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The following is a letter sent to Newsday in response to their printing of op ed article "The Myth of Gender-Neutral Parenting", available here. Newsday declined to print this letter.




Neuroscientist Debra Soh does a disservice to gender-variant people and to parents attempting gender-neutral childrearing ("The myth of gender-neutral parenting", NEWSDAY 2/5/2017, page A 30).

Imagine, if you will, that you have a mango snowcone in one hand and a mint snowcone in the other. Hurl the mango snowcone at the nearest wall from a distance of 5 feet. You get a massive splatter of orange ice a couple feet in diameter. Now hurl the mint snowcone, aiming about 6 inches to the right of where you threw the mango cone, and now you have a second large splatter that substantially overlaps the first one but skews to the right.

THAT is what neuroscience tells us about gender: that there are differences between males and females, but that there is more variation within each population than there is on average between the two populations, and that there is a lot of overlap.

I myself am a gender-variant person, the equivalent of a spot of mango ice over in the portion of the wall primarily occupied by mint green ice-flecks. No different or unusual process caused that ice fleck to be there — ordinary geometry says that any time you have this kind of distribution pattern, with a wide spread within each group and overlaps between the two groups, you are, BY DEFINITION, going to have such points.

The purpose of gender-neutral parenting is not to impose some kind of forced androgyny on children but rather to step back from gender prescriptivism, the belief that males who are not masculine and females who are not feminine are wrong, inappropriate, and not to be approved of.

A typically masculine male child would have no more reason to feel uncomfortable in a gender-neutral environment than a feminine male child like me would. Nothing bad is going to happen to him if he isn't getting his self-expression bolstered with constant messages saying that males are expected to be masculine, as long as he's supported in his self-expression.

The converse is not true. The atypically gendered child has historically experienced the world as a hostile place, because we are perpetually confronted with the message that not only are the majority of the people of our biological sex configured with a different set of personality characteristics, behaviors, priorities, and nuances, but that ours is wrong and that we should not self-express but instead should try to tuck our odd corners out of sight in shame and embarrassment.

If gender-neutral parenting is a threat to a typically gendered child's potential, the typically gendered person must be a fragile hothouse flower indeed.

———


Allan Hunter, author of THE STORY OF Q: A GENDERQUEER TALE, is a gender invert, a genderqueer activist; he presents gender theory and leads discussion groups in university women's and gender studies courses and addresses LGBTQ groups.



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ahunter3: (Default)
"So", says a friend of mine who has a FetLife account, "I gather that there are specific different sexual activities that are part of what you call being a gender invert. Yeah, I know there's probably more to your gender identity thing than how you like to get it on, but essentially you're saying you want to be the girl and your female partner be the boy, right? So how is that different from female dominant and male submissive play in the kink world? Because that's out there. You can find that for sure."

Good question. I have in fact approached it from that angle. Be kind of silly not to.

I don't consider my gender identity to be a sexual perversion, and like many other people in the LGBTQ world I have resented any inclination to treat my difference as a sickness, deviance, depravity, a twisted distortion of natural sexual and gender expression, you know?

But the kink world is inhabited by people whose attitude is generally "Oh, they call you a pervert? Well, welcome, we're all perverts in here, you can't freak us out and we're tolerant about everything as long as it's consensual. And we like to talk about it and learn stuff from each other". So, again like many other people in the LGBTQ categories, I have found the kink world to be a warmer and better listening social space than society at large tends to be.

So, yes. Fetlife has Groups, much like Facebook does, and in the group titled GenderQueer I created a thread titled "YOU be the boy and let ME be the girl..." and wrote up a description and asked who else considered their genderqueerness to include or consist of that. Didn't get many responses but it may have been a victim of bad timing (I posted it during the holidays). FetLife also has lists of Fetishes which are more like interests you can associate your profile with rather than groups you join, and I may try listing this as a Fetish.

I am surprised that it isn't more openly and commonly embraced as a specific kink, sure enough. That, specifically that: female people who want to be the boy and male people who want to be the girl, connecting for that purpose.

But oh yes there are indeed fem doms available for liaisons with subby males and whoo boy is there ever a market for them! I have a partner I've been involved with for seven years who identifies as a switch (meaning she can relate to people as either a dominant or as a submissive), as do I. She also has a FetLife account. The correspondence she tends to get the most of is a never-ending series of males asking if she will top them for a play session or two, or would be open to taking them on as a submissive. Even guys who list themselves as dominants have written to say that they want to experience subbing to a dominant woman!




Eventually one wonders if we mean the same things when we throw terms and phrases out there. We don't always. I've found that people misconstrue me both within and outside the various specialized communities of kink and LGBTQ people, and I've enthusiastically jumped into groups and conversations only to find out that I've misconstrued what others meant, as well.

A straight (non-LGBTQ / non-kink) message board I'm a regular on is popular enough to have a shadow board or two where people post to make fun of some of the more pretentious posters and sillier posts on the main board. Being a pretentiously self-important type myself, I sometimes get targeted. When I once posted that my partner tops me, and that her topping me is a specific characteristic of our relationship, some folks on a shadow board said they needed brain bleach and said it was more information than they wanted to know. Reading on, and reading between the lines a bit, I finally realized they probably thought she was donning a strap-on and having anal sex with me. In other words, that that's what topping meant to them, being the penetrator.

People in the audience of a discussion I was leading asked questions about posture and back problems that eventually led me to realize they assumed that in any such relationship the woman was always on top, straddling him. That does make a certain amount of sense, topping meaning to be on top, I suppose. And implicit within that, that to be on top is to dominate and control the sexual experience.

Back in 1991-1992, when my academic journal article "Same Door Different Closet" was being peer-reviewed prior to publication, one of the reviewers asked me to be more explicit within the article about whether I was suggesting that such relationships would never involve penis-in-vagina sex, apparently under the Dworkinesque assumption that PIV sex is incompatible with anything but male dominance.

The kink community has Groups and Fetish interests with "sissy" in the title, and since one of my many forays into self-labeling was to call myself a sissy and to speak of sissyhood, I dove in and got into conversations with the sissy males of the fetish community. What I found was that most of the participants get an emotional and erotic charge from being feminized by their fem dom mistresses. "She made me wear panties to the office and when I got home she made me wear a frilly French maid apron and skirt, it was SO hotttt!" For most of them there is a distinct erotic element of humiliation. Some of the humiliation comes from being feminized as a startling violation of their normative male persona, being made to wear feminine apparel. Some comes from the power difference associated with the gender difference: she humiliates him by making him her bitch, underlining his demotion in power and her dominance of him by placing him in a girl position.

The kink community also has the generic D/s relationship in which the dominant happens to be female, and the submissive, male; and as I said before, there's sort of a waiting list for males who wish to sub, a lot of demand for female doms. What is eroticized here, as with the more common male dom / female sub relationship, is the power imbalance, of controlling or being controlled, and also of serving or of being served. The BDSM community has an intensified version of that as well, the master-slave relationship. Although all of this takes place in the larger context of consensual arrangements and consensual play between competent adult people, what is being played WITH is the erotic possibilities of power inequality, of one person taking license to do unto another and the other person being done unto.

All of these varying interpretations of gender inversion have left me repeating my usual refrain: "that's not it; that's still not it".

What I seek from "YOU be the boy and let ME be the girl" isn't humiliation or the shock of sudden power-relationship inversion, and it isn't the eroticization of atypical power imbalance either. I have always been, and am always, a girlish person and I don't find it in any shape way fashion or form LESS THAN. I'm proud of it. I respect girls and women and don't consider THEM lesser, quite the contrary. I am mostly a very egalitarian person, and ponderously serious about it for the most part. Power between the sexes is complicated and multifaceted, but when I contemplate being with female people and I wish for equality, the form that that wish takes is most centrally the wish 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. There are other powers that the male person generally tends to have in all of these contexts, so don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the female role is the one in which all power is secretly vested despite all myths to the contrary. What I will say is that the specific set that DO generally get vested in and as part of the female role are the ones most appealing to me, and which fit my personality.

As I said in passing, I identify in the kink world as a switch. Similarly, in the universe of courting and dating and flirting and coupling and conducting an ongoing relationship, I do not require that I get to be "the girl", I'm willing to do egalitarian arrangements in which we take turns, or conduct ourselves as "two girls involved with each other". What I don't want to be is "the boy" in any of those scenarios.


"You can't seduce the willing; that's why women with the inclination to do what you're talking about don't pursue men to do it with", say some. "I understand what you want, but I don't see how you're going to find people to chase you by running away from them", say others.

The kink-world appears to be an exceptional preserve, a land of explicit negotiations where atypical is, by definition, normative, and where anything (at least anything ultimately consensual) goes. But while there is a plentitude of male people identifying as submissives (many of them adorned with collars and others aspiring to being collared), there is a dearth of sightings of male submissives being pounced upon by sexually aggressive female dominants.

When males in the kink world indicate that they are feminines or embrace a girl role, they seldom mean that they view themselves as more invested in the desire to form an ongoing relationship than in immediate eroticism. They seldom mean that their interaction with interested women (and/or female people otherwise gendered) is primarily reactive and responsive to expressions of interest by the other party — hence the constant mating calls of "do me" submissive males offering themselves hopefully to female dominants. They do not typically consider themselves in any way less the origin of carnality and explicit sexual desires than those they expect to become involved with, hence their often extremely specific requests for what activities they hope to experience ("you use a whip on me and make me beg... you sit on a chair and make me lick you until you come...you step on me with high heels and grind the heel points into me and call me pathetic", etc etc).

As my beforementioned partner has often written back or said to subby guys at parties, "I'm the dom. It's not about what YOU want if I'm the dom. I get to decide what I want to do to you."


In the long run, too much of what I'm about and what I'm after in life as a gender invert doesn't easily detach, as an isolated erotic activity, from my desire to be understood as this sort of person who is like this 24 x 7 and not just in the dungeon or between the bedroom sheets. That still doesn't rule out the kink community or its events as opportunities to meet relevant people, but the kinky world is still pretty gender-typical and its definition of what is sex and what is erotic is drawn mostly from conventional male-sexuality notions of sex, and it's not quite a refuge for the gender inverted.

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ahunter3: (Default)
In my Jan 16 blog-entry ("The Limits of Radical Androgyny") I promised to cycle back to an interesting subset of people in society, the folks who dissent from what we gender activists say — but not for the usual reasons. Instead, these are the ones who say that of course gender variance should be socially acceptable, but they claim that they don't see any sign that it isn't now or hasn't been so, and that we make mountains out of molehills, that there's just no social problem there to speak of.

Oh, if you give examples, they may concede that there some background attitude that we have to contend with, but they'll say it's no worse than, say, the pressure on people to be right-handed. Easy to ignore.

I'll have to admit I've often found such folks frustrating to deal with. What's up with these infuriating people, who say that the social forces we've struggled against all our lives are no big deal? In contrast, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the mindset of the conservative gender-orthodox, the unapologetic prescriptivists with all their fears of horrible things happening if we don't maintain and shore up gender norms and keep men men and women women and so on.

Well, after listening to some of the dismissive people over the course of 35 years of gender activism, I think I've noticed some patterns that may help to explain them a bit, although, as ever, these are reductive generalizations that may not apply to everyone.


PATTERN ONE: Defensive Denial

I've never been in the military and have not spent much time being shot at, but I am told that if you are part of a combat detail and have to attain some objective while people are shooting at you, the best thing to do is to tune it out as best you can and do whatever tasks you have to do with your full attention on them.

In graduate school, my friend Vivian spoke once about crossing a dark campus parking lot at night and how no one ever bothers her the way many female students reported being accosted and harassed. She doesn't move the way a person moves when they are wary and worried about something happening; she moves with complete self-assured confidence, a middle-aged butch lesbian that nobody is going to mess with. Of course, being a middle-aged butch lesbian is no guarantee against unwanted creepy attention in a parking lot, but because her image of herself is so thoroughly that of a no-nonsense person who would not tolerate such things, she broadcasts that self-image, it is manifest in the way she walks, the way she looks at people, the way she holds bags and car keys and so on.

I've deployed a similar technique in a different setting myself, especially in my younger and more volatile days. I would be determined to sit across from some damn school official or organizational bureaucrat and have a conversation, and I discovered fairly early on that if I presented myself to the receptionist and waited to be given permission to go on back, I'd be waiting a long time or would be told that the person in question was not willing or interested in meeting with me. But if I strode past as if I worked there myself and was very busy with whatever mission-task occupied my attention, that would often work to get me past the gatekeeper and would nearly always suffice once I was in the corridors I didn't properly belong in. There is a lot of authority conveyed simply by acting like you know what you're doing and that you belong where you're at.

