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The second and third major chunks of my book are set partially in Los Alamos and partially in Albuquerque. I wrote about Los Alamos in my July 2 blogentry, so I figured I'd describe Albuquerque a bit in this one.

Physically, Albuquerque is a mostly-flat city but surrounded by mountains to the east and the Rio Grande to the west. The land on the other side of the Rio rises up to a mesa so that from certain angles Albuquerque looks like a city in a bowl with the mountains making the rim. Satellite view The really impressive mountains to the east is the Sandia ridge and the smaller echoing ridge on the other side of the river is West Mesa.

In a pattern that people familiar with Manhattan would recognize, the majority of the city is laid out in a grid of streets making rectangular blocks. Three hundred some-odd thousand people were living in Albuquerque in 1978-1980 when the action in my story takes place. The population is up over five hundred thousand now. It's the big city in New Mexico.

It's at a lower elevation than Los Alamos, although still considered a high-elevation city, and the lower elevation means it is hotter and dryer. The surrounding countryside is a barren landscape of scrub and rock. Once shortly after I moved there, I went out for a long walk after getting stoned courtesy of my neighbor's bong pipe, and got it into my head to walk out beyond the bounds of civilization to be in "nature". The suburban streets featured trees, locusts and cottonwoods and oaks and whatnot, and I think I unconsciously visualized myself coming out into some kind of primitive forest. Instead, I found myself leaving a green oasis of lawns and trees and ending up in the desert.

In the book, I end up living in Albuquerque twice, both times for the purpose of attending a school: First, I was a student at Albuquerque Vo-Tech, a trade school that seems to have disappeared into obscurity (it wasn't the institution called TVI, but rather a different one); I think it was somewhere around Eubank, north of Central. I lived on Grove Street SE in a rented house with another Vo-Tech student in 1978 and 1979. I was 18 and I had bailed out on the college trajectory my folks expected for me because I wanted financial independence early and thought that I'd enjoy being an auto mechanic.

I was regarded by some who knew me at the time as having insufficient aspirations for myself, but my attitude towards money wasn't all that peculiar for the region. In much of the west, in fact, there's sort of an attitude that self-sufficiency is very important, but once you get beyond that you're supposed to be low-key about wealth. It's OK to have it, to be well-off or downright rich, but it's in poor taste to be ostentatious about it. In Albuquerque the millionaires are likely to be wearing denim and to spend very little effort trying to impress other folks or being snobby about how rich they are. And I had met my share of people who simply wanted to earn enough to be adequately comfortable and to put a higher priority on independence and respect, to do something well enough that you could get paid for your skills and call your own shots, move on if you don't like your job because your abilities are in demand everywhere, be your own person who didn't have to take shit from anyone else. Yeah, that looked good to me.

Albuquerque is roughly half Hispanic (or Chicano, as folks say in New Mexico) and half non-hispanic white, with a sprinkling of other races and ethnicities. This is a part of the country where folks of Spanish ancestry were here first, with the oldest families being in the region before Mexico had separated from Spain and other families having come north to settle here between Mexico's independence and Mexico's loss of this land in the war with the US in the middle 1800's. There is some ethnic friction, some of which is apparent as a social backdrop in the Albuquerque sections of my book, but it's not a high tension adversarial hostility so much as an occasional clash of cultures and different ways of looking at things.

I had a bigger problem with being in a virtually all-male environment. There were very few women at the Vo-Tech school, and my experiences during that year brought an increased awareness that I still didn't integrate particularly well with male company. It wasn't so much that I was the target of violence and hostility (although yes, there was some of that) as I was left lonely without people to be friends with and talk to. These were also my first years out of the parental home, getting used to living my own life and learning about myself and becoming an adult.

A contributing factor to my loneliness was the format of partying and socializing in Albuquerque. I had come from Los Alamos where the teenagers and young adults would congregate in a single specific parking lot and obtain beer and learn where the outdoor bonfire party was at this evening; and then the party was public and no invitation was required. The equivalent social action in Albuquerque took place either in people's private homes or in bars or, especially for younger people who couldn't legally drink in bars yet (like me at the time), driving around, cruising certain blocks and showing off your car and chatting with people through the car windows and so on. The indoor scene required social connections and invitations and doing the car cruising thing successfully required having enough money to spiff up your car and keep the gas tank filled. As a student on a tight budget with no income of my own, I could afford some weed and some beer but not much else.

