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Hi, E. M. Hamill!


YOUR BOOK

* What factors led you to feature a genderqueer main character?  Do
you draw on personal experience (whether your own or other folks in
your life), or were you more intrigued by the concept of being
genderqueer?


I’ve been bisexual all my life, though I’m not genderfluid like Dalí is. It’s something I never had the courage to express when I was younger for a variety of reasons, and then it felt like it was too late. Now that I’m older, wiser, and one of my children has also come out as non-binary, I am finally comfortable expressing this part of myself. Especially after the last election, I felt compelled to speak out at last and be counted with all my brothers and sisters. It’s never too late.


Even though my main character, Dalí, has been shattered by loss, I wanted them to be a person who revels in the fact they are attracted to all genders, and doesn’t hide who they are. They accept this part of themselves without shame, as they should. It was kind of cathartic.



* Are there other gender-bending science fiction novels or
gender-variant characters in science fiction that inspire you or that
you're particularly fond of?



The show “Earth: Final Conflict” fascinated me. The aliens in the show, especially Da’an, were genderless, and I loved that.  Of course, Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, that most omnisexual of beings in the universe! Who doesn’t love him? One that doesn’t get a lot of notice is Inara from Firefly, who was decidedly bisexual. Lastly, most recently, “Sense8” and it’s diverse array of queer relationships and actors spoke to me on a huge level.


* Some science fiction operates as a sort of "intellectual
laboratory" to play out "what if" scenarios, and some is more of a
vacation fantasy, creating a fascinating different world to put
characters into, and so on.  Is there a 'tradition' or sub-genre of
science fiction that your book is a part of?



I would call it a space opera in the vein of Star Trek or Star Wars, with deliberate allegories to modern day social and human rights issues. Aliens and humans work alongside each other, and deep friendships or relationships develop as a result. 


* Is this a stand-alone book or are you working on a series?


This can be read as a stand-alone, but I definitely left the door open for more books featuring this character. I’ve already started writing their next mission.


* What sort of audience do you anticipate for DALI?  When you were
writing it, did you have an audience in your mind that you were
writing for?



I hope it appeals to all readers of science fiction, but especially to fellow queer readers. I also hope it resonates with mainstream sci-fi fans, because fiction opens doors to new ways of thinking.


* If you could inhabit the world in which your story takes place,
would you do so for a weekend, a year or two, or the rest of your
life, or would you pass on that option entirely?


Oh, a year or two, because you can’t get from our solar system to Zereid quickly!

* Did you have the idea for DALI floating around in your mind for a
long time before you wrote it, or did you write it more or less as it
first came to you?


Once Dalí started talking, they didn’t stop. I finished the first draft in six months, which is really fast for me!

* Aside from the science fiction element of it, you describe the book
as an "adventure"; is it a suspenseful action-thriller, or a big
drama with large social forces squaring off, a personal odyssey with
a central heroic figure... how would you characterize the plot?



I would characterize it as a suspenseful action-thriller, or spy drama. There are elements of a personal odyssey as well.


* How long did it take you?  If you've written and published
previously, how did this one compare to the others in terms of the
ease and speed with which you wrote it?


My first book took me five years from start to finish, but only two after I got serious about it. The second book in that series was easier. Dalí took six months to write, six months to edit, and I signed a contract with Nine Star Press in early 2017. 


WRITING


* What's your favorite environment to write in?  Do you have a studio
or do you just work in any convenient place?


I have a big recliner in front of my picture window. I get up before everybody else does, because it takes silence and solitude to get me in the zone. I have a small writing space carved out in our utility room, but it’s less comfortable! It’s the place I go when everybody else is awake.

* Do you do a lot of formal planning, with notes and databases or
spreadsheets and research, or do you work more spontaneously and
impose any additional needed order later on?


Nope. Total pantser. I love that improvisational writing mode. I start with an idea or a single scene that’s been in my head, and run. I break a cardinal rule by doing some heavy editing as I write, and also afterwards. 

* What's your main writing tool?  Do you write using a standard word
processor, a dedicated book-authoring software package, a fountain
pen and a ream of parchment, dictate your tale into Siri, or
something else?  What do you like about your preferred tool?



My trusty MacBook Air. It goes with me when I’m waiting to pick up kids from extracurricular stuff, in doctor’s waiting rooms, on long car trips…it’s an extension of my consciousness by now! Tool wise, I love AutoCrit software. Best investment I ever made. 


* Do you keep the contents of your book private until you like the
form it has taken, or do you like to solicit early feedback from beta
readers and friends?



As soon as I have the first draft out of my head, I run it by my alphas to see if it sucks or not! My betas don’t get to see it until the later drafts. I have the best critique partners ever.  You can’t have them; they’re mine.