This is all defensive denial, in various forms. The tricky part can be remaining aware on a detached intellectual level that the risk really does exist, but without dwelling on it and becoming functionally aware of it.

Gender socialization pressures are abstract and complex, and for all of us they are a constant unmitigated backdrop. Defensive denial, which is a great coping mechanism especially for anyone who is somewhat gender-atypical, can become an unconscious habit that I think some people engage in without any awareness, a sort of second-tier defensive denial in which it erases its own tracks from the mind.


PATTERN TWO: Signal Lost Amidst the Noise

If you step out your front door tomorrow morning and find yourself face to face with a grizzly bear, you may make a number of pertinent observations in the first couple moments, but none of them is likely to be the bear's sex.

That's a facile example, in large part because we aren't sexually turned on by bears. Well most of us aren't. At least not actual genuine non-human ursine bears at any rate. We take notice of each other's sex and make a big deal of it in our heads, generally speaking, because sexuality and sexual attraction is a big deal to us, and, for most people's sexuality, the sex of other people is a highly relevant consideration.

But to a less extreme degree, a person who tends to tick off other people's awareness of oddity and atypicality in assorted other ways may have an effect on them where they don't notice or care that that person is also gender atypical. There are many patterns of expected behavior, especially socially interactive behavior, and one interesting effect of being in violation of one or more of those expected patterns is that observers, having already seen and assessed the individual as peculiar in this way and perhaps that other way, take less notice of yet more departures from normative patterns. Or they conflate them into their mental impression of that person's already-perceived oddities.

A person from a foreign culture that isn't often encountered in some environment is seen as foreign and exotic; if that person is also exhibiting atypical gender behavior, the atypical gender behavior is often perceived as part of that person's foreign exotic ways and not as a phenomenon unto itself.

So such a person — a person who is experienced by others as atypical in a variety of other ways — may indeed not experience much social pressure about conforming to gender norms.


PATTERN THREE: Obsequious Denial

Some people who cave to social pressures to be a certain way pretend to themselves and to others that they have not, in fact, allowed social pressures dictate to them how they should be, and then deny that the social pressures amount to much of anything, since by denying the latter they can more easily deny the former as well.

This is also a pattern I've seen from time to time. A resident of the Bible Belt attends church despite having been an agnostic before moving there, and denies having been made to feel that they won't be accepted among their work colleagues and that the neighbor's kids won't be allowed to socialize with his children. He has some reason or rationale for why he has decided to go to church on Sundays, but it isn't social pressure, nope, haven't experienced any of that down here, really. I could stay at home and work on my lawn or watch TV, nothing to prevent me from doing so, I just decided it's kind of peaceful to get away from my daily routine and the stained glass windows are pretty...

When it comes to gender variance, the people I've seen evincing this behavior are most often folks who aren't very far-flung from the official gender norm for their sex, just variant enough that they may have to conform a bit more than they wish to in order to be spared the remarks and glances and other reactions that gender-variant behavior tends to elicit.

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ahunter3: (Default)
So I was examining all my previous blog posts the other day, to see how often and in what detail I had blogged about the psychiatric system and being a psychiatric survivor, and found to my surprise that I haven't really covered any of that.

Which, to those who know me from the message boards I frequent, must be sort of like hearing from Al Sharpton that he blogged for two years and somehow never got around to discussing racial oppression and race relations in America. I mean, psychiatric oppression is notoriously one of my "climb up on soapbox" issues.

Maybe, possibly, I was disinclined to spoiler my own book. For those of you who read last week's blog entry about my transformative event listening to Pink Floyd? Well, the immediate fallout was that I tried to come out on campus as a different gender and sexual orientation; and the fallout from that, 3 months in, was being asked by my dormitory resident advisor to get some kind of bill of good health from the mental health clinicians across the street. And when I attempted to cooperate with that I found myself on a locked ward, treated like someone for whom a lack of coherent mind had already been established. And yes, it's an important axis around which the final section of the plot of the book revolves. But I don't have to reiterate the narrative that's in the book. I have other interests in writing about it.

When the request was made of me by the RA, I didn't find it surprising. I was a young college student who was talking to a lot of people about gender and sexuality. If I had been a person who seemed obsessed with anything that constituted a set of unusual and new ideas, there would have been the possibility that folks would think I was crazy, but ever so much more so when the obsession-topic was so directly focused on SEX, right? Thanks to Sigmund Freud, we're all very much exposed to the notion that disturbances of mind come from disturbances of a sexual nature. If we tend to think that some middle-aged guy who liquidates his retirement fund to buy an expensive red sports car is expressing some sexual insecurity, isn't that an even more likely armchair diagnosis when some college student starts risking social standing to tell people he's really a girl and that neither the assumptions normally attached to guys nor the assumptions normally attached to effeminate guys are appropriate?

Yeah, I was totally not surprised that there was a reaction basically amounting to "maybe you're not OK in the head and should talk to a shrink about this".

And reciprocally, I knew from my own firsthand experience that before I had a clear healthy understanding of my identity, I'd found the whole subject matter of sexual identity and gender to be emotionally threatening. I'd been squirmy and uncomfortable about it even while I was obsessing about it all the previous semester, trying to figure myself out. So from the outside, yeah, sure, it seemed reasonable that my current excitement and inclination to start talking with a lot of intensity about this stuff could be perceived as a kind of acting out of unresolved tensions and worried uncertainties. The fact that I now felt I was in possession of important answers rather than haunted by disturbing questions didn't change the fact that the subject matter was a sort of ground zero for emotional and cognitive stability issues.

As it turns out, approximately two years AFTER this, long after I'd successfully pried myself loose from the university's affiliated psychiatric system and gone on my way and had begun composing my first serious effort to write and publish a book about my gender identity, I found myself seriously craving something akin to a consciousness-raising group, some sort of sharing and counseling experience from which I could hone my ability to express what I was trying to express and get some feedback from other people on what I was trying to say... and let myself be talked into checking myself in to another such institution. Yeah... fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on ME, highly embarrassing, but yeah...

Whereas the first institution was an old-fashioned central-casting loony bin, with us patients mostly padding around between TV sets, cafeteria, domino games, and an occasional session of "occupational therapy" doing arts and crafts stuff, interspersed with being shoved into seclusion and tied down and shot up with thorazine and all that, the second institution was new and shiny and ostensibly modern in approach and attitude. "The staff all wear street clothes and so do the patients. No bars in the windows, it's more like staying at a hotel. And they won't try to put you on medication, they don't believe in that approach, instead there will be biofeedback and dramatic role play. And the patients all participate in each other's therapy. Everyone is here to work on their own shit. Not at all like that snake pit you were in before".

Yeah. Right. Oh yes, the staff did all wear street clothes but unlike us they had keys to the locked doors. No bars on the windows, to be sure, but the screens were made of heavy metal mesh that created a barrier you weren't getting past without some industrial-strength cutting tools.

And, yes, patients "participated in each other's therapy", all right. Here's how that worked: when you first came in you were assigned to a social status called "level 4". To eventually get out, you have to be gradually promoted to "level 1", and at each level-promoting opportunity all the patients on the ward gave feedback but the final decision-making authority lay with the psychiatrist running the place. One of the behaviors for which you would be evaluated was the kind of feedback you provided about other patients' progress. Making and expressing your own observations that coincided with the opinions of the staff would definitely work in your favor; expressing attitudes or perspectives that did not coincide with those of the treatment team, on the other hand, could work against you. In short, the psychiatrist operating the facility was manipulating the entire social environment, controlling what positive feedback and what negative feedback each patient would receive, and making it so that the institutional message was being effectively echoed by all the other patients, by penalizing them if they did not participate in that fashion.

They didn't much appreciate it when I analyzed all of the above, pointed it out and designated it as a reward-and-punishment behavior-modification tank, a Skinner box. They invented a new social status for me alone, effectively a "level 5", removing from me some of the privileges I'd originally had upon my first arrival.

Oh, and it was largely true that they did not believe in medications. They were achieving their results without them, mostly. Not so much in my case, though, so I was eventually told that I would need to start taking a drug called Navane. I took that as my cue that it was time for me to leave. Using a table knife from the cafeteria, I took out the screws attaching a retaining slide lock from one side of a set of double doors, then escaped through the gap between the doors despite the chain looped around the handles. Hitched out of the state and haven't been tempted to place myself in psychiatric custody at any time since.



Psychiatric diagnostic labeling has political significant for gender activists in particular, and I think everyone in this movement should take note of these things:

Delegitimizing — Any time a person's behavior is attributed to their disturbed mental condition, that is code for "you can ignore what they're actually saying because it doesn't make sense and there's another, more hidden, reason for why they're saying it that's different from their stated concerns and objectives".

Usually this is couched as an act of kindness — instead of seeing yon person as a destructive maniac doing horrible things, please see that person instead as acting that way because their brain is misbehaving and don't hold it against them; and if they express hateful wrathful attitudes or creepy desires and intentions, don't take it as face value that they really feel that way and really want to do those things, there are underlying reasons causing them to "act out" like that.

But if you start with the assumption that the person in question is expressing exactly what they intend to express, it is obvious that regarding them as impaired in this fashion has the effect of discounting and disregarding them. And if you then coat that very political act in the drape of kindness, it doesn't appear to be a hostile act and those who engage in it need not feel guilt or share for having silenced someone's voice.

Depoliticizing — It is normal and natural that a person who has been made to feel marginalized, marked as inferior and different, oppressed, subjected to hostility and violence because of the category they are perceived by others to be in, and so on, feels painful emotions as a consequence and has a mind plagued by self-blame and self-doubts and other recurrent cognitive content of that ilk. That is the essence of what it means to be a victim of such social processes, that it gets inside your own head. Psychiatry and the surrounding penumbra of "mental health" counseling services often focus on the victim and the victim's thoughts and feelings, to attempt to provide ameliorative and supportive services. Doing so, by itself, though, identifies the problem as being located in the victim.

A political approach to marginalization and oppression and such categorical social exclusions is to identify the problem as being located NOT in the victim, at least not in the primary original-causal sense, but instead being located in SOCIETY which has done them wrong.

Even the therapeutic act of talking about what one has been through and processing one's feelings and thoughts can, and should, be political. It is important for victims to see the experiences they have been through as due to an ongoing social phenomenon in need of fixing. If this perception does not take place properly, the victim typically continues to blame themselves, for having reacted as they did emotionally.

Carol Hanisch wrote the quintessential article on the subject, "The Personal is Political", back in 1970, published in both The Radical Therapist and in Notes From the Second Year, the first being a compendium of writings about psychiatric liberation and the second being a compendium of writings about women's liberation, thus underlining the connection between gender activism and a radical questioning of psychiatric practice.


Gatekeeping — For transgender and intersex people in particular, another issue of concern is the role of the psychiatric establishment in disbursing available medical treatment. Hormones and surgery that are desired by a person in order to allow them to perceive and to have others perceive their body as their gender identity and sense of ideal bodily integrity require are quite often restricted to those who have been deemed appropriate for those treatments by a psychiatrist.

At a time when a person is in the most intimate and personal portions of the process of defining themselves to themselves and to the world around them, they are put in a position of having to entertain and engage with someone else's notions of acceptable identities and appropriately gendered behaviors. Persons seeking surgery or hormonal intervention that would typically make it more likely that they will be perceived as female people often have to adopt the most ridiculously pink Barbie doll mannerisms and express the corresponding priorities and interests or else risk being deemed an inappropriate candidate for the medical services they seek; likewise for individuals seeking medical interventions that are socially associated with being perceived as a male person — anything deviating from the most narrowly constrained uptight masculine in activities and interests, gestures and thinking patterns, can cause a psychiatric professional to withhold access to the sought-after procedures.


Pigeonhole-Defining — The psychiatric profession is not ignoring the phenomenon of people claiming variant gender identities. New terminologies have appeared within the psychiatric lexicon over the course of years, phrases such as "gender dysphoria" and so on. And in all fairness, not every recognition of a gender-variant identity is necessarily infused with the stigma of being considered a mental disorder, although they've certainly done their share of providing us with that kind of recognition.

