How One Man Became One Woman, by Nicola Jane Chase (Telemachus Press: 2015)

Barriers to Love: Embracing a Bisexual Identity, by Marina Peralta with Penolope James (Barriers Press: 2013)



These are a pair of memoirs, one from a transgender woman and one from a bisexual woman. Both are effectively self-published (Telemachus is basically a vanity press, and Barriers Press appears to be therapist Marina Peralta's own publication vehicle). I am all too familiar with the difficulty involved in getting a conventional publisher to publish an LGBTQIAetc memoir, and both of these books were recommended to me in response to my searches for such stories.

I began Nicola Jane Chase's book a couple months ago and ended up putting it aside, unfinished, for several weeks because it did not draw me in at the beginning. To be honest, I was expecting a standard narrative story arc and didn't get one. I mean, I opened the book expecting "My childhood was like this, you see, and here is when I first began to realize I was different from other males, that I was one of the girls instead of one of the boys", and then a tale of events and realizations and so on.

Instead, I was immediately plummeted into the current mental world of a trans woman. Chase warns in the prologue that "All true tales should start at the beginning. However, in my case I can't be sure when that beginning was." I flipped the page and she was already writing of her impending sex reassignment surgery appointment. The flow of Tea and Transition is nonlinear, more akin to listening to a very verbose and chatty companion rattle off thoughts from the top of her head than akin to reading someone's meticulously wrought story of what it was like to be her and to go through the experiences she has gone through. There's no objective reason to require a chronologically linear tale, and, indeed, many excellent authors bounce around between years and settings in the process of telling what they wish to tell, but it did not sit well with me.

I found myself formulating a mental image of the author, and it was one I was not comfortable with. To be quite blunt, I discovered myself thinking of her as a scatterbrained airhead, all fluff and trivialities. I felt squirmy about that, because there's a strongly misogynistic strand in that, of thinking of women in that dismissive fashion, and a transphobic / trans-hostile strand also, I think, involved in viewing transgender women that way as well: was I harboring creepy sentiments that I needed to deconstruct and examine before proceeding?

I eventually decided -- somewhat cautiously -- that I was not guaranteed to always like each and every woman, nor each and every transgender woman, that some individual human beings may indeed leave me with the impression of being scatterbrained, and that unless I had a pattern of seeing all folks in a category that way, it wasn't necessarily an illegitimate reaction on my part. So I picked up the book and this time I kept reading. And it got better.

There are many books written by transgender people which are more like the book I was initially expecting, books that detail identity-formulation from some point in childhood. Tea and Transition is entirely focused on adulthood and in large part this is because Nicola Jane Chase did not become conscious of a differently gendered sensibility until well into adulthood. Even at that point, there is not as much mulling over of the relevant issues as I would have wished. I suppose I'm guilty of some degree of projection: why hadn't Nicola been less comfortable considering the prospect that she was, indeed, a she? Instead, the narrative describes considering it, dipping a toe in the water (cross-dressing), liking it, and proceeding blithely onward. Be that as well it may, the journey soon enough required serious commitment, and in this, the author describes an almost agonizing passion to hold on to this despite the threat of high prices to be paid. Will she be able to retain good relationships with her mother, best friend, her place of employment and career? There's nothing trivial or airheaded about her evaluation and acceptance of these risks, which were clearly nontrivial risks. And there is more about this aspect of the trans journey in Tea and Transition than most such narratives provide.

At some point I came to realize where some of my hostility was coming from. It's defensive on my part. I myself identified with girls back when I was 7 or 8 years old. As an adult, presenting to other people as a genderqueer and gender inverted individual, I have encountered an expectation, sometimes explicit but more often hinted at, that I, and any other male who identifies as a girl in some fashion, crave the specific female experience of being a sex object. It's more of a sore point for me that I realized, but there you have it: my sexuality outgrew in complicated ways but it was entwined with gender and had a whole lot more innocence (and perhaps eventually the erotic potential of corruptibility thereof) than it had of either the boys' contempt-flavored delight in the crude or the adult female sex object's confident enjoyment of a status as arousal material for others.

And Nicola Jane Chase was too much exactly what I'd been suspected of: someone whose realized identity as femme was very much grounded in a desire to wear Victoria's Secret and to slink into a bar and be hit on, to be visually desirable precisely as a female, to be the hot chick.

So yeah, my hostility. Yeesh, I'm basically a frowny-faced disapproving censorious puritanically prudish tight-lipped femme person, shaking my head negatively at Ms. Chase. I don't think it's quite slut-shaming (I like and respect sluts), it's more... sex-object-shaming. Calling her shallow in my head and all that.

At a minimum, chalk one up for Nicola Jane Chase for teaching me more about myself. Title available from Amazon.



I picked up the Marina Peralta title specifically because I had not run across many bisexual coming-out / coming-of-age stories and I wanted some for my bookshelf collection. I'd read little articles and online posts on Facebook and whatnot about how bisexuals were not exactly embraced by the lesbian and gay folks within the LGBTQIAetc community but were instead treated as if they'd already been spoken for since gay males and lesbians had had their turn, while at the same time treated as if they were hedging their bets with one foot in the straight world, and regarded as risky partners who would be likely to dump you to be in a straight relationship.

For the second time, I was somewhat disappointed that the book I picked up didn't meet my initial expectations and projected assumptions. Peralta's book does not delve much into participation in the modern lesbian-gay-etc community and this is in part because of the temporal setting: she came of age and had most of her relevant experiences (as recounted in the book) in the 1950s and 1960s before a post-Stonewallian movement existed to contend with or belong to.

What WAS fascinating about Barriers to Love was the author's narrative of trying to understand her sexuality in an era when "bisexual" wasn't really on the map of possibilities to choose from. As a genderqueer person who came of age when there was no identity such as my own available to me, I saw parallels there and could relate to her own slow and gradual trying-on of identities only to find out later "no, that's not really it", and to keep requestioning and searching for a valid answer all pretty much on her own.

Also of relevant interest was the way in which conventional heterosexual appetite, for a girl of that era and in that setting (Mexico), was treated as a perversion instead of being nonchalantly accepted as normative. It was a world in which females with their own sexual interest in boys were told this is bad, this is wrong. I think we forget how this maps onto and against the tapestry of attitudes towards gay and lesbian sexuality, and this becomes more vivid precisely because of the author's bisexuality: YES, once confronted with the even more scary prospect of her daughter's being a lesbian, the author's mom becomes interested in seeing her paired with an appropriate male, but her first sexual interest was towards a male and the same mom was appalled to see that appetite expressed and condemned it and did what she felt she needed to do to kill it and prevent it from consummation.

From Peralta, too, I would have appreciated more internal / mental life, more about the inside thinking processes that led up to concluding "Hey, I am a bisexual person". (Or the equivalent realization in her own terms if she came to that realization before being exposed to the concept).

It is, however, a moving personal account and although it is rooted in a specific time and culture, it has a lot of universal content about what it can be like to be sexually receptive to both sexes and how the two patterns are similar and how they are different and how others perceive and react.


I have some very fresh news but it isn't ripe yet. Watch this space. I hope to have new things to reveal soon.