* Do you write in 3rd person past tense omniscient, 1st person
present tense, or some other combo of perspective and grammatical
tense?  How does this affect the ways in which you include the
thinking of your main character and, if relevant, the internal
thinking of other characters in your stories?  Is this something
you're consistent about or have you (for example) written some
stories as an omniscient narrator and some from a 1st person
narrator's vantage point?



I write in both. My first three novels are third person past/omniscient, but Dalí was my first person/past tense debut, other than a few short stories. I’m not a huge fan of present tense as a writer or a reader, with one notable exception: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.


* Who were and are your favorite authors?  Have they generally been
writers who write in the same genres that you write in?


Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula LeGuin, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Madeleine L’Engle, David Brin, Piers Anthony, Gregory McGuire, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Robert McCammon, JRR Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…I could go on way too long!  I write sci-fi and fantasy of all flavors, so they’ve all influenced me in different ways. I am a lifelong, voracious reader. I make occasional forays into paranormal and historical romance, with a few well-loved literary fiction books.

* What has been the most useful feedback you've ever received about
your writing?


Every bit of feedback I receive is useful. This is why I value my editors and CP’s above all. Most recently, it was to pay attention to body parts, especially eyes, wandering off to do their own thing…LOL

* Have you ever tried cowriting or being part of a collaborative
writing experience?  Is that something you would recommend, or
recommend against?



I haven’t yet. I’ve only heard horror stories, but there’s proof out there that it can work with the right partnership.


E. M. Hamill: NineStar Press hosted author page, primary website

DALÍ will be available in print and in e-book format from Amazon.



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Tea and Transition: A Story of Love, the Human Spirit, and How One Man Became One Woman, by Nicola Jane Chase (Telemachus Press: 2015)

Barriers to Love: Embracing a Bisexual Identity, by Marina Peralta with Penolope James (Barriers Press: 2013)



These are a pair of memoirs, one from a transgender woman and one from a bisexual woman. Both are effectively self-published (Telemachus is basically a vanity press, and Barriers Press appears to be therapist Marina Peralta's own publication vehicle). I am all too familiar with the difficulty involved in getting a conventional publisher to publish an LGBTQIAetc memoir, and both of these books were recommended to me in response to my searches for such stories.

I began Nicola Jane Chase's book a couple months ago and ended up putting it aside, unfinished, for several weeks because it did not draw me in at the beginning. To be honest, I was expecting a standard narrative story arc and didn't get one. I mean, I opened the book expecting "My childhood was like this, you see, and here is when I first began to realize I was different from other males, that I was one of the girls instead of one of the boys", and then a tale of events and realizations and so on.

Instead, I was immediately plummeted into the current mental world of a trans woman. Chase warns in the prologue that "All true tales should start at the beginning. However, in my case I can't be sure when that beginning was." I flipped the page and she was already writing of her impending sex reassignment surgery appointment. The flow of Tea and Transition is nonlinear, more akin to listening to a very verbose and chatty companion rattle off thoughts from the top of her head than akin to reading someone's meticulously wrought story of what it was like to be her and to go through the experiences she has gone through. There's no objective reason to require a chronologically linear tale, and, indeed, many excellent authors bounce around between years and settings in the process of telling what they wish to tell, but it did not sit well with me.

I found myself formulating a mental image of the author, and it was one I was not comfortable with. To be quite blunt, I discovered myself thinking of her as a scatterbrained airhead, all fluff and trivialities. I felt squirmy about that, because there's a strongly misogynistic strand in that, of thinking of women in that dismissive fashion, and a transphobic / trans-hostile strand also, I think, involved in viewing transgender women that way as well: was I harboring creepy sentiments that I needed to deconstruct and examine before proceeding?

I eventually decided -- somewhat cautiously -- that I was not guaranteed to always like each and every woman, nor each and every transgender woman, that some individual human beings may indeed leave me with the impression of being scatterbrained, and that unless I had a pattern of seeing all folks in a category that way, it wasn't necessarily an illegitimate reaction on my part. So I picked up the book and this time I kept reading. And it got better.

There are many books written by transgender people which are more like the book I was initially expecting, books that detail identity-formulation from some point in childhood. Tea and Transition is entirely focused on adulthood and in large part this is because Nicola Jane Chase did not become conscious of a differently gendered sensibility until well into adulthood. Even at that point, there is not as much mulling over of the relevant issues as I would have wished. I suppose I'm guilty of some degree of projection: why hadn't Nicola been less comfortable considering the prospect that she was, indeed, a she? Instead, the narrative describes considering it, dipping a toe in the water (cross-dressing), liking it, and proceeding blithely onward. Be that as well it may, the journey soon enough required serious commitment, and in this, the author describes an almost agonizing passion to hold on to this despite the threat of high prices to be paid. Will she be able to retain good relationships with her mother, best friend, her place of employment and career? There's nothing trivial or airheaded about her evaluation and acceptance of these risks, which were clearly nontrivial risks. And there is more about this aspect of the trans journey in Tea and Transition than most such narratives provide.