They do, however, tend towards a kind of thinking in which there are a finite set of phenomena and each legitimate phenomenon is accorded an official name and often some theories about causality, even where pathology isn't being evoked. In the case of transgender people, for example, they have largely come to the point of believing that such people exist (as opposed to believing that someone who thinks of themselves in those terms has a mental disorder, which is certainly progress). Some of them believe that the phenomenon of transgender people is always caused by a biological built-in difference in the brain. Many of them harbor the expectation, consciously or not, that normal transgender people are exclusively heterosexual, do not deviate from the sex role of the gender to which they are transitioning, that they all do wish to transition, and that any ambiguity or multivariate expression of gender indicates that the person has not properly adjusted or perhaps is not genuinely a transgender person in the first place.

It's a very different mindset than one that says gender is mostly a social contrivance and that, as such, there are an infinite number of healthy ways to self-perceive and to socially present as a gendered person. The latter is about freedom and the authenticity of one's own representation of gender identity; the former is about slotting every person into a finite number of officially legitimated category-boxes.

To the extent that they've promoted this kind of thinking within the LGBTQ+ community itself, they've contributed to an environment where young people, in particular, think in terms of there being a specific and limited number of possible legitimate genders, and that it is their task to worry about which one they really are.

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ahunter3: (Default)
"Dear Mr. Hunter", read the email message.

"Please find attached our agreement for your use of “In The Flesh?”. At your convenience, please forward a countersigned copy to my attention via email..."


And in the attached agreement, these terms:

> 1. We hereby grant you the non-exclusive right to reprint a
> lyric excerpt, at your sole expense and cost, throughout the
> United States and Canada, in and as part of the publication
> hereinafter referred to, from the following musical composition:
> “In The Flesh?” (the “Composition”).
>
> 2. The publication covered shall be: The Story of Q: A
> GenderQueer Tale by Allan Hunter (the "Publication").
>
> 3. The lyrics reprinted shall be as follows: “Are there any
> queers in the theatre tonight? Get them up against the wall.
> There’s one there in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me,
> get him up against the wall.” ...
>
> The title, writer credits and copyright notice should appear on
> the acknowledgment page exactly as follows:
>
> In The Flesh? Words and Music by Roger Waters Copyright (c) 1979
> Roger Waters Music Overseas Ltd. All Rights Administered by BMG
> Rights Management (US) LLC All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
> Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard LLC


It's finally official!

I blogged previously about the backstory on obtaining this permission. Today I thought I'd write about the backstory on why I'm quoting Pink Floyd in my book in the first place.



For me, realizing that I had a different gender identity than most of the people around me wasn't a sudden all-in-one-moment burst of self-awareness, like a light bulb switching on. But it also wasn't entirely not like that either. What happened for me was that I thought more and more about how I was a lot more like a girl than I was like a boy, but I didn't know where to go with that line of thought. I'd obsess about it for a while and then I'd slam the door on those ideas, feeling very uncomfortable with it all. And then later on in the week I'd start obsessing about it all over again.

And when I wasn't obsessing about it, I continued to hold on to other perceptions of myself. So I had different notions about my identity that were in play within my mind all within the same time frame, in parallel.

I suspect that's how identity works for most people. You have inside your head your everyday image of yourself, how you've thought of yourself for some time, and you don't toss that out the window first and then consider a new one, but rather instead you entertain the new notion a bit, see how it fits, and maybe if it fits well you embrace it more and more and you think of yourself in the old terms less and less. I've heard people describe changes such as their journey from being a Christian believer brought up in the church to being an atheist (or, for that matter, vice versa) as being like that.

And for myself, I'd been through this kind of sea change once before. In elementary school and on up through the middle of junior high, I had consistently thought of myself as allied with the girls, despite being a male person in body, and one component of this shared sense of self was my belief in the authorities — teachers, parents, the adult world. The world that tended to approve of good behavior, good grades, attempts on children's part to be good citizens. Yet by the time I graduated from high school I had changed sides and was anti-establishment, a rebel-hippie, an anti-authoritarian and a social-activist wannabe. And that self-image, of myself as part of that particular mold, that self-image was largely distilled from male role models. The peace-and-love flower-child component of that model of masculinity, as well as the easy and free anti-coercive "do your own thing, do it if it feels good, don't be trying to be The Man and laying heavy head trips on folks and bossing them around", all that stuff, painted an alternative masculinity that for the first time in my life didn't strike me as toxic. And meanwhile as I'd gotten older I'd seen the feet of clay of the adult authorities I had formerly admired and emulated.

It wasn't an overnight change. I oscillated and my attitude and mood varied, but over time I set aside my faith in the establishment (and in particular my faith that the authorities would protect me from bullying and make it safe for me to be myself) and instead came to see authority and coercive enforcement as just another form of bullying. I didn't directly perceive myself as shifting my gender identity, but the flower-child hippie model of maleness did happen to include a general aura of being sexually active and having girlfriends, whereas I had no working model for how to continue to be one of the girls and also to have sexually active relationships with girlfriends.


Years later, that was all unravelling in my head, and I was increasingly conscious that for most of my early life I had thought of myself in girl terms, emulating girls, admiring girls, incorporating girls' values, seeing them as people like myself. And that others had similarly seen me as girlish and had reacted to me as such. And, furthermore, that beneath the veneer of "flower child", the countercultural male model I'd been trying to inhabit was still too immersed in aggressive and confrontational dynamics, power games, and, in particular, sexually licentious lewdness towards girls that wasn't particularly egalitarian or mutual, and which had not worked for me, just didn't fit me.

That's what had started popping into my head that season: that my attempts to become involved with girls and be sexually active and have relationships had not worked precisely because I was too much like a girl myself, and always had been, to play the expected role and be comfortable with the behavioral expectations.

But unlike the first transition (from girl-identified pro-system person to flower-child), this one wasn't leading me anywhere. Just away from.

If it were true, that I was effectively one of the girls in all the meaningful ways except my body, then I wasn't like the straight boys who have the relationships with girls, which is something I wanted. Nope, I wasn't like them, I wasn't one of them. So what did that make me??

It was widely assumed that I was gay and in denial about it or not "out yet", etc etc. I was attracted to girls and liked girls and admired girls, and yet I had once wondered if this were possible anyhow, that I was gay and lying to myself somehow, you know? But no, some experimentation had confirmed that I just don't find male people sexually attractive, and yeah I really do desire girls, I just didn't seem able to convert that attraction into things happening with them. Because, apparently, I was too much of a girl myself. So once again what did that make me, then?

I'd picked up and read books by people who identified as transsexual* (male to female in particular), and that was an eye-opener for sure. Autobiographical accounts from people born male but who said they'd always been one of the girls, that it had always been their identity — just like me! But in every case, in each of the books I could get my hands on, the author ended up seeking out and obtaining sex reassignment surgery, after which they lived their lives as female people, and they had sexual and romantic relationships with men. I didn't see my body itself as being wrong. I had always been one of the girls, just like these authors, and I had been a male-bodied person, which didn't seem any more wrong to me than being one of the girls. And I wanted sexual things to happen between me and female people, not between me and male people, that was my sexual orientation.

So it was very frustrating, obsessing about all this, because there were no solutions. I couldn't get a girlfriend because I was basically a girl. I wasn't a straight guy. I wasn't a gay guy. I wasn't a transsexual male-to-female candidate. What the hell was I, then?

My mind would go back to it and then run away from it in dismay, no answers there.

In December 1979, some people on my dorm corridor asked me to help them move a friend's furniture to a new apartment, and in exchange we would all trip acid and listen to a new Pink Floyd record, one that I'd never heard. Sounded groovy to me. So I did, and we did. The album was The Wall.


Several hours later, with me on a good couple doses of LSD, the stereo speakers were yelling at me, "Are there any queers in the theatre tonight? Get them up against the wall. There’s one there in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me, get him up against the wall." I certainly fit the description of someone who "don't look right to me", as I was white-faced and trembly with terror that someone could put so much of my life onto a record album. And I realized that yeah, this is not just a notion that has gotten lodged inside my head, this is real. I'm different in a way that can be described and identified by others, from the outside, and it isn't going away, this is who I am and this will be a central factor for me for the rest of my life.

So, forced to confront it head on, no more running away from it, I experienced the final critical transformative moment in my gender identity shift. I still didn't have a name for it but it was who I was: a person in a male body (which wasn't wrong) who was effectively one of the girls (which also wasn't wrong, I was proud of it) who was attracted to female people sexually, and it made me as different as any gay or lesbian or bisexual person, as different as any transsexual person, definitely queerly different in this specific way. And I had to come out now, it was time to be who I was and be seen for who I was, if I were ever going to form meaningful relationships in this world.


I'm curious to know who else in the LGBTQ community had a specific realization point, a game-changing moment like what I've described.


* "Transsexual" was the word in use at the time; some people find it offensive now, but it is not my intention to offend anyone.



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ahunter3: (Default)
an-droj-uh-ni
ændrɑdʒǝni

— having both masculine and feminine characteristics


Androgyny is a term that's been around and in use for awhile. Singers David Bowie and Patti Smith were often described as androgynous. It was often associated with the feminist goals of equal treatment in the law and social policy by way of having genderblind regulations and statutes. That loose but affirmative connection persists in a cluster of modern genderqueer identities — neutrois, androgyne, agender — where people consider themselves to occupy a neutral or in-between position on the gender spectrum, or consider the gender spectrum to be irrelevant to themselves.

It has been embraced as a social goal, with hopeful proponents postulating that gender as we know it is entirely arbitrary and artificial, not based on real irrevocable differences, and therefore that gender is unnecessary and socially harmful; androgyny is therefore in this view something to aspire to: no more gender!

When formulated as an absolute and taken to its logical extreme, androgyny has been something widely feared. Antifeminist people have projected their notion of radical androgyny onto feminism and declared it to be feminism's agenda: that any individual displaying any characteristics of sexual difference would be censured and chemically adjusted and socially harangued as part of a campaign to stamp out gender differences.

Feminists themselves have often been leery of officially androgynous goals, worrying that everything conventionally associated with or considered a part of femininity would be considered "gendered" while things conventionally associated with males men and masculinity would be perceived as "normal" and therefore the new standard.

Meanwhile, a hefty subset of people who think androgynously tend to be perplexed about what all the passion and shouting is about. These are people who are aware of the socially shared notions of gender, but they're also aware of the ideas that I present in my talks as the "distribution diagram" — the observation that there is a lot of overlap between observed male and female behavior rather than male and female behavior being polarized opposites, and that some individual women are more masculine than others (and reciprocally so for individual men), and that, furthermore, any individual has characteristics that vary all over the diagram.

These are people, in fact, who are not only aware of this way of looking at gender, but whose reaction to it is not "wow, that really makes you rethink gender" but more like "well duh, that's just so obvious it shouldn't require saying out loud". That is, they take it for granted that the social generalizations that constitute gender differences ignore the exceptions, and because they themselves see and accept the exceptions as ordinary, they dismiss gender as unimportant. They tend to see both the gender activists and the conservative gender prescriptionists as somewhat ridiculous. They tend to be people who break gender norms themselves, typically without much of a sense of doing something forbidden and dangerous, and if later praised as pioneers or radicals who defied social pressures, they are often dismissive about the social pressures and the cheerleading liberationist radicals as well. I don't think enough gets written about them, and I'm going to circle back in a future blog entry to dwell on them at more length, but they aren't my primary focus today.


The radical androgynists among the genderqueer folks are the ones who identify as "genderfuck". (Which annoys me grammatically, as I always find myself thinking it should be "genderfucker"). They see gender as the artificial and arbitrary social construct, and not as being rooted or having its origins in anything permanently real. And they see it as a horrible misery-perpetuating system with no redeeming features, something to be uprooted and discarded. Their desire is not for a world in which gender variance would be tolerated but rather a world in which no concept of gender or gender variance would exist at all.

There would be a complete absence of socially shared generalizations about the sexes, and as a consequence of that, a massive falling-off in the extent to which anyone would notice or care about other people's biological morphology. The social meaning of a person's body having a penis or a vagina would fall somewhere between "we wouldn't even still have words to express such a distinction" and "people would think and talk about it about as often as they think and talk about their blood type". Genderfuck folks generally posit that sexual orientation would be a meaningless concept, because it just wouldn't occur to people to categorize the world of people by gender and then a second time by sexual appeal to their personal tastes and then make the observation that the people they are attracted to happen to fall into this or that gender category — why would they? They'd just note which people, AS people, they find attractive. Or tend to form stable romantic relationships with or whatever. It wouldn't be about what folks have between their legs and no one would have gender in their mind as a gender identity any more, it would be gone, and good riddance.

