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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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PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT A:

Somebody I'm friends with on Facebook posts this on an LGBT message board: "I made my decision not to go on hormones, and that was a personal choice".

One of the first replies posted was: "Honey I'm sorry... actually I'm not.. if you are not taking the steps to become a woman.. you are not trans.. you are simply a feminine gay man... stop confusing people and making it harder for real Trans people."


PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT B:

On a different message board, I am replying to someone who has referred to me dismissively as "a cisgendered straight guy who really wants to be a sexual minority so he can be part of a movement".

I reply tersely: "No". He quotes that and replies "Yes".

I write: "Being a straight male — being heterosexual — isn't just 'you have boy parts and your sexual attraction is for people who have girl parts'. (If you disagree with that you aren't leaving any room for a transgender lesbian, who, prior to surgery, has "boy parts". Maybe you and your friends consider transgender lesbians to be "straight males" up until they transition, I don't know)"

And to THAT he replies: "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."



PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT C:


On a Facebook-based chat, I have this exchange with yet another person:

Other Person: Your [sic] Gay...A man to have female tendency is a GAY Man how hard is that???....my gawed!!!!!


Allan Hunter: Not hard at all, not for male-bodied people. Which is why I don't identify as GAY, I'm a male-bodied girl who is attracted to female-bodied people. If I identified as gay, people would assume it meant I was attracted to MALE-bodied people, now wouldn't they?

Other Person: Well you can't be Lesbian...

Other Person: Your straight and you like women

Allan Hunter: I don't identify as lesbian because I am male, and lesbians in general do not consider male-bodied people to share that identity with them.

I don't identify as a straight man because I am a girl, or a sissy or a feminine person if you prefer, and straight males have made it loudly and specifically apparent that they don't consider people like me to be men, nor do I wish to be seen as one of them. Also, "straight" means more than "people with female equipment and people with male equipment getting it on". Heterosexuality is gendered, with specific and polarized expectations of the male and the female person -- a "man" role and a "woman" role. I'm a woman or girl and both my identity and the relationships and partners available to me are quite different.

Of course it may be your intention to call "bullshit" on this and say "we don't want your kind and do not consider that you belong". I'm kind of used to that. Rather than just putting my fingers in my ears and saying "no ur wrong", I'd rather go into this with you if you're so inclined. Why is my identity invalid and yours valid? Couldn't I just as easily say "You're a woman like any other, there are no 'gay people', you're just a woman, that's all there are is women and men, and you're making a big deal out of irrelevant things that don't matter"?? {edited: changed gender references}


Other Person: I just said you can't be Lesbian!!!!!

Allan Hunter: Other Person: I agree. I can't be lesbian. I can't be gay. I can't be a straight man. I'm not bi. And transgender doesn't fit either. It's something else.

Allan Hunter: The female people I'm attracted to tend to be butch. Some identify as guys / bois / men. If anyone is going to be the top it isn't going to be me. It's different from being a straight guy, trust me.

Other Person: Then that's your problem....since you strongly believe your A women...Then you need to get a sex change...let's see if that makes you happy.



PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT D:


Back in January, I sent my standard query letter to a publisher that publishes LGBT titles. My cover letter explains that THE STORY of Q is specifically a genderqueer coming-out story. In fact, it was roughly the same cover letter that I posted here back in Sept 2014.

In due course, the editor wrote back: "I finished this yesterday, and after discussing it with the publisher, we're going to have to take a pass on this. It's not a transgender book and definitely not a gay book, so finding a large enough readership to make this economically viable would be tough."

I send this reply, cc'ing my publicist, John Sherman, whom I've been working with: "That is correct. I thought you knew that. It's something else."

My publicist replies to me, responding to my cc: "Yes, it’s something else. Could the subtitle perhaps have been the first clue? Jeez."




** ahem ** [clears throat]

Let's get one thing str... I mean, let's NOT get one thing straight, but let's at least get one thing established, dammit.

I'm not trying to "join" an existing sexual or gender identity club. I am not submitting an application to be approved and welcomed as if this were the Rainbow Homeowner's Association and Community Watch Board or something. When I say "this is my identity" I mean "this is who I am", and you can accept it or you can reject it; you can care, or you can NOT care, but you don't really get a vote on it.


In second grade I was a person. I was a person who perceived myself to be like the girls. I was a person who was perceived by the other kids as being like the girls. I was a person who was proud to be like the girls despite the expectation of the boys (in particular) and the teachers (sometimes) that I would be embarrassed and ashamed of that. I won't say I didn't need and did not seek anyone's approval -- I wanted the girls to accept me and let me play with them. Some did. I was out to prove I was worthy of their acceptance and approval despite being a boy. I won't claim that, in 2nd grade, I had an understanding of sex and gender as two different things -- I didn't, not like that. But I understood that I was LIKE the girls and I wanted to be PERCEIVED that way; I understood that I was NOT like the (other) boys and I did what I could to distinguish myself from them because I did not like being treated as if I were one of them. Who I was had more to do with being "like the girls" than with the fact that I "was a boy". I was between 6 and 7 years old when I was in second grade, and that was how I understood matters at the time.

What that means -- ONE of the things that that means -- is that in third grade and thereafter I was a person WHO HAD THAT HISTORY, a person who already thought of myself in those terms. Hence it was very much a part of my IDENTITY.

So all of my experiences from then on were the experiences of a person WITH THAT IDENTITY.

I didn't invent it as an adult upon reading about being modern gender identities and LGBTQIA people. Do you get that? I'm not just flinging an angry retort in your direction when I say "you don't get a vote on my identity", although yes, encountering people who attempt to negate my identity does make me angry; I'm not in the process of trying on this identity to see if it fits and to see how other people will or won't accept it.

Instead, this identity is who I have been to myself for over half a century. There's no original or "normal" or prior identity I can revert back to were someone to (hypothetically) convince me that I am not really as I describe. My lifetime experiences have been shaped by my perception of myself, just as yours have shaped your experiences.

My adaptive coping mechanisms are the adaptive coping mechanisms of a girl who behaves as a girl who has been through a bunch of specific experiences that people who aren't male girls seldom go through. Those adaptive coping mechanisms reflect the priorities and sensibilities of a girl whose context of operation include

• being in a male body

• being in a social environment where people expect male-bodied people to be masculine and boyish

• being in a social environment that, to the extent it understands and recognizes the possibility of male people being girlish at all, is hostile and contemptuous towards male girls

Those developed coping mechanisms channeled my subsequent experiences: some possible things that could have happened ended up NOT being among my experiences because of how I handled things, and some possible things ended up happening precisely because of how I handled stuff. And of course I was further shaped by those experiences.


Thank you. I'll climb off this soapbox now. This rant has been simmering in the background for awhile now.


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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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I was around 8 or 9 years old when I first experienced the boys' bathroom as an unsafe place. The other boys would talk about dicks and shitting and piss, had quite the case of pottymouth on them, and they quickly noticed that I was a prudish and prim and prissy kid who didn't join in and wasn't comfortable around them. They'd cluster around me sometimes when I went in, to ask me obscene questions and enjoy making me uncomfortable, and I didn't much care for their company, especially when combined with the intermingled necessity of having our pants open and our private parts exposed.

That made it all the more startling when, just a few years later, adult males accused me of loitering and being up to something disgusting. They didn't specify what but said I should knock off the phony innocent act and they better not catch me hanging out there, do my business and leave, and I should be ashamed of myself.

I went to summer camp one year in my grandmother's home town where no one knew me. I went in enthusiastic because it would be a fresh start, instead of being among people who had already singled me out as someone to ridicule and harass. That made it so much worse when the same behaviors spontaneously generated themselves and made me fully aware that it was me, not something uniquely messed-up about the people on my block and at my school.

I was showering in the locker room after gym class and when I headed back to the area with the lockers and benches to put on my street clothes, the other boys watched with expectant amusement. I tried to ignore them and just get dressed but after a moment I realized my underwear was missing from my locker. "Where are your panties, Alice? Did you leave them at home?" I stared from face to face, miserable, expecting someone to toss them to me along with further mocking comments but instead everyone was delighted to make suggestions about how I might find them. Eventually a theme developed: I should really go check out the stalls, they think I might find them there. I did: floating in a filthy unflushed toilet.

When I was 19 I was at a party outdoors and a guy there decided I needed some attitude adjustment. He punched me a couple times then an hour or so later came up to me, pretending he wanted to apologize, offering me his hand, and then punching me again when I went to take it. Suddenly his friends had flashlights shining in my face and blinding me while he proceeded to kick and chop at me while everyone laughed. The consensus seemed to be that I had it coming for being such a sissy fag.


So I felt like I'd been through some experiences that were pretty nasty and creepy and I hadn't done anything to deserve such things happening to me. I didn't know why but I promised myself that if I ever figured out what caused this to happen to me, there was going to be some settling up about it. I was going to show the world, get some justice, have some satisfaction.



Now I want to fast-forward to the current era and talk about something I did just the other day: I told some gay men and some transgender women (male to female) that the group I was trying to start, a group for people like me, wasn't really intended for them. (Although they could participate as allies and supporters and be welcome in that capacity)

That not only sounds and feels highly suspect, it's hard not to label it inexcusible bigotry. I mean, WHAT?? I'm starting some kind of group and keeping out gay men and transwomen??

Let me explain how that came about...



In the last 2 weeks...

• I finally got pushy enough with Long Island LGBT center to prompt someone to call me back. It didn't go well: "I'm director of programming... so you're offering your presentation as something we could include in programming, well thank you but no thanks we don't need any additional programming". I wasn't expecting it to feel quite so much like dealing with an Institution; I was expecting it to feel like dealing with a fervent social change activist who maybe would be dismissive of my perspective on some kind of political grounds, but this made me feel like a salesperson being told "no we don't need what you're selling".

• I posted to my liberal-intellectual internet message board and was told I am not gay and I am not transgender so I should shut the fuck up, that gay people's concerns are legitimate and transgender people's concerns are legitimate but I'm just a cisgender hetero guy who has some traits socially considered "feminine", just like most guys do, and apparently I just want to be a special snowflake and pretend that I have a social cause. With less hostility, some of the others posted that I can't be a movement unto myself and that I need to network with others like me, if I can find them; and if I can't find them then maybe I really AM a special snowflake and that when I speak I'm not speaking for anyone other than my own individual self and, if so, why should anyone care what I went through if it's not still happening in any meaningful way to anyone else like me?

