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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I am now echoed on DreamWidth, like many other LJ folks. My DW acct is here. Please friend/link me on DW if you are a DreamWidth user.


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

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

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

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

Which is what we're doing, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what I found instead:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Stats:

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

As Nonfiction: 601
Rejections: 584
Outstanding: 17

As Fiction: 221
Rejections: 221
Outstanding: 0

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

It starts off:

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

Let me know if you're interested.

Pretty much everything in our contract is negotiable...

I blink a lot.

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

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

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

Current Stats:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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ahunter3: (Default)
I had a very good time with the editor Barbara Rogan's author's colloquium, which ended last Thursday. Unlike some of these courses, which often focus on teaching a technique and then leave you to the task of applying what you learned to your actual work on your own time afterwards, this was one that encouraged us to use our work-in-progress as the source of material that we would submit to be examined and critiqued by the editor teaching the class and by the other participating students.

So I very much took it as an opportunity to put my book in the shop for some body work and a facelift. Several of the scenes I submitted were scenes I'd been thinking of punching up, and did so before submitting them and then modified them after getting feedback. Then I continued with other scenes from my book that were never submitted to the class, drawing on ideas and the energy percolating from all the sharing.

Here's an overview of the modifications to the manuscript:

• Early in the book there is a short overview of childhood in which it is established that as a child I identified with the girls and my friends were girls up until around 4th grade when it fell apart; the main body of the book begins with me in 8th grade, starting in a new school. Clarified brief internal-monologue in 8th grade in which I'm musing that 3rd grade, when I had girl friends, was a long time ago, if I'm going to have friends at all "I needed to learn how to be around boys… and stop thinking of boys as them."

because it needed emphasis; story line parses better when it is understood that I've put that "one of the girls" understanding of myself behind me as kid's stuff.

• Inserted new gym class locker room scene in which the other boys throw my underwear in the toilet while I'm showering, + replaced a bland narrative with a full-dialog scene in the guidance counselor's office in which I demand that those boys be expelled, counselor says "not gonna happen, you didn't see them do it", says "you need to pick your battles", and warns me he can bring them in but they're more likely to retaliate & what are my goals here?

first, because I needed a more fully fleshed-out "being bullied" scene and second, because many readers of my book kept saying "I want to see your character react more, all this bad stuff happens and he doesn't get all freaked out and angry and scared". So I realized I needed to establish more clearly that when he (i.e., me) HAD reacted he had been taught in various ways that no one was going to help & that not letting this stuff get to him is necessary and important. (And, as I said in class, "I think if the MC reacted with disbelief and outrage, anger and fear at each of these occurrences, it would be exhausting and tiresome and would take away from the gut-punch moments where the things that happen really shred him pretty awful.")

Those were in the first long chunk of the book. The balance of the changes were towards the end, in the last major chunk, where things come to a climax and resolution. I had been feeling for some time now that I needed this section to be a more vivid burst of triumph and joy—after my readers have borne with me through all the difficult and unpleasant trials leading up to it, too damn much of my "success story" portion was abstract and intellectual, and the parts that contained actual action were too often told as summary narrative and I needed stuff to pop a lot more here.

• There's a party scene where my character (i.e., me) is frustrated that going to these parties over the years hasn't resulted in connecting with any girls and having either sex or sexual relationship as an outcome. Original scene had him musing sourly to himself that maybe he ought to try acting like other boys and coming on blatantly to girls and not caring if THEY want sex etc, -- classic "Nice Boys™" sour angry stuff -- and he tries it cynically and bloody hell it works! Or he enough of it working to startle him. Redid it as a full dialog scene with named characters and body language and the smell of smoke and the music being played, etc

• Turning point scene is where character is listening to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" for the first time while tripping and feels outed by the music. Also redone as full dialog scene with named characters and more interaction, less summary. Also stripped out all but the most central line from the music itself (copyright issues).

• Figuring-stuff-out scene shortly afterwards, Christmas vacation with friend from college, parent's home front porch, redone with the friend used as a foil to have an out-loud conversation, replacing inside-the-head internal monologue summary stuff. Let the other guy be devil's advocate and argue against some of what I'm putting forth, to let me elaborate and clarify in my responses.