Genderfuck activists are not a huge and policy-controlling presence within the LGBTQ world, and I think their perspective is viewed as idealistic and nonthreatening in part because of that, but there is definitely some prospect for a lack of accord between them and some of the other populations who live under the greater LGBTQ umbrella. The majority of transgender people are gendered people. They were born with a body that was categorized by doctors and parents as having one gender, and at some point came to believe that that assigned gender is wrong, and they now identify otherwise. More often than not, the way they identify involves gender. Genderqueer people who identify as genderfluid deny having a single fixed gender identity but they tend to be affirmatively happy in expressing the gender that they experience as the correct and appropriate gender of the moment.

As for me, and any other people like me, gender inverts, we wouldn't exist either. I am a gendered person whose gender is detached from my sex. I identify as a male girl — or, to say it using more words, I identify as a male-bodied person whose sense of self, sense of identity including sexual nature as well as priorities, personality traits, behavioral nuances, and other such stuff, made me one of the girls, and upon observing that as well as having had it pointed out rather rudely by others, I accepted and embraced that and therefore lived a life thinking of myself in those terms. Gendered terms.

Does that make me a conservative reactionary, a gender activist who is too immersed in my own history to let go of gender and sign on with the genderfuck agenda?

Would the world be better if the genderfucks' postgender utopia were to come? Yeah, probably — better than the status quo, at least. I do believe that my own notions of being "one of the girls" is specific to the entire life-context that I traveled through; it is formed from my experiences, and those experiences were of a gendered world. You could say (and a genderfuck person probably WOULD say) that my radical inverted gender identity is still a gender identity in reaction to a gendered world.

Mostly (as I've said before on occasion) I am not very much a prisoner of the limitations of the feminine identity I embraced. I never have the world shouting at me that something I am doing or saying isn't ladylike and therefore isn't appropriate, if you see what I mean. Admittedly, I may have an internalized censor of some sort that does some of that, but I bet it doesn't disempower me as harshly as real-world feedback disempowers people who were born female and presented all their lives as girls and women.

Would there still be any of the role-and-power distinctions that currently overlap gender, such as being a "top" or a "bottom"? That's hard to know. The origins of those notions appear to involve abstracting some elements of conventionally gendered heterosexual relationships and applying them to other relationships. They have taken on a life of their own since then, to be sure: it is now true that a female person can top a male bottom either in a single liaison or as the dynamic of their ongoing relationship. Would eroticized power play, or even a general distinction between a more "inclined-to-act-upon" partner and one less so, persist in a world where power diffs had not already been eroticized in (and as) gender?


I myself do not ascribe to the belief that gender is arbitrary and artificial. I think gender is a generalization about differences between the sexes and that AS a generalization it isn't entirely inaccurate. I say "isn't entirely inaccurate" because I think even at the generalization level it has been distorted by the power dynamic between the sexes (i.e., patriarchy), so yes it is partly inaccurate even as a generalization. But there are some core observations enshrined in it that are true as generalizations. Then, like all generalizations, you have exceptions. I'm one of them, a girlish male, an exception to the generalization about male-bodied people.

I might be wrong about that, but what if I'm right? What are the implications for androgyny if I am right?

• Gender would never disappear. Cleaned of its distortions, and with the prescriptive hateful punitive attitude towards the exceptions stripped out of it, gender would still persist as a far more benign generalization about differences between the sexes.

• The goal would not be the utter elimination of gender but instead the promulgation of awareness, tolerance, and acceptance of the exceptions. Feminine girlish males, and boys who wish to transition to female, and androgynous male-bodied people, all exceptions, would be spoken of, accorded social recognition, as would masculine manly females, and women who choose to transition to men, and androgynous people who incidentally possess female anatomy, all of us exceptions to the rule, outliers who aren't part of the gender norm, but no longer relegated to being social pariahs or made to feel dirty or wrong or unnatural.

• Overall, I see the ideal path as one in which the gender atypical are socially treated and accepted much as gay people are understood and accepted. Not that the latter is a perfect example of a completed transformation in attitudes — there are still homophobic people and gay-bashing incidents and discriminatory institutional policies as well as informal bigoted attitudes and biased practices — but the trajectory of change in attitude and behavior towards gay people points a finger, and where that finger points is the pathway to acceptance of the sort that I hope for for the gender-variant.

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ahunter3: (Default)
This post had its origin in my replies to a couple of Facebook posts about "Eww, did you see how that female performer was barely dressed? Way to be a role model for our teenage daughters!" and "I took my daughter shopping. Everything available looked like it came from Sluts R Us and I wouldn't let her have any of it and we got into a big argument".

While I agree that girls should be free to be energetic young people whose worth is not derived from how sexually attractive they are, I don't think it's a single-faceted issue.

• Starting at the mid-teen years, girls rapidly begin taking on the appearance that society around them says is the epitome of sexual attractiveness, desirability. To have that is to have POWER, not just to be found pleasing to others. The power aspect of it is well-represented in our cultural portrayals.

• Feminism in the late 70s and early 80s made us rethink a lot of that. It's all about the male gaze, the male appetite; there are limits to how much power can really come from being a commodity, no matter how fervently sought after. But it's not like feminists (let alone the rest of society) reached a clear consensus on the whole matter. Being REDUCED to being a sex object is obviously always bad, and any kind of double standard causing women to be assessed on the basis of their appearance while men are assessed for their skills and accomplishments is also obviously bad, but are there female-positive components to this sense of power stemming from being desired that aren't just patriarchal illusion?

• The movement against slut shaming begins with the perspective that blaming girls and women for provoking unwanted sexual attention is blaming the wrong party. But it has become also a recognition that a girl or woman has the right to be sexually forward without that constituting a blanket permission for any and all sexual attention.

Liberation means not only that it should be OK to be in public and not get sexually harassed regardless of what you're wearing. It also means that it should be OK to, yes, actually be seeking sexual attention. Not only does no mean no; "hey cute boy" means "hey cute boy".

What needs reexamining is NOT just the expectation & pattern that boys will be sexually aggressive to the point of invasiveness (and that that's ok because "boys will be boys", barf smiley here). What ALSO needs reexamining is the the expectation that girls will be, or should be, sexual gatekeepers, the sayers of "yes" and "no", the reactive party, reacting with "yes" or "no" in response to the boys' sexualized attentions. But unless we're going to tell girls that the only acceptable model for being sexually forward is to grab a cute guy and make an overt pass at him, many girls who wish to be sexually forward will sometimes do so by dressing provocatively.

I don't think teenage girls should be pushed into, or pushed away from, sexuality. Girls should not be pushed period. Girls should get to experiment to whatever extent they want to (respecting the boundaries of the boys or, for that matter, other girls) and also should get to refrain from doing so to whatever extent they don't wanna.

I'm leery of the way that positioning one's self as visually sexually desirable is such a specifically gendered thing — asymmetry is always worrisome when we're concerned with sexual equality. On the other hand, if 13 and 14 year old girls are being told that it is sexual power, that their deployment of their own appearance is a way of being sexually aggressive, telling them not to is telling them "you don't get to use that", and that's just as gendered a message, yes?



The whole consideration of visual sexual attraction and attractiveness is definitely gendered. Even people who don't ascribe to many other beliefs about built-in differences between the sexes are often inclined to agree that male people are more wired to have sexual feelings in response to the appearance of someone of the sex they're attracted to. I would tentatively put myself in that category, by the way. It's not something I'm going to claim certainty about, but I fit the pattern myself despite the many ways in which I'm gender-atypical.

I jump off the consensus boat quickly, though, when people start reaching additional conclusions based on that.

• I've heard people say that because of men's strong sexual response to seeing women, it is inevitable that men will approach women and be the ones to try to make sex happen. As I've said several times here, that's not the case for me and people like me. I explained it on my OKCupid profile like so: there are zillions of attractive women and I see them all the time as part of my daily life; if these attractive strangers were intermittently approaching me to make a pass at me, I would be doing the same to them, but they don't; and I long ago learned that most women find it annoying and threatening to have complete strangers approach them and express that they feel sexual attraction. They are rumored to be interested in sex mostly in the context of an ongoing relationship, which I can relate to, I have always wanted a girlfriend. The accusation of only being after sex combines with the expressions of anger and annoyance and the lack of successful outcome and quickly teaches that just because these attractive women are attractive doesn't identify them as sexual opportunities. Hmm, well, if the endeavor is to find a girlfriend, being visually sexually attractive isn't a good signifier of being a good prospect for that; zillions of women are visually attractive so that's nothing special or unusual, whereas I only connect well to a tiny minority. And in addition that means there's no reason I should be the one doing the approaching if the goal is to connect with someone for an ongoing relationship, since the visual sexual appeal and the differences in our susceptibility to it is largely irrelevant.

• On a second tier, the same type of conclusions get bandied around when discussing who does what once there have been cues and clues and signals that yes, there's mutual interest in having sexual activities take place. The woman is portrayed as the object of desire, which positions the man as the one with the appetite, the hunger, and from this it is often concluded that he will be doing things to her, that he will be the active party who is in control of sexualizing their interaction, with her control deriving from being the brake pedal, the reactive party. That hasn't been my experience. The person whose appearance provokes sexual interest on the other person's part is not required to be passive or to have participation limited to being reactive. Nor, incidentally, does the experience of being visually sexually attracted directly translate into having an inclination to do anything in particular, and in fact it can be a somewhat paralyzing experience. The most forwardly seductive people I've known conveyed a sense of awareness of their desirability and used it as an aggression: "You want; I can MAKE you want; I can make this happen".

In fact, the confidence and the projected sense of enjoyment and delight at doing so, of conveying "I have selected you and I'm going to have you", is a strong enough component that it outweighs the importance of the appearance itself. It's not what she has so much as how she uses it, in other words. The usual procedure that involves leveraging her own visual attractiveness goes something like this: she draws a specific guy's attention to her body and then to her eyes so as to express "yeah, I made you look, and we both know you want it".

• That behavior, in which the woman uses her appearance in a sexually aggressive manner, is not the only or even the most typical sexually aggressive behavior that I've seen women use. She may instead make a physical or verbal declaration of sexual interest that is focused on how the object of her attentions is attractive to her, making it all about her own appetite. Those expressions do not tend to focus on her own visual sexual appeal, so her own visual desirability isn't really a factor.

One thing the two modes have in common is confidence. Whether she's expressing "I know I'm hot and I can focus that on you and make you want me" or "I find you hot and I want you and therefore I will have you", her self-assurance makes it sexy and makes it work.

• And that brings me back to focusing on myself and my own situation. We all find confidence attractive, don't we? So where is a genderqueer girlish male-bodied person like me going to acquire sexual confidence from? This is no passing tangential subject, it's right at the dead-central core of things: how does a male-bodied person who identifies as girl exude sexual confidence and therefore a decent shot at being found sexually attractive by those he finds appealing?

Let's unpack that quickly. Yes, it has totally been a lifelong concern for me that girls and women to whom I was attracted would not be reciprocally attracted to me in the same way. I think precisely because I always thought of myself as essentially identical to them, it mattered a great deal to me that it be reciprocal. Meanwhile, as you'll recall, we started off saying that it's widely believed that female folks are less sexually driven by visual appearances. So that right there is going to make it difficult to believe that mirror-image parity is possible, so how *do* I find my way towards a sexual confidence?

I think we can posit the existence of some degree of female visual-based sexual interest. When I was in grad school in the early 90s there was a 4-day discussion on the women's studies discussion list about an event in which three women students on bicycles pedaled past a male student and one of them catcalled "Bow wow wow puppy chow!". And there was a Diet Coke ad on TV a few years ago in which several office women stare appreciatively out the window at a cute guy on a construction crew down below. When we say women are less sexually driven by visual appearance, perhaps we mean they feel it the same way that guys do but with fewer exclamation marks, or perhaps we mean they are interested and find it appealing but that it's less specifically sexual for them. And by now, having written this, I find myself backpedaling: I myself am suspicious whenever there's a formulation that says that the female version of anything observed first in males is "lesser". Well, I did say I wasn't certain.

