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This is a question that I get fired at me from time to time when I talk about being genderqueer.

I don't think someone should have to come up with a proposed solution or social change strategy before being allowed to complain about an unpleasant situation. And I do think that the "well, then, what's your recommendation?" response is sometimes used as a tactic for shutting people up (or making us look foolish for not having a good answer). But that doesn't mean it's never a legitimate question.

I'm not particularly interested in acquiring a virtual ruler and going around smacking misbehaving people for using the wrong words or expressing tastes and preferences that leave me out or expressing opinions about people like me that are less than warm, accepting, and welcoming.

Yeesh, that sounds awfully judgmental towards people who get upset about being misgendered, or folks who are sick and tired of surface-level "tolerance" that is sprinkled with derogatory comments and jokes. And I don't mean to be pointing fingers at them and saying that they're doing it wrong or are asking things of people that aren't reasonable and fair.

But my head is in a different place. I don't face a lot of judgmental hostility from people who harbor hate for genderqueer people. I don't suffer from the cruel barbs of demeaning jokes and quips about genderqueer people and what they are like and how they behave. I might not like it if and when I start getting a periodic dose of that kind of thing, but for now that would be a step forward.

Oh, sure, I have experienced hostility, but the hostile people were expressing hostility towards gay guys. Or towards transgender gals. Or towards sissy feminine male people. The people with the hostility have not tended to make a distinction there. I think we're mostly all the same to the ones who hate us. But amidst the hateful rhetoric about men who have sex with other men, and men who become women, I seldom feel directly targeted so much as hit by the general spatter.

They, along with the liberal accepting tolerant folks, haven't heard enough from my ilk to get a good stereotype or caricature going.

My partner just forwarded me a link to a thread on a message board where someone posted to ask why he gets so much pressure to transition to female. He identifies as a cross-dresser. His situation is different from mine: he gets a sexual thrill from dressing in feminine clothes and from embracing femininity in general. He says "I am a Man. I am straight"; and his connection with the feminine is, as he puts it, all about "my sexuality not my sex". And yet, because people are more familiar with what it is to be transgender -- what the personal story-lines are, what the typical narrative is -- he gets told that he's never going to be happy until and unless he transitions.

He says that's totally not true; like me, his identity and experience are different, although certainly there's some overlap with that of transgender people.

I can relate to all that. In 1979 as a University of New Mexico student, the assumption was not that I was trans but that I was gay, but I, too, was the recipient of warmly-intended compassionate friendly advice, that I should accept myself, that I should come out.

People are often amazingly tolerant of identities that they can understand.

What do I want?

I want to shoehorn in a new concept, a new category, into people's mental set of boxes, their notions of the kind of people who exist and whom they might encounter.

Partly because I believe that the hostility depends, in a weird sense, on conflating sexual orientation, sexual identity, and gender identity, and that understanding them as different things challenges the hostility.

Partly because I think a lot of people are like me, and if the world has the head-space to understand us, we'll be understood and accepted for who we are. Instead of for who we are not.

Partly because -- and a respectful tip of the hat, here, towards Walter Becker of Steely Dan, who just passed away -- as the Steely Dan song "Deacon Blues" puts it,

"They got a name for the winners in the world,
I want a name when I lose"

... I want a somewhat-recognizable rendition of my identity to be out there, whether people accept and admire it or not. Naturally, I would like to be accepted and celebrated for who I am, but if I can't have that it is still better to be rejected and hated for who I am than for who I am not.


I got a rather late rejection notice from a literary agent yesterday. At this point, all queries to lit agents have been marked in some fashion -- either as overt rejections or as "No reply within 3 months" which counts as a rejection. The same is true of queries to publishers, except that there's an additional status there: accepted for publication

No queries are outstanding at this point. And at least until next book, my querying days are over, and good riddance. Here's the final tally:

The Story of Q — total queries to Lit Agents = 974
Rejections: 974
.. as nonfiction: 748
.. as fiction: 226

The Story of Q — total queries to Publishers = 31
Rejections: 29
Accepted for Publication then Publisher Went out of Business: 1
Accepted for Publication (current): 1


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Last week I was visiting my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and viewing the solar eclipse with them (they are conveniently living within waking distance of the Georgia/South Carolina border and were in the path of totality), and while I was down there I went rummaging through some old storage boxes in search of some of my oldest "coming out" writings. One of the items I found was a short piece titled "Anonymous Conversation III".