I did, however, scheme and plan about pimping out my ride. I was training as an auto mechanic, after all. Someday, when I could afford it, it was going to have this additional equipment and that color paint job all deep lustrous laquer, and more chromium and seats like so... oh yes, despite whatever difficulties I was having mixing with the guys, I still conceptualized myself as a guy and I embraced some images and notions about how to be a guy, notions I expected to work for me. Countercultural cool, longhaired intellectual blue-collar neo-hippie, you know?

The attempt to kick off a career as an auto mechanic did not pan out for me for a variety of reasons. I passed the course but came out the other side without the years of experience that some guys had. I returned to Los Alamos but ultimately I was unable to land and hold on to a job that would give me the self-sufficiency I'd sought. A year later my folks succeeded in talking me into trying college after all, and I came back to Albuquerque to attend UNM in 1979.

The University of New Mexico is a commuter campus for the large number of students already living in Albuquerque, but this time around I lived in the dorms. I was in Coronado Hall. The campus is mostly compact instead of being sprinkled in pieces all over the city as some urban college campuses do; most of UNM's campus sits between Central and Lomas Boulevard with a somewhat looser sprawl of buildings north of Lomas. There are a lot of business catering to the student experience and campus life in the blocks south of Central Ave, trendy shops and eateries. Back in 1979 there was a head shop selling marijuana paraphernalia and Freak Brothers comic books and across from it a vegetarian restaurant called The Purple Cow, a used record store, and so on. Some scenes in the book take place in the Frontier Restaurant, home of the best huevos rancheros you'll ever eat, and in the Siren Coffeehouse, a feminist hangout that used to host poetry readings and women's music.

The front lawns of the campus were a congregating spot for people to sit and party and socialize. In addition to students, there were travelers hitching or driving through and local people who didn't attend the university but liked the scene. Here at last I found the informal socializing environment that most closely resembled the party scene I missed from Los Alamos. (It was also where one went to purchase weed and other psychoactive substances).

The music department buildings were nearby. I was majoring in music with the intention of becoming an orchestral composer and a performing / composing pianist, and I would get high and chat with folks on the lawn and then dive into the practice room, notebook and portable cassette player in hand, to practice and write my music.

It was during my time as a university student that I came out. It was an environment that theoretically should have made that easier--instead of the all-male and macho-inflected world of VoTech or the small-town cautions of Los Alamos, I was now for the first time in a place where other students were sending me signals left and right that they thought they knew my secret and that it was OK, that I should accept myself and that when I did I would find that others accepted me too. But I didn't know who--or what or how, if you will--I was yet. It wasn't what they thought I was, the identity that they were so ready and kindly willing to accept. They were onto something though. It was that kind of difference. The winks and gentle hints were as discomfiting to me as the violent hostility had been, a never-ending poking and nudging at me to deal with these questions for which I had no answer.

And that's the setting for the book's climax and reconciliation.


My book, The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, is scheduled to be published by NineStar Press on November 27 of this year.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Status Update

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

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

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

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

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


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

Current stats:

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

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

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"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)
Is there any legitimate role for a male activist to play within feminism and women's studies?

Derek is an angry genderqueer activist who wants to go to college and major in women's studies so badly that he hitches to NY and even withstands a year of homelessness to get into the school of his choice.

He sails through his undergrad career cheered on by his teachers who wave him on to graduate school, encouraging him to believe he can pursue his genderqueer politics there. But then things deteriorate. He faces off with the only Sociology professor doing feminist theory: another male. The professor expects to take students under his wing and mentor them, while Derek is used to doing theory as an active (and political) verb and doesn't respond well to being spoken to as if he wasn't already a theorist.

The Sociology professor tells him that he should be embracing socialist feminism instead of radical feminism, and when Derek disagrees, what begins as an intellectual correspondence degrades into a pissing contest, eventually to their mutual embarrassment.

Derek's interactions with the school's interdisciplinary women's studies program start off on a better foot but eventually lead to another disagreement, this time between poststructuralist feminist theory and radical feminist theory. This puts him for the first time in the indefensible position of being a male telling women professors they're doing feminism wrong.

THAT GUY IN OUR WOMEN'S STUDIES CLASS is a 93,000-word memoir, providing an entertaining story in the "fish out of water" genre, with interpersonal conflict and conflict between personal aspirations and institutions. It also explores serious political issues of interest to feminist theorists: the implications and limits of male participation in feminism, of course, but also the tension between egalitarian elements in feminist theory and the hierarchical relationship between students and teachers as well as between faculty and institution, and the role of theory itself (subject matter to be studied? personal understanding of the world in which we live?) in a college student's life.