• Inserted new scene, coming out to my parents. Actually happened more awkwardly and earlier when I knew less, but helps to flesh out relationship with parents and clarifies how they reacted & felt about me being different "in this way".

Because reviewers have periodically said they wanted to see more about family interactions. Mostly missing in action because there wasn't much to write about: like the dog who didn't bark, my parents were parent who didn't say and do homophobic / sissyphobic things; it's hard to incorporate the absence of a behavior into a story; this is one of the rare opportunities to show their attitude including both their lack of judgmental disapproval and the limits of their interest in discussing or listening to me talk about it.

• Two post coming-out scene in the Siren Coffeehouse (feminist coffeehouse) were punched up with more dialog and more evocative descriptions of the people I interacted with, because I was flirting as well as seeking political-social allies, and my character (me) flirting and feeling sexually confident is a triumphant thing and needed more pop and color

• The last "trauma" of the book is one of those late-in-plot teases, a reappearance of Bad Shit after things have finally started going the character's way etc — in this case, university folks find his behavior disturbing and ask him to be checked out by the psychiatrist "just to alleviate concerns" and his agreeement is treated as a self-commitment to locked ward. Rewrote the arrival scene where he's first brought in, first discovers that he didn't merely consent to a conversation with the school shrink but is being held there, first interaction with the others on the locked ward: redid with full dialog, more solidly fleshed-out characters (the attendant, etc) again to make it pop

• Inserted new scene with dialog with two male gay activist types after a Human Sexuality class in which my character and those two folks presented to the class.

• Inserted new scene of conversation with a transsexual woman in which they discuss transsexuality and my character's own peculiar sense of gender identity, after he is introduced to her by one of the gay guys in the previous scene.

Those two events did not happen in real life at that time, or at all precisely as described, but similar conversations took place about 4 years later. Greatly add to continuity, action, excitement, fleshing out of issues, use of contrast and compare to more fully explain my character's gender / sexuality identity.

• scrapped overly long postlogue in favor of highly condensed flash-forward to give more of a sense of a successful gender-activist life. Previous version tried to do a fast-forward summary of life from approximately the end of the previous chapter to current era; blah and boring and overly long and tedious. New version starts in present era, crisply identified with the closing of a web browser window in sentence 1, main character off to do a presentation on gender issues and genderqueer as a specific category of gender identity. That along with short conversation with girlfriend (and a later "oh and her, well this is how me met" snippet) and a passing reference to a published article do a much better job of "and he lived happily ever after" as well as being much more concise and streamlined.

I am INDEED doing a presentation about being genderqueer, two of them in fact, one later on in April down at Baltimore Playhouse on the 29th and then again at the EPIC Conference in Pennsylvania May 12-16. I need to review my notes and subject anais_pf to listening to me rehearse! But I'm very much looking forward to it.

I'm querying again. Modified my query letter slightly, modified my synopsis a bit (some agents want a synopsis), and of course sample chapters all reflect the above changes. I've got a damn good book here and I will see it into print.


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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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I do tend to whine a bit. In here, and on the topic in general. Comes with the territory: when atypical female people set out to draw attention to social feminization and the expectations and roles and whatnot that they have to cope with, it's widely perceived as aggressive belligerent ranting; when we do our version, it's naturally going to be experienced as narcissistic whining.

I do a lot of my whining about the difficulty of getting more people to listen to me whine.

I was out for one of my long walks last Sunday and wondering how I'd feel about this obsession, and about my life in general, if I never get any significant traction. Would I feel like I had wasted my life and my time? I've occasionally said that in my life I really only set out to do one thing, take on one serious project, and this is it. Now that I've passed the midlife marker, it's a question worthy of consideration: how will I feel if I wake up on one of my last days as an old old person and look back and realize, if such is the case, that I set out to do one thing in my life and failed at it?

Mostly I think I'd feel like I gave it my best shot. And that I had done what I felt driven to do, and was true to what felt right for me. I think if it comes to that, I will feel good about myself for having believed in myself and made the attempt. And I will consider it a life far better spent than if instead I found myself looking back and realizing I had set aside something that I considered an important mission or calling simply because the doing of it turned out not to be easy or swift.