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Last week I made another presentation to gender studies students, this time at Castleton University in Vermont. The hosting professor booked a lecture room -- one of those rooms with bleacher seating and a stage-like area up front for the lecturer -- and brought students from several classes to hear me speak. It was my largest single audience to date, about 65 people.

Before the presentation, he took me to dinner and got me checked in at the bed & breakfast, and we chatted about identity and growing up and coming out.

He warned me, "Now, this is a very non-diverse community. We're talking white rural people and small-town families, folks whose families have lived here for generations. They tend to be very stoic. They don't express surprise or amusement or agreement or disapproval, they keep their reactions inside. It's something that's an element of cultural pride in these parts". He took some more of his steak and potato and a sip of wine and continued, "Mark Twain came here once. People traveled from all around the area to hear him speak. And the whole time he spoke, they just sat very politely in their seats with their hands in their lap and didn't crack a smile the whole time".

I ended up being very glad that he had warned me about this. My audience was attentive enough, some people were even taking notes. No one was slouching and staring off in other directions or texting on their phones. But yeah, it felt like I was addressing a roomful of carved granite faces. I could not tell how I was doing other than by comparing my own rhythms and the pace at which I was going through my topic points to what I could recall of how I'd done those things in the past.

I was only able to elicit one question at the end, although it was a good one: "Do you find that people with a background in the hard biological sciences who focus on genetics and neurology to be resistant to these kinds of ideas?" (I replied with examples pro and con -- the "con" being researchers who were involved in trying to make a case for medical insurance companies being bound to covering medical transitioning for transgender people who seek it, and the "pro" example being neurologist Debra Soh and her column criticizing gender-neutral parenting).


Although it felt good overall to address yet another audience, the stone-faced audience left me feeling unsettled for several days, and eventually I realized it had evoked some associated emotional content for me, that it connected in my mind with a pattern I have some reason to worry about.

You see, back in 1980, when I was first coming out on University of New Mexico campus, I kept having the experience of handing out my writings and then going back to those same people to discuss the material, and people more often than not were cautious, saying very little about my core ideas and instead taking some small lateral idea and talking some about that. For instance, an older woman student from my Sex and Sexuality biology course talked about countercultural guys in the 1970s and how they had horrified their parents by growing their hair long and that their talk of peace and rejection of militarism had hit a button for the older generation who perceived them as very unmanly. It certainly wasn't irrelevant but it left me in the dark about what she thought about feminine guys upending the conventional notion of heterosexuality and what it could mean for feminism and for the rest of society and so on.

By the time my dormitory resident advisor was aking me to please go across the street and talk with the mental health folks at the university's medical center, I had spent an intense month trying to talk to people, trying to write my thoughts down and get students and professors and other people to read them and give me a reaction, and that had been the general pattern: people not directly addressing what I had brought up, and being very vague about what they thought of it, neither hostile and argumentative nor excitedly enthusiastic, just...cautious.

And because it was so important to me, this set of new ideas and their power to explain things, I began to imagine and guess a lot about what was really going on behind people's closed faces. I was expecting my ideas to be very polarizing: threatening to some people, exciting and revolutionary to others. Confronted with all these noncommittal reactions, I imagined that they were feeling highly ambivalent and needed more time to process these ideas. I imagined that they saw the potential impact but that some parts of that potential impact did not look like an unalloyed good thing, so they were holding back. I imagined that people who were gay or lesbian or were supportive of gay and lesbian rights and concerns were wondering and worrying that promoting the notion of a "heterosexual sissy" could have homophobic or hetero-normative social impact. I imagined that people who were feminist or feminist supporters were worrying about the impact of a male person pushing a new feminist-type agenda from so much of a "for his own personal reasons" standpoint, a very different thing than males being political participants in order to support women. I worried that conservative-minded people were hearing this as yet another assault on conventional sexuality and gender and were formulating negative and judgmental attitudes towards what I was describing, that their first reaction to "heterosexual sissy" was a disapproving and biased one. I imagined that people thought I actually had a different agenda of some sort, whether pro-male or pro-feminist or pro-homophobic or anti-christian or anti-transsexual or whatever. Or that what I was saying was going to play into one of those agendas.

I was really overthinking it all. The truth of the matter -- easier to look back on it and see it in retrospect -- is that most of them were not understanding more than a small spatter of what I was trying to communicate. And that a double-handful of the rest understood my main points but disagreed with me that they were important points and didn't see that they added any new understandings or new possibilities, that they didn't see why I was making a big deal out of this.

I have never believed that my mental state in spring of 1980 remotely justified placing me in a locked-ward setting and treating me as if I was incoherent. When I realized the extent to which I had been failing to make sense to people, and had disturbed them with all the intensity with which I was making the attempt, I laughed at myself and I reset my expectations immediately. I at no point in my life rejected the thoughts that had obsessed me then as nonsensical or as unworthy of the obsession. And I've gotten way better at expressing them, I think!

But I haven't forgotten the grandiose thought patterns. The tendency to assume I am affecting people whether they express their reactions or not, and, with that, the tendency to assume other thoughts in their heads -- their reaction-thoughts -- include reasons for them being so noncommunicative. Because I still do that. When faced with lukewarm or off-topic reactions to my material I tend more often to believe that what I've said or written has pushed some of their buttons, instead of jumping to believe that I didn't make sense to them or that they don't attribute any sense of value and importance to what I said.

Some of that is unavoidable. Any person attempting social change that involves putting forth new ideas has to rely on a degree of optimistic projection, of anticipating that their ideas will indeed affect people strongly. And you can't let indifferent reactions shut you down, because new ideas are, by definition, alien and will not be immediately and wholeheartedly embraced.

But it's unsettling. Grandiose extrapolation of this sort IS a form of not being fully in contact with what is real. It has gotten me into trouble in the past. And it is a way of thinking that does not come with its own built-in lid. It can self-perpetuate to the point of thinking that the outcome is preordained, the participants' roles already written in advance, and all people involved representatives of Huge Social Forces that they represent in this little theatrical play, very dramatic and with grave portent and Massively Important Things always hanging in the balance. It's addictive to anyone who is trying to have a genuine impact on the world in which they live. Don Quixote never wants to see himself as a silly fool trying to joust with a windmill that is neither a real opponent, nor the joust a purposeless endeavor with no possible meaningful outcome.

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Women's Studies Coordinator Ann Peiffer and I were chatting after the evening of my final presentation at Mars Hill. We were talking, in part, about one male student who wants to be an ally and the limits of a person's role in someone else's struggle. I started talking about a critical turning point in my career as a women's studies student:

"When I became a grad student, it was in sociology. I was having some friction for trying to use a feminist perspective in my papers and for wanting to do a feminist project for my dissertation. But right around that time, a women's studies certificate program was being pulled together, they didn't have their own department yet but they crosslisted courses from English and History and Art and Anthropology and so on. Anyway, I was encouraged to take their feminist theory course.

"Unfortunately, the people who had pulled that together were mostly from the English department. And they had used poststructuralist theory to justify teaching authors like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker even though they weren't dead white European guys, you know, questioning the social construction of 'excellence' and all that. So that's what they were teaching as feminist theory. And it was... well you know, you've read that stuff, ...

