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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ahunter3: (Default)
I'm deep into the author's conference that started on Feb 4, with our 4th weekly assignment turned in last Thursday and comments still trickling in on what we wrote (and replied to that other people wrote) from the previous week, assignemnt 3, as well.

I'm on pins and needles because for both assignment 3 and assignment 4 what I turned in are scenes from my book that specifically highlight my sexuality and my attempts, at the time, to get things to work and/or figure out why they weren't working. And so it's personal and it's hard not to just talk their ears off explaining and elaborating in response to every little tidbit of feedback.

Assignment 3: a scene where your character is in a difficult situation and how they handle it

Assignment 4: a scene full of dialog in which what a character says is at odds with what character actually feels or believes


For Assignment 3, I snipped a bit from "Back to University", where a girl in my college class invites me back to her room and I'm hoping she fancies me and things will develop; but she talks about her divorce and how she sometimes misses staying in bed on a rainy weekend and having nonstop sex, and I get all self-conscous about being a virgin and not knowing how the heck people figure out how to get from "friends" to "yeah and sex".

For Assignment 4, I snagged a section from the previous chapter, about 6 months' prior to the Asgn 3 event in real life, where I was at a party and wondering why the hell I never get a girlfriend or get laid and I get all cynical and wonder what would happen if I just act like other boys, in other words be overt about seeking sex and pretend like I don't care if she does or not... and holy shit, the girl I try it out on doesn't get pissed off, she SAYS that I'm being disrespectful and she's not that kind of girl etc but she's bantering with me. And it freaks me out quite a bit (and confirms my cynical anger about How Things Are) and I quit playing


The feedback is interesting (and I crave more more more feedback dammit, and discusson and stuff!).

In general: the others in the class see my main character (that would be ME) as sexless or asexual in Assignment 3, and then in Assignment 4 so far (feedback just starting to trickle in) they see my behavior with this girl as totally normative, completely missing that I'm acting in anger and contempt, that I'm acting out of character and that this isn't at all what I want, this demeaning humiliating game. And they ask "Gee why did your MC stop? Did he fail to get that the girl was into him?"

This all constitutes a mixture of good and frustrating results. Good, that people read the scenes and without prompting, and without me pounding them over the head lecture style, they perceive "Hey wow, you experienced yourself as a sexual being who just wasn't having any success, and yes indeed the reason is that your participation was so different from 'normal boy' behavior that you were completely off their radar, you came across as sexless" in Asgn 3. And good, that I did not have to claim that the girl was interested in me, or that my verbally sexually aggressive behavior (overtly asking for sex, not letting it drop when she says no) was in fact normative and that I was copying boy-behavior I'd seen all around me.

What's more frustrating is that my book needs to get people inside MY head, the MC's head, and with the others in the class reading a scene here and a scene there, I can't know (yet) whether they'd have a clearer sense of my feelings and attitudes and, well, my sexuality, if they'd read up to this point in the book instead of just being dropped down into this scene.

In our "introduce yourself" first emails to classmates, I did say I was genderqueer, without much additional explanation: "I'm genderqueer. (sort of like being trans, which you've probably heard more about; more on that later)". I think most of them have forgotten, I haven't brought it up since then.

I did reply "backchannel" (i.e., to her email address alone, not to the group as a whole) to one other author, because she replied to my Asgn 4 immediately, on Thursday, and I wanted an early feel for "if I explain a little, does it click into place?") -- and that went very well, she said not only these two scenes but another one featuring me being beaten up for very little discernable reason, suddenly made a lot more sense.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Feminist theorist Laura Mulvey introduced the idea of the "male gaze" originally when talking about movies. She claimed, pointed out examples, and made her case that film footage was shot, directed, planned, and edited by males imagining (consciously or by default) a male audience, and that the depiction of women onscreen in particular was being shaped by this: that the camera ogled actresses, that the way the cameras tracked them throughout, etc, was guided and structured around this male gaze.

Years later, as a grad student pursuing feminist studies, I was presented with poststructuralist feminist theory's assertion that every depiction of women anywhere, in any medium, even when filmed or written or painted or described by a female author, was still inevitably always only the male gaze in action. Because men own language, have created the language of depiction, etc. Like most things poststructuralistic, that's ridiculously overstated and I HATE that stuff, that over-the-top (or under-the-bottom) insistence that power is so totally hegemonic that no feminism or other resistance to it has room to breathe. But if one backs off from that extreme position enough to allow for the possibility of movement, it's a useful observation: the male gaze seeps into other perspectives by having set the examples.