So in light of all that, I should acknowledge that although I complain a lot about how frustrating this all is, I am doing what I have selected for myself; i chose it and it is what I want. I get some measure of satisfaction from it even when it resembles beating my head against a wall.

Meanwhile, I have some news-bits, some morsels that are all flavored up with success instead of that perennial head-against-wall stuff for a change.

• Thanks to musicman, who recommended me to them and encouraged me to keep following up with them, it appears that I will be a presenter at Baltimore Playhouse, most likely on January 22. This will be another performance of the basic talk I gave at LIFE in Nassau last March.

• I finally met with the woman who manages the campus Women's Center and also teaches introductory Women's Studies at my alma mater SUNY at Old Westbury -- Professor Carol Quirke. After what happened with the personnel at the Nassau County LGBT Center, who kept not returning my phone calls and then indicated a nearly-complete lack of interest when I finally got more pushy with them about it, I was mostly starting to think that the Old Westbury people were similarly hoping I'd simply go away before they had to tell me I'm nowhere near as interesting as I think I am. But I made an appointment to drop in on her during her regular office hours, and it went well. I left off some additional materials (including a printout of my blog posting) and we talked about socialization and gender and how we felt about biological essentialism and coercive political correctness and I think we're very much on the same channel as far as how we view such things; I definitely went away thinking she was receptive to my ideas and really is interested in having me come to speak there.

• I'm immersed in a slow shift from mostly querying literary agents to querying independent editors (for feedback, actual content editing, and potential referrals whether they officially refer authors or not) and querying small publishers. One editor, Nikki Busch, has recommended that I find an independent editor who specializes in developmental edit, i.e., "the big picture stuff: organization, narrative voice, pacing, character development, and so on". She's aimed me at the Editorial Freelancers Association to find someone who specializes in memoirs and nonfiction narratives and I'll probably do that. Meanwhile, I have a query in at Neuroqueer Books, an enterprise that I believe Old Cutter John's son started, and I should be hearing back from them any day now. And I'm about to query Manic D Press, another possibility.

Whilst out walking and thinking last Sunday, I processed some other related notions and ideas:

• Some of my difficulties with networking are actually tied to my tendency to speak to people who happen to be members of an organization or participants in some movement-related activity as if they, personally, WERE the movement incarnate. I caused problems for myself back in 1980 when I tried to correspond with the Director of the on-campus Rape Crisis Center as if she were radical feminism incarnate and poised to consider my perspective on behalf of radical feminist thinkers everywhere. It was more recently a behavor causing confusion and miscommunication when I contacted the Programming Director at the Nassau Country LGBT Center to suggest that I present to them there: I spoke to her as malebodied sissyfem genderqueer liberation addressing the existing LBGTQ establishment and not as a potential presenter speaking to an organization official in charge of booking speakers and arranging events.

I do that, I realized, because I am mostly doing my own socio-political activism all by myself, so none of my behavior is supported or reinforced by being a person in a position doing a task or job, or of being a part of a group or organization and therefore experiencing the little social perks of belonging and participating and being engaged in a shared activity.

I usually see my isolation as a limiting factor (and a source of frustration). But there's a sense in which it means that nearly all of it that I do involves a cerebral connection to the cause qua cause; I'm never immersed in it because my friends are there, or because I like the wine and cheese and music at the receptions, or because it's an ideal socioppolitical venue to meet interesting new people, or because it's my job or my career.

Oh, it's still mostly a limiting factor, and yeah you can be forgiven for pinching your nose at the intellectual snobbery residing in the previous paragraph, don't get me wrong on either account, I know and I know. (The latter is a compensation for the former). But it's still relevant here. If there's a useful takeaway from this observation, it's that I will probably have my most satisfying conversations with the most fervently committed extremists, and that I need to nurture a more pragmatic streak within myself for having conversations with the rest of the folks I encounter along the way.

• When I speak of being a sissy or a male girl or describe that I was always one of the girls despite male body, one of the common misconstruals I get is that people visualize flamboyant emotive dramatic people, people for whom the feminine is centrally about "look at me". That's not it. Actually it was all about "approve of me". More explicitly, it was "obey the rules, be the teacher's pet, show us what a good citizen you can be". There's a not-so-nice element to it which I should probably emphasize more often, if only because it offsets some of the sickeningly-sweet aspects that may be hard for some to swallow: we who bought into that thought ourselves superior, were often smug snobby kids who were sure that we were going to be the ones to end up in charge of things. Because we were doing it right, were doing what adults valued.