Back in 1980, my first attempt to put my thoughts about gender and society down onto paper ended up getting me into trouble. The 4-page paper didn't make much sense to most of the people I showed it to; the ideas weren't coherently expressed. One person even felt threatened (not, I think, by the content, just by the fact that an unknown male undergraduate had left this incomprehensible document in her campus faculty mailbox) and that, in turn, triggered an overreaction by the university health center whose triage psychiatrist decided I needed psychiatric incarceration and observation.

That didn't shut me up, but I was a bit more cautious in my next attempts.

By 1982, I was starting to work on a book that I titled The Amazon's Brother, in which I would introduce my gender stuff by explaining it in terms of feminism. "Anonymous Conversation III" was intended to be an introduction chapter to kick off the main body of the book, which was going to be (and eventually was) a combination of my own story followed by some chapters of feminist analysis and theory derived from those experiences. I initially thought about setting up the premise of the book as a sort of trial to take place before a feminist court, and "Anonymous Conversation III" was an unfinished draft chapter with that in mind. I never ended up using it (by the time I gave up on getting The Amazon's Brother published, it had a different Intro) and, in fact, it was never even typed out -- what I found in the box was a sheaf of handwritten pages. But it's an interesting bridge piece, still using some of the terminology (e.g., "spectrum theory", still saying "sexism" where I would later have written "patriarchy") from the problematic 4-pager, but doing a significantly better job (I daresay) of explaining things in an accessible manner.


Xy: I want to stand trial on behalf of my entire gender. The charge is that we are responsible for sexism.

Xx: No way. The charge is that, as a general rule, people of your gender have fought against the people of mine who have tried to eliminate sexism, and that people of my gender have done almost all of the work and supplied nearly all of the energy for eliminating sexism. Still want to stand trial? Court is in session.

Xy: Eek! Okay. I'll try. May we dispense with the opening statement for the prosecution? Everyone's heard it a thousand times.

Xx: It has not been heard enough times by enough people. Request denied.

Xy: Very well. It is the contention of the prosecution that, as a result of sexism, people of your gender are deemed inferior to those of mine; that stereotypes of personality have been attributed to each gender; that standards of socially acceptable behavior for each gender have been derived from those stereotypes of personality; that the standards and stereotypes of personality and behavior, hereafter referred to as sex roles... uh, where was I... oh, yes, that the sex role for your gender is deemed inferior to the sex role of mine; that the behavior portion of your sex role reduces your gender to the status of domestic and personal servants, with no autonomy; that the portion of your sex role that deals with sexuality itself reduces your gender to the status of passive objects existing for the sexual pleasure of my gender; that the stereotype of personality for your gender includes qualities of nurturance, kindness, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, and a host of others which are of direct benefit to my gender, which shares the companionship of yours; that the stereotype of personality for my gender includes emotional insensitivity, callousness, and similar characteristics which excuse my gender from any empathic or supportive feelings for yours; that, furthermore, the stereotype of personality for your gender includes docility, acquiescence, politeness, calmness, and so forth, which discourages your gender from confronting mine; that sex role nonconformists are deemed inferior to others of their gender, or psychotic, or both. It is also the contention of the prosecution that the vast majority of people who have taken a stand against sexism have been of your gender; that this unequal participation has been even more disproportionate among those who have dedicated their lives to the active opposition to sexism; that the most vehement SUPPORT of sexism has always come from my gender; that the assault on sexism does not constitute a threat to my gender unless people of my gender find sexual equality threatening; that sexism has negative, dehumanizing effects on my gender as well; that this last observation has been pointed out to my gender by yours more often than the other way around... how am I doing?

Xx: I'm impressed. You've been listening. Continue.

Xy: The prosecution contends that sexism and its manifestations constitute a severe restriction of freedom; that the elimination of sexism would result in an awesome increase in the amount of freedom available to human beings; that sexism serves as a barrier to harmonious relations between the genders, both within and outside of marriage and other heterosexual relationships; that sexism cripples the emotional and psychological development of children of both genders; that my gender does not take seriously that portion of your gender that actively opposes sexism. The prosecution points out that courage and valor are listed among the attributes assigned to my gender; that taking opposition to sexism requires courage and valor; that, outside of an egocentric need for my gender to feel superior to yours, sexism is entirely detrimental to my gender as well as your own. The prosecution concludes that my gender has displayed abject cowardice, egocentrism, or both. How's that?