• I decided that was a good point and went into Identity House on International Coming-Out Day and had an individual session. I figured my need and desire to participate as an activist and shed some light on my personal gender identity as a social cause was, indeed, a personal need, something relevant to my own emotional health and well-being. It went... OK. The two peer counselors didn't treat me like "WTF are you doing here, you're just a hetero cis guy". On the other hand, they were less helpful than I'd hoped for as far as connecting me up with Identity House people who might be interested in hearing more about this as another gender identity needing political attention. They DID say they'd put me on the email list for a Gender Exploration Group to be scheduled for sometime this fall, which I could be in, and when I indicated an interest in doing what they were doing, i.e., being peer counselors, said they'd put me on the list of people who could be called the next time they do an in-house training. That would get my foot in the door as well as being something I think I'd be decently good at and would enjoy doing.

• And meanwhile, I started a Meetup group titled "OTHER Victims of Homophobia, Transphobia, & Sissyphobia". I figured that plus the descriptive blurb I wrote about it might get me in contact with other people like me in a way that my blog and my participation in genderqueer and transgender and related Facebook groups has not. What happened instead was that about eight people quickly joined my Meetup group and the ones who wrote anything at all about themselves either identified as gay males or as transgender women (MTF). And because I was specifically trying to see if I could find and network with other malebodied people who identify as girl-like or effeminate, and/or as girls or women, but not with intention of presenting as female-bodied or becoming female-bodied, I found myself informing them that they could be supporters and welcome here in that capacity but that the group was intended as a group to bring together males OTHER than gay guys or male to female transgender who had been victims of homophobia-and-company.


So...

How politically legitimate is it, how legitimate CAN it be, to be starting a group that disincludes gay people and trans male-to-female people? I'd prefer that you not judge me blithely but at the same time let's not dismiss this concern lightly either. It's a question that goes deeper than this one Meetup group, but rather has to do with my entire gender identity itself.

From my vantage point, I was mistreated for being a sissy and so I set forth to come out and confront the world as an activist sissy. But the gay question is the Giant Pink Elephant in the Living Room. When people were being hostile towards me for being a sissy-boy, they expressed it as hostility towards gay guys. When people expressed sympathy and tolerance towards me, they expressed it as sympathy for and tolerance of me as a gay guy. And the reason I still perceive a need to change the message that kids hear out there is that some hypothetical kid like me growing up is going to hear some continuing hostility towards sissy guys, identifying them as gay, and they are going to hear a strong social dissent that says it is perfectly OK and downright fabulous to be a sissy gay guy.

I could already hear that social dissent in the 1970s when I was a teenager, but it wasn't helpful to me. No one was saying it was OK to be someone like me.


But it means I'm distancing myself from gay guys, making a point of saying I'm proud that I'm not. Or rather that I am proud of who I am and who I am is a sissy-guy who is not gay, which still collapses to the same thing.

Maybe that's part of why it's so damn difficult to find others like me.

On top of the other problems that come with it, we're setting ourselves up to be perceived as homophobic. And/or as protesting awfully loudly, like we're in denial or something, because why else (people tend to ask) would people go around asserting that they aren't gay? So maybe the other sissy males who are not attracted to male-bodied people don't identify as sissy in order to avoid being more rapidly and completely designated as gay, and don't identify as "sissy but NOT gay" in order to avoid being designated as homophobic and closeted and in denial and gay.


The transgender part of it is somewhat different. Although I was occasionally taunted and mocked as a kid by someone explicitly calling me a girl, it has generally NOT been the case that people assume that because I exhibit feminine qualities I must be a male-to-female transgender person. (Gay continues to be the default assumption). It's only where and when I go to the trouble of explaining that I am a male-bodied person who is a girl inside that I find a lot of my space taken up by the Little Pink Elephant, the assumption that anyone who is born in a body designated as male but who identifies as a girl or woman is going to want to transition, is going to identify as female as well as girl or woman, because, after all, girls and women are female.

Outside of one Facebook group, I have not been accused of being transphobic or politically incorrect about how I am attempting to identify. But I've found it difficult for people to comprehend. A lot of people are willing to believe that there is something primordially female in some folks born in male bodies, but they find it less easy to understand that a person born in a male body could possess the personality and behavioral characteristics and patterns of a girl or woman and could come to consider that to be a far more essential definition of SELF than the physical body, but not reject the body itself as any more wrong than being a woman is wrong. "What does it mean to be a woman if you're not female?", people ask me. I'm talking here about people who accept the transgender phenomenon, not the people who go around saying "If you got a dick you're a man not a woman". They could understand if I said I was SUPPOSED to have been born female, that I'm a woman inside and therefore this body is a birth defect. But they don't comprehend how I could feel and say "I am male and I am a girl and there's nothing wrong with me that needs fixing, get used to it".



My mind these last two weeks has returned to the question: WHY is it so damn difficult to put these ideas out there and WHY do I not find them resonating with other people? WHY do they not have the explanatory power for other people that they do for me? (I'd think that even for people who aren't at all like I am, these ideas would explain a lot of things they've observed in the world and they'd go "Aha, lots of things just clicked into place for me").



Maybe I'm the only one. (Seems unlikely, but what if?)


And then there's Douglas Hofstadter, who in his book Gödel Escher Bach spoke of systems of expression (mathematical languages or computer programming languages or any other formal system) and how, for any of them, there are things that are true but which can't be derived or expressed according to the rules of those very systems of expression. That's the essence of Gödel's theorem, but Hofstadter took the idea and ran with it in more universal directions. At one point he posits a high-end audiophile's sound system and asks (paraphrased *) "Won't any such system have sounds that they can't play because those very sounds, themselves, if reproduced with accuracy and volume, would be destructive to the delicate parts that comprise the sound system?"

Perhaps in the gendered world as it is familiarly constituted, the experiences I am trying to express are not expressible — that the act of expressing them interferes directly with their expression, that the architecture of ideas and language that we use to express things somehow contains a sort of Bermuda Triangle of entwined connotations that makes these particular notions impossible to convey, as every attempt to do so conveys something else instead. (Seems unlikely and quite the conceit on my part to entertain such a notion, but yeah, obviously I've done so).

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Index of all Blog Posts

Eye Opener

Oct. 4th, 2015 10:18 pm
ahunter3: (Default)
No one had called me back from multiple voicemails I'd left with the Long Island LGBT organization, the one that operates the transgender support groups I've attended in Bay Shore (young, well-attended) and Woodbury (more nearby, sparsely attended). No one had emailed me back from the emails I'd sent to the woman who teaches Women's Studies at Old Westbury (where I was a Women's Studies major 1985-88) and who also runs the women's center on campus. I had put on my calendar a note to myself to get off my ass and follow through on both of these, to talk with the people involved and get the proverbial ball rolling on booking me to give some kind of presentation on gender, to be more of a local presence doing gender here on Long Island. Gotta build the author's platform, you know.

So with the professor at Old Westbury, I obtained her office hours at least, with the notion that I could do this best if I could be seated across from her and sketch out some of what I wanted to present; I was figuring her lack of follow-through and lack thus far of enthusiasm was reasonable, she doesn't know what my content is going to be like, why would she opt to have me present to her class just because I said I'd like to do so?

So next I called the LGBT folks. Similar assumption: they have no reason to rush out and try to schedule me to present my material when they don't know as of yet what my material is. Seems like the thing to do is try to arrange a sit-down where I can explain enough of it for them to gauge my seriousness and the degree to which my perspective adds to rather than clashes with whatever they're putting on. The receptionist took down some basic info including my telephone number and then said she'd have the programming director get back to me shortly.


I get the call maybe 45 minutes later. "So what's this about?", she asks. "Well", I say, fumbling my way into it, "I consider myself to be a subtype of genderqueer... really I haven't found much information about people like me in the materials that tend to be presented, and I guess you could say I'm trying to come out of the closet and be recognized for who I am, but that recognition requires people's willingness to accept another gender identity. I have some materials and I gave a presentation at one local group which went over well, and I was wondering if I could make an appointment to come in and discuss, well, maybe I could do a presentation there, either in Woodbury or in Bay Shore".

"Oh, well, we're not really seeking any additional programming resources at this point but thanks anyway".

"I don't mean I'm trying to get a paid position or anything, I mean just the ideas themselves, I'd like to sit down with you folks as activists".

"That won't be necessary. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"I...um...wait... I don't seem to be expressing myself well. I have trouble doing this over the phone. I'm... I found it difficult to... sort things out for myself growing up and... and I promised myself long ago that I'd see that younger people would not have to deal with this all by themselves, and there's still no voice out there that I can really recognize as a voice of someone like me."

"So is there some specific service you want from us?"

"I...you... I assume you are concerned with social... liberation, justice... in the same ways and that if what I'm trying to do is... meshes with... that we're approaching the same issues and concerns..."

"As I said, we're not looking for any programming to add at this point. We have support groups that meet in Bay Shore and Woodbury that you're welcome to attend and although you said you aren't seeking therapeutic counseling for yourself, that's what I'd recommend for you. Aside from that I don't know what else we can do for you".

I repeated that I felt that I flail badly at this sort of thing on the phone and she suggested I email her instead, so I took her up on it, and explained more completely how I viewed my own situation and how I felt that I had a gender identity that wasn't on the radar, generally speaking, and that I wanted to do something about that. She wrote back once again saying that the best they could offer me was the support group that I'd already been to.


I went to bed that night with an old old frustration burning hotly new, that too-familiar feeling of "I can't believe this isn't of more interest than it seems to be, why isn't anyone inclined to be grabbed by it the way other people's issues grab me when I hear about them? Why the hell can't I make common cause with people?"


I woke up the next morning with a different judgment on myself. I've been kicking myself pretty hard these past 5 years for not trying harder to connect with organizations like Identity House and discuss my issues with gay and lesbian and transgender activists and instead putting all my efforts and energies into connecting with feminists and discussing my issues as aspects of feminist theory and feminist movement gender politics. Oh, sure, I've given myself a pass for having taken awhile to realize the possibilities and potential in gender activism, of seeing msyelf as part of the LBGT spectrum. But there was all that sense that gee, I'd *been there* and that I should have been playing a part of the political scene in which the modern transgender and genderqueer identities have burst onto the scene. But this morning I sat up and realized "I really *did* go to Identity House. And I really *did* try to talk to people about how I was and what my concerns were. And I stopped going or didn't develop a habit of going very often because my concerns did not mesh with the concerns of the people I met there, and they weren't particularly curious about or fascinated by me as someone coming at this from a somewhat different angle than they were.