At some point I came to realize where some of my hostility was coming from. It's defensive on my part. I myself identified with girls back when I was 7 or 8 years old. As an adult, presenting to other people as a genderqueer and gender inverted individual, I have encountered an expectation, sometimes explicit but more often hinted at, that I, and any other male who identifies as a girl in some fashion, crave the specific female experience of being a sex object. It's more of a sore point for me that I realized, but there you have it: my sexuality outgrew in complicated ways but it was entwined with gender and had a whole lot more innocence (and perhaps eventually the erotic potential of corruptibility thereof) than it had of either the boys' contempt-flavored delight in the crude or the adult female sex object's confident enjoyment of a status as arousal material for others.

And Nicola Jane Chase was too much exactly what I'd been suspected of: someone whose realized identity as femme was very much grounded in a desire to wear Victoria's Secret and to slink into a bar and be hit on, to be visually desirable precisely as a female, to be the hot chick.

So yeah, my hostility. Yeesh, I'm basically a frowny-faced disapproving censorious puritanically prudish tight-lipped femme person, shaking my head negatively at Ms. Chase. I don't think it's quite slut-shaming (I like and respect sluts), it's more... sex-object-shaming. Calling her shallow in my head and all that.

At a minimum, chalk one up for Nicola Jane Chase for teaching me more about myself. Title available from Amazon.



I picked up the Marina Peralta title specifically because I had not run across many bisexual coming-out / coming-of-age stories and I wanted some for my bookshelf collection. I'd read little articles and online posts on Facebook and whatnot about how bisexuals were not exactly embraced by the lesbian and gay folks within the LGBTQIAetc community but were instead treated as if they'd already been spoken for since gay males and lesbians had had their turn, while at the same time treated as if they were hedging their bets with one foot in the straight world, and regarded as risky partners who would be likely to dump you to be in a straight relationship.

For the second time, I was somewhat disappointed that the book I picked up didn't meet my initial expectations and projected assumptions. Peralta's book does not delve much into participation in the modern lesbian-gay-etc community and this is in part because of the temporal setting: she came of age and had most of her relevant experiences (as recounted in the book) in the 1950s and 1960s before a post-Stonewallian movement existed to contend with or belong to.

What WAS fascinating about Barriers to Love was the author's narrative of trying to understand her sexuality in an era when "bisexual" wasn't really on the map of possibilities to choose from. As a genderqueer person who came of age when there was no identity such as my own available to me, I saw parallels there and could relate to her own slow and gradual trying-on of identities only to find out later "no, that's not really it", and to keep requestioning and searching for a valid answer all pretty much on her own.

Also of relevant interest was the way in which conventional heterosexual appetite, for a girl of that era and in that setting (Mexico), was treated as a perversion instead of being nonchalantly accepted as normative. It was a world in which females with their own sexual interest in boys were told this is bad, this is wrong. I think we forget how this maps onto and against the tapestry of attitudes towards gay and lesbian sexuality, and this becomes more vivid precisely because of the author's bisexuality: YES, once confronted with the even more scary prospect of her daughter's being a lesbian, the author's mom becomes interested in seeing her paired with an appropriate male, but her first sexual interest was towards a male and the same mom was appalled to see that appetite expressed and condemned it and did what she felt she needed to do to kill it and prevent it from consummation.

From Peralta, too, I would have appreciated more internal / mental life, more about the inside thinking processes that led up to concluding "Hey, I am a bisexual person". (Or the equivalent realization in her own terms if she came to that realization before being exposed to the concept).

It is, however, a moving personal account and although it is rooted in a specific time and culture, it has a lot of universal content about what it can be like to be sexually receptive to both sexes and how the two patterns are similar and how they are different and how others perceive and react.


I have some very fresh news but it isn't ripe yet. Watch this space. I hope to have new things to reveal soon.

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

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

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

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

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



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


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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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I finally had an opportunity to present my talk to an LGBT organization on February 23!

I gave what was essentially the same lecture I previously presented at LIFE in Nassau, Baltimore Playhouse, and EPIC, although revamped and tailored quite a bit for the different audience. The group was the "20-somethings" group that meets at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan. Their meetings have usually been social without formal programming but lately they've moved towards booking some content to stimulate discussion, and I was one of their first guests.