Anyway, that male gaze is a cisgendered and heterosexually oriented male gaze. That's assumed without modifying adjectives or qualifiers. And as a consequence of that, the male gaze plays a role in informing the world's response to exception males, males who are not cisgender, males who are not heterosexual. One component of homophobia and of its less-often spotlighted twin sissyphobia is what I call the "broccoli eating response": when someone who hates broccoli sees someone else eating it, they may respond "ewww, how can you eat that? broccoli takes horrible!". As if their own subjective experience of it were actually an objective measure of innate broccoli-characteristics. And in a similar way, cisgender hetero males often experience gay males and non-cis males with a reaction of "ewww, you're not doing it right, that's all wrong and stuff!"

Exhibit A: a malebodied* girl. *(By "malebodied" I am referring to the components of a transperson or genderqueer person that are not consistent with their gender, i.e., the physiological and morphological characteristics that people relied on when they assigned them the gender that is other than the gender they identify as now). The operator of the male gaze comes along, perceives, and says "Ewwww, I would not fuck that, that's gross and disgusting". And in response to follow-up questions, says "If you found and trotted out one of those that was sexy and cute, that would be gross and disgusting because that would me me a fag, that would make ME into one of the people I say 'ewwww' about. So that's all wrong". This evaluation assumes that the malebodied girl in question is who she is in order to seek his admiring and appreciative gaze.

For the transwoman who is a "transitioner" —- that is, one who seeks to present as female-bodied, whether with or without surgery or hormones or other bodily modifications -- and whose attraction happens to be towards men, ...here, especially, the mainstream interpretation, informed by the male gaze, is that the desire to be found sexually appealing to the male gaze is the entire reason WHY she is trans.

Well guess what? There are other components; this is, at best, only one factor.

Being able to have female friends without being perceived as a walking appetite symbol, someone whose interest in any woman or girl is always tagged as a sexual interest.

Being able to have one's own behavioral nuances interpreted through the viewer's "dictionary" of girl / woman behaviors.

Having other folks' behaviors geared towards and shaped by a set of starting expectations of what it will mean to be dealing with a girl or woman.

In short, to be thought of as a girl.


I'm holding in my hands a zine titled NOT TRANS ENOUGH: A Compilation Zine on the Erasure of Non Passing and Non Conforming Trans Identified People, compiled and edited by Eddie Jude. In it are the musings and rants and manifestos of others who, like me, run headlong into the attitude that if your goal is not to be sexual eye candy for the cisgender heterosexual people whose attraction is towards the gender that you now identify as, then you make no sense, what's the point of you?

A feminist theorist would point out that even if the transperson in question is a transman, and the anticipated admiring gaze therefore that of a heterosexual cisgender woman, our assumptions about what she would find interesting and attractive are heavily informed by the MALE gaze, as many models of female sexuality are unconsciously and unthinkingly formulated by assuming women's sexuality is just like men's "except aimed in the opposite direction".

Attitudes from the mainstream and, to a significant extent, also from within the trans community itself, towards transwomen lesbians, often has quite a bit of that "what's the point?" component. Doubly so if the person is not a transitioner.

On a message board, I came out as genderqueer, specifically as male (that's my sex) and as a girl (that's my gender) and was informed:

I would consider Trans people as the Gender they feel they are, whether they've had surgery or not. That isn't at all relelvant to your case because YOU AREN'T TRANS! Transgendered people try to live as their preferred gender to the best their social and financial circumstances permit. If they can, they will fully transition, though sadly that isn't possible for a lot of people. You aren't doing that.


No, indeed I'm not. And yeah, apparently I, too, am Not Trans Enough to count.

As a nontransitioning lesbianesque male girlish person, my laundry list of wishes and desires and expectations doesn't seem to appear on that person's social radar. But I would like to be able to connect with and make friends with my peers -- women of compatible age and experience in particular, without all expressions of interest on my part being seen through the lens of expectations about malebodied folk and their interests in women. I want my gestures and postures and tone of voice and facial expressions and whatnot to be interpreted correctly, and to be treated by people in a fashion that makes sense for the person that I am, and all that happens a lot more often when people think of me as one of the womenfolk.

Is SOME portion of it all about marketing yourself as sexually attractive to those you're attracted to yourself? For most of us, I think it probably plays a role, sure. In my case, given my attraction to women, I would formulate it as "being equally able and eligible to be a femme, rather than being relegated to being butch". And that doesn't tend to happen if I'm perceived as a guy or man.