"So after a few weeks I said, 'This is what you're teaching grad students as feminist theory? Your own students will theoretically someday be teaching undergraduate students--is THIS the material you want them to put out there to introduce new students to feminist thinking? It's opaque and really difficult to understand, and then when you understand it, it strips all the meaning out of things. You can't say women have a justifiable anger or a moral right to equality after you've just explained that everyone's sense of what is right is caused by their location in culture and time and that no viewpoint is privileged.' And I went on for a bit about how poststructuralist feminist theory is a problem for feminists."

Ann Peiffer nodded. I continued, "Well, the professor got annoyed and said 'Why don't you try being silent for awhile and experience what it is like to be marginalized. Do you realize you are a male student telling feminist women that we aren't doing feminism right?' And... of course she was correct. Highly embarrassing. But it was more than just that moment's conversation. It really rocked me back in my tracks. It made me question whether I could say the things I wanted to say, about my experience and identity and all that, from within women's studies. And eventually I decided it just wasn't going to work".



On March 29 and March 30, though -- 25 years after I abandoned my PhD attempts and left academia behind -- I made a successful reappearance in the women's studies classroom. Things are different now. Women's studies has embraced the wider subject matter of gender and, on many campuses, has relabeled and repositioned itself as Gender Studies, or as Women's and Gender Studies, or as Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies. And since last fall (dating back to when I thought my book was about to come out in print), I've been pitching the idea, via my publicist John Sherman, that those departments should consider having me as a guest speaker, to present my perspectives. Mars Hill said yes, so I rented a car and took off early Wednesday morning, driving for 11 hours to get there in time for my first presentation, to the evening-class session of Women and Society. Ann Peiffer met me and took me out to dinner for a first chance to talk a bit, and then took me to the classroom and introduced me, and I was on.


I have a generic presentation structure that I've been using, sort of a baseline skeleton, and then I vary it depending on the type of audience. I described "the binary"-the traditional simplified notion that there are two and only two categories, the man over here with his male body and masculine characteristics, and, distinctly different and other from that, the woman over here with her female body and feminine characteristics. Then I put up my main diagram, the scatter chart.



"This is STILL an oversimplification. It assumes all people are biologically either male or female, so it ignores intersex people. And it treats the other characteristics, all the behavior and personality and nuances and priorities and tastes, all that stuff that is typically associated with the two biological sexes, as if masculinity and femininity were polar opposites like left and right, when actually it might make more sense to think of them more akin to sweet and salty, where someone could be one, the other, both, or neither. And it pretends that people occupy one point on the graph, but people change constantly, during the day or according to their mood and so on. But it is LESS of an oversimplification than the original binary because it shows that you have a lot of variation within each sex, and that you have a lot of overlap, with some of the female-bodied people being way over here on the masculine side and some of the male-bodied people being way over there on the feminine side, even though the same general rule still applies, that men in general are more masculine and women in general are more feminine".

Talked about how generalizing isn't evil and this generalization isn't wrong, AS a generalization. Talked about moving from descriptive to prescriptive.

Then I introduced my cast of characters, individual people that I use in my presentation as a way of explaining the different experience of the same social world that conventionally masculine males and feminine females have when contrasted with the experiences of those expectations and predictions and assumptions by the folks who are outliers, masculine females and feminine males.

My characters have a mixture of sexual orientations, and I used that to illustrate the ways in which gender characteristics interact with sexual orientation. After awhile I identified myself on my diagram, my own location and my own experiences as a male femininine person sexually oriented towards female folks. I compared how my own experiences juxtaposed with those of the other characters I had described. This lets me contextualize my own situation, to show how it fits in against the backdrop of other folks' experiences.

We discussed the process of figuring out one's identity when the default mainstream expected identity isn't a good fit, and how a person comes to arrive at a divergent understanding of themselves from among the ones that are out there, socially available as alternative identities.


The next morning, after breakfast, I made the presentation a second time, to the daytime session of Women and Society, and then a final time (with some modifications for the shift in audience composition) to Safe Haven, the campus group for LGBT students and allies. I felt like all three went well and I had attentive people at all three of them and definitely felt like I was reaching them and that they were following what I was saying.

I had several good questions during the post-presentation discussion periods:

I find it interesting that you choose to have a beard. Does it interfere with your ability to get people to perceive you as a girl? (I reiterated that I accepted both my biological sex -- male -- and my gender -- girl, or feminine person. And we made some guesses about what girlish people would do with various male physical characteristics if they were the ones who had them instead of guys. I kept going back to the limitations of expressing as a male girl in a culture that has no notion of what a male girl would typically look like)

I have a female friend who has only recently realized she is genderqueer. She is always wanting to talk to me about it, she isn't finding this easy, and I don't know what to say to her to help her get through what she's going through (None of us had any easy pat answers to this, but several of us encouraged the male student who had posed the question to realize that by making himself available as a sounding board, someone she feels she CAN talk to, that that is being supportive. I asked if she likes to read, and suggested some memoirs and narratives, adding that it is helpful to read about how someone else who is like you came to terms with it)

I see on your handout you say you are polyamorous. Can you talk some about that? (I hadn't brought it up in the presentation. I talked about how a combo of 1970s vintage "hippie" ideals of free love and feminist critiques of sexual possessiveness had always appealed to my sense of how I thought things should be. And I talked aobut how multiple partners kept me from becoming so immersed in a relationship that I was a boring mirror that just reflected my partner's interests and didn't bring much to the relationship, and also how getting different feedback from different partners makes it easy to get a more 'objective' sense of how my behavior is coming across, instead of wondering if it is me or if it is just her).

There was a follow-up question, essentially What about jealousy? (I mentioned that as an atypical male, I was never going to be fully at ease with the idea that my partner would not miss the interactions with more conventionally masculine males if she'd had such relationships in the past, and that polyamory was a way of not asking her to give that up; and that, reciprocally, when I find a woman who does find me sexually appealing, I don't tend to think of other males as direct competition -- "Go have other boyfriends, sure! It may be easier for me to say that and not be worried about being replaced, because there's a low likelihood of her connecting with guys who are a lot like me". Went on to say that no one wants to be abandoned but that polyamory means not needing to discard one person in order to be with someone else. And I described the relationship summit, a periodic formal opportunity to air grievances and concerns and do a "state of the relationship" assessment, and said that poly people talk about jealousy all the time, that it is openly discussed.)

Can you describe a time when you had an effect on someone where you saw them go 'Whoa' and really change their perspective? (I described a gay rights activist I had appeared with long ago; he had told the audience he was sick and tired of gay guys being stereotyped as less manly or sissy, and he told them it wasn't manly to gang up on one guy and beat him up as a group. He challenged them: 'If you have a problem with me being gay, come up here and say it to my face.' It got a lot of appreciative applause in a 1980 classroom of Human Sexuality students; they appeciated the guts it took for him to take them on like that. He was less impressed with me when I spoke to the same classroom immediately after him. He said "So, your whole thing is that you don't want people to think you're gay, is that it?" I tried to explain about being a feminine guy and the assumptions that people make. "So? People think I'm straight lots of times, you don't think that gets awkward? Look, straight is the default. You shouldn't go around saying you're not gay, that just says you think being gay would be horrible. It's not necessary for you to go around saying you're the default". So I said back to him, "Well, YOU just spent several minutes explaining to this classroom that you aren't a sissy, that you're all masculine. Isn't masculine the default for males?" And he started to answer fast and then looked at me and it was like I could see that light bulb going on for him)

Do you experience dysphoria? (I think I gave a bad answer on this one. Or partly bad. I said "no". I said I had never felt like my body was wrong. I had come to believe that if people perceived me as female, I would be treated more as who I actually am, but the body ITSELF, physically, wasn't the problem, it was what people assumed because of it. I think I should have created a distinction between "physical dysphoria" and "social dysphoria" and said that most of the emotional content of dysphoria, as conventionally described, was very much what I have experienced, but that we do not tend to distinguish between "dysphoria because they think I am a guy or man" versus "dysphoria because my body is a male body"--the first one is social and the second one is physical. I should do that in the future: along with distinguishing between sex and gender, and between transsexuality and being genderqueer, I should create this distinction about forms of dysphoria.