It represents a favorable turnaround in outcomes for me from my efforts of 16 months ago when I was politely turned down by the folks at the Nassau County GLBT organization. I blogged about that at the time: Eye Opener

I had also approached Identity House, a direct affiliate of the Community Center where I presented last Thursday, and they had expressed no more interest or encouragement than the Nassau County group.

The main factor that seems to have shifted the outcome in my favor this time was my publicist, John Sherman. Firstly, because I think it's just a lot more effective when you have someone else touting your qualifications than when you're doing self-promotion. Secondly, because he's a professional, it's what he does for a living and he's good at it. He conveyed to them what I did not successfully manage to do, that I had content that was different and relevant and that I was qualified to do such a presentation and would be good at it.

To recap, here's how I ended up with a publicist: I had been playing with the idea that I should get a publicist because many literary agents, in the process of turning down my book, said my writing was good but that I had no "platform", no already-established reputation as a theorist or speaker or activist in the field that would cause people to think I had qualifications to write such a book. But it remained just a notion that I thought about sometimes. Then Ellora's Cave indicated that they wanted to publish me. Ellora's Cave would get my book into print but they were a small press and were not equipped to publicize their authors, so that would be my responsibility. So I retained the services of John Sherman Associates. Then Ellora's Cave went out of business and I no longer had a forthcoming book but I had a publicist. It did occur to me to see if I could negotiate a change of contract with him, but given my prior notion of having a publicist to help me get more exposure, I decided to just go with it, and I'm glad that I did.

It went well. I led off with an intro of myself as a person who had come out as genderqueer in 1980, then quipped that I knew there were people who missed the days when the acronym, "LGBT", had still been short enough to fit on a t shirt, and identified myself as one of the culprits responsible for adding extra letters and making it more complicated.

I talked about how I had not taken it for granted, and still don't, really, that folks in the LGBT community would welcome me and consider me to belong there. I'm a male-bodied person, I present as male, and I am attracted to female-bodied people. Certainly in the early 1980s I had not had a lot of confidence that gay and lesbian people would think of me as other than a straight interloper or a confused individual or a repressed gay guy lurking but not really out yet or something. But that nevertheless I had been welcomed warmly, if not immediately understood. The prevailing attitude had been "if you think this is where you belong, you belong here".

Indeed, I don't identify as straight. STRAIGHT, by definition, means that one is normative, that one has the default identity. Straight people do not need to come out. I found it necessary to come out. Ergo, not straight.

Heterosexuality is gendered. Not merely sexed (such that it concerns male-bodied people getting it on, or having an interest in getting it on, with female-bodied people and vice versa), but gendered. This wasn't a distinction blatantly obvious to me any more than to anyone else, but gradually as I grew into early adulthood I saw the pattern. It is most discernably manifest in the advice generally given to boys and young men who complain of no success in dating and finding a girlfriend — that they should be pushier, act more confident; that they should be sure not to display feminine traits, because feminine males get treated like friends instead of potential bedmates; that nice guys get left out because they didn't try anything; that the sexually successful guys are the ones who ask the girls, who take the initiative to make things happen.

In other words, the male and the female in heterosexuality play different roles, and are expected to, and not just roles in the sense of behavior but as expressions of specific personality traits — aggressively confident and sexually forward for the male, and reactive and sexually reticent for the female.

It was the realization that who I was as a person clashed rather badly with the profile of personality traits meshed into the male role for heterosexuality that made me aware of being different in a significant way. If it weren't for that, I would have probably thought of myself as a more or less ordinary guy who happened to be more like girls in various ways, but still fundamentally a guy, not someone with a different gender identity.

I had an audience of about 25 people, a fairly diverse mix. They listened attentively and very quietly and I held their focus easily. I didn't get a lot of official questions at the end, just a few, but people came up to me afterwards both there as we milled around afterwards and at Stonewall Inn where we adjourned to hang out for awhile. In general they said they embraced the larger inclusive group identity as LGBTQ but mostly they knew about lesbian and gay experiences, a bit about bisexual and mainstream transgender issues, but had known virtually nothing about what being genderqueer was like or what the relevant social concerns were, and they felt that they had learned a lot from my presentation.

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

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

It starts off:


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

Let me know if you're interested.

Pretty much everything in our contract is negotiable...



I blink a lot.




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

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



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


Current Stats:


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

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

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



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

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


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

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ahunter3: (Default)
On April 29, I presented my talk about gender inversion and being genderqueer to an audience at Baltimore Playhouse. This was fundamentally the same talk I presented at LIFE in Nassau in March of last year.