Women's studies courses often observe that the "good girl" mystique sets girls up: it turns them into approval-seekers, pleasers of others. What sometimes gets lost is that the girls who embraced it believed in the same tradeoff that I did: they thought they, and not the undisciplined weak childish people who lacked self-control and who did not play nicely with others, would be the ones who would run the world.

At any rate, I was not initially alone among the children. What happened to the rest of the good boys, the nice guys? How did the other ones feel about the bad boys, the disruptive and disobedient boys, calling them girls and calling them sissies and taunting us with the claim that they were doing "boy" right and we were the weak ones, afraid to risk disapproval? I know what happened with many of them: they became convinced and got defensive about it. They stopped caring more about what other goody-goody people (mostly girls) and teachers and other adults thought and started to care about what the bad boys and tough boys thought of them. But what about the others?

Anyway, yeah, we wanted to be better than others. Little Lord Fauntleroy aloof from the riffraff. Tattletale Boy glad to see the misbehaving children get what they deserve. Sure, I'll confess to it. So OK, the world is fully entitled to be wary of our reappearance on the stage to claim once again to be some flavor of better, a new and more sexually liberated way of doing male and all that squeakyclean gender smugness.

How about merely "as good"?, though? You figure people can admire us some if we stand up for ourselves and assert that we like being who we are?


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"I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm male, that's my sex; I'm attracted to females, that's my orientation." That's the thumbnail version of me coming out, that's me doing it short 'n snappy.

And I've used "girl" fairly often in reference to myself on the genderqueer and transgender community boards on Facebook, where it's more necessary than usual to be able to refer to one's gender separately from how one references one's biological sex.

So why, you may well be wondering, do I use the word "girl" when I'm not a juvenile? I'm middle-aged. Also, I purport to be a feminist, but feminists have long since gone on record about the disparity wherein male adults get called "men" but female adults still get called "girl". "I am a woman. Do not call me a girl", they have said. So why don't I tend to say that I'm a woman? Why do I use the term "girl"?

Reason A: The Trajectory of Personal History. I think there are many people who, when they visualize transgender individuals, think in terms of how we want to live the adult sexual lives -- the EROTIC lives -- of the other gender. That that's what it's all about, that that's the main thing that we feel estranged from because of our bodies and (therefore) the gender that people assign us to. I do know that there are some transgender people who only became aware of being a different gender than the one to which they were socially assigned when they were adults, although I don't know any personally. For me, though, and for many others with some version of the overall trans identity experience, that stress on adult gendered behaviors and differences is misplaced: we knew it a lot sooner than that, and our overall identities were shaped by already thinking of ourselves as one of the gender to which we were NOT socially assigned, the other one.

In other words, I thought of myself as one of the girls when I was in elementary school. I valued what they valued; I took pride in it just as the other girls did, competed with them on certain levels, participated with them on others, cared about what they thought of me, and measured myself against them in evaluating my self-worth as a person. We were good citizens and generally did well within the system and expected to, and considered ourselves worthy of respect and graceful treatment, which we'd earned through our responsible good behavior. But if and when we did NOT get accorded that treatment, we knew it SHOULD be our due and, after all, one does not behave properly in order to receive such treatment, one behaves properly because it's the right thing to do.

Then, later, in my own particular case, well, it happened that I was attracted to female people. Which, unlike the matrix of personality and behavioral characteristics folks noticed in childhood, WAS fully expected of me on the basis of my biological sex. This complicated things: as a child, I was like the other girls in most of the ways that counted, but unlike them in biological sex; now, as I was entering adulthood, that biological difference took on new hues and meanings, and, if anything, submerged my sense of being one of them into a more convoluted and multifaceted mixture of samenesses and differences.

That complexity nearly destroyed me; I could not untangle that mess, could not separate myself as a male-bodied person attracted to females from the matrix of assumptions and beliefs about males and the meaning and "flavor" and behaviors and cues and signals of males and females in a state of attraction to each other. My samenesses got in the way and left me vulnerable to confusion and hurt; I wanted something new and different from the other girls, something other than what I'd wanted and needed from them up until then, and risked not being able to get any of it, the new OR the old types of connections.