So now again this seems to be the case.

OK. Fundamentals. The stance I have taken towards "Society", in its overweening unwashed entirety, is an adversarial one. I feel mistreated and scorned and subjected to some harsh and vicious shit and I have spun around and with anger am being confrontational. This here sissy hatred has got to stop. If nothing else, I get to speak for myself, I get to have a voice, and I get to say I am happy to be who I am and I am proud to be who I am.

So I blithely turned to folks I assumed would be my allies, and blithely assumed that I'd be embraced and accepted there even though I'm different from them, because they're LESS DIFFERENT. But let's stay blunt here: my intention is to change them. To have an effect on them. To alter their agenda. It is not reasonable for me to assume that other people are going to WANT me to change them, to have that kind of affect on them, to get them to set a place for me at their planning table. So this relationship is potentially adversarial too. And I have to approach all my potential allies and comrades and similarly aligned people that I'm trying to make common cause with without expecting them to lap up whatever I exude. I'm not saying I necessarily need to become more abrasive, but I need to not be surprised if they don't immediately latch onto my ideas and priorities and instead are obstructionist and intolerant of differences and myopic in their now-institutionalized thinking on many issues.

I need to remember that, just as with academia and feminism, the individual people at close range tend to be people with job titles or positions within an organizational structure, and probably most of them are not theory-heads who spend enormous amounts of their time playing with abstract ideas about gender and expression and perception and feelings and whatnot and instead are more rooted in everyday pragmatic concerns, on which level my priorities may seem as alien to them as they would be to the local Chamber of Commerce or something.

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Seal Press will not be publishing my book. I received the rejection letter on 9/8.

I was originally planning on querying Cleis Press next: "Cleis Press publishes provocative, intelligent books across genres. Whether literary fiction, human rights, mystery, romance, erotica, LGBTQ studies, sex guides, pulp fiction, or memoir, you know that if it's outside the ordinary, it's Cleis Press."

But then I read some things other authors have written about them in recent months that made them sound like a bad idea.

I've been contemplating Thorntree, publishers of the polyamory guide More Than Two, and in fact I sat down at my desk tonight to review their submissions policy:


To submit a proposal, please first send an email with the following information:

A one-paragraph biography, including any published works

A one-paragraph summary of the proposed work, including your intended audience

Links to your social media and Web presences

If your submission appears appropriate for our list, we will invite you to submit a complete proposal.

We will accept queries and proposals on a rolling basis.




Whether it's the mood I've been in lately or not, I can't say for sure, but right now their submission process is very discouraging. It comes across to me very much as "we might be interested in your book if you've already got a track record of publication and, in particular, if you've got a strong active platform already; outside of that, just summarize your book and its intended audience in one paragraph and we'll let you know".


I have of course continued to send query letters to literary agents. It seems to me that public attention is more focused on gender issues and gender identity than ever before, so my book is squarely located in the midst of a trendy topic. So I keep telling myself that any day now some agent could decide to represent my book and get it published. Well, here's how that's shaping up at the moment:


Total queries to date: 680
Rejections: 613
Outstanding: 67
Under Consideration: 0

As Nonfiction, specifically, total queries: 467
Rejections: 414
Outstanding: 53

As Fiction, total queries: 213
Rejections: 199
Outstanding: 14



I've been trying to make a public ripple, explain the phenomenon of being a male girl or non-transitioning transgender or heterosexual sissy or gender invert or any of the other things I've attempted to call it over the years. I've been trying to do so because once upon a time, a long long time ago, I promised myself that if I *EVER* found out why people treated me this way, if I *EVER* found out why these things were happening to me, I was going to do something about it. I've been trying to do so because once I did, in fact, figure it out, I promised myself that I'd make it so that anyone like me growing up would not have to figure it all out for themselves. I've been trying to do this as my primary avocation and purpose in life, my mission, since 1980.

You could say I've only seriously set out to do one thing in my life and I've been a pretty pathetic failure at it.

That's not entirely fair, I tell myself. Once I figured this stuff out, I also set out to actually live my life, to not merely preach these ideas but to put them into practice. And to my relief and surprise, that's been the easier part. It took decades but I got better and better at communicating up close and personal, I learned from experience how to find what I was looking for, and I found personal solutions. I get to live my everyday life not at all closeted or isolated but instead loved and understood and cared for and appreciated for who I am, and I in turn get to hold and love and cherish and have togetherness and meaningful connection in my life.

Which is to say that I've got damn little to complain about, and also to acknowledge that it is grossly insulting to people who love me for me to characterize my life as a failure.

I get to be me, and not merely in isolation. (Can anyone be themselves without connection and accepting companionship?) But there is "be" and there is "do". I set out to do something. Nothing else I have ever set out to do has held anything akin to the same kind of importance; every other activity or accomplishment has basically been distraction and entertainment along the way, including artistic accomplishments, job and career, and the acquisition of skills. This one thing is where I've invested all my determination. I am stubborn, intelligent, passionate about my issue, and I'm good with words and skilled at explaining complicated concepts, and I can't believe I've accomplished so damn little in so much time!

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Index of all Blog Posts

Requerying

Jun. 28th, 2015 06:39 pm
ahunter3: (Default)
Janet Reid — one of the literary agents who blog — was once asked whether it is ever OK to requery a literary agent who has already sent a rejection. She replied that you can, if it's after a major revision; but that you should inform the agent, and gave this mockup as an example:




> Dear Snookums,
>
> I've revamped my novel SharquesGoneWild from an adult to a YA
> thriller. It's a lot better now. I hope you'll want to take a second
> look.
>
> Obviously of course, not those exact words but you get the idea.



Thanks to Janet Reid, notes of this nature are noted in my database and in my head forevermore as "snookums" notes.


Yes, I do requery.

• If I sent a query letter to an agent and get no reply, I may requery a year later especially if my standard query letter is quite different by then.

• If I sent a query letter positioning my book in one way (memoir nonfiction) and it was rejected, I may requery at a later point pitching the book within a different category (YA fiction for example).

• If the lit agent was one of those who request a partial (first 10, 25, 30, 50 pgs, first two chapters, etc) and rejected or did not reply, and it has indeed been rewritten since they saw that material, I may requery with a 'snookums' note acknowledging that they've received a query on this book before, but that it's been substantially revised.


You should not take this as a stated opinion that requerying literary agents is a perfectly acceptable practice. It's a practice that probably does annoy some of them. I've thought about it and concluded that my situation is somewhat different from that of an author who expects to write several books over the course of the next dozen years. They need to get published periodically. I need to get this book published. Authors who tailor their work to the market in order to get a book (or another book) into print learn to recognize when it's time to put one in the trunk and move on, and can't afford to annoy literary agents who might otherwise represent one of their future offerings. Me, I'm pushier. I have one book to find a home for and less to lose if some lit agents blacklist me for requerying.


• I don't want to descend to the status of "spammer" though. If I've requeried and received a second rejection, I won't keep pestering them about it. At least for now. (Ask me in 3 years if I'm still unrepresented and unpublished. In fact, check the web for stories about a crazed author in prison for kidnapping agents and tying them to chairs and forcing them to listen to him read his book out loud... that's not in my plans either, but...)


Anyway, I've made some modifications to how my system collects stats. Requeries were not being counted in the totals. Now I can optionally include those to get a better sense of how many queries I've actually sent (as opposed to how many agents I've queried).


NOT COUNTING REQUERIES (hence comparable to prior stats reports):


The Story of Q, total queries: 572
Rejections: 537
Outstanding: 54
Under Consideration: 1

As Nonfiction, specifically: 383
Rejections: 354
Outstanding: 49

As Fiction: 189
Rejections: 183
Outstanding: 5
Under Consideration: 1

----

COUNTING REQUERIES:

The Story of Q, total queries: 623
Rejections: 568
Outstanding: 54
Under Consideration: 1

As Nonfiction, specifically: 433
Rejections: 384
Outstanding: 49

As Fiction: 190
Rejections: 184
Outstanding: 5
Under Consideration: 1

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Basically, movements like ours tend to have two goals: to reach out to others like ourselves, in the belief that if you're like us it's easier to have the support of other similar people than to be isolated; and to do social change, to modify how we're treated by others, to stop the mistreatment or oppression, to change the law or the social structures, so as to make the world safe for ourselves.

Today, I want to focus on the second priority, the social change fork.

I don't know what your experience was, but I first ran into hostility, directed towards me for being different, when I was a kid in school. I found it startling, shocking; I hadn't expected it and didn't understand it. Why were these people so hateful and mean?

Looking back on it with the additional benefit of hindsight and a lifetime of thinking about it, I'm aware of a couple of things that escaped my notice in 4th grade:

• To a lesser extent than what they were displaying, but still definitely present within me, I was hostile to THEIR differences from ME as well; mixed in with my anger and hurt was some outrage: how DARE they, I mean LOOK at them, they're pathetic, something's wrong with them, how can they be that way instead of being like me and then on top of that be so wrongheaded as to think I'm the one who deserves to be made fun of? They should look in a mirror, yeesh!!

• They had a notion of what my differences meant. It was all distorted and badly wrong in a lot of ways, and it was shot through with contempt and ridicule, and basically didn't reflect any meaningful understanding of me, but they apparently THOUGHT they understood what it meant to be like me, and they were largely in agreement with each other.



We tend to form our notions of dogs in large part from our experiences with dogs, but our notions of hippopotamuses almost exclusively from what we've heard about them and how they're depicted.


When it came to male-bodied people (or people perceived by their classmates and teachers as male) who act like girls and share the interests of girls and so forth, I was often the first direct experience for many of the other kids in 1st and 2nd grade; they hadn't formed a lot of attitudes yet, and although there was some of that basic xenophobia thing — "eww, why are you like that, you're different?!?" — it didn't get bad until later.

The boys and girls who had class with me talked about me to other kids, because it's an item of curiosity, something to be described with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. Their description of me and how I act was formed from their experience of me, although of course shaped by how my behaviors seemed to them, and would not have tended to include much of any self-description by me of my own behaviors and how I saw them.