It went well — I was a stronger speaker with more confidence, I think I did a better job of establishing and maintaining rapport with my audience, and since last March I culled out some points that didn't contribute well and in other places elaborated or brought up other more cogent points. Oh, and I was also in good health this time, instead of being right on the cusp of a nasty bout of bronchitis, which probably also makes a difference. At any rate I had a good time and I think my message was well-received.

One of the newly added "planks" of my presentation was inserted at the end. Following up on the opening admission that this is just my take on the phenomenon of being genderqueer and that if you went to hear another speaker's talk on the subject you'd be hearing a different perspective, I dove into some of the internal politics that take place within the larger gender-variant community.

Arriving very late -- essentially missing the presentation aside from the question & answer session at the end -- was a woman who does advocacy work involving lobbying the insurance folks who control health care decisions that affect transgender people seeking sexual reassignment surgery and related treatments. But when she asked what the talk had been about, I soon ended up encapsulating some some key points and we ended up having this discussion with her:

ADV: It's frustrating that so many of these people who are trying to obtain the surgery they need can't just get into the program. Instead, we have had to position the need on a biological basis, as correcting a birth defect, and we're trying to show a pattern on MRI of the brain, but that means you have to demonstrate that difference or you would be denied coverage.

ME: Yeah, what do they envision would happen if they covered the surgery for all people who sought it out? Are they imagining that there would be this long line of people who are NOT transgender coming in to get an operation? Who the heck do they think would be seeking it out under false pretenses, and why?

ADV: I know, I know! No one's going to go through that without compelling good reason, it's silly. But it's the only thing that seems to be working.

ME: One of the things I talked about tonight was intellectual dishonesty. Where you take a side in a debate not because you think that side is correct, but because you've looked down the road at the outcome of it being CONSIDERED correct and you embrace that belief not because you think it is actually correct but because of what "believing" it lets you claim or conclude. You aren't getting on board with the idea that there's a built-in brain difference telling people they should have a different set of organs and parts because you have seen the evidence and think it is true. You're promoting that explanation because you believe it will enable you to get insurance companies to pay for the treatments.

ADV: I know, you're right. It is intellectually dishonest. We shouldn't have to couch it that way, but they're from a medical background, and they think in terms of pathology. There's also the problem with needing a psychiatric clearance.

ME: You mean where in order to be okayed, a person who wishes to transition has to embrace all the personality and behavioral nuances associated with the sex they want to transition to? They don't allow a person who was born male who likes traditionally male things and is attracted to women and behaves in a masculine way but says these male parts are all wrong, to transition? So that after transitioning she can live her life as a rather butch lesbian?

ADV: That's right. For a year. You have to exhibit the dominant characteristics of that gender for a year.

ME: I don't know that there aren't built-in biological differences. There might be. I tend to emphasize the social, but there might have been something in me, in my brain, that caused me to gravitate towards girls as the people I fit in with and wanted to emulate and be perceived as. But I'm worried that the model that's being embraced to support transitioning erases the identities of people like me. People for whom the body is not the issue, not the problem. If the narrative that people end up accepting in their heads as the definition and explanation of what it means to be a girl in an apparently male body doesn't leave any room for someone who accepts both their maleness and their girl-ness as healthy and right, people like me have no home in that movement. We end up being erased, told that we don't exist or that we don't matter.

Already I don't identify as transgender myself, because even though transgender is defined as "your gender does not match what you were assigned at birth", the truth of the matter is that anyone who is told that I am transgender is going to expect a transitioner — someone transitioning male to female (m2f) for female to male (f2m). Instead, I identify as genderqueer. Fewer wrong expectations. Better truth-in-labeling.

I am not immune to intellectual dishonesty myself. I try not to be, but I probably skew my presentation of the facts in order that my audience's acceptance of them supports the conclusions I want them to reach. But I am trying not to erase other gender-variant people even when my model doesn't explain them particularly well.

So in my talk I described that male-bodied masculine person, 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.

WHY? Well many transgender activists speak of a biological cause, a built-in difference in the brain. That it is NOT social, is not about personality and roles and what society does or does not consider "masculine" and "feminine". Phantom limb sensation sort of thing. The body in and of itself as wrong...

If there is a 'Joan', she would probably not feel included by an explanation that stresses social messages and social notions and perceptions. So although I have not met her, I am mentioning her now for you to add to your map of possibilities."

(The health services advocate later assures me that there ARE people like Joan. "I've met Joan", she says. That must be an especially frustrating situation, then, in a world where even fairly feminine m2f people feel pressured to practically turn themselves into Barbie dolls in order to "justify" their transition. Wow)

Peace to you, transgender activists. Let us try to support each other and be allies. We aren't entirely in the same situation and we'll sometimes have the opportunity to forward our own cause at the expense of each other because of our different situations. Let's avoid doing that whenever and wherever we can.