But being generically perceived as sexy, as sexy is generically set up for the gender you identify as, is damn well not the fundamental truth behind this condition.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Sommerfugl is a dramatization of the story of Lile Elbe, described as the first trans person to undergo gender reassignment surgery, in 1930.

1930 was a very different and much more binary place than today's world. If you were male you were a man and you wore man clothes and did man things, with very attenuated possibilities for overlap with the experience of being a woman. It was a time without much option of playing the role without having the expected morphology. Echoing my observation of the middle-school book Gracefully Grayson, which I reviewed on September 8, I'd say that Sommerfugl's setting similarly permits author Bixby Elliot to express the idea of a male-bodied person being a woman in simple concise terms: Einar (later Lili) discovers he likes to wear a dress and when a man flirts with him while so adorned, he finds himself responding to it, hence he's a woman. The complexities and nuances that would be more likely brought up as alternative interpretations by skeptically hostile people in today's world were not considerations in 1930, and there are advantages to that straightforward simplicity.

Wayne Alan Wilcox is convincingly pretty and demure without needing girl-clothes and a girl-hairdo to complete the impression. His gestures, facial expressions, his reactions and the way he moves, particularly when dancing, all illustrate for us that this male-bodied person is a quite believable fit from the outside as a womanly person.

Bixby Elliot appears to have chosen to have his characters speak with a post-Victorian sentence structure, something which I do believe does accurately reflect the speaking style of the 1930s. Wayne Alan Wilcox's delivery of those oft-ornate lines was sometimes stilted and woodenly precise, making the moments when we was speaking become the occasion where he sounds affected and not natural. That's unfortunate, since as the lead character he speaks a lot in this play.

Aubyn Philabaum portrays Einar/Lili's wife Grete. Philabaum is emotionally compelling when on the tearful edge of distressed cheerfulness, right on the verge of a loss of decorum and control. The same prissy Victorian dialog rolls more fluidly and elegantly from her tongue. It is Grete who, needing an artist's model, first gets a reluctant Einar into a gown and tells him what a lovely woman he makes, and she's a gleeful co-conspirator when Einar is becoming Lili for the duration of a party and it's all in good fun. She's believable in the realistic scene where the transition is ceasing to be an entertainment and where Einar, and not Lili, is the pretense, and she finds herself frightened and uncertain about how to behave towards this stranger: "I don't know who you are any more, and if I don't know who you are I don't know who I am!"

Many transitioning people find themselves in that very situation, where initially supportive friends and family members suddenly find that the overall gestalt of visual cues and shapes and adornments now causes their mind to gender that person as the destination gender and it all becomes inescapably who that person now is and not just something that that person is "doing".

Bernardo Cubria plays multiple additional love interests (Claude, who comes on to Lili, and Rudolfo who charms Grete) as well as giving us Dr. Steuben. Cubria brings a robustly masculine Latin passion to the play, which turns out to be what both Lili and Grete wanted — he's the one to sweep a girl off her feet. The similar roles in a minimalist play lacking complicated costumes caused me some difficulty with differentiating the two romantic characters, a situation that can be hard to avoid when there are more roles than actors.

Michelle David portrays Anna, the model whose lateness prompted Grete to put Einar in a dress, and also plays his sister Kira and, thirdly, the hospital nurse. She turns in a solid delivery of these multiple supporting roles. As Kira, she gives us another person who loves Einar and who is having difficulties relinquishing his identity and allowing Lili to exist and be accepted.

I was drawn into this story because of its situation: here was a person who had no opportunity to look around, take notice of transgender people, read about their experiences, and then decide "I must be one of them". The sense of identity that the main character chose was not previously in existence. Einar not only had to invent Lili, but also had to synthesize the entire phenomenon of being transgender with no role models, no name for it, no prior example of how such a thing could be done. Those of you who read my blog will recognize that I find myself in that same situation as a male girl-woman who, unlike more conventional (transitioning) transgender activists, is OK with my physiological maleness and with being perceived (accurately) as a physiological male, and wherein I'm all about trying to create head-space in people's minds for the idea that there are male girls and female boys as well as the more conventional & more typical female girls and male boys, and that we should be accepted as we are, with no pressure to change behavior, presentation, or morphology.

In the story arc of Sommerfugl, that journey of synthesis is a multi-person process, with Grete getting Einar into women's garments, Einar and Anna the model enjoying taking him out in public for the fun of it, Einar becoming increasing convinced that he is more himself when Lili and uncomfortably less so when he reverts to being Einar and has to wear boy drag again, and Dr Steuben taking things to the next level by providing the unknown and unprecedented possibility of the surgical solution.