What would you say to a cisgender heterosexual male who wants to be supportive of lesbian gay and transgender people and their rights? (This is where we came in. Before Ann Peiffer gave her own reply, I said that I would say to such a person 'Try to be aware of how YOU have been oppressed by homophobia and transphobia and sissyphobia and so on. Even as a cis male hetero person, there have to have been moments and situations where something you did drew some attention or comments. And all your life you have seen what happens to gay and sissy and gender-atypical people and, at least in the back of your head even if you were not conscious of it, some part of you was thinking I DO NOT WANT THAT TO HAPPEN TO ME. So you learned to tuck your odd corners under where they will not be seen, even if you had to do far less of that than gay and genderqueer and transgender people. That means things got taken away from you. Reclaim that. Avoid any self-censoring that is designed to keep observers from perhaps categorizing you as gay or whatever. And then you are participating in part for your own reasons, which is a good thing'.)


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ahunter3: (Default)
"Do you often feel you have to choose between being an activist and making an issue of this stuff, or finding romantic-sexual partners? I've been doing this shit for 35+ years and it has always felt like the search for personal solutions and the attempt to educate the planet about the relevant issues were like 'choose one; you can't do both', if you know what I mean".

I've mentioned occasionally in passing that speaking out and self-identifying as a gender invert has not tended to be a good mating strategy for me or, presumably, for anyone in my specific situation. I delved into it a bit in this blog post from 2014 for example. And yeah, I'll be honest: I think one of the reasons I'm doing this gender activism stuff now, in my late 50s, is that when I was younger I was lured into spending more time and energy seeking those personal solutions, trying to find a girlfriend. It's only now, with that basically working for me, that I seem to be giving the activism attempts more of my focused attention.

I assume this is NOT true in an analogous way for all people within the LGBTQIA-etc tent. Most centrally, it seems self-evident to me that gay and lesbian people, if they are open about being such and attend gay / lesbian social-political organizational meetings, will be that much likelier to meet precisely the people to whom they are attracted. And that therefore being out and about and having some degree of public visibility and/or seeking out clusters of similar people IS conducive to finding potential partners.

Gay and lesbian folks may not be all that aware of how it doesn't quite work that way for some of us who identify as sexual-orientation or gender-identity minorities.

Consider transgender folks, in particular the conventional transitioning variety, those who wish to transition, are in the midst of transitioning, or have transitioned. A transgender woman may find friends and form alliances within a support group or political action group composed of transgender women and men, but for most of them it doesn't form a very good pool of potential partners. To be precisely fair, it is possible that a transgender woman who was straight could become romantically involved with a transgender man, or that two gay transgender people of the same sex could do so. But most trans folks of either gender want to be seen and accepted as people of their target sexual identity and to have the experiences that are typical for such folks. Transgender men generally wish to live the lives of men, and transgender women to live as women, with as little emphasis as possible on their being transgender. Typically, they want to "pass". Being out and making a public spectacle of their own trans status could be seen as working against those interests. Most transgender people are not hoping to meet potential partners who have an erotic or romantic interest specifically in transgender people.

It's a phenomenon that also occurs in groups other than those associated with being part of LGBTQIAetc. Consider the situation of a radical feminist woman whose attractions are towards males. Conventional wisdom says that although her perspectives and political interests rule out a nontrivial percent of what would otherwise be her potential dating pool, she may meet some more-evolved males who are politically conscious and thoughtful people... but that her direct and immediate feminist activities aren't a set of behaviors that are especially geared to making that more likely to happen. Feminist women tend to accept the conflict of interest as a given: being a radical feminist is not in and of itself thought of as a mating call for meeting such guys. At best, it's perceived as a useful filter for driving away the attention of folks whose attention one would not want anyway.

There are groups for which I would think it could be a mixed bag for their identity-factors to be openly known. For example, bisexual people (and by extention pansexual people, to whom the rest of this generally applies) have often indicated that when potential partners learn that they aren't exclusively straight or gay, it makes many of them reluctant to get involved. Both potential same-sex and other-sex partners often tend to feel more at ease dating folks who are attracted in their own direction exclusively. It is, of course, entirely possible for bisexual people to become involved with other bisexual people, where those attitudes would not be an issue. And one would more easily meet other bisexual people via the process of being out and participating in political-social groups openly as a bisexual person. As for the non-bisexual people who would also be part of the pool of potential partners, it might once again function as a useful filter.

I don't really know for sure whether it's intrinsic to my own kind of gender and sexual identity that being out and loud and public work against the likelihood of linking up with attractive partners. My observations all come from the current (lifelong, so far, but current and hopefully transient nonetheless) situation, the situation in which gender inversion isn't on the public radar yet as an available identity. So we have to remove from consideration the notion of being part of a social-political network of gender inverts and all that that could provide. Certainly I think it would make it easier for gender inverts to find partners if I were to succeed in publicizing the concept and people were inclined to recognize themselves in the description and begin to think of themselves in those terms. But would the kind of women who find gender-inverty males attractive be attracted to the ones who are overtly self-labeling? That's the question to which I don't know the answer. It's a bit of a moot point for me (dating and connecting when you're a middle-aged person is, in general, more flexible and more geared towards the post-labels complexities that folks come to appreciate after a few decades of experience). In the entirety of my 20s and 30s, I can only think of one time when someone's interest in me may have been sparked, in part, by things she heard me say about my gender identity. But, once again, it wasn't a world where women would have heard a few things that I said and thought "Aha, he's one of those gender inverts".



I presented down in North Carolina, at Mars Hill University. I promise to blog about it next!


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ahunter3: (Default)
Status Update

1) I'm off to Mars Hill University on Wednesday. I'll be presenting to two classrooms and then in the evening to a public / campus audience. I'm very excited about it!

Women's studies in academia was the target of my first serious attempt to engage my world on these topics. I was a Women's Studies major from 1985 to 1988 and then attempted to bring feminist theory into the Sociology department as a grad student. Feminist theory had given me validation about being an atypically feminine male even back before I was out to myself, and it gave me a framework and a vocabulary to express my issues.

I entered grad school at what was perhaps an unfortunate time, just a few years prior to the point that gender studies became a new force in academia, but after the heyday of feminism as a rising social force, so perhaps feminist professors at SUNY / Stony Brook were defensive and territorial. I felt unwelcome trying to participate and engage with the grad school's Women's Studies Certificate Program. Nor was the mainstream Sociology department interested in either my topic or my radical feminist perspectives.