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ahunter3: (Default)
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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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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ahunter3: (Default)
I was in Bluestockings (the book store) the other day and a book titled INTERSEX (For Lack of a Better Word) caught my eye.



Since I fancy myself an activist in the gender & sexual prefs rainbow these days, and intersex is (like genderqueer) one of the latter-day additions, I figured it would do me good to read it and get more of a sense of the experiences of intersex people. Because, you know, even though my situation doesn't really overlap theirs very much, it would be useful to have at least a generic familiarity with their concerns in case someone asks me someday while I'm presenting about genderqueer issues and whatnot, right?

OK, OK... so I should be aware, by this point, that I'm likely to recognize myself in descriptions and identities I wasn't previously familiar with. It's not like I don't have a lifetime history of that. I'm not now identifying as an Intersex person, but reading Thea Hillman's exposition left me with the strong urge to write her an email or something, commenting on things we have in common.

Hillman herself had run into the term "intersex" quite some time before deciding that it truly applied to her. She's had Virilizing Adrenal Hyperplasia from early childhood on, but received medical interventions that blunted the impact of her body's unconventional cocktail of hormones. "Intersex", she thought, "means people who have ambiguous genital, and I have normal-looking genitals". It took awhile for her to decide that yes, her experiences with doctors peering and poking at her breasts and vagina and inspecting her clitoris, being prescribed various hormonal medications and taking them as shots down at the nurse's office at school, internalizing a sense of herself as not necessarily OK, yeah, that qualified her to use the label. It took longer than that, and based on her writing seems to be an ongoing process, to be comfortable with the idea that she would at times be the face of intersex, the person showing up at conferences as the designated intersex person. Worrying that she wasn't "intersex enough" and that someone else would challenge her, discredit her.

As I read that, I found myself nodding because I often have that feeling about my own identification as genderqueer. That someone on some message board or in some forum or at some conference is going to say that if I don't ever feel a need to present as female, if I'm not genderfluid or otherwise inclined to want to be seen as a female person at least some of the time, and I'm a male-bodied person who is attracted to female people, then I'm just some cisgender hetero guy who wants to be edgy and is therefore colonizing the experience of legitimately marginalized minorities. Yeah, I know what it's like to worry and wonder that you've stolen someone else's label and that sooner or later someone's going to object.

Then Hillman goes on to describe trying to network, especially with transgender people. And finding that although, yes, they have a lot in common that links them, she often finds the issues of medical transitioning to be divisive. Because for intersex people, being surgically modified to pass as one sex or the other is something so often done TO them without their fully-informed consent, very often as infants or young children. Hillman describes how disconcerting it was to be the lone intersex activist surrounded by transgender activists discussing surgical intervention as a solution, not a problem, and describing it in glowingly positive terms as an choice-affirming and life-affirming resource. To complicate matters, Hillman was informed that she, too, qualifies as transgender: "By taking hormones", she was told, "you transitioned away from being intersex towards something else, towards a more traditional female".

And there again I was struck with the sense of shared experience. I'm not a transitioner and the issues of surgery and other medical intervention make me feel pretty alien and different too. And I, too, of course, have been told many times that the term 'transgender' applies to me, as a male rather than female girl-person, regardless of whether or not I wish to modify my body accordingly.

Sorry if I sound like I think I'm such a Special Snowflake, but always after experimenting with so many of these identity-labels, I've found myself backing away politely: "No, that's not it. It's something else".

When I finished the book, I made a note of the publisher — Manic D Press — and made an entry for it in my query-letter database.

Oh, and yeah: I'm no longer under consideration by the literary agent who requested the full manuscript. And with 640 queries to literary agents and 589 rejections, I've finally crossed the literary Rubicon and sent my first query letter off to a small publisher. It's something I've avoided doing up until now because more than a handful of literary agents have a policy against taking on any new author if any publishers have already seen their book and passed on it. And so up until now I've maintained the ability to say "nope, no publishers have seen it". Except that that isn't 100.00% true. Because when I attended the New York Writers Workshop Nonfiction Pitch Conference back in October 2013, one of the conference events was the opportunity to pitch our books to each of three publishers. Publishers, not literary agents. Well, so if I've actually been deflowered anyway...

Mostly though simply because it was time. The publishers I will be querying will be small publishers, the sort that consider small-volume titles and do not require that only literary agents contact them about books. Publishers that publish niche titles that literary agents tend to pass on because they won't attract a mainstream readership and hence won't appeal to mainstream presses with the larger profit margins that a mainstream book sale can command.

