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Back in April, I showed up for my annual appointment with the tax consultant and slid in across the table from him and exchanged pleasantries. Provided the usual clump of documents and expenditure summaries on cue. Towards the end of our session, I said to him, "Hey, I'm going to have a book published later this year. I'll be doing promotional activities, and there's also a publicist... anyway, I've been doing related speaking engagements for awhile now, can those be included on next year's taxes as an expense even if they predate 2017?"

And he said, "Oh, congratulations! What's it about?"

Not long after that, I was chatting with my primary client (I'm a database developer) and explaining that I might be taking time off, two days here and three days there, on fairly short notice over the next year because I was trying to get some speaking engagements to promote my book, and the conversation quickly swung around to the same question.

In neither case had I specifically planned to explain to these individuals about being genderqueer, what genderqueer means in the first place, or why I thought it was important to tell the world all about it.

In fact, my attitude towards these folks was remarkably similar to the attitude that many folks -- the ones most inclined to say things like "I don't see why you need to bring up all that personal stuff, can't we all just be people together, can't you rejoice in your own unique individual identity instead of needing to label yourself" -- tend to recommend to me. I was figuring that neither my tax accountant nor my database client had any particular reason to know or to care about my gender identity, and frankly whatever gender assumptions they made based on my visual appearance as a male-bodied person were not of any particular concern or interest to me either.

I'm also a singer in the local community choir. I sing baritone. The other choristers there are a fairly conventional sampling of suburbanites from a Republican-majority county, mostly upper-middle-aged and beyond retired professionals. I don't always feel as if I completely fit in there but they make friendly overtures and make me feel welcome and I enjoy participating; I've never deliberately done things that would trigger confusion or "alien in our midst" responses there; it was, once again, an environment where I didn't quite feel driven to express and explain my gender identity, although it was a more personal activity than my business dealings with the tax consultant or my database client.

Well, last year around this time, someone in Manhattan organized a performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony and requested volunter singers for the choral movement with the proceeds to go to the victims' families down in Orlando in the wake of the shootings. So I attended and showed up attired in a situationally-appropriate skirt. During rehearsal, one of the tenors from our community choir hailed me and said it was good to see someone else from our choir there, then glanced down and added, "Umm, is that a kilt?"

To be honest, I don't always handle it well. Unrehearsed and uncontemplated outings are awkward. I feel a mixture of enthusiasm for explaining the topic to anyone genuinely interested, reticent wariness about giving someone a five-minute overview lecture in reaction to passing comment, and annoyance that I can't just blithely toss off a three-or-four word phrase and rely on it to explain as much as needs explaining. Or think I can't.

I do wish for a world where this isn't necessary. It's not something I greatly enjoy doing. Despite what seems to some folks to be an appearance to the contrary, I don't actually get off on perpetually explaining to folks what a peculiarly variant individual I am. Dating back to when I was an elementary school student, I've just wanted to be understood for who and what I am -- a coarse approximation would do -- instead of correcting badly wrong misapprehensions or coping with that special flavor of perplexed curiosity that makes one feel like a pale-bodied multi-legged bug someone just discovered upon overturning a rock.

I have described myself previously as an outlier -- an exception to the general rule, not uniquely so but among the minority who comprise such exceptions. That's the limit of reasonable expectations of normalization, I think, and I'm OK with that: that folks would often find me odd and unusual, but would recognize a term for that specific oddity when it was offered as explanation, and would nod and say "Oh, OK". Some term that is short and pithy instead of paragraphs of explanation. So, yes, a box to put myself in.

Boxes aren't intrinsically bad horrible things that take away folks' freedom and confine them and strip them of their individuality. Especially not when self-chosen. They can be quite cozy and comfortable and protective. They can limit the sense of being out in the open and full exposed. And it's not just us peculiar minority folks who rely on them. I bet most people don't do their best sleeping out in the unenclosed fields! Don't begrudge me my box.