Women often say that they dress for themselves. I think most of the time they do not mean that they have no consideration or concern for how they will be viewed by others (especially the sort of others that they may hope will find them sexually attractive), but rather that the important thing is that they themselves feel well put together, sexy and confidently at ease with their chosen appearance and presentation. For me it started in the same space. I didn't really know if there was an ideal visual presentation available for me that would provoke sexual interest in the type of women I'd like to be sexually interested in me. I could hope that there was, and I could choose the choosable aspects of my appearance (such as grooming and the way that I dress). Having done so, I stirred that in with my confidence that I was good company, a caring person, a fascinating person with a fascinating mind, someone fun to be with.

Nowadays I have the added advantage of knowing from experience that, yeah, it works, it can happen at any time, and sometimes it does.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Traditionally, the approach of a new year is a time to make resolutions. In a similar vein, I tend to do self-assessments and self-reevaluations this time of year, not only because of the change of calendar year but also because my birthday rolls around quite close to it.

I do a lot of my best self-assessment and sortings of feelings during the course of long walks. In December I set out early on a particularly long one, from the Herricks / Williston Park edge of New Hyde Park where I live to the MetroNorth station in Greenwich CT, 45 miles. Plenty long enough for contrary or hidden thoughts and feelings to come forth from the back of my head.

People on Facebook and LiveJournal were already talking about how their year has been or what they were anticipating would go on during family-centric holiday visits, and I was going to be visiting my family down in Georgia with A1, one of my partners. While a person's identity within their nuclear family is not the only important cradle of Self, it's obviously a central one for most of us. My parents are still alive and cognizant in their early 80s and there are still conversations I imagine having with them, and the timeframe in which those conversations is still possible is shrinking.

Mostly those are specific subsets of conversations I want to have with the world at large, and I still haven't had those conversations to my satisfaction.

36 years ago I figured out that who I was, "how" I was, was like one of the girls or women, not like other guys; that being sexually ATTRACTED to female people didn't change that (despite giving me that one distinct reference-point in common with the majority of male-bodied people); that there was nothing wrong with my body, either, I was a male girl or a male woman, and that goddammit that wasn't going to be MY problem any more, I was totally cool with that, and if the rest of the world wanted to take issue with it I was prepared to have that conversation.

The rest of the world was not prepared for it.

Here I am 36 years later and although there is a word "genderqueer" that is helpful and appropriate, it isn't specific to my situation and identity and there still isn't a term that is. Or not one that the world at large recognizes and understands.

36 years is a long time. Long enough to wonder and worry that I may have squandered the resource known as "my lifespan", trying to do something social-political, trying to start this conversation, trying to put my gender identity on the map.

So I was out doing one of those periodic self-exams to assess how I'm doing with all this, how I feel about it. It was a complicated year, with presentations to Baltimore Playhouse and to EPIC and then a publisher indicating that they wanted to publish my book, but then the publisher went out of business which was a major emotional setback for me. I had been thinking I was on the cusp of a success in a venture I'd started pursuing in 1980 and then had to adjust to having this rug yanked out from under me. I seemed to be coping and I appeared to be continuing on the same course, but it had left me shocked and numb, where I was unusually unsure how I FELT.

In fact, for that matter, I hadn't really come to terms with how I felt about finally getting published, THAT was still not a fully processed set of feelings, so I had a backlog of self-awareness and passion to which I was still somewhat closed off.

Verdict, 45 miles and 19 hours later? I'm reasonably satisfied. Still pissed off. I still have it all to do and have accomplished damn little of it, but setting out to grab the world by its collective lapels and have this discussion was a rational and admirable response to my situation in 1980, and it is a rational and admirable response today, too, and because I am the stubbornest sissy male girlish person to ever walk the surface of this planet I am going to continue with what I started.

I wrote a damn book. It's a GOOD book if I don't mind saying so myself. It's not the only possible mechanism for communication but it's an excellent tool and a good centerpiece to continue to organize my overall efforts around. And I will be speaking again to groups and audiences in 2017, including a rebroadcast on Off the Cuffs in February and a presentation to the Women and Gender Studies program at Castleton University in Vermont in April.

My parents have mostly avoided and tuned out my attempts to explain my gender identity and why it's important and why I want to talk about such personal things to strangers and risk driving away friends and acquaintances and associates. I don't really feel a need to force that door open with them; I do understand that they grew up in an era where much of the subject matter itself was rude lewd and inappropriate, and I've outgrown the urge to shock them.

But I wish I could find a path to discuss just enough of what I'm doing these days to be able to say to them that home was safe for me growing up, a refuge. That I knew people (relatives, school teachers, neighborhood adults, others) signalled to them that they should worry that I wasn't exactly normal, but they dismissed that and never made me feel that who I was was of questionable nature in their eyes. Instead, they stressed that one cannot excel without departing from the typical-normal, and that life was not about being like everyone else.


I'm going to find another publisher. My book will be in print. People will read it. I will tell my story to the world.

I'm only 58 and I ain't packing it in anytime soon. I'm going to live to 110 if only to spite all the people who queer-bashed me in junior high school.

Continue on course.

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ahunter3: (Default)
In my Sept 14 blogentry, I posted this teaser:

> Things have been simultaneously hectic and non-newsworthy for the
> most part in the land of STORY OF Q. That's a situation that just
> changed today, but I'm not quite prepared to write about today's
> developments (I think the relevant phrase is "waiting for the
> dust to settle"). Watch this space for more activity in days to
> come.

My next entry was on Oct 3, when I announced that the book deal with Ellora's Cave had fallen through. That wasn't the announcement I'd been expecting to make. The news I had been anticipating just before EC dropped their bombshell was that I was *finally* in negotiation with the relevant people for securing the rights to quote some Pink Floyd lyrics in my book.

Here's the backstory on THAT: I started pursuing that matter late last March; I went online, checking the BMI web site and finding out that Warner-Chappell managed the rights to that particular song, "In the Flesh" from side 2 of The Wall. In early May, I corresponded with them and was informed that their affiliate Alfred Music handles those matters.

Corresponded with one Gabriel Morgan at Alfred Music for an iteration or two, but then on May 23 he wrote to tell me that they no longer administer that catalog, that in fact Warner-Chappell no longer publishes any of Pink Floyd music. Apparently the contract expired and Roger Waters opted to sign on with someone else. No, they didn't know who that someone else was. I went back to the BMI web site. Still said Warner-Chappell.

Recontacted Gabriel Morgan and said they had to have had a contact person, an agent if not Roger Waters himself, and therefore whoever that person was should be able to inform them who the contract was with now. Nope, he said, because, well, actually the contract was with our UK affiliate, Warner-Tamerlane. So I go online to find contact info for Warner-Tamerlane in the UK.

By the third week of May, Warner-Tamerlane had informed me that those types of rights are handled by their affiliate, Faber Music, much like Alfred Music does for Warner-Chappell in the US I guess. I make repeated attempts to contact someone at Faber Music, culminating in correspondence with one Charlotte Mortimer, who cc's me on her communication with one Christine Cullen: "please let him know as soon as you have any further news on where the catalogue has gone?" Never heard from anyone at Warner-Tamerlane subsequent to that.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I signed the publishing contract with Ellora's Cave. I would need the Pink Floyd permissions in order for the book to be published.

Meanwhile I had managed to track down the agent directly representing Roger Waters: Mark Fenwick Management, for whom I had only a snail-mail address. I sent a registered USPS international letter which arrived June 3. I received an email on June 7 from Louisa Morris of Mark Fenwick Management: "I am currently dealing with your request and will get back to you as soon as I can".

On 8/1 I email Louisa Morris "Just checking in" having not heard anything.

Checked the BMI website which still listed Warner-Chappell as the relevant publisher for this work. Chatted with BMI support line and they said "sometimes it takes awhile before these things get updated". Yeah, I noticed.

On 8/11 called and spoke with an assistant "Hopefully an answer by end of the week". I hadn't heard anything by 8/29 so I attempted another phone call. No answer. So I sent another email which also went unanswered.

On 8/30 spoke with Louisa Morris on the phone again: "Hopefully we'll have an answer by the end of the week". Not having heard anything by 9/6, I called and spoke with someone named "Kitty" who said Louisa Morris no longer works there, so I re-explained.

Recontacted the folks at Mark Fenwick on 9/15: they're working on it, maybe they'll have something soon...

I went on the BMI web site again and lo and behold FINALLY it lists a new publisher of record: BMG Platinum Songs US

I talk with them, they have me email a copy of the manuscript, and on 9/19 I am told by one Joe Betts that it will be passed on to Roger Waters for approval.

On November 25, I receive an email: my use of the lyrics has been approved "in principle", meaning it is OK with Roger Waters that it be used in this context. All that remains is negotiating with Hal Leonard Music, their affiliate who handles this sort of thing, and they will determine the amount I should pay and all that. I have an application pending with them, but essentially I have the important OK — I may use the lyrics as long as I pay the relevant price for doing so.

Yeesh, that was bloody exhausting.


* * *




I went to a one-woman show in Manhattan a few weeks ago. She was a black butch lesbian woman who had grown up living with her mom in the Bronx. She gave an interesting reading/acting show in which she dramatized the tension between her and her mom, much of which had to do with her rejection of the life she saw around her and her determination to get out. That rejection included a rejection of the identities "black" and "woman" and all the limitations entailed within those. She became acquainted with the East Village counterculture and rock music and avant garde theatre and the alternative gender and sexual orientation culture developing there and made her home in it, the only black person in a homeopathic white-hippie social infusion.

Later, I was engaged in dialog with a roomful of artists and dancers and musicians who had been at the show, discussing what we'd seen. Several of the other viewers complained that she didn't ever "deal with" being black. I disagreed: she had explicitly "dealt with" it by explaining how she did not identify with it, rejected it socially and culturally as an identity. On some fine-grained level you could argue that what she was saying was "even though I am black, I like this rock music, and this theatre and dance, these other cultural things and these other values, and these white countercultural folks are my choice of company". But how she experienced it personally and emotionally at the time, as how she presented it, was "This was my identity; this is who I was and have been, and my mother hated that because I was rejecting her and her identity".

That was true of her gender / sexual preference identity as well. We're a bit more accustomed to that, more exposed to it; she rejected the femininity thing, the being-a-woman thing. If she were coming of age now, she might identify as transgender; in her era, she identified as a butch, a tough masculine no-frills short-haired lesbian who dressed in what was considered men's clothing.

She identified with the white countercultural people she befriended but she did not PRESENT as white; she made no attempt to make any modifications that would cause her to be taken as ancestrally caucasian. In asserting her identity she was effectively asking us to accept that here is a person who is ancestrally and ethnically black but that her identity is other than that, that she is one of the white countercultural folks of the East Village.

That's strongly akin to what I am doing with gender. I present as male and I do not expect to be perceived as female, and yet I assert an identity that is not man, that is not masculine, but is instead a girl or woman identity.


* * *


I recognize that it's not easy for everyone to wrap their minds around that. There's a social awareness of transgender people, but I'm doing something different from what most of them are doing, I'm saying something different from what most people have heard about being transgender, and it requires processing some additional ideas and concepts.

I was interviewed yesterday evening by Dick_Wound and Minimus Maximus (aka Dick and Max) for their kinky podcast, OffTheCuffs. They were interviewing me specifically as a genderqueer person and as the author of THE STORY OF Q. Dick and Max kept apologizing for using the wrong words (they kept referring to me as someone who was "female" inside or had a "female identity") and they said it was very interesting but more than a little confusing to understand a distinction between sex and gender, to understand what it means for me to be not female but a woman. To be a male woman.

It was an interesting discussion and would have been good publicity for my book. I say "would have been" for two reasons here, the first being that between the time that we first started discussing them having me on their podcast and yesterday evening when I sat before the microphones, Ellora's Cave went belly-up, so at best it would have been good publicity for my story and my ideas and for the eventual potential book that I am determined will some day be available. The second reason is that they had technical difficulties of which we were not aware at the time, but the sound file on the computer was corrupted and unusable.

They asked me to come join them February 11th for a LIVE podcast along with other guests, so stay tuned for further details as February approaches.

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ahunter3: (Default)
"What do you people mean when you say you're 'really women inside', anyway?", she posted, challenging us. "You folks apparently want us to believe that your minds, or hearts or whatever, are like those of us who were born female. But you've never been female, so how do you know whether who you are on the inside is like who we are on the inside? Frankly, it's pretentious and arrogant! You're appropriating women's experiences and women's identity!"

Well, she's got a point. None of us who were not born female know from first-hand experience what it is like, "inside", to be one of the people who were born female, and yet it is to them that we are comparing ourselves, and with whom we are identifying ourselves, when we say our gender is woman despite having been born male.