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ahunter3: (Default)
In February, I excerpted a second book from my massive autobiographical tome. This one begins with me figuring out that I could discuss all these gender issues, and my interest in feminist theory, in a women's studies class. My folks (not too surprisingly, but to my dismay) aren't interested in financing a 3rd attempt at college so I head off in a huff, hitch to New York to seek whatever job I can get with the aim of eventually getting in anyway. A year of homelessness there is a blessing in disguise: it makes me economically independent of my parents and so I quality for financial aid and I do indeed get into college.

The balance of the story, THAT GUY IN OUR WOMEN'S STUDIES CLASS, is about me in college trying to do feminist theory and pursue my gender activism in the 80s and 90s.


This second book has been sitting on the back burner for several months; I didn't like the query letter I was using for it and I was focusing on the first book. But recently (for reasons I'm about to go into) I decided I wanted to go back to sending queries on that one again, and I spent some time revamping the query letter.

I'll post the new query letter I'm using for it in a moment.

Anyway, my current thinking is that either of these books MIGHT be more easily published at an academic press instead of a mainstream popular press. Authors query academic presses directly rather than trying to get an agent, and I haven't gotten many nibbles from agents yet.

I have not, as of yet, tried to market the first book (THE STORY OF Q) to academic presses because many agents don't want to have anything to do with a book that has been seen by publishers yet. Quite possibly they aren't thinking about academic presses when they make that stipulation, but I haven't wanted to do anything that would limit my options with them.

I'm thinking that by hawking the second book to academic presses, I retain the honest freedom of saying, with regards to the first book, that no, it has not been seen by any publishers, and at the same time, if the second book generates any interest among academic presses (or even gets picked up for publication!), I can let them know at that time that I have a different book they might also want to take a look at. Plus, if it gets printed, I'm then a published author instead of an unpublished author looking for an agent for the first book.



-----

Stats so far on the two books:


THE STORY OF Q

Total queries so far: 316
Rejections or no answer after 3 months: 161
Outstanding (sent, no reply yet): 112

THAT GUY IN OUR WOMEN'S STUDIES CLASS

Total queries so far (including old query letter): 25
Rejections or no answer: 17
Outstanding: 4


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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
As I mention in my query letter (see previous post), my first attempt to come out to people got me locked up in the nuthouse. That was mostly just miscommunication: I'd done such a piss-poor job of putting things into words that personnel at the university thought I was either threatening folks or coming unraveled. So with that as a baseline, any future attempts to explain this mess were likely to be an improvement.


But (you may well be wondering), why was I bothering to explain myself to other people in the first place? That's a fair enough question. The thing is, for the first two decades of my life, it was not me who was making a big deal about me being a girl, or being girl-like, or not appropriately boy-like. And it was not me who was making a big deal about who I wanted to have sex with. Nope, I was getting an earful on those subjects, some of it very hostile and some of it liberally tolerant, and nearly all of it based on assumptions that didn't link up very closely with how I felt inside.


So when I figured myself out in 1980, I was all full of enthusiasm and relief and joy as well as more than a little righteous anger, because understanding myself also meant understanding the prejudices and expectations that I'd been up against all that time.


My first serious attempt to get something in writing and out there where it could be read was in 1982. I had a short book that was a combination of personal experiences and my own brand of gender and feminist theory and tried to find a publisher, but got nowhere with it.


After a couple of years, I got the idea of going back to college and majoring in women's studies, where this kind of thing would fit right in as relevant subject matter, and where my professors would maybe be interested in what I was trying to say. I did well as an undergraduate this time around, getting my BA in women's studies in 3 years, but the materials we studied in class were more at the introductory level and it wasn't really appropriate for me to make the classroom experience about me; as for my professors, they were supportive and wrote warmly encouraging comments on my papers and suggested that I go on to graduate school to pursue my interests, but they didn't exactly take up my cause as their own or anything.


Grad school didn't go as smoothly. I went into the Sociology department as a self-labeled radical feminist theorist, still seething with my own ideas and wanting to use theory and academia as my platform (aha! I'm using the word myself now!). I expected some caution and some friction from feminist women, and I expected the mainstream Sociology department to be somewhat resistant to a student espousing radical feminist perspectives, but I thought I'd prevail. I didn't. I was still looking for someone to care about my experiences and help me express them, and instead graduate school was more about professionalizing us and getting us to follow in the academic footsteps of our faculty advisors.


I did, however, finally get into print with my central ideas, in an academic journal article, "Same Door, Different Closet: A Heterosexual Sissy's Coming-out Party", printed in 1992. Not long after that, though, I ran out of funding and had burned too many bridges; I had to find a job and didn't have a good working relationship with anyone on faculty, so I never finished up.


I haven't done much with the idea of explaining this material to the world since then, until this new book.

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