And my understanding took the form of understanding that who I *had been*, looking back over my shoulder at my own past, was one of the girls, a male girl, now trying to negotiate the tricky currents of sexual attraction. And that understanding helped everything make sense and put me on the road to coming to terms with all of it.

Reason B: Children's Lib. Embedded in the pride of being a responsible citizen was always a rebellious refusal to accept the general designation of children as irresponsible little animals with no self-control, not fully human and not entitled to equal consideration by adults as people. Attitudes towards children may be particularly derogatory in the deep south where I grew up as a child, spiced up with a fair amount of Biblical distrust for unfettered human nature and the corresponding notion that humans are good only in the shadow of sufficient threat of punishment for the wicked. But it was a very GENDERED attitude. Boys were bad except where terrorized into being good; girls who were bad were weak and to be pitied and strong girls were good on purpose.

I never accepted the notion that adults were intrinsically better people or more important people. If there were legitimate reasons for our second-class status as children, they resided in our comparative ignorance and lack of capabilities and, IF indeed in evidence, in our immaturity and failure to behave responsibly. I did, as a child, believe the adult world was one in which the responsible folks were in charge.

That was a belief that did not survive my own passage into adulthood. Adulthood is a myth. Mostly, folks wake up one day between their junior year in high school and their 20th birthday, realize that all that wisdom and certainty that they saw adults apparently possessing is NOT going to come their way, and they stop trying to understand the world and instead focus on faking it, copying whoever seems to be doing "adult" relatively well and hoping no one realizes they're phonies. Which isn't likely because everyone else is doing the same thing. There is bodily adulthood, in the sense of puberty and associated biological changes, but "man" and "woman" are mythical creatures, notions of gendered adult selves that are too heavily invested in the notion of adulthood for me to feel comfortable identifying with.

Progress Notes, on the ongoing attempt to sell my book:

The Story of Q——total queries = 393
Rejections: 276
Outstanding: 117

As NonFiction——total queries = 332
Rejections: 263
Outstanding: 69

As Fiction——total queries = 61
Rejections: 13
Outstanding: 48

That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class——total queries = 22
Rejections: 20
Outstanding: 2


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Continuing from More Repositioning Part One...

As I said, I started off positioning the things I wanted to say about myself and gender and sexual orientation as contributions to feminist theory. It was a good fit and except for some nuances of what to emphasize and how to formulate my descriptions, I didn't have to tuck away much of what I was inclined to say in order to position it in that way.

One potential concern with that positioning was that I — a male — was intending to participate in formulating feminist theory.

Remember that this was in 1980. My impression of feminists was that they were sick and tired of the unfairnesses that women had to tolerate in our society, and in their anger they were being quite blunt and honest in speaking out about it and about what they wanted to see changed. They wanted men to listen: as the Helen Reddy song "I am Woman" put it, "I am still an embryo with a long, long way to go until I make my brother understand". I didn't expect them to take any male's word for it that what he had to say was something they should heed; I expected a cautious and perhaps cynical wariness, but I thought my material itself would not only ring true with them but fit into their overall theory like a missing puzzle piece.

Feminists in 1980 were only just putting behind them a phase in which they'd often been hostile and condescending to women immersed in traditional roles. Like the marxist left caricaturing the wealthy, some early feminists (including, by her own later admission, Robin Morgan) had said things about wives and mothers and girlfriends and obedient subservient secretaries and cheerleaders and whatnot that they, by this point, in 1980, regretted, for being divisive instead of seeing and SAYING that all women were in this situation together. At the same time, though, they were also saying similar things about MEN not being the enemy either! The movement that had begun as a movement for women's equality now saw itself as being good for men as well because the social system based on women's oppression made for an unpleasant and oppressive and disempowering world for individual males too — even if most men couldn't seem to see that. So with that understanding already out there and on the table, I felt that I should not have to establish as a principle that feminism was something that I personally could have a stake in, and could proceed to show that I had been listening to them, understood what they'd been saying, and had something to add, a contribution not an argument against or an excuse for what they were complaining about.