But although it's not as obvious at first glance, she's in the same situation.

She identifies as a woman. She considers herself to have elements and aspects of herself that are things she has in common with other women. But she's never been any other women, she's only been herself. Her only firsthand experience is of herself, and therefore if she limits herself to firsthand experience, she can't know how much of who she is represents what she has in common with other women, and how much is specific to herself as an individual. The only way she can extrapolate a sense of a shared identity as "woman" is by external observation and recognizing, from the outside, patterns and commonalities.

Which is what we're doing, too.

Notice that, like most everything else involving gender, it is a process of generalization. We observe women and generalize about our observations. We observe our own selves and generalize there, too, in identifying traits and tendencies, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously.

For quite some time now, I have described myself as a male-bodied person who is a girl or woman. That's an identity, it's a conclusion, and it's a political statement. But it's also a generalization when you get right down to it.

Not too long ago on Facebook, in response to a post about whether other genderqueer folks in the group have moments of self-doubt and a sense of being an imposter who doesn't really (always) feel the way they've described themself, I posted that I've been all over the map between "I'm sure all males experience themselves as inaccurately & inadequately described by the sexist reductionistic descriptions, I'm just more vocal about it" through "I am definitely more like a girl than I am like the other boys, so that's one more difference in addition to being left-handed and having eyes of two different colors" all the way to "I am a girl; this is a really fundamental part of my identity and explains my life far better than any other thing, I am Different with a capital D and this is the Difference".

Ever since I posted that, it's been sort of echoing in my head. Hmm, why don't I have a stronger tendency to think of myself as one of the guys who feels very badly defined by the sexist ideas of what it means to be a man?

I certainly have gone through periods in my life when I thought of myself in those terms. In the timeframe from about a year after I came out at UNM in 1980 — let's say 1981 or 1982 — until I finally withdrew as a graduate student from SUNY / Stony Brook in 1996, I put aside my sense of myself as fundamentally different from (other) guys. I wrote about that somewhat in 2015 in a post about repositioning
.


Essentially, I spent those years not only trying to "join up" with the feminist movement but also expecting to be in the vanguard of males with a serious personal grudge against the whole "being a man" thing in our society, expecting to meet other such people and then I would connect, feel far less alien among male-bodied people. My alienation would be towards the patriarchal sexist idea of what it means to be male, and I would not be alone in that.

And I wrote, and I spoke, and I went to the library and sought out books and magazine articles, and I went online and joined email-based groups. But I didn't find them.

Here's what I found instead:

• Warren Farrel's The Liberated Man, and sensitive new age guys, and articles about how bad it is that we male folks aren't allowed to cry or wear pink ties. Gimme a break.

• Men's rights groups of angry divorced men who want custody of their children or freedom from sexist alimony considerations, but who weren't considering themselves to be at all on the same team as feminist women, just using "sexual equality" as a tool towards making their argument

• "Profeminist" men's groups in which the tone was mostly abject self-abasement, shame and apology for how our male jackboots have been on the throats of women and how our positions of privilege benefit us unfairly. All of which is true but there was a severe lack of any profound emotional connection to wanting things to be different for any personal reason, any personal benefit to things changing. A mild consideration for the situation of gay guys but no sense of having found others like me.

• John Bly and Sam Keen and their drums and male-bonding, reinventing or rediscovering what it might and could mean to be a man. No strong sentiment of being angry about the whole "being a man" thing being imposed on us, or of feeling "that ain't me", though. Kind of reminded me of Boy Scouts.

... and as time went on, I had reason to question my standoffish disinclination to identify with any of these movements or groups of guys: What, do I have a need to be the most radical of anti-patriarchal males and therefore a need to see any and all other males as less so, or something like that?

What I realized, especially after I'd been drummed out of academia, was that I'd suppressed the sense of being personally different in order to emphasize this as a social movement against a social system. But in my original burst of self-understanding, I had specifically seen myself as a person who was like one of the girls instead of being like one of the boys, despite being male.


In other Facebook post, I made an off-the-cuff comment in passing about genderfluid people being the ones who have "girl days" and "boy days", and some genderfluid people replied to correct me: "Hey, I am never a 'boy'... I am fluid between being agender and being on the feminine spectrum"; "I float somewhere between being a demiboy and being a man, I hate it when I get misgendered and people say 'she' or 'maam'.."

"GENDERFLUID", in other words, refers to a wider and more general notion of a gender identity that shifts from time to time or context to context. Not the limited "oscillates between the two conventional genders" model I tend to associate with it.

So as it turns out, I guess I do fall into the description. My description of myself as a "male girl" (et al) is a generalization. And a choice in how to present, how to describe.


So far, I have sent out inquiry letters to women's studies / gender studies / sexuality studies departments and programs at universities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. (Or, more specifically, my publicist sent them out — the emails went out from him and replies to the emails go back to him).

Two programs have made replies asking when I'm available and how much I charge including travel and room and board charges. Nothing definite but it's exciting. One is in Vermont and one is in Virginia.

Meanwhile I've gone back to querying lit agents (even if it's mostly a waste of time), and I have a query in front of a publisher. Today I sent a follow-up letter to a publisher to whom I sent a query back in April, because they'd indicated that I would hear from them within a few weeks. If their policy was "we will only contact you if we're interested", which isn't uncommon, that would be a different thing, but in this situation I decided to nudge them.


Current Stats:


Total queries to lit agents: 822
Rejections: 805
Outstanding: 17

As Nonfiction: 601
Rejections: 584
Outstanding: 17

As Fiction: 221
Rejections: 221
Outstanding: 0

Total queries to publishers: 14
Rejections: 9
Outstanding: 1
No Reply 3+ Months: 3
Pub Contract Signed, Then Publisher Went out of Business: 1

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
So far, I have sent out inquiry letters to women's studies / gender studies / sexuality studies departments and programs at universities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. (Or, more specifically, my publicist sent them out — the emails went out from him and replies to the emails go back to him).

Two programs have made replies asking when I'm available and how much I charge including travel and room and board charges. Nothing definite but it's exciting. One is in Vermont and one is in Virginia.

Meanwhile I've gone back to querying lit agents (even if it's mostly a waste of time), and I have a query in front of a publisher. Today I sent a follow-up letter to a publisher to whom I sent a query back in April, because they'd indicated that I would hear from them within a few weeks. If their policy was "we will only contact you if we're interested", which isn't uncommon, that would be a different thing, but in this situation I decided to nudge them.



Current Stats:


Total queries to lit agents: 803
Rejections: 783
Outstanding: 20

As Nonfiction: 582
Rejections: 562
Outstanding: 20

As Fiction: 221
Rejections: 221
Outstanding: 0

Total queries to publishers: 14
Rejections: 9
Outstanding: 1
No Reply 3+ Months: 3
Pub Contract Signed, Then Publisher Went out of Business: 1

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
On October 18, Janet Rosen, assistant to Sheree Bykofsky, wrote back to me to say that she had completed her reading of my manuscript and that although it was not without merit, this was not a project that Sheree Bykofsky Associates could pursue.

This wasn't entirely surprising (the longer it became since Ellora's Cave folded and informed me that they would not be publishing my book, the less likely it seemed to me that Sheree Bykofsky Associates would continue to act as my literary agency and find me a new publisher). To review, I obtained their services to help me negotiate a favorable contract with the publisher AFTER the publisher had made their offer; they never took me on as a conventional client. Yes, I was hoping that some intellectual proximity, a bit of sympathetic loyalty, and a pleasant experience of me as a person to work with would make them more likely to represent me than if they had merely received my query letter in the large daily slush-pile stack that lit agents get every day. And maybe it did, just not sufficiently to cause them to embrace THE STORY OF Q, who knows?

So I am situationally back to that mythical drawing board, with neither publisher nor lit agent, and again taking up the querying process.

The experience has changed my attitude and approach somewhat, though, as well as having at least netted me a good solid editing job from EC's Susan Edwards as part of the process. Firstly, I now stand at nearly 800 queries to literary agents, culminating in my query to Sheree Bykofsky Associates post-EC, all of which have failed to land me a lit agent. In contrast, I've queried 12 small publishers and received one publication offer. It may be a mildly tainted offer insofar as it came from a publisher on its last legs and in its dying throes, but any way you cut it, the math speaks for itself. I will continue to query lit agents, mainly because publishers tend to want exclusive consideration while they look at one's manuscript, so I can query lit agents as a way of twiddling my thumbs. But my main effort will go towards querying publishers.

Meanwhile, since I have a publicist — John Sherman & Co, hired to promote my book — I'm diverting his focus towards getting me exposure, speaking gigs, media coverage. I've given some well-received presentations to the kink community, which has been wonderfully supportive of me so far, and I do not wish to denigrate that in any way, but it's a somewhat self-limiting audience: people are relatively unlikely to talk to folks outside the BDSM world about this interesting presentation they heard in a BDSM venue. It is still a world in which privacy is highly valued by most, where people know each other by their FetLife nicknames and may not know a participant's real name or, if they do, would by default assume it is NOT ok to mention it elsewhere. In short, although I apologize for the ingratitude that may attach to expressing it this way, I need to do some of my presentations outside of the BDSM ghetto in order to get more traction. Kinky folks have been extremely welcoming, not only to me but to other identity-marginalized people whose peculiarities are not really a form of erotic fetish — google up "pony play", "puppy play", and "littles" in conjunction with BDSM for instance — but yeah, genderqueerness isn't really a fetish and the people I really need to reach are only sprinkles in moderate levels at BDSM events.

Speaking of making presentations etc, I read a 10 minute segment adapted for outloud reading and venue purposes, at WORD: THE STORY TELLING SHOW on October 19. It was fun, was well-received and well-applauded, and came at a very good time for my frame of mind. I need to do more of this, and more of the drier more abstract material presentations such as I did at EPIC and Baltimore Playhouse and LIFE in Nassau, and perhaps more personal-anecdote of the non-humourous variety sharing, and so on, in order to build my platform and widen my exposure, and because doing so is communication, which is the end in itself, the entire reason for writing the book in the first place.

I am currently working with John Sherman to blanket the world of academic women's studies and gender studies programs, letting them know of my availability to do presentations. We will soon be expanding that to campus and non-campus LGBTetc organizations including student associations on campuses and non-university-affiliated groups.

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ahunter3: (Default)
...at least not by Ellora's Cave and hence probably NOT out sometime early in 2017 as previously claimed.

I am making this a friends-only post and I am not posting links to it all over Facebook as I usually do, at least not until I have cleared it with my publicist and the person who may or may not continue to be my literary agent. (More on that in a minute). But time to let the cat at least partway out of the bag, I guess.



On September 18, I informed my editor at Ellora's Cave, Susan Edwards, that I had finished my edits and that all that remained on my end was tying up the loose ends with getting authorization to quote the Pink Floyd lyric.

On September 19, I received this in reply:

Allan, I have some very bad news for you. The company is in financial trouble and is cancelling contracts with authors whose work has not yet been published. You will receive official notification from our publisher or CEO soon.

I am so very sorry. I was so excited about publishing your book! I will be laid off at the end of the month, but if I land with another publisher and can offer you a contract there, I will be happy to do that.



Oddly, when I have Googled Ellora's Cave to read breaking news about them, all I find is some happy authors who were in contention with Ellora's Cave who are rejoicing that their rights have finally been reverted back to them. Example.



Ellora's Cave's own website would seem to indicate that they are still up and running and "now accepting new genres" but apparently that is not the case.


Where it leaves me is uncertain. I contacted my literary agent *after* receiving the initial offer letter from Ellora's Cave. And I paid her for awhile for direct services, as opposed to payment being acquired as a portion of advances on royalties. I wanted someone to represent me and my interests during contract negotiations with the publisher, both in the sense of doing that negotiating and in the sense of telling me when the publisher was being unreasonable and when it was I, myself, who had unreasonable wishes or expectations.

What that means is that my lit agent, Sheree Bykofsky Associates, did not become my literary agent as a direct consequence of reading my pitch letter or reading my book and deciding it was a good book and that they could place it with an appropriate publisher.

And now that Ellora's Cave has pulled the rug out from under me, they have to decide whether or not they feel they can represent my book in that capacity, that they can retain me as a client and find me a publisher.