Xx: Oh, if I thought for a while, I could probably add to the list, but since I am a fictional character in your book, I will accept it. How do you plead?

Xy: On behalf of my gender -- which has not authorized me to stand here in its defense --

Xx: Don't make excuses. This is an unofficial trial. Continue.

Xy: On behalf of my gender I plead nolo contendere

Xx: Nolo contendere... you do not wish to contend?

Xy: I feel that, although the evidence is valid, the conclusion does not represent a completely accurate assessment of the situation. There are, and have been, extenuating circumstances.

Xx: Very well. You may proceed.

Xy: To begin with, I would like to introduce the concept I call Spectrum Theory. As other opponents of sexism have often pointed out, sexism assumes that all women are alike and that all men are alike. Yet we know this not to be the case. Will the court accept this point?

Xx: Definitely.

Xy: Now I would like the court to visualize a spectrum of all people of one gender and a parallel spectrum of all people of the other. At one extreme, think of all the people who come closest to being described by the generalizations that sexism makes about women when those people are being their natural selves.

Xx: That is rather difficult to assess, since we don't know how people would behave if sexism were eliminated.

Xy: Very well. Make it abstract. Regardless of the quantity of people, or even the presence or absence of them standing at that extreme pole of the spectrum, that is what that end of the spectrum represents: those qualities of personality and behavior traditionally regarded as feminine.

Xx: Male and female?

Xy: Correct. That end of both spectrums represents feminine qualities.

Xx: You are aware of the sexism in using the label "feminine", I trust?

Xy: I am. Let's call that direction north, or blue. Whatever. Moving to the opposite extreme, we find the people, or at least the abstract qualities, traditionally called "masculine". Personality and behavior. Both genders. South. Red. Between the two extremes is a blur, a smooth blend. Theoretically, everyone is somewhere on that spectrum. Right in the middle is abstract androgyny. A person with a mixture of traits that are traditionally thought of as masculine and feminine, but with a greater preponderance towards the so-called feminine end would be green. Between the middle and one extreme. And so forth.

Xx: How about the person who behaves and feels differently at different times?

Xy: If you took a spectroscope and pointed it at the sun, you would find that it produces blue light, yellow light, red light, and so on. But it looks yellow because the yellow part of the spectrum is where the sun's intensity is at. If you go out at night, you will see red, orange, yellow, and blue stars. They each put out many different wavelengths too, but what you see is the brightest color, the place where their intensity is concentrated. And it's not the same for every star.

Xx: Or every person. That makes sense. Go on.

Xy: Now I'm sure you would object if I were to say that all women should be this way or all women should be that way, but I would expect you to object more strenuously if I said all women should be like Susie Q the girl next door than you would if I said all women should be like you.

Xx: I'm not sure I agree with you. Are you saying that... well, I guess I see what you're saying. I might be opposed to inflicting a new standard for women to have to conform to, and I would be, but it wouldn't affect me directly and personally if I myself were the prototype. I would automatically be normal.

Xy: Exactly. And you have experienced the frustration of not being the prototype or resembling the prototype close enough to be seen as normal without pretending to be someone you are not. If you had been born with a personality that just happened to coincide with sexist expectations you wouldn't know what it would be like to be at odds with them.

Xx: I will accept that. I'm curious to see where you're leading. You may continue.

Xy: Going back to our spectrum, or our parallel spectrums, let's take a look at what sexism does. On the male spectrum, sexism says to the red, or south-polar people of my gender, "You are normal. All males should be like you." Meanwhile, on the female spectrum, the people of the very same red south-polar personality and so forth are hearing, "You are weird. You are abnormal. You aren't doing it right. Something is wrong with you". Same personality. There are only two differences: gender, and the message they are getting from sexism. I ask the court which difference is most likely to make a difference in the attitudes of these people? Gender, or exactly opposite messages?

Xx: I would assume that any rational person would say the messages they are receiving.

Xy: And on the other end of the spectrum the situation would be reversed. Blue, north-polar women get the message that they are normal. All women should be like them. Blue, north-polar men are told they are weird. Something is wrong with them. The people in the middle get messages sort of like "You're okay, but you ought to be more this way, or that way". Sexism irritates them but it doesn't assault them with a full-fledged negation of their identities. Which people are most likely to be fully opposed to sexism?