Within a couple of years, most kids my age had HEARD OF people like me, partly from this process (where kids describe someone that had been in their class who was like me) and partly from things they picked up from TV or things their parents or other adults said. Girlish boys were held up to ridicule for them before they met me, and still, in many cases, before they'd had much actual contact with anyone like me. So they observed a few things, sufficient to make them think "ooh, he's more girlish than any of the other boys in class, let's torment him, it'll be fun", anticipating that I'd rise to the bait and prove my boyish masculinity to their satisfaction... and when I didn't, and didn't try to conceal how I was, they had their first live one, one of those sissy boys they'd heard about. The circus was in town. Come see the weirdo!



This is the situation for marginalized minorities in a nutshell. Mainsteam people (e.g., cisgender conventionally binary people in our case) know about us primarily from what other mainstream people have said in the process of describing us to each other. There's a certain amount of not-very-friendly xenophobia ("ewww, you're not like me, why aren't you like me?") that probably can't be attributed strictly to social structures or "isms" of various negatively discriminatory sorts, but they're heavily fertilized and fed by what's inside the package of shared social attitudes towards us, the stories that the mainsteam have told themselves about us, and yes, in many cases they are also reinforced by institutions, social structures, systems that perpetuate our situation.

Laws can be overturned, policies can be set, and systems, especially formal systems governed by rules and whatnot, can be modified to make room for us, and to make those kinds of changes, it has proven useful and effective to appeal to mainstream people's sense of justice and to point to our injuries and the damages done to us and the unfairness and unnecessary nature of these hurtful things.

But formal structural rule-based aspects of society are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Attitudes may to some extent follow the path initially set by court decisions and institutional policy decisions, but for attitude changes to become pervasive, there has to be understanding, not just compliance.

Race — I dare say this as a white-skinned American who has never been on the marginalized side of racism — the concept that racism is wrong is easy for racially mainstream people to understand. People are born with one set or another of certain ethnic physical characteristics that we categorize as "white" or "black" or whatever; the people thusly categorized are otherwise not inherently different, and treating them on any level — institutionally, personally, culturally, etc — as if they WERE inherently different is wrong, immoral, unfair, has caused great pain and suffering. OK, in actual practice embracing and enacting a racism-free world is not quite as easy or as simple as we once hoped, but as a CONCEPT it has turned out to be something that people could grasp sufficiently well to make overtly racist attitudes socially unacceptable and viewed as reprehensible. Or possibly it only looks that way to me because it's 2015 and the long rough slog it took to get to this point stretches far back into our cultural past.

At any rate, gender and sexual identity, in my opinion, are largely NOT understood clearly by the mainstream folks. I think we're getting a decently generous batch of politically correct compliance and parroting back to us of the most common phrases likely to appear in newspapers and magazines about differently gendered people and our experiences, but it is accompanied by a lot of perplexity and pushback from people who resent being pressured to parrot those phrases when it makes no sense to them, they don't get it. They have some attitude, some annoyance, and some lingering xenophobia ("why can't you just be normal, why do you want to be a special freaking snowflake?"), but not such a high prevalence of real hostility and contempt so much as bewilderment.

Me, I'm not a 4th grader any more. I'm sure of myself and my gender identity, I am not plagued with nervous self-doubts about my difference, I understand how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and I'm willing to be in the circus sideshow. Yeah, come see the weirdo. Ask your questions. Wanna hear my story? I'll tell you how it is, what it's like. Don't worry about offending me, I've heard worse, I assure you. Interact with me. Think about this stuff. I want you to understand. The more you mainstream folks understand the more you will hold attitudes that I want you to hold because they just plain make sense, not because everyone will point fingers at you and tell you you're an insensitive privileged cisgendered boor of an asshole who should be ashamed of yourself.


That is how I view our activity. I'm glad we're winning at the policy-change level, but the current rising trend towards correcting people for microaggressions and castigating them for triggering behavior and otherwise trying to roll out social change by demanding compliance before understanding, that doesn't appeal to me.

Even the phrase "social justice" is getting on my nerves lately. The word "justice" is a heavily loaded term. We live in a punitive society. The systems that dispense justice largely do so by identifying evildoers and perpetrators and violators and wrongdoers, and then punishing them, as well as or sometimes instead of stopping them from continuing to do so. And they are all of them systems that rely on authority, coercion, power over other people, to lend force to their implementations of justice. Oh, I understand anger, all right, and the gut-level desire to see the shoe forced onto the other foot, oh yeah WE shall coerce YOU and designate you as a perpetrator of our oppression and FORCE you to stop it, punishing each offense, identifying it as a social misdemeanor against us, connected historically with how we've always been treated up to this point, and if it makes you feel disempowered in the process, yay, so much the better, assholes. But it's morally wrong, it's tactically wrong, it's factually wrong, and it's, dammit, politically wrong.

I don't believe in the Culprit Theory of Oppression. I don't think the white cisgender able-bodied male people gleefully plotted everyone else's plight in the primordial paleolithic boys' bathroom and then subjected us all to this. I also don't think people intrinsically benefit from having power over other people and therefore are unfair beneficiaries whenever someone else is disempowered and silenced and marginalized and oppressed. Furthermore, if it were true, it that really were the case, YOU CAN'T FIX IT since if it is intrinsic, you are, by definition, saying that you would oppress if given the opportunity to do so; that anyone, ever, with the opportunity to oppress will do so; that anyone set up to be in a position of protective power to enforce equality will use that power to oppress, instead, because, well, it's intrinsically beneficial to them to do so.

It's a measure of how marginalized (ha! so to speak...) I am within our own activist communities that I just got booted from a Facebook group, the Genderqueer, Agender, Neutrois, Genderfluid, and Non-binary discussion. The precipitating event? Someone had posted a link to an article about Triggering. In the article, the author, Gillian Brown, said "Triggering occurs when any certain something (a 'trigger') causes a negative emotional response", and then went on to explain the necessity of preventing triggering from occurring, and the necessity of stepping in to protect people and keep the space SAFE by reminding people to put trigger warnings. I replied with some derision: by that definition, we would all have to preface anything that might cause a negative emotional response in anyone with a trigger warning. It's a silly definition. More to the point, this is simply not how I think we best make the world a safe space in which to be genderqueer people. We make the world safer by making ourselves understood. We make the world safer for ourselves by stepping out, being brave, being seen, letting people point and ask questions, by risking hostility and derision, by being brave enough to SHOW that we aren't going to be intimidated by the risk of hostility and derision, by not being ashamed of who we are.

It didn't go over well, apparently. (I can only conjecture; my membership in the group evaporated without any private message and I can only assume they decided I was a trigger and made people in the group feel unsafe).



OTHER NEWS


I haven't blogged in an embarrassingly long while. A big part of it is that I'm metaphorically holding my breath while an agent is reading my entire manuscript, trying not to become unduly hopeful that she'll represent me, but not succeeding in that attempt. I can't help it. I may be setting myself up for a horrible letdown but I am full of excitement and joyful daydreams.

I have, however, at least succeeded in not just sitting motionless in these endeavors. I've continued to send out query letters. And as a matter of fact, I got a request for a partial (a request to read the first 50 pages) from a query letter and therefore, for a couple weeks at least, for the first time ever, had two agents simultaneously expressing interest and reviewing my writing with the possibility of representation. Unfortunately, this second agent soon wrote back on June 3:

> We were impressed by From a Queerly Different Closet: The Story of Q's
> holistic approach to the underwritten topic of growing up queer.
> However, we struggled to engage emotionally with Derek because of the
> lack of specificity in prose. For example, it was difficult to
> understand why, in middle school, Derek found boys' behavior to be
> "bad" (rather than merely displeasing or disruptive), when Derek had
> not expressed a desire to be "good" or why Derek was ostracized
> growing up without knowing how exactly he was teased in each school he
> attended. Without such basic details, it was difficult to get a sense
> of Derek's personality and essential conflict. Ultimately, this meant
> that we couldn't completely fall in love with the story.


That was such a thoughtful and personal rejection letter that I did something I never do in response to rejection letters: I wrote back!

> Hi, and thank you for the most thoughtful rejection letter I've ever
> received!
>
>
> This is the type of feedback I was hoping to get except, of course,
> accompanied by something along the lines of "please address these
> concerns and send us modified chapters" instead of "not quite right
> for our list".
>
> I don't suppose y'all liked what's there well enough to want to work
> with me on it to see if I could address some of these concerns? (It
> can be hard for me as the author to "see" only what is on paper
> instead of seeing through it to the story that I already know —
> especially after editing it to a smaller size).
>
> If not, well, thanks again for such a personal and encouraging reply.

No subsequent reply though, so onward I move, on my still-neverending quest for a lit agent.


Current Stats:

Total Queries (Story of Q): 562
Rejections: 524
Outstanding: 37
Under Consideration: 1

As Nonfiction, specifically, total queries: 373
Rejections: 343
Outstanding: 30

As Fiction, total queries: 189
Rejections: 181
Outstanding: 7
Under Consideration: 1


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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Hi! Yes, I am nearly 10 days past my presentation date, and I didn't review the experience or anything. There's a reason for that: a battallion of bronchitis buggies set up their field offices in my lungs and colonized my nose and sinus passages and left their dirty bootprints all over my carpet and stuff. I've been very busy doing things like breathing and being alive. Now I'm starting to do some other things, but reviewing my presentation at Life in Nassau / Nassau County LGBT Center isn't where I'm going to begin today. Soon, I promise.


But today I thought I'd cycle over to the Tone Police Station. We hear so much about tone policing, most of it negative and most of that, I'm afraid to say, well-deserved, but I was curious to see if there was another side, any other side, really, to the story.


Luw Movin, Community Relations Officer, was quite willing to talk to me. Luw, who prefers xe / xes / xe's pronouns, is a soft-voiced intersex individual of Aleutian and Pacific Islander background who identifies as trigender woman-man-altbeing and xe's distinctive handcarved arm-braces and some posters on xes wall proclaiming "SCHIZOPHRENIA IS A DIFFERENCE. NORMATIVITY IS A DISEASE" and "STOP INVOLUNTARY PSYCHIATRIC TREATMENT" provide testimony to Movin's status as one of the differently abled and differently minded amongst us. "Yeah, really", xe says, "I'm not a joke. What's a joke is that some of the folks in Tone Police thought that by putting an individual who belongs to the smallest number of obvious privileged identities in this chair, they could make their problems go away. You better believe there is tokenism, but I'm good at what I do and this position appeals to me for my own reasons. Sit down, if you're a person who sits by preference".