If I'd come along a few years earlier OR later, perhaps I'd be Dr. Hunter and lecturing on Tuesdays and Thursdays to a Gender and Society course or something.

At any rate, this feels like a triumphant return. I'll blog again about how it went (watch this space next week!).


Meanwhile, still trying to get my book published. I continue to query literary agents although I don't expect any real results from that, and with more optimism and enthusiasm I also continue to query small publishers.

Current stats:

Total queries to Lit Agents: 975
Rejections: 904
Outstanding: 71

Total queries to Publishers: 22
Rejections: 12
Outstanding: 6
No Reply 3+ Months: 3
Contract Signed / Publisher Subsequently Went out of Business: 1

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ahunter3: (Default)
Many folks in the transgender community speak or write about having a sort of schematic diagram in the brain, one that told them that despite the morphological body they were born with, they were SUPPOSED to have a different sex of parts. Trans feminist author Julia Serano (Whipping Girl) is one good example.

Note that no reference is being made to the complex bucket of personality attributes, priorities, behaviors and behavioral nuances, tastes, expressions, or any of the rest of the nonphysical characteristics that tend to be thought of as part of gender.

In fact, if we agree that gender and sex are not one and the same, this phenomenon isn't even about gender. And it isn't about society, or, if it is, it is limited to wanting to be perceived as the correct sex based on how one is able to present when visiting the nude beach. Or in one's bedroom, to one's partner.

I don't have that. I have never felt anything akin to a wiring diagram in my brain that insisted I was supposed to have female parts. That experience is utterly foreign to me.



I think most folks, when they think of transgender people, picture someone like Caitlin Jenner or Chaz Bono, someone who was born one sex but who at some point came to realize they were trans, and they began dressing and presenting as that other sex and they obtained sexual reassignment surgery and hormonal treatments, and now they dress as and behave as the new sex to which they transitioned.

It is not unreasonable for them to do so. The various online and in-person transgender communities and support groups not only contain many such people, they also tend to be places where the people in attendance also think of transgender people in those terms.

But let's backtrack to the schematic-diagram thing. Let's split apart some concepts. Picture someone totally masculine in all the traditional ways, and attracted to feminine women, an extremely conventional kind of guy. Except that Joan isn't a guy. Joan says this male body is just wrong. It has the wrong parts. So she is transitioning to female, at which point she will be a very masculine person with conventionally male interests, but female, and she will live her life as a lesbian.

I haven't met Joan (she's a hypothetical person) but I've described her and had people reassure me that there are indeed such people.

Joan might have a difficult time explaining her situation to the support group. People in the support group often conflate gender and sex as much as mainstream people out on the sidewalk. People describe themselves as children and say things like "I always knew I was female" There's a reason for this: medical interventions for transgender people are expensive, and some people are not convinced of the merits of what medical science is able to do for them. And the transgender community surely does not want to reject people who are planning to transition but haven't the resources to do so yet, or to make such people feel relegated to second-class trans citizens. Besides that, there's an understandable resentment at being treated like sideshow spectacles and asked to lower their pants, verbally or literally, and show folks the merchandise.

But Joan would be facing special barriers in addition to the ones that trans people in general face. Dealing with the gatekeeper-doctors, no picnic for any trans person trying to get cleared for medical treatments, would be a nightmare. (They tend to want all male-to-female transitioners to be utter Barbie dolls and they are inclined to question the psychological readiness of any transitioner who seems to still express the traits of their birth-sex). It might be difficult for Joan to explain her situation to the group as something a bit different from the hassles experienced by other transitioning women.

And think about the current "transgender people in bathrooms" issue. Joan's experience of that is going to be markedly different from that of trans people who adopt and embrace a lot of signature items to convey their target identity. A post-transition Joan would face the same hostilities and challenges as any other extremely butch dyke. How does she explain to other trans women how her issues are not entirely identical to their own?

Intersex people also find it frustrating sometimes to discuss gender and body. "What's inside my underwear does *NOT* define my gender", asserts an intersex friend and ally whom I met on the boards. He isn't opposed to trans people being able to get the surgeries that they seek, but often finds the trans community oblivious and unaware of how unwanted surgeries imposed on intersex people without their consent are regarded by intersex people. "I am a man. That is my gender. A medical doctor decided I should be female and wanted to remove offending parts of me to produce a female. I am not a freak show and I don't have to display my genital configuration in order to prove my gender."

I identify as a gender invert, myself. I tell people I'm a girl, or woman. What makes me a gender invert is that my body is male. What's within my clothing doesn't define my gender either. On the other hand, neither is it wrong and in need of fixing. Just like my intersex friend, I have no wish to modify my morphology to fit other people's notions of what bodyparts ought to accompany my gender identity.

You'd perhaps think, with so many of us on the same page as far as "what I have between my legs is not the same thing as my gender", that we'd see eye to eye on how to talk about these things in ways that don't insult or negate each other's experience. I suppose trying to insist that "sex", and the sex terms "male" and "female", ought to be reserved for physical body and that "gender", and gender identity terms such as "man" and "woman" and "boy" and "girl" and so forth, apply to the other, nonphysiological, factors, isn't going to get me anywhere. Not with so many in the transgender community using the terms differently.

It would make things easier if that "schematic diagram" thing inside the head had its own term. Julia Serano uses the term "subconscious sex".

Perhaps the best way to describe how my subconscious sex feels to me is to say that it seems as if, on some level, my brain expects my body to be female...

I am sure that some people will object to me referring to this aspect of my person as a subconscious "sex" rather than "gender.". I prefer "sex" because I have experienced it as being rather exclusively about my physical sex, and because for me this subconscious desire to be female has existed independently of the social phenomena commonly associated with the word "gender".


— Julia Serano, Whipping Girl pgs 80, 82

If we could go with that extra terminology, transgender people could express that (for example) their subconscious sex identity is female, their born sex was male, their gender is girl or woman. My intersex colleague could say he is a man, that doctors wanted to perform unwanted surgery because he was born intersex and they wanted to make him biologically female. And I could say I am a girl or woman whose biological sex is male.


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ahunter3: (Default)
(an outsider ponders male heterosexuality)

I haven't often made any attempt to answer the above question. I don't answer on behalf of men because I don't identify as a man. When young, I would not have spoken on behalf of the boys in general either. Other boys made it plain that they didn't consider me to be a valid representative. As for me, I found them largely inexplicable and strange anyway.

Unlike the parallel question of what women want, famously posed with some perplexity by Sigmund Freud, it's apparently not a question that most folks find difficult to answer. Judging from the things I've heard people say on the subject, men are considered to be simple straightforward uncomplicated beings.

Sex, they say.

They say that as if that were a simple straightforward and uncomplicated answer. Which I have always found odd, since I find boys and men, and this answer, far from self-explanatory. The more I heard, the less I felt like it applied to me, although I wanted sex too but it certainly wasn't simple, straightforward, or uncomplicated in the least. "What, exactly, do you mean, men just want sex?"

Men just want to get their rocks off, I'm told.

Oh... orgasms? I understand orgasms. I discovered my capacity for them when I was a child in the one-digit age range. The presence of another person isn't really necessary. I trust you are aware of this. You're trying to explain men's behavior by saying it's all about this?