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Many folks in the transgender community speak or write about having a sort of schematic diagram in the brain, one that told them that despite the morphological body they were born with, they were SUPPOSED to have a different sex of parts. Trans feminist author Julia Serano (Whipping Girl) is one good example.

Note that no reference is being made to the complex bucket of personality attributes, priorities, behaviors and behavioral nuances, tastes, expressions, or any of the rest of the nonphysical characteristics that tend to be thought of as part of gender.

In fact, if we agree that gender and sex are not one and the same, this phenomenon isn't even about gender. And it isn't about society, or, if it is, it is limited to wanting to be perceived as the correct sex based on how one is able to present when visiting the nude beach. Or in one's bedroom, to one's partner.

I don't have that. I have never felt anything akin to a wiring diagram in my brain that insisted I was supposed to have female parts. That experience is utterly foreign to me.

I think most folks, when they think of transgender people, picture someone like Caitlin Jenner or Chaz Bono, someone who was born one sex but who at some point came to realize they were trans, and they began dressing and presenting as that other sex and they obtained sexual reassignment surgery and hormonal treatments, and now they dress as and behave as the new sex to which they transitioned.

It is not unreasonable for them to do so. The various online and in-person transgender communities and support groups not only contain many such people, they also tend to be places where the people in attendance also think of transgender people in those terms.

But let's backtrack to the schematic-diagram thing. Let's split apart some concepts. Picture someone totally masculine in all the traditional ways, and attracted to feminine women, an extremely conventional kind of guy. Except that Joan isn't a guy. Joan says this male body is just wrong. It has the wrong parts. So she is transitioning to female, at which point she will be a very masculine person with conventionally male interests, but female, and she will live her life as a lesbian.

I haven't met Joan (she's a hypothetical person) but I've described her and had people reassure me that there are indeed such people.

Joan might have a difficult time explaining her situation to the support group. People in the support group often conflate gender and sex as much as mainstream people out on the sidewalk. People describe themselves as children and say things like "I always knew I was female" There's a reason for this: medical interventions for transgender people are expensive, and some people are not convinced of the merits of what medical science is able to do for them. And the transgender community surely does not want to reject people who are planning to transition but haven't the resources to do so yet, or to make such people feel relegated to second-class trans citizens. Besides that, there's an understandable resentment at being treated like sideshow spectacles and asked to lower their pants, verbally or literally, and show folks the merchandise.

But Joan would be facing special barriers in addition to the ones that trans people in general face. Dealing with the gatekeeper-doctors, no picnic for any trans person trying to get cleared for medical treatments, would be a nightmare. (They tend to want all male-to-female transitioners to be utter Barbie dolls and they are inclined to question the psychological readiness of any transitioner who seems to still express the traits of their birth-sex). It might be difficult for Joan to explain her situation to the group as something a bit different from the hassles experienced by other transitioning women.

And think about the current "transgender people in bathrooms" issue. Joan's experience of that is going to be markedly different from that of trans people who adopt and embrace a lot of signature items to convey their target identity. A post-transition Joan would face the same hostilities and challenges as any other extremely butch dyke. How does she explain to other trans women how her issues are not entirely identical to their own?

Intersex people also find it frustrating sometimes to discuss gender and body. "What's inside my underwear does *NOT* define my gender", asserts an intersex friend and ally whom I met on the boards. He isn't opposed to trans people being able to get the surgeries that they seek, but often finds the trans community oblivious and unaware of how unwanted surgeries imposed on intersex people without their consent are regarded by intersex people. "I am a man. That is my gender. A medical doctor decided I should be female and wanted to remove offending parts of me to produce a female. I am not a freak show and I don't have to display my genital configuration in order to prove my gender."

I identify as a gender invert, myself. I tell people I'm a girl, or woman. What makes me a gender invert is that my body is male. What's within my clothing doesn't define my gender either. On the other hand, neither is it wrong and in need of fixing. Just like my intersex friend, I have no wish to modify my morphology to fit other people's notions of what bodyparts ought to accompany my gender identity.