"Anyway, sure, that's part of the Department's image problem, that tone policing is a behavior of the comfortably privileged people, and directed towards marginalized people. But that's not where the Tone Police dug themselves into this hole, it's not the core of our PR problem, our public relations situation. No, the problem with the Tone Police is that we've reacted to people's anger, their expressions of trauma, by focusing on HOW UPSETTING THEY WERE BEING when they spoke of what they'd been through."

I nodded. Movin was saying just what the critics of tone policing so often said.

"You think about that for a moment", Movin continued. "Here's somebody finally putting into words how badly they were abused, the lack of any acknowledgment that treating someone that way even constituted abuse, and here come the Tone Police telling them 'Whoa, the way you say that, you could be making some folks in here feel like you're blaming them personally, be careful how you express yourself'... "

Luw Movin brushed xe's braid back from xe's face and laced xes fingers together on the desk in front of xes. "Tone Police going to be seen in one of two ways if they keep doing that. First off, people are going to feel like the content of what they have to say has been belittled, after saying something of that impact, something as personal and vivid as what they just shared, because the reaction ignores what they said and focuses on the WAY THEY SAID IT. Now, as bad as that is, that's the more charitable interpretation, because the other likely interpretation is that the Tone Police doesn't LIKE what they said, that they've got some kind of stake in the silence, that they don't WANT this kind of truth coming out, because it makes them uncomfortable, so they turn to tone policing as a way of silencing them."


"Well, wait a minute then", I reply, "because it sounds like you're agreeing with the charges people are making about tone policing. But you ARE the Tone Police, so since you're here you must have some notion that tone policing isn't always a bad thing...?"

"Are you asking if I think there's any legitimate purpose to the Tone Police? Well, yes, or at least I think there can be. At least if there's less... tone deafness from the Tone Police themselves. But let me give you some examples."

Movin glanced around the room, xes eyes finding their way over to the bookshelf on the far wall, and xe nodded. "All right. Example. Psych Rights. The National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, 1985, the big conference. Internal politics within the movement was in more uproar than usual because the mental health system was all of a sudden trying to fund user-run self-help, and that was us. But to most everyone who'd been a part of the movement all the years up through then, the mental health system had been The Enemy. It was an Enemy of many parts, many arms and legs... you had the APA, that's your organized psychiatrists themselves, hard-core enemy; you had various state Departments of Mental Hygiene... always sounded like they thought of us as an infection, bloody Department of Mental Sanitation, but they were mostly enemy... anyway, the nationals, the Nat Institute of Mental Health, often progressive in some ways but they work with the others... the astroturf organizations, Alliance for the Mentally Ill, phony grass-roots, really the parents and families who love medical-model psychiatry because it isn't Freudian, yeah my kid is batshit insane but not because we toilet trained her wrong, she has a mental illness, and we need to be able to drug her up for her own good and ours too, so them, AMI, theoretically potential allies but Enemy, pure Enemy, in every fight along the way. Then associations and endowments and stuff, the Mental Health Association, that kind of thing. They don't have to manage institutions or justify what they've done in them so sometimes pretty progressive, but not always on the same channel as the movement. And so on. Well now all of a sudden some factions in that constellation of Enemy is saying they want to fund us. Give us money to organize, run our own alternative stuff, do public education. And overnight, half the people in the movement are all 'Oh goody goody let's write grant proposals' and the other half is 'Anyone who accepts their blood money is tainted and we should blackball them from all future movement events'." Movin shook xe's head with a wry smile. "We needed to be talking to each other, respecting each other, listening to each other. But there were a lot of people who figured certain... let's call them 'issues', I guess... certain 'issues' had ALREADY been discussed, and wise people had been present to discuss them, and a consensus was reached, and therefore we ALREADY know the answer to that one and if you're not on board with that answer you have said wrong things, you've destroyed your credibility in this context."

Movin pointed to the sign about involuntary psychiatric treatment. "That— in my opinion— is where the line in the sand should have been drawn. If the Mental Health Association of Lower Septic Tankland wants to pay us to do user-run self-help and we don't have to put anyone into an involuntary treatment situation, not by mandated referral, not by required reports to the police, zero, nada, then I don't see what's wrong with accepting that money. It costs money to run a program. If we don't run it, someone who isn't us, who doesn't share our values, is going to get that money and run something."

Xe turned around to face me head-on. "So. Tone Police. This is me, being the Tone Police, and you imagine that you, and a handful of others sitting next to you, have been saying anyone in the movement who takes money from mental health orgs has joined the oppression and is out of the movement." Xe glared at me as if I were the described faction. "YOU do not get to speak to ME, your ally and comrade, as if the wise and important people already decided this and OUR role is to either agree with them or shut up. That would be elitist, and so you sound elitist. YOU do not get magic authority by waving your arms towards established tradition in our movement, magic authority that lets YOU decide whether I have transgressed without hearing my side of things. Want to know why? Want to know why? BECAUSE WE ARE NOT ABOUT TRADITION, you noisy blustery rudeness! We are about CHANGE. All the wrongnesses that change organizations are up against, they are rigid and full of bad thoughts and ideas BECAUSE they have clotted themselves up with tradition and closed themselves off to anything new."

Xe stopped, closed xe's eyes for a moment and chuckled. "That felt good. Except of course that would not work, not saying it that way, not to them. Because Tone Police. It's the right message but the people involved, the old movement regulars, would not have reacted well to being scolded BACK even if, yes, they'd started it. But saying it, saying it the right way, that's a legitimate role for the Tone Police. To tell people, in any activist movement, that it isn't nice to tell others in the same movement that they're on the wrong side of some issue that all the people who matter have long since decided."

I scribbed some more notes for my article, but Luw Movin wasn't finished.

"There's a flip side, even there. There usually is in these matters. Simplicity and activist politics don't mix. Anyway, let's say we all agree that yes, it's bad form to tell other people in your movement, your sisters in arms and whatnot, that the word or phrase or partial opinion they just voiced is Oppressive and that they should Not Say That Again. Not like that, not in that kind of belittling tone, they're entitled to be heard out if they think otherwise than you do on it, whatever it is. But the flip side is that yes, it DOES become tiresome to have to say and resay and reiterate and explain and re-explain the same thing". Movin pointed again to the sign about forced treatment. "The funding did happen. Lots of organizations that applied for it were not our movement and were not opposed on principle to forced treatment. A few years later, people who had come up through user-run self-help orgs that were not movement-run began coming to meetings we'd called and advertised. And they'd say HORRIBLE things in discussion groups! 'Hey that person who just spoke sounded awfully confused and decompensated to me, don't you think we should call 911, maybe they're off their meds and need to be locked up' So immediately of course it wasn't a safe place and what they'd said was wrong in so many ways... " Movin shrugged. "After the first time we implemented an identity policy. That who we were, if you were in here, if you were in these groups, was not just user-run self-help but user-run self-help that accepted, as a principle, that we did not use or condone forced treatment. That lets us stop situations like that without violating the Tone Police principles. I don't want to become that gal or guy who says 'You Just Said a Bad Thing. That Was Wrong and Oppressive and Triggering and You Must Self-abase Now". The Tone Police are still right to jump on that kind of behavior."

"Well", I asked, "so are you going to take every one of the ideas that most of the activists in your cause have come to accept as true and incorporate those into your Declaration of Identity? Does that fix the problem, or are you just sort of relocating it from being an internal friction thing to an us versus them thing?"

"If we took everything that the loudest and most contiguous, let's say, block of activists agreed on and made every one of them part of our Definition, we'd have very little rancorous argument. Of course we'd have maybe 11 members, having either defined everyone else as not-us or driven anyone else away with the sheer volume of what they're supposed to read and say 'Yeah I agree with that' before they can even come in and participate. Look, there are GOING to be hurt feelings and misunderstandings and miscommunications. Someone is GOING to say something that reminds someone else of the way the Oppressor used that language and they're going to find it triggering, and they will hopefully say so and explain what hearing that evokes in them. But you know what? You know what? It doesn't mean the person who said it did something wrong. People complain about the Tone Police as if tone were unimportant, but it's the tone that the Oppressor gave the phrase that made it triggering. How you say something, the hostility or contempt or belitting condescension or whatever, that is what gives terms and phrases, and even opinions and positions and ideas sometimes, their bite. Think of the worst epithet you can think of, a word so bad that people in nearly any progressive movement would be horrified to be seated next to anyone who spoke it. Got one in mind? Got any idea of the origin of the word itself, like what language it comes from, what it meant in that language... OK you're nodding. Tone. And given enough time of the Oppressor using a word with a tone, you've got a meaning, the tone has become the meaning. But if you have an activist movement, well, not just the voice of the Oppressor gets to put tone to a word or a phrase. You hear of any activist movements that have reclaimed what was hurled at them as a derogatory term, and they use it with pride? Oppressor is not the only voice that gets to have tone. So part of Tone Police's role is to say, sometimes, 'Back down. I understand what you heard is something you associate with negative. But the person who just said that is in here, one of us. Give the speaker the benefit of the doubt. You heard it elsewhere with a tone that the current speaker didn't necessarily intend. You should hear it here with the ear you give to someone who shares this cause with you, and don't be so fast in saying 'Bad Word' or 'Phrase Used By the Oppressor', at least not until you've given it an opportunity to be something new and different".

"Well... you've given me a lot to write about, and I think my readers will find this interesting to think about. I want to thank you for your time".

"Well, I should be thanking you for yours. You may be helping the image of the Tone Police with your article... it's not like it could get a lot worse than it is at the moment. Your readers spend their political attention in one or more activist concerns and movements, I imagine. I bet it isn't the psychiatric rights movement, though, is it?"

"Not for most of my readers, I'd say, no".

"Good. Some things are easier to hear and understand when the examples given aren't right up close to where they've been spending their time. Send me a link to it when it comes out, OK?"

I said I would.

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
So... I recently replied to a post on one of the gender forums I'm on, a post from someone doing a research project titled "Are You Transgender?" —


> I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm male, that's my sex; I'm attracted
> to females, that's my orientation.
>
> I don't feel as if I were born in the wrong body.
>
>
> I don't know if you'd like to include me or not, but I will
> definitely participate if you wish to interview me.


She wrote back and asked me several questions and we exchanged emails and so on. Somewhere along the way I mentioned that I'm trying to have a book published, my coming-out story, "narrative / memoir, possibly marketed as fiction. No author's agent yet".