Oh, they say, no, not masturbation. Yeah men wank, they jerk off, but men are hard-wired to want to have sex with women, with as many women as possible, as often and as fast as possible. Because they want to spread their seed around. That's what we mean about it all being about sex, about men wanting to get their rocks off.

(What about the ones who want sex but not with women?, I ask. They shrug. We dunno, something went haywire. We don't think of them as men. They don't count)

Hmm, well, I have no doubt that we all have the desire for sex because of reproduction, but the blueprint doesn't appear to require us individually and locally to crave pregnancies and babies as part and parcel of desiring sex. Instead, it would appear that a general appetite for sex tends to result in enough pregnancy and childbirth as an outcome. So we don't need to crave pregnancy or to hunger for babies in order to want sex. I've been in many a situation where we had a rather strong interest in not having pregnancy result, and believe me, it didn't interfere with being interested in sex at all. You saying men in general crave the causing of pregnancies and that's causing them to display the sexual behavior you've been describing, of trying to have sex as quickly as they can with as many women as they can?

No, they admit, not a direct conscious desire for pregnancy to occur. They concede that I am right, that evolution may desire that outcome but individual people's lust for sex has a somewhat separate existence. But, they go on to add, subconsciously that's still the agenda. Men want to plow all those fields and stick their seeds in, even if they don't consciously want their girlfriends to get inconveniently pregnant and maybe stick them with child support and pressure to settle down and stuff. See, women, especially when pregnant, are hard-wired to want a pair-bonding thing and make him the provider, that's how she best passes along her own genes by making sure her baby survives and stuff. But he don't want that, it's in his nature to fertilize as many as he can. So they have a little conflict of interest, you might say.

Aah, I nod sagely. Well, that explains why men hold women who are readily sexually available in such high esteem, since they can make the circuit of such women and have sex with a great number of them. They get to spread their little seeds all over the place that way. Never mind that in actuality there may not be a lot of actual pregnancies resulting in the modern era, with birth control, but as we've already established it's not directly about trying to make actual pregnancies, but rather is a subconscious agenda, as you said, a carryover from our past. Umm, but actually men don't have very good opinions of sexually available women. Why the nasty hostile contempt for sluts? And isn't it true that men tend to end up waging a long protracted campaign to obtain sex from less slutty women, taking up a lot of time to get to the same point they could get to with the slutty women, at the conclusion of which they often end up committing themselves to a monogamous relationship that keeps those little seeds from going into any other fertile furrows? How does that square with your portrait of men being all about sex as quickly as possible with as many women as possible?

So then they usually start babbling on about men needing the thrill of the chase and the triumph of conquest, and paternity and property and passing on his name, and my eyes glaze over. Men are so complicated, and weird and inconsistent.


Well, I admitted that I want sex myself, but that I didn't see it as simple and straightforward and uncomplicated. So I guess I can't then point fingers at men and say they are different because they are not simple, straightforward and uncomplicated, can I? Well, it does seem different from how men and their sexuality are described, whether we're equally complicated or not. Now maybe the description is inaccurate and how it is for me isn't so different from how it is for these men-people. Let me explain what I understand of my own and see where that takes us.

Sexual appetite for me is also not just the craving for orgasm — just like with the men, I don't find masturbation satisfying. Likewise for it not being directly about wanting babies. What it is about is connection, the yummy being-in-love emotional high, the deliciousness of full intimacy.

And it's somehow inherently about idealizing it, sort of making a fetish out of the ideal sexual-girlfriend relationship, spending a lot of time and energy thinking about it and fantasizing about it and, on some level, not quite obsessive but always sort of watching out for the possibilities, seeking that out. Looking for it. And even bigger, beyond even that, of trying to create the conditions under which that ideal relationship could and would occur.

It's like the greatest most wonderful thing ever would be an ideal relationship taking place in a context where it would thrive. And that means making yourself the person capable of being in such a relationship, and it means cleaning up and getting your life working so that things are running on an even keel so that you could make use of an opportunity. Writ large, it even means improving the entirety of society until the social environment is such that the happiest and most satisfying sexual and romantic connection can take place and thrive.

Now, lots of people through time have talked about sex being some kind of sacrament, some holy thing you're not supposed to trample into the mud. Some shiny thing you're not supposed to profane. I'm not sure if that's the same thing I'm driving at or not. A lot of the time it does not seem to be. Much of the conversation about sex being holy and special and all that seems to have to do with restricting when it can happen and defining really narrow "OK zones" for sex and saying sex outside of those definitions means you're doing the mud-tramping thing. And frankly that sounds to me no different from sex-hating, sex-fearing condemnation of sexual pleasure and appetite, all that fault-finding and attempting to define sacred untrammelled sex.

In fact, I have come to think that sexual appetite is powerful and revolutionary and for this reason institutionalized social structures fear it and have sought to erase it, constrain it, define it narrowly while prohibiting outside-definition expressions; they've sought to attach its glamour to other items, they've attempted to harness it and make it motivate people to do the institution's bidding, and they've sought to bottle it and market it as a commodity.

In its resulting distorted forms, sexual appetite has often been experienced by people as the enemy of their self-determination and freedom. History has not been without radicals who have sought to free themselves of institutional control by transcending sexual desire.

But ultimately it is more radical to embrace it, pay attention to it, and let it lead the mind as well as the heart, because of what it intrinsically seeks.


Now, back to the men thing, men and their sexuality. I mean, yeah, I could just dismiss all that descriptive stuff and say men probably aren't like that to begin with. But it's so often men themselves saying those things about men's sexuality and what drives men and so on. Me, I've spent a lifetime being defined, both by myself and by others, as someone on the outside of the whole being-a-man thing, so take this with as many grains of salt as you find appropriate, but here's my outsider's take on it, OK?

First off, there's this game, the game I call "Heterosexuality", which is played according to these game-rules:

1. The females want to "fall in love" and be loved in return by a cute guy who will be the boyfriend, and, within that context, they want good sex (in earlier times, marriage was necessary first). The males don't really like most females that much, unless they are in love, and they aren't necessarily trying to fall in love at all, and, so, in or outside of that context, they want good sex. Therefore...

2. Males come on to females, usually because they are physically attracted to them, since their main interest is physical and appearance is a physical phenomenon. Sometimes they come on to a female because she has a reputation for being sexually available to males whether they love her or not. Either way, the females can reject the guys they don't have any interest in at all, but the other males have to be kept interested but slowed down so that proximity and time creates the possibility that he will really start to like her, perhaps fall in love. Females do not overtly come on to males.

3. Males who are rejected are allowed to keep on trying, since males who think they are not really being rejected, just slowed down a bit, are supposed to keep on trying, and sometimes you can't tell which is which anyway. But if a male thinks a female is being too hard to get, so that it isn't fun for him any more, he can quit paying attention to her - he doesn't have to keep on trying. Females are not supposed to pursue the matter. It is up to him to press the issue.

from "Same Door, Different Closet: A Heterosexual Sissy's Coming-out Party, 1992

Now, not all men are playing the Heterosexuality game, but a great many of the male people who don't are either defined by others as not-men, or define themselves as other than men, or (as has been the case for me) both of those things.