But feminism never distinguished between defining itself as the movement against patriarchy and sexism and defining itself as the movement for the concerns of women. It's one thing (in my opinion) to say as an activist against patriarchy that all women are oppressed and are therefore allies and not enemies even if they don't see matters that way themselves, and another thing to decline to establish that trying to dismantle patriarchy is what you're up to, first and foremost. Feminism produced real tangible social change for women, establishing something considerably closer to parity with men, and in doing so gave more women more of a stake in the system. That (again, in my opinion) gave rise to an "identity politics" form of feminism in which the goals of feminism were loosely defined as the promotion of women's interests. One place this manifested itself was in the university environment, which is the venue I'd gone to to pursue my attempts to contribute my views to feminist theory. And by 1992 it had been made apparent to me that I could not actually contribute more than a marginal and ancillary bit of new material: at best, my role as a male "doing feminist theory" would be limited to choosing which views already espoused by feminists to chime in in agreement with. And even THEN, I would need to be careful of disagreeing with all feminists in my immediate vicinity and siding with the views of feminists whose theories I had only read in books. That may seem unduly mean-spirited of me to say it that way, as if I'm accusing feminist women of being unreasonable and unlistening, but the alternative would require THAT THE MAN IN THE ROOM TELL FEMINIST WOMEN THAT THEY'RE DOING FEMINISM WRONG. Think about it. Think about the ramifications to feminism if feminists are being asked to consider a male to be speaking with authority equal to their own on the topic of feminism itself. I never cared for "identity politics" but I had to admit that women need to be the authority within their own movement.

So this positioning wasnt going to work. I didn't know what to do INSTEAD, so it kind of derailed me for awhile.

Now I'm drawing from the theories and understandings coming out of the gay and lesbian liberation movement and that of transgendered people — queer theory, gender theory. It is a repositioning, a reframing of what I was saying before, although under the hood the ideas are still basically the same ideas.

• These are theories that say that it is not fair if different people are not treated with the equivalent or corresponding interpretation of their behavior instead of being castigated for being different; it is again a fairness issue but rather than condemning the viewing of people differently depending on their identity, it condemns an insufficiently diverse array of different responses; it starts with an identification of categorical differences officially recognized, for which different responses exist (men; women) and then demands that people in other categories (gay; lesbian; transgendered; bisexual; intersex; genderqueer; asexual; etc) be freed from the confinement to that small array and extended their own separate and equal understandings.

• It is, therefore, very much an embodiment of identity politics. Hence, I am defining myself first and foremost as a categorically DIFFERENT person, and demanding consideration for my CATEGORY. I'm a male, that's my sex; I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm attracted to female people, that's my sexual orientation; hence I am not a man nor a woman as conventionally defined, nor am I straight or gay as conventionally defined, nor am I even transgendered as opposed to cisgendered, as THAT is traditionally defined.

• The existing body of social-political understandings towards the groups thus far identified includes most of what I want extended to my situation: that we not be regarded as pathological departures from a healthy norm, but are just as valid as healthy identities; that there are attitudes affirming and celebrating our characteristics that previously applied only to certain other groups, and we want in on that way of being thought of and viewed; and, by extension, since there's no end in sight for the length of the list, there should be a moratorium on hostile rejection of any manifestion of personality and behavior pertaining to sex and gender, NOT because we are all the same and NOT because social forces have (necessarily) created our differences, but because unless the behavior can be argued to be undesirable behavior for ANYONE to engage in, it may be a valid, sexy, pleasant, etc, configuration for someone and your own personal distaste for it as manifested in a person of this or that sex or gender or whatever is just your own personal taste.

• Just as in positioning it as feminist theory, there are things that I am basically de-emphasizing in positioning it as gender / queer theory. Feminist theory considers that there is a social force or institution in place that is embodied by the sex role socialization forces, and considers itself to be a direct and frontal challenge to that. The identity politics of gender and queer theory, at least on the superficial level, would have it that the world could continue ticking along basically intact except more fairly and pleasantly if we cease to stigmatize and ostracize and view as pathological those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, asexual, genderqueer, and so forth. I don't think that's true; I think there are indeed societal institutions and social structures that depend for their ongoing existence on the conventional categories and the shaping and stigmatizing forces that maintain them. I think, in other words, that it's a radical and fundamental change and not just a plea that people who are harmlessly different shouldn't be treated bad just because they're different.