Xx: Red... let me see if I have your terminology straight... yes, "red" women and "blue" men. We are tallking about men and women who would be described in sexist terms as unmasculine men and unfeminine women. Go ahead, I'm listening.

That's as far as I got with "Anonymous Conversation III". I can tell you where I was going with it, though:

Conjure up a conventional stereotype of a feminist woman. You did? Well, is she assertive? Verbally aggressive? Belligerent? Does she have fewer feminine mannerisms and behavioral characteristics including body language and how she participates in discussions? And/or more masculine characteristics, for that matter? OK, there's a scintilla of truth within many stereotypes. Feminism specifically says that holding different expectations and using a different evaluation ruler for women than the one used to evaluate men is sexist, and while feminism doesn't lack appeal to women whose personal characteristics pretty closely map to what you'd call "feminine", it constitutes a particular validation for women whose characteristics do not. So you end up with a situation involving tough confrontational women reacting to the definitional expectation that they be dainty and delicate. The very act of engaging in this type of confrontation is an act that comes more easily to a person whose characteristics tend more towards being dominant and aggressive, and furthermore the act of doing so is, itself, a reiteration of the statement that women are claiming for themselves the right to be powerful.

Yeah, now consider the mirror-image situation for males. Those for whom eliminating sexist expectations and behavioral standards would appeal most directly would be those who least exemplify the set of characteristics we call "masculine", in other words feminine males like me. If, as I just said, engaging in social confrontation comes most easily to dominant aggressive people, and the act of doing such confrontation is, itself, a message about that person's tendency to be adversarial and socially combative and so on, we've got a mismatch on this side instead of a convenient confluence. The double-handful of atypical women drawn to feminism in part because it embraces their atypical "unfeminine" personality characteristics are warriors, and when they join their voices with those of other feminists in conflict with sexist society their activity echoes their message; but the atypical male people who resent sexism for similarly personal reasons are (pretty much by definition) NOT very warrior-like and are NOT particularly likely to be well-suited for confrontational endeavors; and when they engage in it to the best of their ability ANYWAY, their activity is difficult to reconcile with their intended message.

We are sometimes told that we're acting entirely like men tend to act —- self-immersed and selfishly concerned and confrontationally combative about other people's attitudes and behavior. More often, we are dismissed as whiny and pathetic. Because yelling about things and being provocatively belligerent is so superior to whining, I guess. At any rate, it's more complicated. The things we are deprived of aren't about power and you can't really attain them by seizing them. So we tend to seek solutions in less socially visible ways in the smaller arenas of our personal lives.


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In 1980 in my first attempts to come out, I tried "straightbackwards person" and placed an ad seeking other people who matched expectations for the opposite sex and/or for gay people of their sex a lot more than they lived up to expectations for heterosexual people of their own sex, but whose attraction was nevertheless towards the opposite sex. It wasn't the clearest description or the best label to use for it, I suppose, but I was new at this.

Decades later, one of my detractors dismissed my description of myself as genderqueer: "He just wants to get on the bandwagon", he said, describing me. "He's just a straight male with some non-stereotypical characteristics -- like nearly every other straight male out there -- but he really wants to be a sexual minority so he can be edgy and trendy".

It's a pattern: gay people can be genderqueer as well as gay, bisexual and pansexual people are welcome to identify as genderqueer as well as bi or pan, and transgender people may identify as genderqueer if they don't feel that a binary identity as male or female properly describes them; but if there isnt some other meaningful and recognizable sense in which you're queer, being genderqueer by itself apparently isn't enough to count.

If you can't be genderqueer without being gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or transgender, no wonder some people don't include it in the alphabet-soup acronym!

Well, I wasn't at all sure that gay and lesbian activists would think I belonged among them, wasn't at all sure that I'd be welcome there. If you think transgender and intersex people are marginalized within LGBTQIA now, you should consider how it was back in the 80s. Trans people were hypothetical people -- the movement, as manifested in the form of people who come to meetings at Identity House and other "out" organizations, was made up of gay and lesbian folks. I nosed around and tried to get into conversations but it wasn't obvious to me or them that we had enough in common for me to belong there.

I continued to use "straight" or "heterosexual" to describe myself while trying on other terms for the gender difference -- for instance, the self-chosen label "heterosexual sissy" -- and that didn't exactly emphasize an identity-in-common with the gay rights folks. I was trying to do my own identity politics and the main bandwagon that seemed to be headed where I wanted to go was feminism, not the politics of sexual orientation.