Sommerfugal by Bixby Elliot. From Sept 24 through Oct 10, 7:30 PM at Fourth Street Theatre in Manhattan. Presented by InViolet Theatre, Directed by Stephen Brackett.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Back in January, I posted to several groups and forums and posting areas that I participate in, telling folks I'd written a book that was a coming-out and coming-of-age story about growing up genderqueer, and asking for advance readers.

I just recently got a series of emails from one of those people who, having found time to read my book, sent me thoughtful comments and feedback.


The following are comments from five consecutive emails (and hence the rest of this post is not me speaking). The only editing I've done is to omit a sentence or two that were on another related topic.



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I'm reading your book now. I must say it's a very interesting unorthodox Bildungsroman, and there should be more of these around, so that those who feel queer could suffer less, knowing that not all people are squareminded!

*******

I'm half way through it now and I felt very very identified with your accounts of your childhood. I was regarded as a weirdo myself due to my adherence to the adult world and to the dogmatism inherent to it, which I had absorbed and I applied in my behaviour and relationships. That wasn't very wise, but I was young and I couldn't have known better... As a result I was abused for years by my peers, even when my peers changed through the years! But I managed, just as you did, and after acute suffering and suicidal tendencies, I overcame their criticisms and kept on being faithful to who I am.

Other weirdos around me tried to mingle and be a mimicry of "normality"; my sister, for instance. But she grew up to became suicidal in her adult life. Thus, we can consider ourselves lucky!

As your narration sounded so familiar to my ears, I was thinking to myself "why does this guy consider himself queer? his life is like mine" - that is, it's normal from my point of view -. Now I am reading the part in which the protagonist is having some sex both with a boy and a girl - non penetrative yet - and I remember when I had a girl friend I loved so much that I would have gone to bed with her - although it didn't happen -. ;-:-D

My step daughter/son aged nearly 14 is transgender, and s/he has gone through some shit already, although I think s/he is clear in her/his mind about stuff. Book like yours are very necessary, you know...

... Now I'll keep on reading, I'm wondering what is happening next with this guy...


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Hey, the colonel in page 150 is a tough one, I love him! :-D Resembles some gay friend of mine...

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Your book was great, I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the last part of it, when Derek investigates and tries to be himself despite everything. When he wears the wraparound skirt it reminds me of myself on the day I got rid of bullies. I was wearing a wig and acting crazy because I no longer cared, and when they learnt that they left me alone forever. And your allusions are very interesting. Conundrum has been in my list for years until I finally found that it is available in pdf in the net. It is in my to-read list.

When Derek was made to sign all those consent papers to put him in that institution I was like "DON'T!! DON'T DO IT!! THEY ARE CHEATING AND WANT TO PUT YOU AWAY!!!" I mean, really? Are we in Iran or something? God!

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Why on earth people are so influence by external stuff such as aesthetics? In Derek's case, he is just being himself in his choice of clothes which happen to have some esoteric symbolic meaning in our society and which are so crucial in how we see ourselves or in how others do that.

In my case, after years of repression I just showed a bit of myself when I was acting crazy with that wig. It's not that the wig had some special meaning or was any recognizable symbol for others. I think they was thought I was hopeless :-D :-D

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ahunter3: (Default)
So I've written this book about being a male person who is akin to male-to-female transgender folks except that I don't think I'm in the wrong body and am not trying to pass for "female" so much as be understood as "girl in male body". And about being attracted to female people but specifically AS a girlish rather than boyish-persuasion kind of male, and how that's different from heterosexuality and all that.

Now, as you may have noticed, this specific gender & sexual-orientation identity is not a "Thing" in our society at the moment. When I've asked people if they think my book would be redundant because this is already well-established and people with that sense of self are all over the place already, they say "Nope, that's definitely not already said-and-done and nope, kinda rare, that particular configuration".

Maybe too rare. What (you may well be wondering) is the basis for me thinking there's anything akin to a population of like-minded, similarly-experienced people who would read my book and identify with it? Why ought I to think I'm some kind of vanguard for an entire gender/orientation identity? What if, instead, I was a person who was a boy by day and a girl by night and was sexually attracted only to androgynous-looking people who flirt by night but consummate by day? I mean, at some point it becomes just my own personal unique turn-on or special-snowflake sense of identity, yes?


There are two factors that I believe play into why there isn't really much of a social presence for this sexual-invert identity I'm trying to talk up.