So you have to understand men in the context of the Heterosexuality game that most of them are playing. Suppose they want the connection-thing and the ideal-relationship-thing too, as their first and foremost real desire, so that they're basically just like me? That would mean that the folks who say men just want sex as quickly and as often with as many women as possible are wrong, but just suppose. Go along with me here. Let's say this is what the men want even if they aren't consciously aware of it, that it is what they want even if they themselves believe they just want sex as quickly as often etc etc. Well, how are they going to get there within the context of the Heterosexuality game as described? Well, by losing. By finding the woman who will successfully trap him, catch him, and "domesticate" him into the ongoing emotionally-connected relationship he craves and needs. In other words, this is the flip side of the conventional notion about sex described so well by Robin Thicke: the nice good girl really wanting to be seized and done unto masterfully by the bad boy who knows she wants it. On this other level, the level of ongoing intimate connection, she's the one who knows what he really wants and makes it happen. Which sex is doing the more meaningful steering?

There's nothing new about identifying the establishment of a long-term relationship as some kind of female win, or even evoking an image of the conquered man shackled. But now we are negating the notion that he wanted something different. This is what he wants, but he's in denial; he believes he just wants sex as often and as quickly and with as many women as he can. So in the Heterosexuality Game he's actually being set up to be brought down. A need for conquest, indeed!

Oh, did I ever mention that what I, as a male girl, want is that I not be deprived of the powers and privileges that female people have, both within sexual liaisons and within relationships, and during initial courting and flirting and negotiations for any and all of that to occur?

Self-identified real men may dissent.



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In my talks, such as the talk I gave last week in Manhattan, I mention Jeff. Jeff is a gay entertainer; he does a show at the microphone where he intersperses personal anecdotes with edgy humor. Jeff, like me, is and has always been a feminine person, more like one of the girls than like one of the boys. He talks about this at the microphone, about himself growing up in a small town in the midwest, about watching the ballerinas on TV and wanting to be graceful and elegant like that himself. "See, I knew even then", he says. "I was only about eight. Me and my sisters all wanted leotards and tutus."

It has become a subject on which one's politics may be assessed for correctness, this question of sexual orientation and gender identity, and we should all pause, as if for station identification, and make the ritual disclaimer that gender identity is an entirely different thing from sexual orientation. It is true. They are not two different ways of saying the same thing. They are different. You can vary either one without varying the other and you can have any combination of the two that you can conceivably imagine.

But, for Jeff, being feminine—being like his sisters—is not a different thing from being gay. When he is at the microphone describing his days in high school and his experiences coming out, he makes no distinction between things that happened the way they did because he was a feminine person and things that took place because he was attracted to other males. The people surrounding him, reacting to him, didn't make any such distinction because to them being a gay male and being a girlishly feminine male were not separate things, and nothing in Jeff's own personal experience gave him a lot of reason to need to make such a distinction either.

So discussing gender and sexual orientation as if they had NO EFFECT on each other seems to be an unnecessary and unproductive interpretation of the maxim that they aren't the same thing.

Let's be blunt, shall we? The historically prevailing counterposition has not merely been that they are basically the same thing, it is that they are the same thing and that thing is sexual orientation. The people who deny that gender identity is a separate thing are usually trying to claim that it all boils down to sexual orientation, that being differently gendered is just a batch of fancy-schmantzy word salad and that if you strip the fancy words away you've got straight people and gay folks, nothing else to see here.

And a lot of the politically correct restating-ad-infinitum of the fact that they aren't the same thing is basically a frustrated denial to that counterposition.

In this posting I'm going to upend both assertions. They're both oversimplifications and they're both wrong.

Chloe is another feminine person. She has a lot in common with Jeff and with me. She has a bit more in common with Jeff because she, too, has a same-sex attraction. She's a lesbian.

Not everyone accepts her word for it that she's a lesbian. A fair number of guys find her interesting and cute. She's a feminine female. They keep smiling at her when she thanks them for whatever complimentary things they've said but declines their requests and offers, explaining that she's a lesbian. They keep smiling and they keep making requests and offers.

That would be annoying enough but except when it verges into hostility and violence she doesn't particularly care what a bunch of guys think. If only that were all there were to it! But she also gets flack sometimes from women. She's been accused of playing at being a lesbian because it's edgy and trendy, and told that she's obviously keeping her options open. And once or twice she's been told that because she passes as straight, she's got it easy. And that she's not committed to the lifestyle. Chloe indicates that she is totally committed to living her life as a lesbian, it's who she is, she's known who she was attracted to since before she got her first period.

Chloe and I have some things in common that we don't share with Jeff. People have tended to question my sexual orientation, too. Neither of us fit the stereotypes for folks whose attraction is towards female people. We both have had people indicating that they know better, that they know how we really like it. Or how we'd really like it if the right male-bodied person gave us the right experiences.

Our gender expression affects perceptions of our sexual orientation. Since both gender and sexual orientation are social currency, things that we don't just hold in our heads but communicate to other people, other people's perception of us in these parameters is part of our identity, whether we like it or not. We can get good at filtering things out but it's part of our ongoing experience of who we are. And thus our gender expressions color our sexual orientations and vice versa.

Meanwhile, one of the most centrally social aspects of sexual orientation is the market of potential partners and how you find them, appeal to them, and position yourself to be perceived by them as a person of potential sexual interest. This is a severely underdiscussed aspect of sexual orientation. You know how the moon only presents one side to us in perpetuity? Well, this is the back side of sexual orientation that never seems to be facing us, that so seldom gets discussed: not OUR appetite but the appetites of those we wish to find us appetizing, the attractions of the people to whom we find ourselves attracted. Obviously in a perfect (and ego-gratifying) world there would be complete overlap but in reality we seek not only those to whom we are sexually oriented and specifically attracted but also those who are sexually oriented to our type and specifically attracted to us in return.

As I also tend to mention in my presentation talks, OKCupid now allows a person to identify their own gender not merely as man or woman, but lets us pick from a long long list. But then you get to the screen where you specify which searches your profile will be included in and THOSE are still confined to searches for men, searches for women, or both. And for your own searches you can indicate that you're interested in men, interested in women, or both.

Nowadays, the list of personal gender identities that people may use for themselves is pretty long: man, woman, male, female, agender, demiboy, demigirl, female man, male woman, neutrois, genderfluid between man and woman, genderfluid between agender and demigirl, genderfluid between boy and demiboy, girl, boy, male girl, female boy, bigender, trigender, gender invert, genderfuck, genderfluid between neutrois and female boy, butch, femme, demibutch, demifemme, pangender, nelly, bear, twink...

How do those gender identities come into play when it comes to finding someone who would be attracted to you?

Concepts of sexual orientation lag behind the array of gender identities; it still assumes that people have a sexual orientation that would fall neatly into a very small and finite set of options: heterosexual, gay/lesbian, or bisexual. Heterosexual means that one is attracted to "THE opposite sex". If a person identifies as being a demigirl, what is "the opposite sex"?

Admittedly, that last question elides any distinction between gender and sex; these identities are genders, we said. But that raises the next box of questions: is sexual orientation generally an attraction on the basis of morphological sex, or is attraction more often by gender?

Gender, as we've come to collectively acknowledge, is one's self-assigned / self-verified identity. But attraction is in the eyes of the beholder, so (as if things weren't already sufficiently complicated) we should now perhaps distinguish between self-assigned gender and observer-assigned gender. At least long enough to consider the previous question of whether sexual orientation is actually gender orientation or if it's mostly about morphology and bodily plumbing.