So she wrote back: "Awesome! What are the agents telling you?"

To which I responded:

> The responses I've gotten over the last year and a half of querying
> tend to fall into one of these categories:
>
> a) "Nope, not our thing, not interested in your idea for a book". The
> largest number of replies fall into this category. No huge surprise
> there. The resources for authors looking for literary agents let you
> search for agents who represent memoirs, or literary fiction, or young
> adult. They do not let you perform a search for literary agents who
> represent LGBTQ coming-out stories. Hence I could either do a lot of
> research and narrow down the pool of potential agents and then send my
> queries or I could just send my queries to the next batch of people
> who represent memoirs or whatever. The latter is actually faster and
> easier to do as a sort of repetitive chore, semi-automated, like job
> hunting.
>
> b) "Interesting idea, but you need more of a social platform. Who
> will buy your book? You need to become more well-known as an expert
> on the subject". This is the 2nd most common reply, at least to the
> queries that position my book as nonfiction. (It's a nonfiction
> thing; fiction authors don't have the same strong expectation of
> pre-existing fame)
>
> c) "Interesting idea but your implementation of it based on the first
> 5 pages isn't quite what we hoped for, for some vague unspecified
> reason".
>
> d) "It isn't quite right for our small agency's lineup but it's a
> fantastic idea, the world needs books like this, best of luck with it"
>
> e) "We'd really like to publish a book on this topic and I was so
> excited to read your query letter but frankly we don't like your
> writing, it's a disappointment, sorry" (ouch!)
>
> f) "We have to decline to represent your book because it too closely
> resembles one we're representing"



Well, that was on the 19th. In the following weeks I've replayed my last answer several times and thought back on the agents' replies and I've come to realize I have way too many in category E to not take it seriously. The rest can be tossed into a giant hold-all basket labeled "Keep on Querying" but yeah, there are too many agents who say they would have liked to have represented a book matching my description, but they don't like my book. Don't like my writing.



So. I'm doing a major rewrite, first one since March 2013. In that rewrite I was focused on condensing. I had 500 pages and in March 2013 I stripped out event-dead and dead-end bits that I decided I could dispense with and ended up with a 295 page story. It was my second condensation pass (hey, I started out with a 900,000 word autobiography, which is is around 2400 pages when single-spaced).

This rewrite is about narrative action. I'll give you an example of what I mean. Not from my own book but from Wally Lamb's book She's Come Undone.


Here's a brief section of Wally Lamb's writing:

> In those days after I moved back, I raked and bagged leaves, washed
> storm windows, shampooed rugs, took five-mile afternoon walks. I had
> the remains of Mas' painting framed at a fancy art shop for $45 and
> hung it on the stairway wall where my and Dante's wedding picture had
> been. A nice place: in late afternoon, the sun coming through the
> front door window cast a ray, a kind of spotlight, right on it.
>
> In November, I got a part-time job as Buchbinder's Gift and Novelty
> Shop. Mr. and Mrs. Buchbinder were Holocaust survivors, a scowling,
> gray-haired couple with thick accents that required me to make them
> repeat whatever they'd just asked. All day long, they
> heckled-and-jeckled each other and pointed out nitpicky little places
> I'd missed while dusting. That was my job: dusting and watching out
> for shoplifters and "stupit-heads" that might break something. They'd
> hired me for the holiday season, the day after Ronald Reagan was
> elected president.


OK, and now here's a different section from the same Wally Lamb book:


> The clock from downtown struck once. Kippy began to whimper. I
> counted my hearbeats past two hundred, daring myself to speak. "Are
> you in pain?", I finally said.
>
> She kept me waiting. Then a bedside lamp snapped on and Kippy was
> squinting at her clock. "My first day at college", she said. "Shit!"
>
> I grabbed for my Salems before the light went out. "Does it hurt?", I
> asked again. "If there's anything I can do—"
>
> She put the light on again. "I fractured my collarbone," she said.



You see how the first section is telling you what happened by making some generalization and the second excerpt is showing you by narrating it as specific events and specific dialog and not generalizing?

My book has a way higher percentage of the first type of paragraph to the second than Wally Lamb's book does. I've decided that I need more of the second variety if I want to keep my potential agents, and potential readers, engrossed in the story.

I've just finished modifying one of the most important chapters, the one titled JUNIOR HIGH TO HIGH SCHOOL, and then I redid the first chapter from scratch, the one titled CHILDHOOD, as a brief little 4-page recap. I have two more major chapters to do.


Current Query Stats:


The Story of Q (main book) — total queries = 455
Rejections: 361
Outstanding: 93

.. As NonFiction— total queries = 333
.. Rejections: 313
.. Outstanding: 20

.. As Fiction— total queries = 122
.. Rejections: 48
.. Outstanding: 73

Guy in Women's Studies (second book) — total queries = 22
Rejections: 21
Outstanding: 1

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
After decades during which the only folks who'd ever heard of genderqueer besides genderqueer folk themselves were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans, there is now more and more newspaper, magazine, and TV coverage of it as a social phenomenon.

Washington Post

Cosmopolitan

ABC sitcom



ON THE ONE HAND, AS WELL AS THE OTHER and any other hands you can conjure up, for that matter, it is an unadulterated good thing that we're not as invisible as we were. So let's be clear on that much: the remainder of this little opinion-piece should not be taken as meaning that I think having some social visibility is a mixed blessing. It's not. There's nothing mixed about that. It's all good.

No, my concern is with some of the forms that it seems to be taking. Specifics that are present (or, more to the point, absent) in our new visibility that could cause problems for all of us. Specifics that are absolutely NOT inevitably part of finally getting some social visibility, they just happen to be part of how our social visibility has developed.

And that problem is this: I don't think anyone consuming mainstream explanations of genderqueer are going to be able to visualize how any of us could have come up with this sense of identity if it weren't already trending.

It is being portrayed as a New Happening Thing, a bandwagon of gender identity that we're jumping onto in order to be cool, to be a part of an edgy new phenomenon.

Let me contrast this up for you a bit. People have some sense at this point of what it might be like to come of age and find yourself attracted to the same sex, and can imagine not only what it might be like in a world that already has a gay and lesbian community with public places where you could meet others like yourself, but also, I think, what it might be like if there WEREN'T. To be like that in an era or in a place where you might not know you weren't the only one. To find the feelings and attractions and confusions and have to figure them all out on your own. To run headlong into the attitudes and assumptions that can make life difficult if that happens to be your situation.

And how about being male-to-female or female-to-male transsexual? Yes, I think people do have a sense at this point of what that might be like, including perhaps growing up in a small town where you'd have to sort that out and figure a good portion of it out on your own. How complicated and how confusing that must be. The situations that would be messy and untenable and difficult to negotiate, and the loneliness and isolation and lack of feeling understood by the people surrounding you.

You're nodding, aren't you? You see where I'm going with this. A considerable number of people out there understand in some sense that we ARE genderqueer and they might be able to get a passing grade on a multiple-choice exam that asked questions about pronouns and apparel and filling out applications that require a M or an F and bathrooms and how one moves and talks and gestures and so on. But if they were asked what kind of shit we would be going through in an environment that did not as of yet have much of a consciousness about being genderqueer, and they were asked to describe what folks like us would have to go through and the things we'd have to process in our minds to come up with a self-awareness of being genderqueer all on our own?

Feel free to contradict me, but I think the average liberally tolerant person who knows about "genderqueer" would think——if not necessarily say to our faces—— that if there weren't already a subgroup of people already out there "doing genderqueer", we'd never come up with it on our own; that it isn't a real gender or sexual identity the way that being lesbian or gay, or even trans, is, with real suffering and alienation anchored in the way that who we are isn't what is expected based on our bodies. I think they'd pause and think on it for a few moments and then say that we'd choose from among the nearest-best-fitting of the other sexual / gender identities: many of us would consider ourselves gay or lesbian, many would identify as transsexual, and quite a few would decide that we were straight and cisgendered. And not suffer to any measurable degree as a consequence. Because we have no narrative. People know (sort of) what it's like to be us (due to us telling them) but not much about what it is like to be one of us and failing to fit in as mainstream, as exception to the rule, or even as exception to the exception to the rule.

Important disclaimer: All of the above is quite self-serving insofar as I've written a coming-out story, so of course I'm inclined to see reasons why my story addresses an important void.

But even so.

Mine is just one story. I cannot write the story of what it is like to be nonbinary genderfluid. Because that's not my experience. Someone else needs to. I can't explain what it's like to be asexual in a sexualized world that attraction-codes people on the basis of their bits. Someone else needs to.

If we don't, I fear that a few years will tick by and then some other trendy phenomena will make stories about us less new and shiny and we'll get written about far less often, without ever causing people to understand why any of this MATTERS.


————————

Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Not too terribly long ago, on a message board just the usual internet-distance far far away (the Absolute Write Water Cooler, to be precise), I bravely asserted that all this is just the first year, and that I was going to keep plugging away at this for at least 10 years before before calling it quits.

One of the board regulars replied:

> you say '10 years,' as if you're just going to query for 10 years,
> come hell or high water, but won't you run out of agents long before
> then? I mean they do keep making more, but still. How're you not close
> to that already?

As it turns out, that was a rather prescient observation. In the first week of October, I continued my ongoing agentquery.com search for agents who do memoirs, picking up where I left off, and at the bottom of the page, where there's usually a "next page" button, there wasn't one. I'd gone through the entire supply of author's agents who do memoirs.

That's not quite as FINAL as it may sound. I mean, the first search I did, way back when I first got started, was for agents who marketed nonfiction books about gay and lesbian subjects. I ran to the end of that within a couple weeks. But the pool of agents doing memoirs was OCEAN-sized and yes, it was unsettling to hit that wall.

I've been focusing since then on sending out queries positioning the book as fiction, of the "Literary Fiction" ilk. I have to admit, though, it's all been a bit discouraging.

Which made it particularly nice when I opened another in a small daily stack of self-addressed stamped envelopes, recording the rejections in my database, and realized after a moment that what I was staring at wasn't a rejection.


> I'm writing to you about your book FROM A QUEERLY DIFFERENT CLOSET.
> We would like to consider it. Please send the first 50 pages, a
> detailed outline or synopsis no more than 10 pages, double-spaced, and
> mail them to my attention. Please claerly mark "REQUESTED MATERIAL"
> on the front of the envelope and enclose a self-addressed, stamped
> envelope. We'll review your work at the first possible opportunity.
> If it seems like something we can represent, we'll contact you soon.