You'll perhaps have noticed that I've never mentioned the specific literary agents I've queried when I've blogged about them. Just a sort of superstitious nervousness on my part. I don't suppose there's any reason to keep it a secret, nor any reason to keep secret the fact that I'm querying any specific publisher. Probably less so, in fact, since I'm only going to query one publisher at a time.

The one I'm starting with is Seal Press.


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

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


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



*******


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

*******

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

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

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

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

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


*******

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

*******

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

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

*******

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

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

*******



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ahunter3: (Default)
As promised, a review of my talk at Life in Nassau / Nassau LGBT Center in Plainview.

It's hard to believe that was over two weeks ago. I'm still in the process of recovering from bronchitis infection. Two days before the presentation I started having some early symptoms and I was quite worried that the cough (it started with a cough) was going to take away my voice before Thursday night; I spent Thursday afternoon drinking hot herbal tea and gargling with salt water and nodding or making hand gestures or monosyllabic grunts as replies to anais_pf... but it worked out well, I had the energy and the voice to do it and, frankly, I nailed it!

I did a pretty decent job of maintaining eye contact, and no one complained of not being able to hear me, which was a relief since I'm very quiet-spoken and people often DO complain about that when I address a group.



As I explained earlier, I used a lot of material from my November 14 blog posting, including the three illustrations I used there, printed onto nice sturdy 24 inch x 36 inch posterboard suitable for ongoing use if I get the chance to make the same presentation elsewhere.

The main, most important diagram, was this one, the one I refer to as the distribution diagram:



Orange is male, green is female, left is masculine, right is feminine. I described the distribution graph as being what you'd get if you hurled a mango snowcone at the wall and then followed up with a mint snowcone that landed somewhat to its right.

The main departure from the blog posting was the development of representative characters. I first introduced the room to "Dan", conventionally masculine male over on the left side of this distribution graph. Then I introduced his girlfriend "Karen", a conventionally feminine female over on the right.

With the two of them as examples, I sort of fleshed out the experience of having your own experience match up with cultural expectations, showing how for the two of them there wasn't any need to have different terminology, "SEX" and "GENDER", and why they would find it confusing and unnecessary to make the distinction, even as tolerant friendly non-judgmental people.

At the same time, I made the point that the distribution diagram shows that there always WILL BE orange particles over on the right and green ones over on the left — because any time you have a scattered distribution like that, with overlap between the two populations, those kinds of points will invariably be present.

Then, from there, I described myself, and using myself as an example, described the situation of being one of those outlying points, a gender invert, in my case a feminine male person. I described myself in much the same way I'd described Dan and Karen, fleshing out the experience, but now I could show how messages about male-bodied people would describe such people as masculine (which I am not), and messages about feminine people would describe such people as female bodied (which I am not), and by doing so I illustrated why it was so useful and necessary to distinguish between SEX and GENDER.


A couple people who don't normally attend Life In Nassau, but who had met me through a separate ongoing Queer Munch, came to hear the presentation, and they along with a couple Life in Nassau regulars who also have alternative gendered experiences, asked questions at the end and elaborated on a lot of the points I'd been making, which added depth to the talk.

One of the more telling snippets of feedback I heard was from someone who does not consider herself gender-atypical but who has been exposed to the general concepts of being genderqueer and so forth: "I really liked it that your talk was not all full of instructions about 'Don't ever say this' or 'You should never do that'... your talk was all positive and accepting of people with all kinds of gender identities and differences. Most of these things I've gone to before, it's been all about what we have to be careful about in order not to offend people or oppress their sexual identity or whatever. I liked this a lot better".

Good! I'm not trying to position myself or those in my situation as fragile victims of evilbad normal folk. I'm convinced that if they understand us, they'll adjust their behavior accordingly simply from due consideration for our circumstances. Or enough of it that when they don't we'll sass them back and that will be sufficient. Personally I'm not interested in playing the victim card nor in whipping out my scars and playing "my oppression trumps yours".


I've begun negotiations to present at SUNY / Old Westbury, where I was a women's studies student in the late 1980s, perhaps to some womens' studies classes or perhaps to the independently-run women's center on campus. I also want to connect with Identity House and/or other LGBTQish centers in Manhattan to begin exploring the possibility that I have content that they're not currently presenting, and hence would make my presentation there.

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ahunter3: (Default)
I've written about this before in passing but it's been on my mind throughout the year, so since this is a good time for an end-of-year summary, I'm going to focus on it today. Look at the following and check out the disparities:


OKCupid, the dating site, has recently expanded their options for describing yourself. I can now identify myself not merely as either a woman or a man, but also as androgynous; or bigender; or cis man; or cis woman; or genderfluid; or genderqueer; or gender nonconforming; or hijira; or intersex; or non-binary; or Pandenger; or Transfeminine; or Transgender; or Transmasculine; or Transsexual; or Trans Man; or Trans Woman; or Two Spirit. Is that incredible and impressive in its flexibility, or what? It's a real victory, isn't it! Oh, and that's just my gender and sex; for orientation I can specify not merely whether I am gay or straight but also could identify as Bisexual; Asexual; Demisexual; Heteroflexible; Homoflexible; Lesbian; Pansexual; Queer; Questioning; or SapioSexual.