There's more than a faint whiff of evidence that it is the latter, that what we typically conceptualize as sexual orientation is a fascination for a specific set of body parts and shapes. But there's less there than many folks think there is, because when making such considerations most folks (especially the more mainstream, those who would most likely identify as heterosexual) are once again subsuming gender into sex. In other words those who think of themselves as attracted to male-bodied people on the basis of them having male morphology are quite often also projecting onto those male bodies the expectation of a manly gender. Switch in in Jeff, or me, and they may wrinkle their noses in disapproval. Similarly, those who conceptualize themselves as having a thing for the female-bodied might back away if the example offered were a stone butch who was less feminine than they were. Not always, but I'm suggesting it's a counterbalancing trend that offsets the baseline morphological attraction.

So sexual orientation is also not just an attraction to someone with a specific physical morphology. Even though physical morphology would appear to be far from irrelevant.

Back to our hypothetical demigirl. She (or they, if they prefer) would, if being specific in looking for those most likely to find them sexy and desirable, want to find those people who are, a), sexy to them and b) attracted to demigirls. It might be the case that finding people who are attracted to girls in general, or to female people in general, would be sufficient for the latter specification... but it might not be. It depends on whether a generic taste for girls, or female-bodied folk, would have sufficient overlap. If it kind of tends NOT to, positioning herself to be perceived on the market as a girl (and/or female person) would just waste a lot of her time.

I know of whence I speak. I am a gender invert and I am a male-bodied girl. I present as male. (I do make some effort to present as a male-bodied feminine person, but I don't as of yet enjoy a surrounding cultural notion of what a male girl would look like). I have dated, and in fact I will confess that I probably put more time and energy between the ages of 16 and 41 into seeking potential partners than I spent on being a gender activist. I discovered early on that it simply did not work for me to position myself as a male, and there was no non-problematic way to position myself simply as a girl, either, insofar as I was male-bodied. I was still a virgin when I first realized I needed to position myself and advertise myself as a differently gendered individual, in order to meet people who would find that unconventional package intriguing and attractive. And it worked.

So, in short, rather than gender identity being something that collapses down into just sexual orientation if you stare at it hard enough and don't buy into a bunch of doubletalk bullshit, it's the other way around: sexual orientation is a subset of gender identity. In simple cases it may not be necessary to invoke one's gender identity to explain one's sexual orientation, but that's due to the things people can be counted on to take for granted. For the rest of us, to express our sexual orientation we needed to first explain our gender identity.

And to use that explanation as a mating call.

Yes, oh yes indeed. It's not the only area of life in which being perceived as the gender we perceive ourselves to be makes any difference. But sexuality is a central part of life. Of course it is. Of course it is a big part of why.

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I finally had an opportunity to present my talk to an LGBT organization on February 23!

I gave what was essentially the same lecture I previously presented at LIFE in Nassau, Baltimore Playhouse, and EPIC, although revamped and tailored quite a bit for the different audience. The group was the "20-somethings" group that meets at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan. Their meetings have usually been social without formal programming but lately they've moved towards booking some content to stimulate discussion, and I was one of their first guests.

It represents a favorable turnaround in outcomes for me from my efforts of 16 months ago when I was politely turned down by the folks at the Nassau County GLBT organization. I blogged about that at the time: Eye Opener

I had also approached Identity House, a direct affiliate of the Community Center where I presented last Thursday, and they had expressed no more interest or encouragement than the Nassau County group.

The main factor that seems to have shifted the outcome in my favor this time was my publicist, John Sherman. Firstly, because I think it's just a lot more effective when you have someone else touting your qualifications than when you're doing self-promotion. Secondly, because he's a professional, it's what he does for a living and he's good at it. He conveyed to them what I did not successfully manage to do, that I had content that was different and relevant and that I was qualified to do such a presentation and would be good at it.

To recap, here's how I ended up with a publicist: I had been playing with the idea that I should get a publicist because many literary agents, in the process of turning down my book, said my writing was good but that I had no "platform", no already-established reputation as a theorist or speaker or activist in the field that would cause people to think I had qualifications to write such a book. But it remained just a notion that I thought about sometimes. Then Ellora's Cave indicated that they wanted to publish me. Ellora's Cave would get my book into print but they were a small press and were not equipped to publicize their authors, so that would be my responsibility. So I retained the services of John Sherman Associates. Then Ellora's Cave went out of business and I no longer had a forthcoming book but I had a publicist. It did occur to me to see if I could negotiate a change of contract with him, but given my prior notion of having a publicist to help me get more exposure, I decided to just go with it, and I'm glad that I did.

It went well. I led off with an intro of myself as a person who had come out as genderqueer in 1980, then quipped that I knew there were people who missed the days when the acronym, "LGBT", had still been short enough to fit on a t shirt, and identified myself as one of the culprits responsible for adding extra letters and making it more complicated.

I talked about how I had not taken it for granted, and still don't, really, that folks in the LGBT community would welcome me and consider me to belong there. I'm a male-bodied person, I present as male, and I am attracted to female-bodied people. Certainly in the early 1980s I had not had a lot of confidence that gay and lesbian people would think of me as other than a straight interloper or a confused individual or a repressed gay guy lurking but not really out yet or something. But that nevertheless I had been welcomed warmly, if not immediately understood. The prevailing attitude had been "if you think this is where you belong, you belong here".

Indeed, I don't identify as straight. STRAIGHT, by definition, means that one is normative, that one has the default identity. Straight people do not need to come out. I found it necessary to come out. Ergo, not straight.

Heterosexuality is gendered. Not merely sexed (such that it concerns male-bodied people getting it on, or having an interest in getting it on, with female-bodied people and vice versa), but gendered. This wasn't a distinction blatantly obvious to me any more than to anyone else, but gradually as I grew into early adulthood I saw the pattern. It is most discernably manifest in the advice generally given to boys and young men who complain of no success in dating and finding a girlfriend — that they should be pushier, act more confident; that they should be sure not to display feminine traits, because feminine males get treated like friends instead of potential bedmates; that nice guys get left out because they didn't try anything; that the sexually successful guys are the ones who ask the girls, who take the initiative to make things happen.

In other words, the male and the female in heterosexuality play different roles, and are expected to, and not just roles in the sense of behavior but as expressions of specific personality traits — aggressively confident and sexually forward for the male, and reactive and sexually reticent for the female.

It was the realization that who I was as a person clashed rather badly with the profile of personality traits meshed into the male role for heterosexuality that made me aware of being different in a significant way. If it weren't for that, I would have probably thought of myself as a more or less ordinary guy who happened to be more like girls in various ways, but still fundamentally a guy, not someone with a different gender identity.

I had an audience of about 25 people, a fairly diverse mix. They listened attentively and very quietly and I held their focus easily. I didn't get a lot of official questions at the end, just a few, but people came up to me afterwards both there as we milled around afterwards and at Stonewall Inn where we adjourned to hang out for awhile. In general they said they embraced the larger inclusive group identity as LGBTQ but mostly they knew about lesbian and gay experiences, a bit about bisexual and mainstream transgender issues, but had known virtually nothing about what being genderqueer was like or what the relevant social concerns were, and they felt that they had learned a lot from my presentation.

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