That still doesn't shift the odds for me with that particular agency to "more likely than not", but it's at least a move in a favorable direction. It's so good when someone's sufficiently interested that they ask to see more instead of just sending a form-letter rejection notice.



Current Stats:

The Story of Q--total queries = 420
Rejections: 310
Outstanding: 109
Under Consideration: 1

As NonFiction--total queries = 331
Rejections: 286
Outstanding: 45

As Fiction--total queries = 89
Rejections: 24
Outstanding: 64
Under Consideration: 1

That Guy in Our Women's Studies Classroom--total queries = 22
Rejections: 21
Outstanding: 1


————————

Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Got this reply from an agent*:

> Thanks so much for sending your heartfelt memoir. The big issue
> standing in the way of my taking you on is not editorial, since you
> write cleanly and smoothly. It's a matter of platform, that built-in
> audience who knows the author through some form of media. With the
> comparisons you gave, it's the authors and their reach beyond the book
> world that distinguishes them. Feinberg has long been a rights
> advocate in the spotlight, Boyle had a successful writing career as a
> man, and the Scholinkski was a case that got media coverage that led
> to a book deal, not the other ay around. Publishing is an industry
> that can ride a wave but is not so great at making them. It's a shame
> that a good book is no longer enough, but I see a tough road ahead
> without a really impressive platform. I appreciate the chance, though,
> and wish you luck connecting with an agent who doesn't share my
> reservations.


This is pretty much where I came in, the impetus for starting this blog.


On the one hand, it IS encouraging to get some occasional confirmation that the problem isn't that the book isn't good enough to be published, and QUITE encouraging to get some signal that the problem isn't with the quality of my query letter, either.

On the other hand, the platform isn't something I can easily do much about. I've been operating this blog for a little while now (it's one of the few platformy things that seems to be within my reach), but as much as I deeply appreciate you folks reading it, and commenting on it, I suspect that the agents who are looking for an author's platform won't be impressed with blogging unless there are hundreds of followers lapping it up, not the dozen or so that I have. And I have no clear idea what kind of magic tricks I need to do to drive people en masse over here to read my stuff.

I've been to more GLBT meetings and have found myself understood and accepted there, with reciprocity, but if being part of those structured organizations is going to morph into "a platform", it will take awhile.

I've spoken a couple times at open-mike events where performance artists and poets and comedians and other folks get 5 minutes at the mike, and will attempt to do more, but at the moment I don't see that growing into some kind of huge cult following.

As far as I can tell, my best bet is to just keep plugging away and accept that the lack of platform means I have to do this for a lot longer than if I were famous or had a built-in audience. That I have to believe it makes my road difficult, not impossible.


Current query status (The Story of Q):

total queries: 305
rejections: 193 (includes no reply > 3 months)
outstanding: 111 (no reply yet, < 3 months)
under consideration: 1


* agent's name and agency not included here due to lack of explicit permission. I don't really have permission to reprint the email, either, I'm just doing it anyhow. The references to Feinberg, Boyle, and Scholinski are from my query letter and proposal identifying "comparable books": Leslie Feinberg's STONE BUTCH BLUES, Daphne Scholinski's THE LAST TIME I WORE A DRESS, and Jennifer Boylan's SHE'S NOT THERE

————————

Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
On Monday I went again to the GLBT Center trans group in Nassau County, and on Wednesday I attended the much-larger Suffolk County trans group.



This was my third meeting at the Nassau group. They tend to have about six people in attendance on average, counting me and the GLBT center facilitator. On Monday, there were five and two of them were newcomers, young trans people attending for their first time. One was a male to female, in her upper 20s, the other a female to male who looked barely 18 but was probably more like 23. The remaining person (another middle-aged guy who uses male pronouns) had to leave early, leaving me, the two newcomers, and the facilitator.

One advantage of a small group is that in the course of a 2-hour meeting you're generally going to have the opportunity to open up and talk at some length without fighting to interpose yourself into the discussion or worrying that you're taking away time from someone else. So at a certain point midway through the evening I said, "One of the things I find frustrating is that sense of never fitting in. People make a default assumption because I present as male. Some people go on to observe that there's something a bit off about me as a male person and they make a second-tier default assumption about me as an unmanly male. Even in places like this meeting, where on the signup sheet..." (I pointed to the clipboard I'd been handed when I first sat down) "...we're asked to indicate our gender, I found myself twiddling the pen and wondering what to write down. Other entries said 'M2F' and 'F2M'..." (I made momentary eye contact) "... but I don't have a simple term like that for what I am. For me, I'm a male and I present as male and I don't have a problem with the body, my issue is not with the plumbing. It's that when people made an issue of me being too much like the girls when I was a kid, I embraced that proudly, that's who I am. I wrote down 'genderqueer' on the sheet, but that doesn't really say very much. Anyway, I still worry that I'm going to come to meetings and organizations for trans people and still not fit in, that other people there won't related to me or feel comfortable with me there".

Dead silence for several beats. Then the facilitator said something about the "plumbing" being a clever way to put it. More silence. Someone eventually started a new conversation about something they were dealing with, gender accommodations at their work place or acceptance issues with parents. I made an observation or a suggestion. Cool unresponsive faces, more silence.

A lot of what was going on with me by that point was within me, of course. No one was saying I didn't belong there. It was a very small group and the two others there (aside from the facilitator) were young and attending for their first time. One disadvantage of a small group is that someone can really put you on the spot if they say something you don't know how to respond to. There may be no one else there to fill up the awkward silence and your own lack of response comes across differently than it would in a room full of people.

So it would be unfair to attribute my feelings to my specific gender identity and conclude from their behavior that I really don't fit in among trans people, but yes, that's how it felt.


On Wednesday for the first time I made the longer and more inconvenient trek out to Bay Shore to attend the Suffolk trans group. My partner anais_pf kindly lent me her car and cancelled her own tentative plans so that I could. I fought through rush-hour traffic and got there a half hour early.

Another group was using the meeting room so the receptionist invited me to hang out in the computer room until the meeting time. I logged in and poked around on LiveJournal and other sites but soon became more interested in checking out the titles of the books on their bookshelf. (Andrew Tobias, Martha Shelley, Guy de Maupassant, Jill Johnston. Fiction with gay or lesbian characters. Travel advice for gay and lesbian people.)

A couple of young people came into the room, in mid-conversation. I found myself feeling awkward, intrusive (even though I'd been there in the room first), potentially perhaps an older creepy person or a person sufficiently different in sexual orientation or gender than whatever had brought them to the GLBT center. I made only brief and intermittent eye contact and did not say "hi" or anything; they ignored me. After a moment two or three others came, and greeted the first ones, then more. Soon the room was full of teenagers and 20-somethings, embracing and laughing and greeting and texting and showing each other things. I was still ignoring them and vice versa. Then someone indicated that the meeting room was available and yes, indeed, this cluster of people was the trans group I'd come for.

Whereas the Nassau meeting had sent around the sign-in sheet and folks had been writing in "M2F" and "F2M", the Suffolk group had us go around and introduce ourselves and the pronouns we prefer. That meant either jumping in (and coming out) as a male-bodied non-transitioning girl who is neither M2F nor F2M when everyone else was just saying "I'm Celia and I go by 'she' and 'her'" or else not doing so and remaining unidentified, and feeling shy and nervous I did the latter. I wasn't, fortunately, the only middle-aged person present; the median age was probably around 23 but the average age somewhat higher, with about seven of us spread in the agerange of 40 and above.

There were lots of interesting situations, stories, experiences related. Their angers and exasperations and hurts, the things that bothered them or got them fired up, were things I could relate to and was so seldom able to talk about with other people who had those same reactions and experiences and feelings. My initial feeling of isolation, carrying over from the waiting period in the computer room, was sharply juxtaposed with my desire to join in and fit in.

That's rare, really rare. I go to social events and expect to not fit in, I anticipate maybe some hostility and, far more often, polite cordial distance; I tend to sit back in my corner (metaphorically if not literally), both shy and snobbishly reserved, politely cordial myself, expecting that over time people will learn my name, become accustomed to me being there, and still have no sense of who I am, still not integrating me in as more than an acquaintance, because that's just how it is. I don't blend. I have a private life with special individual people who understand and love me and I'm entirely used to not having a crowd I hang with as more than a peculiar stranger. That's how it is with choir. That's how it is with the kinky fetish scene. That's how it is with the polyamorous groups. It's how it was in college, in the classrooms, in the dorms. It's how it was in the psychiatric patients' liberation movement organizations, even, or on the fascinating hippie commune in Virginia that we visited earlier this summer. Those latter two are much more central identity factors for me than the other things mentioned here, which are more "things that I do" than they are "who I am". But I was reminded afresh and anew last night how much more powerfully, personally resonant the gender identity thing is for me. It's the central defining characteristic that has shaped my individual identity, the thing that if other people don't understand they "don't get me".

I should back up a moment and admit that I sometimes doubt that. I sometimes do wonder if I so desperately wanted an Explanation that, having had this one occur to me, I embraced it and adopted it fervently as both identity and answer... but that, as a one-time partner once said of me, I'm actually a person who likes to embrace his differences, who likes to be unusual and quirky, that I'm a nerdy intellectual who would not have fit in as a kid any better if I had been born female.

But last night it was in the air for me. A really compelling sense of the potential for fitting in, really fitting in, despite a lot of diversity and many factors that should have been sufficient to make me feel like an odd person in that room. And with it, the awareness that I crave it, when it seems like it's an actual possibility. Not feeling so standoffish, instead wanting the meeting to just continue, stay overnight and keep going, tell me more, and I'll tell you my story too. And also the unusual fear: what if they don't like me?

One disadvantage of a large group is that it can be difficult to select a good moment and jump in and start saying really personal things about yourself. I wanted to. I was on the verge several times only to be beaten to the opportunity by someone else. So as of yet I still don't know whether the room as a whole would have looked at me in perplexity and found me strange and not like themselves once I came out.