If they do, I am in no way kicked back to the starting line with no prospects. That would be wonderful. And I probably have a better chance with them as a consequence of having worked with them and talked with them over the phone and so on. (I think I made a decently good impression). And the book is in good shape, firstly because of work I did on it during the spring and secondly because of the excellent editing work of Ellora's Cave's Susan Edwards. Who is, I guess, no longer Ellora's Cave's Susan Edwards.

Sheree Bykofsky and her team may decide that for one reason or another they don't really feel they can keep me on as a client. That will be rough news if it goes down that way. In many ways that DOES kick me back to the starting line.

Not entirely. I have a publicist. Originally hired and contracted in order to publicize my forthcoming book, John Sherman may instead be helping me draw attention to myself in various ways so as to increase my stature, or "platform", and hence make it more likely that I can find a lit agent (or publisher). I was actually thinking occasionally that I should hire a publicist back in the months before the Ellora's Cave offer.

Whether Sheree Bykofsky Associates does or does not consent to retain me as a client, I will be asking John Sherman to book me as a speaker / presenter as often as possible in as many venues as possible. If any of YOU know of a venue where a presenter or guest speaker doing a talk on "Gender Inversion, Being Genderqueer, and Living in a World of Gender Assumptions" or similar appropriate subject matter would be welcomed, by all means let me know. I've presented to a book club at Boston College, LIFE in Nassau, Baltimore Playhouse, and the EPIC Lifestyle Conference. I want to take my show on the road. Have lecture notes and storyboards, will travel.


Oh, and to state the compellingly obvious, yes, this sucks.

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Hi! Sorry I haven't blogged lately. Things have been simultaneously hectic and non-newsworthy for the most part in the land of STORY OF Q. That's a situation that just changed today, but I'm not quite prepared to write about today's developments (I think the relevant phrase is "waiting for the dust to settle"). Watch this space for more activity in days to come.

I will, however, take this opportunity to introduce my team. Yay, I have a team!!! I do!!!


First off, meet my literary agent, Sheree Bykofsky, of Sheree Bykofsky Associates. She now lists The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, by Allan Hunter, as one of the books her agency represents.

I first interacted with Sheree Bykofsky and her agency in October of 2013. Hers was the first agency to indicate a serious interest in the book, and they asked me to submit a formal book proposal. I did not have one. I was given some examples and general instructions on how to assemble a formal nonfiction book proposal, and that proposal, with occasional minor modifications, was the proposal I sent out a total of 163 times.

Sheree Bykofsky Associates ultimately decided not to represent my book in 2013, probably for legitimate reasons (it was still pretty rough around the edges—something that's easier for me to see in hindsight after it's been revamped and polished a few times).

I did not, in fact, ever succeed in luring any literary agent into representing my book until after I had secured a publishing offer from EC Books through a direct query. That, also, is probably for legitimate reasons. My book is a narrowly tailored book, a niche book for the most part, although there could not be a better time to be coming out with a book about an additional and different gender identity. It's at least momentarily a trendy social topic. Even so, it's not a mainstream book of the sort you'd pick up at the Penn Station bookstore while waiting for your train.

The reason I wanted a literary agent ANYWAY was that I'm a total newbie and I wanted someone who could tell me when I was being reasonable and when I was not, and when my publisher was establishing normal industry-standard contract terms and when they were going pretty far afield of that. And how to express my wishes and concerns in such a way that I'd be most likely to get the concessions I wanted without making the publisher regret having decided to have anything to do with such a prima donna.

Sheree Bykofsky has been wonderfully supportive, available to me as someone I can write back and forth to informally and openly, and who will then don her professional persona and craft business letters, negotiating on my behalf, protecting my interests.



Then I sought out and found a publicist. I'd been warned away from doing so by many authors, including the opinionated crew at Absolute Write Water Cooler as well as several bloggers, warning me that they often don't do much that an author could not do on their own to publicize a book, and that some of them aren't very ethical and just run off with the author's money. Yeah yeah, I appreciated the warnings, but I know where my talents lie and where they do not. The publicizing of my book could not possibly be in worse hands than my own. I could go up to a randomly chosen homeless person on the sidewalks of New York and hire them and the project would be better off than with me relying on my own skills.

What I did was research the matter and found a web site of biographers (close enough to memoirists for my purposes) that maintained a list (Boswell's List) of professionals that several of them had had good experiences with.

I went with John Sherman, who was praised for the excellent work he did for the author of a biography about an industrialist that no one had heard of. The author was similarly an unknown person. So I contacted him and we had a good conversation on the phone. He was quick to embrace the project, to see the book as an important book that SHOULD be out there, that SHOULD be read, and he will be helping me to market it, firstly to academics—to women's studies and gender studies professors teaching courses for which it would be relevant text.

I'm already making him a busy person. He has a good sense for what info and other preparations we need for marketing endeavors down the road in ways that I am ignorant of. For example he says we need to target book reviewers who have a policy of not reviewing a book once it is already out, but who will only feature books in their reviews that are forthcoming.

This is all very exciting. I think I've been dreaming about this since, oh, 1980 or thereabouts. It's gonna happen. I get to tell my story at last.

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ahunter3: (Default)
On July 29, I received my manuscript back from my editor at Ellora's Cave, Susan Edwards, containing her modifications and comments. As I indicated previously, I had a good feeling from a phone conversation and a handful of email exchanges with her, so I wasn't anticipating anything really horrible. Still, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would she want me to get rid of entire subplots she thought were superfluous, or insert a half-dozen scenes to develop some character more fully?

But no, she has a light but thorough touch, diving in to every single paragraph with superficial edits that make it easier to read, but without leaving me feeling like my "voice" has been altered and definitely not like even the smallest thread of the story-line has been affected.

Have you ever worked with an editor using Microsoft Word? Like many word processors, it has a built-in "track changes" feature. In Word, this takes the form of colored balloons in the margin identifying who made what changes where, and if anything is deleted it diplays the deleted text.


I detest working in Word, generally speaking; I've rarely hated a piece of software as thoroughly as I hate Word, and it's at its worst in a huge document such as my book, roughly 97,000 words and 175 single-spaced pages. You click in a paragraph to place your cursor and nothing happens for anywhere between 20 seconds and 2 minutes, then it puts the damn blinking bar in the wrong place; you type to add two words and nothing happens for 40 seconds, then when it does it omitted the first two characters that you typed, or you find that you made typos which you could not see at the time because it wasn't keeping up with your typing. You'd think a word processor running on an 8-core CPU with 16 gigs of RAM would do better than that, and you'd be right if it were any other word processor, but Word is just awful. (I'm not even going to describe its tendency to think it knows better than you do what you want to do; the performance issue is just the tip of the iceberg)

I composed the original 900,000-word autobiography in a plain text editor (all in one document, with no resultant sluggishness) and only moved it to Word when I had excised the part of my story that I wanted to turn into this book, and even then I often did my edits outside of Word and then pasted them back in after changes.

Anyway, be all that as it may, the change-tracking feature works pretty nicely.
In addition to breaking up my run-on sentences and catching my typos, Susan Edwards inserts comments asking me to clarify and reword, or points out reasons that a passage may be confusing to my readers, and so I have homework. The change-tracking highlights my own changes in blue so she can see what I've modified when I sent it back to her.

The final authority on the changes belongs to me; she emphasized that I am free to accept or reject her changes, and in some cases I look at what she modified and decide to go at it in a different way.

In her email containing the manuscript with her edits, this is what she wrote:

I really enjoyed working on your book. You’ve had a fascinating journey and you capture the pain, pathos, pride, confusion, and triumph of that journey with intelligence, thoughtfulness, an open heart and mind, and a wonderful wry sense of humor. Well done!

You write well and have a distinctive, intelligent and wry voice, but your sentences tend to be overly long and difficult to navigate with lots of run-ons and too many clauses. This makes them hard to read and frustrating for the reader. I’ve broken up a lot of them to show you the best and simplest way to do it. I’ve also indicated other sentences that you need to break up, but I suggest you go through and identify still more and smooth them out.

I’ve also broken up your paragraphs, which also tend to be too long. Large blocks of text are disinviting to the reader. You need to give your reader plenty of spots to rest, jump in and out of the narrative. Also, dialog always needs to start on a new paragraph when the speaker changes.

Speaking of dialog, your dialog is mostly good, if occasionally a bit stiff and formal (for lack of contractions), and it is consistently mispunctuated. I’m attaching a tutorial on how to punctuate dialog. I think I’ve found and fixed most of the errors, and our final line editor will also check, but it’s good for you to know how to do it and to check for errors too.

Other than those niggling details, I think the book needs very little work. So what we’re looking at is really more of a nice polish to make it shine. I like the way you’ve broken it up into sections and chapters, and I like the titles. I added chapter numbers. I also like the flow and the way you tell your story, foreshadowing certain things to come when appropriate. I’ve noted in the manuscript just a couple of times you need to set the scene a bit better and clarify things.



I have a few more passes to make on my end before I sent the document with MY edits back to her, and then we move on to having it scheduled internally for production!

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ahunter3: (Default)
It's been a nerve-wracking 7 weeks since the offer letter but the proverbial ink (mostly digital ink) is now on the contract. The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, a 97,000 word genderqueer coming-out and coming-of-age memoir, shall be published by Ellora's Cave.



It will be available in digital format first, on Ellora's Cave's own website, on Amazon, theoretically on ARe*, and on Kobo Books, and Barnes & Noble, and Apple.

http://www.arebooks.com/
http://www.amazon.com
https://store.kobobooks.com/
http://www.barnesandnoble.com
https://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/books

* ARe is a web site devoted to erotica titles, which makes sense for Ellora's Cave's traditional oeuvre, but less so for THE STORY OF Q. But if they want to carry it who am I to quarrel?


The book will also be available in physical form as a paperback book, something fundamentally important and viscerally appealing to my 20th-century experiences.

Ellora's Cave is a publisher focused until recently on steamy erotic romances. However, as their front page explicitly states, they are "now accepting new genres". I'm not 100% certain but I *think* my book will be printed under their new imprint "EC For Real", insofar as that is the one designated for memoirs, although it might also come out under "EC for LGBTQ", depending I suppose on whether that imprint is intended to incorporate LGBTQ nonfiction or will be focused on LGBTQ erotica and romance.

So they're doing new things, and I, as a newbie author, am definitely going to be doing new things, and I'm quite looking forward to the experience.

I have already had a leisurely chatty conversation with the editor, Susan Edwards, who will be working hands-on with me to refine and polish the manuscript; she began our conversation by asking what my preferred pronouns are, and expressed warmth and enthusiasm for the project, stating that this is a wonderful time for a genderqueer memoir to be hitting the market.


Due to the economic challenges of the publishing market, Ellora's Cave isn't directly able to engage the services of a publicity engine to promote their authors' books, so that will be up to me. I have no skills but I have my own personal publicity budget and an inclination to hire a professional publicist with it -- perhaps more than one. (If you have experience with a publicist you think would be a good match for this project, please get in touch with me!).


What I do have is a talk, which I have already been taking on the road, and I will be attempting to get myself booked more often now that I have a book coming out.


At home I have a bottle of 2007 Clovis Point Archeology awaiting decanting :)


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ahunter3: (Default)
Well, here's a genuine rarity— a genderqueer memoir and coming-out story! Audrey MC, which appears to be the nom de plume of Audrey Michelle Culver, has written about what it means to be genderqueer, what it is like, and how she came to that understanding of herself. And, in doing so, has beaten me to the punch.

Life Songs: A Genderqueer Memoir, Audrey MC (Chicago: Miniminor Media 2014)



Mixed feelings, to be sure. My proposals and pitch letters have often highlighted the utter absence of any such resource:

I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm male, that's my sex; I'm attracted to females, that's my orientation.

I don't feel as if I were born in the wrong body.

In 1980 there was no book I could find by anyone like that. Still isn't.



On the other hand, to hold in my hands the story of someone else like me... even now, I experience joy and surprise to find I'm not the only one, and it feels powerful to consider our story, OUT THERE, for people to read.

Like me, the author is malebodied and raised as a boy, identifies from early on as one of the girls instead, and at puberty finds sexual attraction to the (other, female) girls. And is very driven throughout the tale by a hunger for passionate being-in-love "movie moments", romantic intensity and give-your-heart relationships.