I joined the Straight Dope Message Board, my primary online social home, in the late 1990s. In 2001, someone started a thread titled "Opposite of Tomboy?" asking what you call a male person with feminine characteristics, and I answered,

I use "sissy". Yeah, it's pejorative, but that's because folks tend to think the concept itself is pejorative. The word itself means "sister-like", so it doesn't really have negative denotation unless you hold a low opinion of females.

I needed a term to refer to myself in this regard, so I figured I'd follow the lead of gay folks who proudly refer to themselves as "queer" or "faggot", so I call myself "sissy".

Roughly around the same time, a gay male (I'll call him "Matt") posted that he was sick and tired of butch macho gay guys saying derogatory things about nelly femme guys like him. "I did not decide to be femme to obey a stereotype, OK?", he wrote. "If there is such a stereotype, it is conforming to me".

Three years later, Matt started a thread decrying the lack of a term that would be the male equivalent of "tomboy". (As you can see, this is clearly a recurrent theme). This time I replied,

I used "sissy" for a long time, it was a good word, even despite the negative-connotation baggage.

I don't use it much any more because it is increasingly used in a specific narrow sense to mean males who get a sexual thrill out of being "feminized", i.e., forced (or at least "forced" within the context of having a safe word and within the constraints of a defined "scene") to dress in frilly underpants and dresses and skirts and high heels and stuff. It's a humiliation-based kink. See in particular "sissy maid".

(not my kink)

With the greater social awareness of transgender people these days, I just say I'm a "male girl".
It's actually closer to how I perceived myself when I first came out.

It was Matt who first stumbled across the term "genderqueer" and recognized it as a good one, and he suggested it to me in 2004. I had started a thread of my own, titled "In which AHunter3 pits/debates/seeks opinion on his maleness", in which I thrashed around in one of my dysphorically frustrated moods. Matt, in his reply, suggested "genderqueer" might be a concept of interest to me. A trans board member, Kelly, agreed: "Welcome to the poorly-defined land of the genderqueer".

By 2006, I was starting to utilize the term myself. In my first use of the term on the Straight Dope, I wrote

3) Are you gay or straight? I'm tempted to answer "no". Straight I guess, but different. I'm not into masculinity (as conventionally defined at any rate) and don't play heterosexuality along sex-polarized lines if I can avoid it, for gut-deep personal reasons not as politicized protest etc , and so I think I'm as genderqueer as anyone.

... and shortly after that, in a thread asking about gender identity disorder,

Well, I wouldn't embrace a label that says I have a disorder, but I'll go with genderqueer, which is sort of the same thing minus the intrinsic medicalization and value judgment.

And in my case, I have no problem with the body I was born in. My problems with "being a man" don't seem to center on the architecture of the male body per se.

Finally, in January of 2011, I was invited to speak to a book club at Boston College about my 1991 paper "Same Door Different Closet: A Heterosexual Sissy's Coming-Out Story". As I roamed around the room setting up audio equipment and trying to calm the tummy-butterflies, I spotted a bookmark. LGBTQ, it said. That's the moment in which it clicked into place for me. That Q, that means people like me. They're including me. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and people who are queer in other ways too, like genderqueer.

So at that point I ended up on the rainbow bandwagon. It kind of stopped by and picked me up. It was going my way after all.

I reject the thesis that I'm doing something cynically opportunistic. I was doing what I do before gender politics erupted onto the national landscape in a big way, and before being genderqueer became a trendy edgy thing. I do acknowledge that I engage in positioning, of figuring out how to present and explain a concept, what words to use and how to juxtapose what I'm saying against the backdrop of stuff that people are already somewhat familiar with.


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Waldell, aka Pricess WaWa, is a bitter black gay femme, or so he would like to have us believe. Queen Called Bitch is his story.

It is a story told to us by a most erudite and expansively loquacious narrator, delivered in elegant but not particularly linear style. Waldell often begins in the middle with an excursion into his attitudes and feelings about a character before looping back to describe his history with that person. This is not a narrative of consecutive events arranged along a plot line, but more akin to what you might hear if you found Waldell at the bar and plied him with a couple shots (no more, please, he's a lightweight) and bribed the bartender to cue up Reba on the sound system for atmosphere and encouraged him to unload his tale.