ONE: Personality itself. My partner Anais_PF heard me describe this one and it really "clicked" for her. Visualize my mostly-opposite corollary person for a moment: female bodied, has a very boy-identified past and in both personality and behavior is more like one of the guys than one of the other girls. And is attracted to male-bodied people albeit not necessarily the most conventionally masculine amongst them. Such women are not shy about their existence. They may not be melded into what you'd think of as a "movement" constituted around that specific identity, but they are a visible component of other more general movements and expressions of identity.

Feminism doesn't enshrine traditionally manly characteristics but it embraces the notion of even-handed fairness and hence the idea that if it is good for male people to exhibit certain characteristics, they must be equally admirable in women even if social norms and values say otherwise. And although the political consideraton of women's oppression and the demand for a level playing field have made feminism attractive over the years to a wide spectrum of women, we DO have a stereotyped notion of a woman of a certain personality who finds feminist sentiments particularly and personally validating, these being the women who proudly defy expectations of feminine daintiness and delicacy. Robust women. Some of whom, of course, are lesbians, confirming a certain expectation associated with those behaviors and expressions of personality; but some of whom, even if they aren't loudly distancing themselves from their lesbian cohort, are definitely NOT. Their not-lesbianism is often manifest in their critical assessment of male behavior, the complaints of women who at least potentially find male people attractive, were that maleness not quite so entangled with those males being MEN.

Yeah, OK, now consider us. Our situation is comparable, mirror-image, but being outspoken and confrontational about expectations is not merely a response to a situation; being outspoken and confrontational are also behaviors that reflect personality attributes to some extent, and so are the expections that are BEING defied, THEMSELVES. Visualize a roomful of males who, by our definition, are not feeling well-described by the masculine gender stereotype of personality characteristics. The robust women in the other room are defiantly tough confrontational women reacting to the definitional expectation that they be dainty and delicate, but in this room we have guys reacting to the definitional expectation that we be noisy boisterous aggressive tough guys, guys who are reacting to that because that description does not fit us. See the problem?


TWO: The, Umm, Being Coy Problem. Y'all remember the post about the "nice guys", the fellows who are perceived as manipulative whiners, guys who complain that women don't "give them sex" as rewards for being nice but instead "give sex" to guys who treat them horribly and all that? Well, as I said, those guys are sort of us and sort of not (and I've both acknowledged the overlap and made some rather emphatic distinctions). Let's take this opportunity to rephrase and reshape the expectations: not that women would "give us sex", because sex is not a commodity that females possess and for which males are the consumers; and not that we would get a "reward" for being "nice" because being "nice" is a personality characterisic, or a constellation of them, an aspect of who we are, and not some kind of favor we're doing women (or for that matter, anyone else).

If there's something we expect, or at least hope for, it's probably better expressed as women perceiving us as cute and imagining what they might do to us, what they might want to make us feel. Perceptions of our personality, the, umm, "niceness", might play a part in that. So, not women "giving us sex" but selecting for themselves an opportunity that they visualize themselves as being in charge of, that it is at their initiative and part of their pleasure coming from that dynamic. I would like to suggest to you that if the guys in this room are sort of imagining that, fantasizing about that kind of thing, we're also thinking that if we hang signs around our neck that read "We're hoping you'll do this, oh please DO ME, DO ME!", drawing attention to ourselves as individuals who would kind of, you know, react to that kind of situation with a significant degree of satisfaction and pleasure, that...that ... it's just not DEMURE, ok?? It would likely repel the women we're hoping for. If such scenarios have the possibility of playing out, if this can be a Thing, or even if the guys just maybe THINK it could be... well, the women involved in that scenario are going to want to believe it's their idea, at least to the extent that any really overt expression on our part of the fact that we want this to occur is most likely to be a major turnoff for them.

Yeah. There's no dignity in saying so. Yes, I do feel faintly ridiculous at the moment, thanks for asking.

By staying silent, we are deprived of the benefits of a collective identity, but those of us who need it the most (young ones coming of age and having to figure this out in order to function) would be the least able to speak out, and those in the best position to speak out (people like me who have not only figured it out but are actively IN relationships with people who understand us pretty well, thus have less to lose by being overt instead of coy about being sexually reactive), well, we have less pressing need for our gender and sexual orientation to be widely understood... we've GOT ours, if you see what I mean? And the ones in the middle, who have perhaps developed a sense of self and of their sexual nature that's somewhat congruent with what I've described here, but are still looking for partners in some significant sense of the word, well, the situation asks them to choose between being social activists about it or being viable potential partners.

You do the math.

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ahunter3: (Default)
So, let's say you're espousing pride in some sort of group identity. Could be anything: polyamory, communal living, lefthanded people, people who like to retain their underarm hairs, whatever.