On the ride home I realized something about myself. I am mostly not a very damaged person despite the world's treatment of sissyboys / male girlpeople / genderinverted guys, but one area in which I'm kind of crumpled from it all is that shy-snobby-unfriendly demeanor. I wasn't always that way. I can recall as an 8 year old, a 10 year old, approaching other kids enthusiastically and expecting them to like me, and recoiling with shock when they were mean and hostile and made fun of me and ridiculed me for thinking they'd want anything to do with me. Over time I learned. Now it's ingrained: I tend to sit quiet and small in corners and if someone approaches I make sure to get out of their way; I have self-effacing mannerisms and I make it easy for people to have nothing to do with me without them having to push me away or reject me; I don't remember names or faces and I'm usually oblivious to conversations going on around me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A pretty big chunk of the anger and frustration that I blogged about in my previous entry is actually directed towards myself. A lot of you folks reading it probably knew that.


What am I angry at myself about? Mostly for sort of dropping this for twelve years. Am I being fair to myself? No. (Yeah, I know that). Am I trying to make up for laying it aside and coasting, by being all fervent and intense about it now that I've decided to pick it back up? Yeah (I know that also).


So what's going on with this gordian knot of mixed-up angerfeelings? It's a useful and healthy process for me to prod them and poke them and untangle them a bit, so have a seat where you can look over my shoulder while I poke.


I'd gotten my article into print but I hadn't really gotten any traction among academic feminists or the more mainstream academic sociologists, and I was feeling cast out by both contingents. By 1992 when the article was printed, I was starting to realize I was not going to waltz off that campus with either the PhD in sociology or the women's studies certificate from the interdisciplinary feminist group.


What I did have (as anais_pf pointed out in a comment on my May 2nd blog entry) was the MSW in social work. That meant I could get a job as a social worker, which was important because I was no longer being funded as a grad student. Essentially I had run out of paid time. I could continue to be a grad student, continue to try to finish my degree, but it would have to occur in parallel to doing something else to earn money to pay the rent and buy the groceries. So you can see why I was feeling discouraged about my prospects for success in school at this point, yes?


Summary: In 1984 I'd come up with the idea of going into women's studies in college as a means of reaching out and connecting up with people about my ideas about gender and sexual orientation. Now, in 1992, that was looking like a dead end.


But that wasn't the only avenue available to me, was it?


Well... I had come to the New York City region not only to get into women's studies but also with the expectation that I'd find other people like me, connect up with them politically and socially, and then I'd no longer be trying to do this alone. And THAT had not happened.


I had found a place called Identity House in Manhattan pretty early on. And I had quickly discovered the night life and street scene culture that was present in certain areas of downtown Manhattan. But both of these environments were focused pretty narrowly on gay and lesbian identity. Here were people coming together because they were exceptions to the rule but I didn't fit in with them. Among them, as a smaller minority, were some guys who were "effeminate" gay guys who were out and proud about not being masculine. Exceptions even to the exceptions to the rule. (The average run of the mill gay guy either didn't consider himself nonmasculine, or, if he did, wasn't making that the main factor in his identity, contrary to the widespread stereotype of gay males as all being effeminate sissy types). I didn't fit in with these guys either.


They didn't really have a lot of actively involved people who considered themselves transgendered back then. In fact, the word in use was still "transsexual" and, if you were, it meant you thought you were born in the body of the wrong sex and that you probably wanted surgery, or had already had it, or were somewhere in between. I didn't go to meetings focused on them because there were no such meetings as far as I could tell, and even if there had been, I would once again have felt like an exception amongst these exceptions to the exceptions to the rule. Or so I thought.


Bit of a snob, wasn't I? Maybe. Maybe I could have done a better job of communicating and connecting there. I should perhaps have actively sought out the people who were associated with Identity House who were, you know, activists, who were there to be political about it, not just there to meet other folks like themselves or receive counseling.


At any rate, I didn't. I went to Identity House now and then, ended up on the periphery feeling like a misfit, and then I'd stop going. A few years later I'd try again, same results.


What I did do, in the years immediately following publication of my article, was focus on living my own life according to these understandings and ideas, work as a social worker with my gender ideas being part of my social philosophy, and upload my various articles to my own personal web space on the internet, where I thought maybe I could bypass the official authority of academia and "publish" and discuss my ideas there. Interestingly, that's exactly what everyone is urging me to do now, updated for the 2010s and so on, but it did not work for me. I got visitors, and they would leave little comments— "Love what you said" / "Kudos to you"— but my board did not turn into a discussion forum where people stayed behind to interact and discuss gender. As for my personal life, I was at that time in a communally shared household, living with about 10 other people, and networking with my housemates' other friends and associates; and I pursued a series of relationships with partners and tried to follow the lead of my gender ideas in seeking partners and structuring my relationships.


Then a second round of things falling apart hit me in the late 1990s. The social work agency folded when the associate director was caught embezzling funds, and I couldn't get a new job as a social worker. When I did get a job, it had nothing to do with society or social change. The fourth of a series of relationships that all existed between 1986 and 1996 came to an end and left me feeling emotionally bruised and worried that no one would ever want to be with me beyond briefly. We lost our communal household and were scattered in different directions. I ended up meeting someone new, moving in with her, and finding myself in a much more narrowly circumscribed life: work, where my social ideas had no relevance, and home, where my partner wasn't particularly interested in my gender ideas or inclined to take them seriously. No longer in a school environment or part of the communal household, I didn't meet many new people. And so I said less and less, and I thought less and less about it. I was tired, dammit. I was tired and things hadn't worked out as I'd planned.


So. Yeah, part of me is angry at myself. Worried that the window of opportunity to add my piece of the puzzle to the conversation has closed on me while I had my back turned. I worry that gender activists will say "This would SO have been topical in, like, 1984 or even 1994, but the world is not in need of your coming-out story at this point, it's been done, it's redundant, it's derivative". Worried that nobody gives a shit what someone 55 years old has to say about gender and sexual orientation, period. Maybe even worried that I'm simply out of the habit of trying to be understood, that I've become so Zen in my acceptance of things as they are that I will be tempted into just coasting, getting by reasonably happy in my personal life, only to wake up one day 90 years old and feel really bad that I didn't try harder to say some stuff to the rest of the world when I still had the energy to do so.

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I had just tried coming out to people on campus and that had gotten me locked up in the nuthouse. My expectation had been that once they were satisfied that I wasn't insane, the conversation would go on from there: after all, these notions had relevance and applicability to mental health! That's not what went down, though. They transferred me to the "moderately deranged" ward, gave me a day pass, and while I was out of the building they dumped all my clothes and books and stuff in a pile and told me upon my return "We've decided you aren't crazy and you can't stay here. Take your stuff and leave".


Hand-lettered sign on my bedroom door three years later: IF I THOUGHT IT WOULD RESULT IN YOU UNDERSTANDING THE THOUGHTS IN MY HEAD I WOULD GLADLY PLUCK IT FROM MY SHOULDERS AND DASH IT OPEN AT YOUR FEET; I WOULD GIVE MY LIFE TO ATTAIN A MEANINGFUL COMMUNICATION WITH YOU


Between 1980 and 1998, this is what I did with my life. I worked on expressing it in words and finding a venue in which to express it. I cornered friends and strangers and bade them listen to me talk about my cause. It was frustrating. People actually don't spend much time sharing thoughts and ideas they consider momentously important, and aren't expecting others to start doing so. If one presents it to them more as the sharing of ideas that are interesting and innovative or entertaining, they listen more readily but with a lessened awareness that you're speaking of things you consider really important, and they think you're just making conversation.


I had to get people's attention long enough to speak. Then I had to come out, although they would not understand right away what the fuck it was I was coming out as. It was different from what they were familiar with so I had to explain it. The predictable result was that the people willing to listen thought I was whining about my insufficiencies, my sad failure to be a man, or that I was whining that other people were mean to me.


I suppose in a sense that is what I was doing, but I saw it as political. I didn't want personal sympathy, I wanted social change. Wanted to raise folks' consciousness, not just prompt them to say Aww poor baby you had a rough time.


Between 1998 and 2010 I put it down, set it aside. I didn't stop understanding myself in these terms but I stopped trying to tell the world about it. It's exhausting trying to dig in and make something happen and feeling like you aren't getting any traction whatsoever, and all that anger is hard to carry around. Maybe I convinced myself that it was healthier, and me happier, to just live my life and let the world be the world, you know? Besides, I'd at least gotten my article into print.





Now that I'm picking it back up, my partners and friends have seen some frustration on my part and I suspect they worry about me a little bit.


Yeah, there is some, indeed:


In 2010 I began writing my autobiography, to reassess myself and get my bearings, and as I put my experiences into words I realized this was a new tool in my hand. But having a publication-worthy book doesn't get you published. These days one doesn't directly query a publisher, one gets an agent and the agent contacts publishers on your behalf. So first you have to get an agent interested. Being able to write a clever snappy query letter isn't really the same skill as writing the book, so for months I cranked away at it, editing my pitch, being told by other authors in blunt terms that it was no damn good. Then I'm told that my original website (where I have many of my academic theory papers up for folks to read) is so "unprofessional" and antiquated-looking that it will drive away any potential agents who see it. Then I'm told that it's not very likely that a memoir will get published unless I have a platform, I need a social presence, a premade audience of potential readers of my book, fans-in-advance. Where have I been doing public speaking?


Well, OK, yeah, I could do presentations, I've been a teacher... but when I go forth to volunteer myself as a speaker, people may say "Yeah, who are you? What's your audience, who will come to hear you speak?" You need a blog, I'm told, so I have a blog (and hey, this is fun!)... but now how are you going to direct sufficient traffic to it? Who is tweeting about you?


I am by nature reserved and shy, even if also self-confident; so now I gotta be some kind of effusive gregarious extroverted salesman? Not just that but an effusive gregarious extroverted salesman explaining really personal things about myself. Thrills.


But I'm in a different space now than I was when I was 23 or 30. I am now in the relationships that were only theoretical when I was first trying to come out. I have the good life and the personal joy and happiness that my ideas told me I could have. I have the confidence that comes from all that.


And frustration is not a bad thing. Not at all. Consider: I am trying to tell the world, "Hey, world, hey society, look at what you're doing here. This shit's got to stop". It is an angry sentiment. To express it, I am going to have to do a lot of things that will not come easy to me: putting myself out there, being pushy about having a message to convey, shoving myself forward into networks of people, grabbing them by shoulder and hand and introducing myself. Networking and self-promotion. To do that, I will need to have the energy to do it. The determination to do it. The stubbornness. I will need the anger.


I embrace my frustration. It will be my engine. I will temper it with confidence and patience and I will harness it.


This is what I intend on doing, if necessary for the rest of my life. Watch me.

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