An identity that includes being both gay and femme tends to be complicated: our society prefers to subsume them into each other, equivocating between gender factors and sexual orientation. Waldell doesn't specifically write as a feminine person without reference to being gay -- indeed, I'm not sure any gay male who is feminine can easily untangle that knot -- but he snarks a bit about meeting people on Grindr, "guys who think I'm a woman or beg me to be more masculine. Guys who are interested in a part time 'tranny' for play. I am neither of those things" -- writing from a feminine but not trans vantage point. "I pee standing up", he confirms.

He was a pariah in school, surviving the typical harassment doled out to sissy gay guys, but found some supportive teachers and eventually a road to connection and acceptance via the theatrical department at nearby Longwood University. He'd long since gotten in the habit of finding validation and voltage in music, television soap operas, dramatic movies, and God.

An easy and confident spirituality without shame was his to hold onto. As soon as he became old enough to notice church-based condemnation of gay people, he relegated that, along with its moldy misogynistic ideas about women, to the discard pile. The God stuff was about the inner feeling, and he had no significant doubts about that.

Queen Called Bitch is billed on the frontispiece of the manuscript as a work of fiction, complete with disclaimers about the coincidental nature of any resemblance to real people -- a time-honored confabulation used by many writers who choose to write about themselves and their own lives. But of course my own source of information about the author /character is this book, so I can't really know that, can I? And yet, I can't help thinking I do, and because of that I also find myself projecting and psychologically assessing him, making of his story something other than what he asserts of it. I don't find the cynical darkness to which he aspires, but instead see bitterness embraced as a protection, an attempt to avoid setting himself up for disappointment and heartbreak.

He's not so alone in this world: a good portion of the story revolves around the foursome of friends, the beforementioned Carol (Cann), Karen, Waldell himself, and Derek Island, and the everyday soap operas of their lives and their connections with each other.

The centerpiece is the delicately vulnerable romance between Waldell and Derek. Waldell the author shares this tale of romantic misery and thwarted love and would have us believe it was unrequited, this being the core of his broken-hearted bitterness. But as reader, I kept perceiving Waldell the character as wanting but being unwilling to believe it could be had, and second-guessing his opportunities in favor of reconciling himself in sporadic bursts of self-protective hesitation. Hence, this kind of exchange on the cellphone screen:

Me: You know I have feelings for you

Derek: I have some for you, was that not clear?

Me: I can't believe you have feelings for me. I never would have guessed. Honestly.

Derek: I've told you

Derek Island is leaving town and Waldell plots and schemes about how he is going to take the risk -- now or never -- of collecting on his first and most-wanted kiss, but he gets cold feet and a non-kiss ensues.

He's more inclined to air his grievances to Derek about how Derek does not reciprocate his feelings, building the narrative between the two of them to the effect that Derek mistreats Waldell, that Waldell is the person with the feelings. But he finds the feelings easiest to express in a forlorn mode:

Derek: I miss you my friend

Me: I can't talk to you

It is one of the minor passing characters in the story, Latesha, who gets to voice what seems apparent to me about these star-crossed novice lovers: she, who, Waldell notes, had witnessed the Derek saga firsthand, predicts to him that "one day the stars will align for you and Derek".

Queen Called Bitch, a coming-of-age and coming-of-want tale from NineStar Press. Waldell Abraham Goode

(cc: GoodReads)


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This was something new, a phenomenon for which there was no name.

Galileo saw that the small "stars" surrounding Jupiter were MOVING, following Jupiter in the sky and, furthermore, shifting in their relative locations. They were orbiting Jupiter. Jupiter had objects of its own that were like the earth's moon!

"Moon", at that time, was a term that specifically meant THE Moon, the one and only. Galileo did not, in fact originally refer to them as "moons"; in his first distributed description of his discovery, he called them "Medicean stars" (allegedly hoping this would please the powerful de Medici family).

That term didn't stick. From our vantage point, it's easy to see that calling them "stars" was a poor long-range choice, as they aren't stars and don't have much in common with stars aside from being points of light in the sky. And yet, even so, the rocky little objects orbiting between Mars and Jupiter are still called "asteroids", which is almost as much of a misnomer, so it's possible that "Medicean stars" could have hung on as the new term.

We could have given them entirely new names, of course, without repurposing any existing terms (with or without modifiers like "Medicean"). Or we could have said they were objects that were LIKE the Moon, although that doesn't give them a name.