In a world where "genderqueer" is a multi-hued grab-bag of alternative gender identities, finding so much similarity made the first chapters so compelling that I had to keep reading. There are so many other forms that genderqueer may take. The author could, of course, have been born female and less than comfortable being cast as a girl or woman; or could identify as a demiboy or demigirl, a genderfluid person, or agender -- http://genderqueeries.tumblr.com/identities

Alas, the experience of strong identification was not destined to last. The author is subject to dysphoria, feeling (as many transgender individuals describe) that the strong sense of being a girl implies or necessitates that this male body is wrong; and following up on this, the author chooses sex reassignment surgery in order to live as a female person, a lesbian.

And that, in turns, makes it unusual that the author is self-described as genderqueer. Most people whose lives follow that trajectory self-identify as transgender or transsexual. What makes Audrey genderqueer is her eventual awareness, post-transition, that she was increasingly uncomfortable with excessive femininity; as female hormones did their work, she found herself choosing increasingly androgynous or masculine modes of hair-styling and dress, presenting as a rather boyish person, eventually embracing an identity "beyond the binary" of being either male or female, woman or man.

Oh, well... the perils of overidentification and the complexities of competition betweenst male girlish folks makes for some strange reactions on my part: how is it possible to feel simultaneously disappointed and relieved to find that Audrey's experience and story isn't so closely parallel to mine?


LIFE SONGS begins with a very good first section, the portion of the story taking up roughly the first third of the book, covering childhood adolescence and early adulthood. There are good hooks, a suspenseful setup: where will this go, what's going to happen to this person in this unusual situation?

The remainder of the book is a sometimes-giddy and sometimes-painful account of romantic obsessions and joyous beginnings as Audrey chases love and finds it and loses it and chases it yet again.

The main weaknesses of the book lie with what it omits. Several sequences of long passionate buildups and the sparking of relationships are followed by short choppy detached summaries of the breakups. This is a book with far more hearts and flowers (and love songs) than storm clouds and soul-baring confrontations. Audrey's relationships with Annie, Renee, daughter Penelope, and Becca come to a close with scarcely any dialog and no more than a modicum of internal monologue. Admittedly, the author is somewhat aware of this tendency to avoid the sturm und drang of the darker side of drama, as evidenced by her description of how she broke up with Annie — deliberately leaving a note from next lover Renee where Annie would find it. Audrey describes Annie's irate arrival and confrontational accusations and crying scenes when she does so, along with Audrey's own avoidance and discomfort.

But that avoidance permeates the book itself, not merely confessing to being afraid of such scenes but glossing over losses and pains. For example, the portion of the book that describes Audrey's relationship with Renee starts on page 92; the first hint that not all is well in that particular paradise occurs on page 119, followed by a superbrief summary of the breakup on page 120, then elaborated on briefly on pages 122-123 —

By late 1995, Renee and I have been together for over five years and married for two, but our union began to crumble. We had nightly talks, navigating the potholes that had developed along our previously smooth road... From the conversations, we knew that we were no longer the team we once were...

As 1997 approached, Renee and I continued to have issues. We moved into our own apartment , trying to start fresh on our own, but we had just as many bad days as we had good.


It's not the only area of omission: I would have appreciated far more about being genderqueer specifically. One does not begin to be genderqueer only at the moment that one first realizes it and embraces the term, of course, but the discussion of gender identity above and beyond being a girl or woman originally born male starts on page 232 of a 246 page book, and again suffers from a detached kind of summary and glossing-over:

Prior to meeting Alice and before my queer enlightenment, I thought of myself simply as a lesbian with a birth defect who had it fixed. But after she entered my life and I became more involved in the queer community, I realized how absurd it was for me to identify as a lesbian, for it was a term that was so limiting in its binary construct. My identification as queer became an expression of my recognition that I completely rejected our society's imposed binary system. Nothing is that black and white. We live in greyscale, ebbing and flowing along an infinite number of points on a spectrum.


There's a likelihood here that I am being unfair to an author I overidentified with and for whom I also feel a sense of rivalry. Yet another aspect of the contradictory feelings elicited in me by that was on display when I checked up on the stature of the publisher and found that Miniminor Media does not appear to have any other titles. I looked for reviews of LIFE SONGS and found four short single-paragraph ones on Amazon, where the book is sold.

I realized I was paying far more attention to reception and reviews and whatnot for this book than I've tended to do when I've reviewed transgender and other LGBTQ books and plays and movies — another byproduct of identifying with Audrey and her book. And what I carry away with me is a somewhat ominous self-warning: I must do whatever I need to do to fend off the possibility that my book will be published but quickly sink out of sight, largely unread and unreviewed and unnoticed.
ahunter3: (Default)
I'm a little uncertain about the propriety of saying "we".

I mean, I identify as part of the LGBTIQ rainbow, and it would not be horribly unreasonable or unlikely that I would be giving talks or participating in panel discussions hosted at venues like the club in Orlando. And I've been on the receiving end of the hostility and violence a few times over the years.

But whether you or the survivors from the club or the activists organizing vigils and marches would regard me as part of the population directly targeted by this act of violence or not is not really the point anyway.

An incredibly ugly act of mass murder took place and it was directed at gay people.

It was an act of violence directed BY a person who was inspired by ISIS, yes, and it was an act of violence deployed WITH a lethal firearm, yes indeed. And if what affronts you about the event is that ISIS-style fundamentalist extremists are bringing violence to us in our communities and homes, you aren't wrong, nor are you wrong if what offends you is the easy access to assault weapons designed to kill large numbers of people in a short period of time.

But hey: if ISIS style fundamentalist violence bothers you, kindly note that what this guy targeted with this reactionary and hateful violence was a roomful of gay guys, and that it's in keeping with the hateful homophobic ideology that he apparently embraces. And if issues of gun control are your primary political interests that are evoked by this event, be aware that spates of murderous violence are not random but tend quite often to be reactionary acts of hate against previously disempowered outgroups who have dared to start behaving as if they were people.

It could have happened to some other group of people. It might have been women. It might have been black people. It might have been American suburbanites gathering for a picnic. I think it's important to see and understand that it could have been. And therefore that it could have been any of us.

But it wasn't. Don't erase the victims and the identity in common for which they were targeted.

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ahunter3: (Default)
I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.


I have a bookshelf on which my feminist theory books reside (Robin Morgan's The Anatomy of Freedom; Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology, Marilyn French's Beyond Power, Sonia Johnson's Going Out of Our Minds, Elizabeth Janeway's Man's World Woman's Place, Naomi Wolf's Promiscuities, Myriam Miedzian's Boys Will Be Boys, and so on); and I have a different bookshelf I've been populating with books pertaining to transgender experiences (Jan Morris's Conundrum, Mario Martino's Emergence, Chaz Bono's Transition, Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There, Dhillon Khosla's Both Sides Now, etc).

Serano's book kicks the transgender issue into the larger context; she's written a book that is clearly a feminist theory book; not merely about being transgender and transsexual, it is a book about what gender means, and what it means to be a feminist in relationship to gender and vice versa, exploring that from the vantage point of a person who is a lesbian, a woman, and a transsexual person. She's given me some pushback on some of my own attitudes towards people's claims to feeling specifically that their bodies, their physical morphology, is wrong, making me realize that because that specific experience is foreign to me, I've been resistant to it, inclined superficially to accept it as a possibility but inwardly pretty damn dismissive of it, believing (I confess) that most dysphoria is really about having a personality and behavior pattern that doesn't fit the expectations attached to one's biological sex. Because that's my experience, I'm feminine, girlish, womanly, yet have a male body. But no, I don't have a schematic diagram in my mind insisting that I'm supposed to have female parts. And since I don't, well, gee, the people that say they DO probably don't realize they're just mentally associating the morphology with the personality and behavior constellation that our culture attaches to it. So, Serano's right when she says that people who are queer on one possible axis can be just as opaque about another possible axis as any cisgender heterosexual conventional person. She's right that I've been that way, at least in the more private parts of my head, and she's given me a righteous shove away from that attitude.

It's a privileged attitude. I don't know what you would call it, terminology-wise: "cisgender" isn't right since I was born (and remain) male but identify as a woman or girl. Non-transsexual. Serano refers to "subconscious sex" (that schematic-diagram-in-the-head thing) and says everyone has one, but only those who have one that is a mismatch for their physiology become aware of it as something separate from their sex and their (social-behavioral) gender. Here, at last, at least, is a place in which I am a part of the sexual-gender mainstream, whatever you choose to call it, because I certainly don't have that experience. And as with many people in the privileged situation of being part of the mainstream, I've been oblivious and condescending to folks who have been describing their own, different, non-mainstream experience. Guilty as charged.



What finally prompted me to open my text editor and make a blog entry about it today, though, was this little passage on pgs 274-275:

...I was born transgender—my brain preprogrammed to see myself as
female despite the male body I was given at birth—but like every child,
I turned to the rest of the world to figure out who I was and what I
was worth... I picked up on all the not-so-subliminal messages that
surrounded me...[which] all taught me to see "feminine" as a synonym
for "weakness". And nobody needed to tell me that I should hate myself
for wanting to be what was so obviously the lesser sex.


I had been nodding along with Serano, chapter after chapter, page after page. (Even the section where she upbraided genderqueer folks like me who don't have that bodily dysphoria and try to condense Gender down to social roles and behaviors and personality characteristics). But I read this and realized I was shaking my head. This didn't match my experience at all.


I don't know when I first became aware that The World in the large authoritative sense considered girls and women to be inferior, but for me it was preceded by many years in which I thought the only people who thought so were people who belonged to an obviously inferior and suspect class — boys. They obviously thought so, but who cared what THEY thought about anything, if you even wanted to dignify anything they did by calling it "thinking"? If anything, their opinions of girls just added to the evidence that they themselves were inferior, because anyone could clearly see the real facts of the matter. Girls were mature, self-monitoring and self-controlling of their own behavior. Girls could be mean, but if they were mean it wasn't because they were like untamed dog-creatures frothing and lunging at the ends of their leashes, as the boys were. And most of the girls weren't mean, most girls were kind people, thoughtful people, trying to be good to other people as part of being good citizens.

By the time I was realizing that many (maybe most) adult men believed themselves superior to adult women, I was also hearing the voices of the women's liberation movement; it was the era I grew up in. And I was older yet when it began to dawn on me that so many adult men considered BOYS superior to GIRLS. Seriously??! Are you fucking KIDDING me?!? At first when I encountered this I interpreted it as meaning "the boys are more important in the long run because they will grow up to be men" (and by then I'd realized they thought men were superior to women), but I still assumed it was like someone putting a higher value on a sack of seeds than they would put on a bag of ripe yummy blueberries because the seeds would eventually yield a whole crop that would be worth more, but you still don't want a mouthful of seeds instead of a mouthful of blueberries if you see what I mean. I was already nearly an adult before I fully realized that many adult men viewed the actual characteristics exhibited by boys in general as superior to the characteristics exhibited by girls in general. Meaning that they were proud of exhibiting those same characteristics even as adult men and had never changed course and started trying to emulate girls and women in order to be socially interactive and cooperative humans and stuff.

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ahunter3: (Default)
I see another email in my inbox with subject "re: QUERY--From a Differently Gendered Closet: The Story of Q".

I double-click it to see who the rejection is from so I can dutifully record it in my database of queries.

It starts off:


I really like what I've read so far of your manuscript and would like to offer you a publishing contract if it's still available. We are a digital-first publisher, so first publication would be in ebook form. Our terms are quite generous.

Let me know if you're interested.

Pretty much everything in our contract is negotiable...



I blink a lot.




I have a weary and wary and cynical outlook at this point. I was querying publishers back in 1982 and got an offer to publish and only after reading the fine print realized it was what is called a "vanity press".

This publisher is not a vanity press, I know that much at least. But that doesn't mean this is a done deal and that there aren't any dealbreaker-type "gotchas". But I'm sipping tequila at the moment, oh yes I am.



If it should turn out that this really and truly is IT and I'm going to be published (in a way that counts, etc) then for the record I just crossed the 800-query mark:


Current Stats:


The Story of Q--Total Queries = 800
Rejections: 735
Outstanding: 65

As NonFiction--total queries = 579
Rejections: 516
Outstanding: 63

As Fiction--total queries = 221
Rejections: 219
Outstanding: 2



The query that landed this response was sent directly to publisher and billed it as fiction (LGBTQ-Feminist), specifically as a coming-out story, "a 97,000-word coming-of-age (and coming-out) story - set in the 1970s but aimed at today's gender-questioning world."

Further info will be forthcoming. I'll keep you informed.


In other news, I will be presenting my talk again at the EPIC lifestyle conference this weekend! I'll post about that too.

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