You'd perhaps think, with so many of us on the same page as far as "what I have between my legs is not the same thing as my gender", that we'd see eye to eye on how to talk about these things in ways that don't insult or negate each other's experience. I suppose trying to insist that "sex", and the sex terms "male" and "female", ought to be reserved for physical body and that "gender", and gender identity terms such as "man" and "woman" and "boy" and "girl" and so forth, apply to the other, nonphysiological, factors, isn't going to get me anywhere. Not with so many in the transgender community using the terms differently.

It would make things easier if that "schematic diagram" thing inside the head had its own term. Julia Serano uses the term "subconscious sex".

Perhaps the best way to describe how my subconscious sex feels to me is to say that it seems as if, on some level, my brain expects my body to be female...

I am sure that some people will object to me referring to this aspect of my person as a subconscious "sex" rather than "gender.". I prefer "sex" because I have experienced it as being rather exclusively about my physical sex, and because for me this subconscious desire to be female has existed independently of the social phenomena commonly associated with the word "gender".

— Julia Serano, Whipping Girl pgs 80, 82

If we could go with that extra terminology, transgender people could express that (for example) their subconscious sex identity is female, their born sex was male, their gender is girl or woman. My intersex colleague could say he is a man, that doctors wanted to perform unwanted surgery because he was born intersex and they wanted to make him biologically female. And I could say I am a girl or woman whose biological sex is male.


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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.


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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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).


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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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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ahunter3: (Default)
To refer to myself as "transgender" or "genderqueer" is a bit like referring to a tortilla chip as a "corn chip".

It isn't WRONG; a tortilla chip really is a corn chip, that's what it's made out of. The problem is that when you say "corn chip", people's minds immediately jump to Fritos, not Tostitos.

On the transgender and genderqueer groups and message boards, I so often feel like serious Special Snowflake Syndrome, constantly posting and reposting my identity, reminding people that "hey over here, don't forget about me & hypothetical others like me, I was a girl in a boy body, no dysphoria, not transitioning, don't need anything fixed except society's expectations that male bodied people are always boys".

When I identify as transgender, it isn't incorrect—I have a gender that is not the one I was assigned at birth—but the connotation for most people is that I therefore feel *trapped in a male body* or that I would wish to present as female and pass as female, and for more people than not, it will be assumed that I have transitioned, intend to transition, or wish that I could transition surgically to correct my body so that it matches my gender.

"Genderqueer" is a more variable term; it should make it easier to be one of a half-dozen specific flavors of genderqueer and I could feel less like a tortilla chip in a bag labeled "corn chips". But in practice I'm finding from my participation on the genderqueer groups that I've still got a corn chip problem. I'm very unusual in that community for considering myself to have a sex (or "physical identity" or "morphology" or "phenotype") and also a gender, the two not being one and the same.

Other genderqueer folks tend to be genderfluid (boy days and girl days) or bigender (does anyone else read that as "big ender" as if GenderLilliput 's other island would have "little enders" or something?) or agender, or are somewhere along a continuum-spectrum such as demiboy or demigirl. They are mostly nonbinary: they reject the oversimplified "two possible categories" system of male (or men) and female (or women). Well, I do, too, but in my understanding of myself I am using binary categories, I'm just applying them to two, not merely one, axis. I have a physical axis in which I am a malebodied person and I have a psychological-behavioral and personality axis in which I am a girl or woman or feminine persona. Heck, I don't even know if that makes me nonbinary or binary. Quaternary or Tetragonal, maybe?


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ahunter3: (Default)
There's this application called "Wordle" that snags all the words from whatever you paste or link to and then turns the most commonly used words into a word-poster. It's a cute and clever way of capturing the "feel" of a piece.

Here's the Wordle of my book:

Wordle of StoryofQ

For comparison, here's the Wordle of this very blog:

Wordle of Blog

... and one from one of my academic theory papers:

Wordle of RFvLitCrit

My book looks quite accessible, doesn't it? (Although, like, maybe almost like, you know, the author likes some words like more than he likes to think, I mean, like, really?)


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ahunter3: (Default)

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