We call them "moons". The original understanding of the word "moon" was modified, expanded from referencing only the ghostly galleon that illuminates the earthly sky so as to include these similar bodies that orbit other planets.

As you'll recall from your English homework, calling the Moon a "ghostly galleon" is "using a metaphor". Calling the objects orbiting Jupiter "stars" is also a sort of metaphor, and in the context where "Moon" specifically meant our moon, calling them "moons" is an application of language use that is cousin to the metaphor. Our own moon is not literally a galleon (or ghostly) nor are the objects orbiting Jupiter literally stars; a moon orbiting Jupiter is also not identically the same thing as the moon that folks in Galileo's time already knew, and to some people it might have seemed wrong to extend the meaning of "moon" to the new objects.

The success of a literary metaphor depends on the reader's or audience's tendency to embrace the compelling significance of what the compared items have in common. There's always a certain tension between the "wrongness" of asserting an identity that the object doesn't quite literally have, on the one hand, and the "rightness" of the observed similarity that makes us nod in recognition.

Successfully expanding the definition of a word--like "moon" to embrace the new Galilean objects--also involves a tension between the fact that the word's original meaning did not include them versus the compelling similarities that makes such an expanded use resonate with us as sensible and appropriate.

Stating, on the other hand, that the Galilean objects surrounding Jupiter are like the Moon is "using a simile". A simile avoids that tension; it doesn't have that level on which it is using a word to mean something beyond the zone in which it has been applied before. Linguistically, it is a weaker formulation, because it comes with an implicit "except for", a gesture towards the dissimilarities that may exist whether they are specifically laid out or not.

Suppose a feminine male person chooses to say "I am LIKE a girl" or "I am LIKE one of the women". It is, on the one hand, a formulation less likely to provoke a response of "No you're not" than the statements "I am one of the women" or "I'm a girl". On the other hand, it's weaker; hovering around it is an invisible codicil that says "except for these ways in which I'm not". And it also doesn't give a name to the speaker of the statement.

That doesn't mean I haven't used it, myself. In fact I've often said something to the effect of "I am a male who is like a girl or woman except for having a male body". And because that doesn't provide an identity-name (because, as I said, similes don't), I've called myself various NEW things like "invert" or attempted to seize on other existing terms like "sissy". But at a certain point in my life, a partner of mine listened at great length to my descriptions and my backstory and she nodded and said "Oh, I get it, you're a girl!"

I liked it. It had a definite "cut to the chase" directness to it and it emphasized exactly the connection I wanted people to realize in their heads.

I do get those "no you're not" responses from people. There are a lot of folks who resist the expanded word use, the claimed identity--some because they only consider people born female with XX chromosomes to be girls & women, some because they only consider people who are morphologically female to be girls & women, and some because they only consider people who represent themselves to other people as physically female to be girls & women.

Such attitudes are not exactly uncommon. Check out these opinions, in which folks reject anything other than a "two genders maximum" world, even among some who accept the validity of transgender people.

On the other side of things--our side of this argument--there is a lot of resentment among gender atypical, nonbinary, etc people about having our identities refused, our self-definitions rejected. I'm familiar with that firsthand: when someone does the "no you're not" thing in response to my self-identification, yeah, it's intrusively arrogant and sure as hell not reassuring when they attempt to explain to me who I am instead. But the goal, for me, isn't really to get everyone to use my terminology. Well, OK, I do recognize that appearances may be to the contrary... I do have some ego investment and a fondness for the order and pattern I choose, so yeah I PREFER that folks use my terminology! It makes me angry when they refuse to! But even so, I'll say it again: my primary goal isn't to get everyone to use my terminology.

In your schema, in your way of seeing the world and categorizing things and so on, maybe my maleness is of more categorical importance to you than my femininity. If you prefer to conceptualize me as a "guy who is like a girl" in ways other than the physical, I don't reject that formulation, even though I resent being contradicted. I suppose we do all tend to altercast other people within the privacy of our own heads, categorizing them into the identities we perceive them as.

But do not say I am just a guy who is like a girl. Do not say I am merely a male who has feminine characteristics. There's no "just" or "merely" about it. In stating my identity I am making a big deal of it and saying this is a Difference, something that sets me and my experience apart. On that one, do me the courtesy of not rejecting that claim, at least not until you've taken time to hear my story.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Anatomy of Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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