• That should not be taken as a claim that queer and gender theorists do NOT consider themselves and their issues to involve radical change; they DO! It's more that feminism as an actual movement has been inclined to pay real attention to feminist theory, to the extent that people involved in the movement have had their own thinking informed by feminist theory; but gay lesbian bisexual trans and etc people, in my experience and in my impression, do not study queer and gender theory and integrate it into their thinking to the same degree. And perhaps because of that there is a higher percent of folks who consider themselves to be a part of what folks call the LGBTQ community or even "movement" but whose understanding or vision of social change in that sphere mostly involves more tolerance, equality, anti-discrimination laws and policies, and other aspects of inclusive fairness.


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On Sept 3, I penned a short piece about repositioning my nonfiction memoir as a work of fiction:


In today's blog, I'm going to reminisce about a different repositioning, one that is part of my own backstory behind this book: from feminist issue to gender-identity issue.

The story starts in 1980, when I first had in my head a clear sense of wanting to confront the world and explain a thing or two about myself and gender and sexuality and all that.

Just as I currently need to "bundle" the book I've written, in order that authors' agents and publishers will perceive it as falling into a category they know about and having other similar titles they can mentally compare it to, in 1980 I recognized the need to "bundle" what I wanted to say so that it would fit in with a set of ideas that folks had some familiarity with. If you want to communicate with people, you don't want to be TOO original; people need a point of entry, a starting point they're already familiar with, and THEN, once you've established that, you can depart from there, contrasting what you're trying to say with material that your audience already comprehends.

Starting in 1980, most of my attempts to explain my material started off with feminist theory.

• Feminist theory in its most widely understood assertions says that it is not fair if the same behavior is viewed differently depending on the sex of the person; that was dead-on center to what I wanted to say about sexual behavior and associated personality, and it let me position what I was saying as a fairness issue, a POLITICAL issue, not some kind of needy emotional or mental state such as a mental pathology. That was important to me.

• Feminist theory by that point had accumulated a huge body of observations about sex role socialization that polarizes boys and girls, treating them differently in ways that CREATE differences even if they didn't already exist in that particular way, that REINFORCE them and emphasize and exaggerate them whether they did or didn't originally exist, and that also SHAPE how we interpret them so that even identical behaviors end up having different connotations to the observer. All this was also very much the territory of my ideas, so by referencing feminism I would not have to reinvent those wheels, explain all that from scratch.

• I saw myself as a male person whose personality and behavior was more akin to what was expected of female people, for which I'd gotten a lot of grief and flack over the years. My response, as a kid and as a young adult, to that grief and flack had been to stubbornly retain those characteristics and to disdain the model of masculine boyhood that I was being directed to as what I ought to be emulating instead. In choosing to position my concepts within the framework of feminism and feminist theory, I was choosing in part to DE-EMPHASIZE any personal claims to being inherently different from other boys and men, and instead placed the focus on these social forces and used my experience as a vantage point: "Behold, sex role socialization in action, trying to turn males into boys and men. Look at my experience, I'm one of the rare resisters and as such I have been the example to other males of the bad things that would happen to them, also, if they did not conform". I was trying to indict the social process.

• Right from the start, I was not only ambivalent about whether I was, in fact, different in general from other malefolk, but also aware of that ambivalence. The truth was, and still is, that I did not (and do not) know. I live in a world with other males who certainly appear to be alien and different from me, but I'm vividly aware of those social forces and processes and I can easily believe that those, all by themselves, can shape and mold male people into the configuration that I see around me, WITHOUT postulating any built-in differences between me and the majority of the rest of my sex. And indeed, sometimes I see it that way. But I also can readily believe that maybe the sexes are statistically different in ways that roughly and loosely correspond with the expectations, but that the sex role socialization forces take that situation and emphasize the polarization and shape and modify what they're going to end up meaning, both at the individual level and the broad social level. And sometimes I see it that way instead: that the factor that made ME, specifically, rebellious and stubbornly resistant to masculinization is that personality-wise I'm a statistical outlier so the expectations were a really really bad fit for me.