It's pretty much inevitable that somebody, sooner or later, is going to react to that with "Oh, so, you people... you folks are like Embarrassing Example X, that's what you're talking about, right?"

Every group has one. If you're trying to promote the idea of polyamory, someone's going to ask if you mean something akin to the early Mormons, and so forth. If you're organizing unpopular kids who get bullied, someone's going to mention Klebold and Harris.

The thing is, the comparison wouldn't be made if there weren't some kind of overlap between what you're trying to talk about and what they're familiar with.

In my case, I found myself wincing when I read some of the descriptions of mass murderer Elliot Rodger: an angry man who was very uncomfortable with taking sexual initiative, and especially angry that male sexual experience was reserved mainly for guys who did. A guy who persisted in seeing this as an external problem, not as a personal problem of his own.

I can't tell you to what extent it's a spurious connection. I don't know all that much about the guy. I've probably read less of what was written about him than the average person, to tell you the truth. But I will say this: to whatever extent there are lots of people with experiences like mine up through my early 20s, that's a fertile soil for bitter anger; and in the absence of a shared identity and a shared understanding of this as a social-political issue, bitter anger tends to seek someone to blame.

It's part of what this is about. No, I'm not saying my book will prevent people like me from growing up to become mass murderers; that would be unduly melodramatic and has no more substantiation than someone equating me and what I'm trying to talk about with Elliot Rodger.

Another Embarrassing Example X that I may be compared to is the so-called "Nice Guys". I think the original send-up of "Nice Guys" was done on the website "Heartless Bitches International" 15-some-odd years ago; the gist of it was that there exist some self-described "nice guys" who are not directly sexually forward but whose motivation for being "nice" to girls is that they anticipate or expect sex as a sort of reward for being nice guys. Perhaps more to the point, they self-identify as "nice guys" usually in the course of complaining that they are underappreciated, that those evil women have the despicable tendency to prefer mean guys who treat them horribly, and that therefore they (the nice guys) should immediately STOP being nice and treat women like shit since that's obviously what they prefer.

I do have a different point of departure than these archetypal fellows: I may be angry about how things are set up but I have no intention of changing my behavior; if we're going to call it "being nice", well, it's not something I'm doing for someone else. And although, yeah, my analysis of the overall situation contains a lot of parallels to what these guys have collectively complained about, it's not women's fault. Women have explained in detail exactly what social prompts and punishments and expectations and so forth have channeled them into those very behaviors and choices, and THEY (the women) were making those explanations as complaints THEMSELVES. But yes, undeniably, on some level and in some sense of the word, it's about the same underlying phenomenon.

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There are two recurrent and interrelated comments or lines of thought that have cropped up quite often over the years in which I've been trying to do this:


• What is it that you hope to accomplish? What's your goal, your ideal outcome, if your efforts were to succeed?


• Why do we need to identify and "have liberation" for this or that specified out-group? Shouldn't we just have human liberation, embrace the ideal of equality for absolutely everybody and leave it at that? I mean, by identifying yourself or your group as ThesePeople™, you're adding more energy into the old tired labels that labeled you as ThesePeople™ to begin with; if you don't wish to be treated differently, that seems kind of counterproductive.


The real AND the assumed answer to the first question is implicit in the second: when extrapolated to the final ideal outcome, yes, the ultimate desired end result is that the category should not matter. In this case, that either gender ceases to be a factor in how people think of other people (we might still be quite conscious of biological sex and have sexual orientation and preferences and so on based on that alone, but without differing notions and expectations of personality and behavior, let alone different yardsticks of desired or acceptable personality and behavior), or, alternatively, that we keep gender around in some fashion but have a multitude of variations and roles that we "play with" and none of them are specific to just one sex.


If I may step a step or two (or a dozen) back from the ideal outcome to a more in-my-lifetime attainable sort of outcome, one that is more closely linked to what I personally am trying to do, it would be that people end up holding in their minds a notion (a stereotype, a vague concept) of male-bodied people who are women or girls or sissy-esque or however you want to express that whose sexual orientation is towards female-bodied people; and, along with that notion (however cartoonlike or caricatured it may be) a sense of how male-female sexual behavior plays out. How people like that probably flirt or get laid or what they get hot for or who gets hot for them and so on.





So, now (finally) a reply to the second question. Whether it is being asked about feminism (as opposed to "humanism" or "people-ism" or whatever), or one of the movements against specific types of racism, or children's liberation, or schizophrenics' liberation, or this, my own home-rolled personal gender identity concern, the GENERAL answer to the second question is that most of the world already agrees in principle with "everyone should be equal", but huge chunks of that population have huge holes in their awareness of the ways in which equality is still lacking and in which their own perceptions and assumptions and attitudes may be playing a role in that.