• My general attitude was "It doesn't matter". If I could wave a magic wand and make it so that sissy boys and butch girls were socially accepted and understood, if we could essentially have a widespread belief that there are male girls as well as male boys (just fewer of them), and female boys as well as female girls (likewise), the ugly nastiness of those social pressures would be ameliorated. And if that could happen, then that change would be wonderful whether I (and the hypothetical class of other boys like me) were intrinsically different from normative typical males or if there were no such fundamental difference.

• Similarly, and parallel to that, was the sexual orientation question. What I was seeing was a social expectation verging on coercive in its intensity that said that not ONLY were male people supposed to be a certain way in personality and behavior ("masculine") but that furthermore heterosexual eligibility was dependent on it. If, in other words, you insisted or persisted in being and behaving more like the expected female pattern, you would be THOUGHT to be gay, you would be TREATED as if you were gay, and you would not have any other real options since heterosexuality itself was so hardwired to a model of behavior in which masculine male people DID certain things (behaviors) to feminine female people that, in the absence of that personality and the behaviors associated with it, sex with female people simply wasn't gonna happen. I saw this as the ultimate and final weapon in the arsenal of sex role socialization forces. Of course, I saw it that way because I was attracted to female-bodied people.

• Gay and lesbian people, in 1980, were definitely positioning their discussion of sexual preference in terms of built-in differences. That they were oppressed AS gay and lesbian people, that it needed to be OK with the world that some folks were indeed gay and lesbian and that that wasn't pathological or undesirable or inferior. I recognized early on that I needed to NOT be saying that the only reason anyone was in fact gay or lesbian was that that was how sex role socialization disposed of the personality-and-behavior nonconforming misfits like me who didn't get sex-role socialized properly. First off, I needed to NOT be saying that for pragmatic reasons: I was trying to liberate myself and people like me from sex role socialization forces, not attack other people and tell them they were doing things all wrong, and gay and lesbian people very obviously weren't perceiving their sexual orientation as "something society did to us". Secondly, and more importantly once it sank in good, was that I sure as hell didn't KNOW that to be the case. All I knew from first-hand experience was that social forces felt to me like they were trying to cast ME as gay for failing to fit the masculine mold; I realized that gay and lesbian people were saying they were ATTRACTED to the same sex, not that they'd been driven in that direction, and quite commonly said that they'd known it even as children, had always been that way. I had no business, therefore, proceeding as if I knew their situation better than they did. AGAIN, my attitude quickly reconciled as "it doesn't matter". If there are indeed built-in differences in sexual orientation between hetero and gay folk, it absolutely cannot hurt any of us if the world ceases to assume you are hetero if your personality and behavior fits the expected norms for your sex and that you are gay/lesbian if you have a disproportionate amount of those expected in the other sex instead.

• For myself, with regards to my OWN sexual orientation as built-in or otherwise, I again tended to look at it two different ways and shifted between the two depending on how I thought about the gender difference: when I tended to think of myself as not intrinsically different from other males, I also thought of my sexual orientation as not being different intrinsically: nope, "heterosexuality" is a socially constructed and socially maintained set of rules, all part & parcel of the sex role socialization phenomenon; lift that out of the way and yeah, I'm attracted to female-bodied people, as are most males, and were it not for the social forces and etc I'd have no issues or problems here. But at the other times, when I'd find myself thinking of myself as truly different from other males in general, I'd also think of my sexual orientation as a different thing: heterosexuality is where MASCULINE males are sexually involved with FEMININE females, and I'm in the inverse situation and should perhaps be seeking out females who are as much a misfit as I am, not merely because they'd have more sympathy for the complexities of my situation but because our inverse behavioral patterns would link up in a reversal-of-expectations pattern. Straightbackwards instead of straightforwards. Not hetersexual, something else, something as different as my gender identity. But once again, as far as positioning of what I was trying to say to people, I chose to de-emphasize the latter. If I could wave that magic wand and make a world where folks didn't associate sexual orientation with conformity versus nonconformity to expected sexrole-specific personality and behavior in general, people like me would find partners. So it didn't matter.

Next Up: More Repositioning Part II, the shift to Gender and Queer Theory


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