Circa 1776, Thomas Jefferson rather famously stated that all men are created equal and are governed with legitimacy only with their consent, and furthermore have not only the right but the duty to throw off any government that becomes destructive of its legitimate purpose, which is to provide for their safety and happiness. It has often been pointed out in the modern era that when he and his cohort spoke of equality, they meant WHITE men who OWNED LAND. Rather than calling them dishonest or cynical, I would tend to assume that they believed that they did indeed want liberation for everybody, that they did indeed really support universal equality--they just had blind spots that seem suspiciously large to us, making it difficult for some modern people to reconcile their racist attitudes and assumptions (and laws) with their idealism.


We, of course, being enlightened, have naturally discarded all those exceptions and when we speak of equality we really do mean for everybody. Well, not for children, of course, they really are different, and it would be genuinely silly to try to treat them as equals in law and in everyday interaction, not to mention how massively impractical it would be... oh, do you hear a bit of an echo?


No, this is not about to become a treatise on children's rights or children's liberation, but it makes a good example, doesn't it? Regardless of whether we someday rethink and reconfigure the treatment of children, MOST people in today's society haven't consciously thought about and then rejected the notion that we SHOULD extend equality to children, so much as it simply hasn't crossed their minds. That's what I mean by a blind spot. I'm saying that in Thomas Jefferson's time, the average enlightment-inspired idealist didn't think one way or the other about race when they considered equality.


So that's the general answer: we can't just hop to an all-encompassing "humanism" or "people-ism" because first we find it necessary to draw people's attention to specific discrepancies in folks' widely-shared thought patterns that get in the way of that.



Now, the SPECIFICS:


Yeah, I could say "let's just can it with the sexist assumptions about behaviors and personality traits and agree on sexual equality", but y'all--you, the rest of the society I've spent my life living in, addressing you generally and in the plural--y'all have a specific blind spot. Me.


Most people have a notion about how sex works between male and female people, whether you are highly conscious of it or not. You tend to think of sex as something that girls and women consent to, or choose not to consent to. As something that boys and men seek to make happen, thus prompting girls and women to respond with that consent or lack thereof. No, not always, I know not all of you always think in those terms. But when you think of it in a more egalitarian and less sex-polarized way, you are often thinking of sex as it occurs in what is already an ongoing relationship. Or you are thinking of it as an individual scene, a liaison or tryst in which things went down according to some other sequence of behaviors, whether it be a highly mutual flirtation-to-consummation sort of thing or one in which a sexually forward female person flings a leg over or makes an overt pass or otherwise is distinctively the initiator...


So let's snag that lattermost possibility, since it sort of stands out as a clearly undeniable against-the-grain sort of image. What happens next? Does an ongoing romantic relationship develop out of this rendezvous, or is she just out for a tasty bit of nookie? What if she wanted a boyfriend and not just a sexual encounter? What if he wants a relationship if that's a possibility here, should he try to slow her down and make sure she's also interested in him as a person, or should he assume that if he's available for more than the roll in the proverbial hay she will probably be willing to explore that possibility with him? Under what circumstances would you most want your daughter to avail herself of this particular sexual strategy? What's your advice to the guy, if he wants to meet women and get involved and have a girlfriend?


How does the movie play out, with characters who, because of how they are, in temperament and how they think of themselves and so on, are predisposed to these kind of dynamics? I think probably you have an easier time conjuring up her and thinking of her and what happens to her in her life. She's been portrayed, although usually as a Bad Example. Hey, girls, you wouldn't want to follow her lead. Look what they call her, not just behind her back but to her face. Look how she ends up alone and lonely. But she talks back, doesn't she? You've heard her voice, maybe, because she isn't all that demure and shy about expressing where she's coming from. Anyway, whatever you figure she's in for as an outcome, I think maybe you have some sense of her and maybe you can sort of see how there's a mesh between her personality characteristics and these specific sexual behaviors, even if you can also see the pragmatic wisdom in the general advice that she should modify her behavior if she wants a better outcome for herself, is that perhaps the case?


But that's in part because when folks visualize her and what might happen with her, they aren't thinking of her meeting up with someone like him. Or a model of heterosexuality arranged around how things can be with someone like him. Oh, it's not entirely that he never gets portrayed at all, but how he feels about who he is is entirely in the shadows. We're led to believe he would be a lot more assertive and take a much more active role if he weren't such a chickenshit cowardly spineless wimpy person. On the rare occasion he gets to have a voice, he's all bitter and full of hate because those evil women don't like nice guys like him and instead throw themselves at horrid despicable bad boys who treat them like shit. Well, he says bitterly, no more mister nice guy, I'm going to grow a mustache and I will twirl it and I will be in the clock tower with my rifle. Well... it's better than no image of us at ALL, I suppose, but we're still very much erased and I think when people consider sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender they do not think of guys like us who like being how we are, who are not bitterly trying to cast that aside, who do not aspire to being like other guys, who are proud of being like this, and who actually manage to make this way of being male work, who get to have relationships and get to feel sexy and desirable not in spite of but because of how and who we are.


I think that when people conceive of a person like that and add it, in their heads, to their model of the types of genders and sexual orientations that exist, it changes the mental landscape. I think it's sort of a missing puzzle piece and when it drops into place and folks stop having that particular blind spot, it makes sexual equality and the liberation from gender norms an actual possibility.


I'm shy and self-conscious about a lot of this, and it feels very personal, to talk about this and then have to worry (I can't help it) about looking utterly ridiculous as well as whiny and so forth, to anyone I can get to listen to me long enough to understand the message. But, well, practically by definition, anyone who fits the description is going to be shy and self-conscious about it, even if the necessary message were not so unavoidably twined up with "ooh look at me I'm so DIFFERENT", not to mention "ooh, the world has been very MEAN to me". Because. Because, think about it, that's who we are. The "personality politics" of gender at close range. Prim and private and demure, we are. So this isn't the most comfortable task possible, what I've set for myself. But someone's got to say it and so I guess it shall be me.


I'll get better at it as I go.

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Authors and agents and writing coaches have a mantra: "show, don't tell". Instead of saying that John and Theresa had a fight, you describe the glares and the raised voices, you provide the dialog, describe the way the silverware jingles and bounces when the hand smacks down on the table, and so on.


There's an entire category of memoir that ought to have a name—illustrative memoir, demonstrative memoir, exemplary memoir, representative memoir, something like that—in which the author is trying to show a situation to the reading audience as an alternative to telling them about it in a polemic or a manifesto. In other words, their memoir is less "This is the story of me-the-author, ain't I interesting?" and more "This is the story of a ______ person, so that you can see how it is".


And there's a gamble in doing that. The author is gambling that the readers will get out of it what the author intended, that they will perceive the book as being a representative example of whatever situation or phenomenon the author is trying to draw attention to.



Marilyn French wrote The Women's Room. Her tale (recast as the tale of Myra) could have been received and reviewed as a sort of soap-opera days-in-the-lives story of a suburban woman and her circle of similar white women in the 50s and 60s, but it was seen (quite rightly) as a show-don't-tell presentation of women's lives in patriarchy, the Exhibit A to go along with Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan's theory works.


Jan Morris wrote Conundrum: From James to Jan. She gave us her first person account of growing up as a male child increasingly aware of feeling that the real person in that body was a girl, later a woman, and of the conflicts and complexities of that experience, eventually culminating in a successful sex reassignment surgery. Almost no one perceived it as anything other than an inside look at what it is like to be a transsexual male-to-female person, as Morris had intended it should be.


Not all attempts to illustrate a concept by telling a representative tale work out as planned, although the most prominent example isn't a memoir, but fiction instead: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair intended his tale of Jurgis Rudkus, immigrant from Lithuania, to be an illustration of the miserable lives of impoverished immigrants in a class-stratified society. Instead, it was widely received as an expose of what goes on in slaughterhouses as told from the perspective of someone working in them.


In some situations, the novelist (and novel fans) have often expressed a desire to have, for example, gay main characters without the book being ABOUT being gay; or mixed-race family characters without the book being ABOUT a mixed-race family. It's the opposite of trying to write a representative memoir: the desire for the difference to be accepted as normative.


When Rita Mae Brown wrote Rubyfruit Jungle, it was perceived as a coming-of-age story of a lesbian, an inside look at what it is like to grow up lesbian. If it were being published for the first time *now*, might it be perceived instead as the tale of an interesting semi-rural lower-income southern girl who goes on to college and who also oh yeah is lesbian and has to take some shit for that?


In my case, I am very much trying to be "Exhibit A". I am counting on people reading my book and seeing a social phenomenon, without me jumping up ever 3rd paragraph or so to say "Now, you see, that would have gone down differently if I had been a typical boy instead of a girlish / girl-identified male".

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