So now we move to the section where people position themselves for their own searches and for where and how they appear when other folks search for potential partners. I see that I can be looking for women, for men, or for "everyone". And I can be included in searches for men, for women, or for "everyone".

*scowl*


The oft-mentioned Genderbread 2.0 diagram starts off with the compelling and provocative notion that rather than just one axis (male/man versus female/woman) or two (male/man versus female/woman and gay versus straight) or even three (male versus female, man versus woman, gay versus straight), we need at least four (gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and who you're attracted to): For gender identity I could identify myself as nongendered or as a strongly gendered person (man or woman) or anywhere along the continuum. For gender expression, I could consider myself agender (or androgynous) or as a strongly gender-expressed masculine or feminine person, or anywhere in between. That's actually more complexity than I myself tend to find necessary, since we haven't even gotten to biological sex yet—I mean, I guess one could consider one's self to be strongly gendered as a man and to be strongly gender-expressed as a feminine person, regardless of what bodily plumbing they've got, but even on the Genderqueer and Transgender community groups and boards that I'm on, I have to say I haven't encountered that. Anyways, onwards to biology: I can specify that I am asexual (or intersex) or that I am specifically sexed as male or female, or anywhere along the spectrums between. That's an impressive set of choices, isn't it? I could register as a woman, as feminine, as male.

So then for attraction I'm offered the choice of being attracted to nobody (asexual) or attracted to men/males/masculinity or to women/females/femininity.

*scowl*


Y'all see the problem, right?

My own attraction involves female-bodied people. But if I sought out female-bodied people generically in hopes of a sexual/romantic connection, I'd be wasting a lot of their time, and mine, since some of them are going to be attracted only to female-bodied people and some of them are going to be attracted only to masculine manly people and I am neither of those things. So I would want to be placing myself where I would show up on the radar of female-bodied people who want feminine womanly male-bodied people, naturally. Well YEESH! Neither OKCupid nor the Genderbread diagram have a slot for any such attraction! With all their expansive flexibility for self-description, their array of choices for what you're looking for and, therefore, what your potential audience of seeking-people might be on the search for, is limited and reductionistic and damn traditional. OKCupid lets me be genderqueer and gender nonconforming but those who might appreciate meeting someone like me have to choose between "looking for men" and "looking for women". Genderbread lets me be a male feminine woman but there's no way to diagram a person who would be ATTRACTED TO a male feminine woman.

And if my own attraction towards female-bodied people isn't generic, if for example I don't have much taste for girly girls and would like to narrow my defined interest to more willful, more tomboyish, less feminine-flavored female-bodied people, that's not available on OKCupid or on the Genderbread diagram either, now is it? There's a REASON I do not identify as "heterosexual". It's not just about me myself not being adequately defined by the terms "man" or "male" or "woman" or "feminine" by themselves. It's also about the personality and interests and sexual tastes of the other person.

*sigh*

Conveniently, I am not for the moment actively seeking new partners, being involved and immersed in good ongoing relationships, but that's neither here nor there. Being able to identify in terms of what floats your boat IS part of self-definition and we DO use that as part of the explication of ourselves to others. The problem doesn't just go away once you're no longer on the prowl, as it were!


Side Note

Even the admittedly admirable array of self-descriptives doesn't have a real home for me when you get right down to it. I mean, thank you OKCupid for the increased set of choices but "genderqueer" and "gender nonconforming" basically translate as "it's something else" without saying what. "Transgender", despite the inclusive expansion of the umbrella to include folks like me, doesn't differentiate between someone like me and someone who experiences dysphoria and wants to change their body to fit their gender, and THEY were here first, it's THEIR word. And I'm not straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, demisexual, heteroflexible, homoflexible, or pansexual.


I'm gender inverse and my orientation is straightbackwards. I'm still not on the damn map.

OK, pardon the self-hijack, let's get back to the main issue here.

Being Wanted

In the transgender community, the prospect or possibility of someone being specifically attracted to transgendered people is not by any means greeted with unproblematic acceptance and joy.

"Chasers" are regarded by many transfolk with wary suspicion, that such people have an overly-prurient interest in an aspect of them that they themselves regard more or less as an unwanted medical condition. The goal or ideal situation for MANY transgender people is that they be seen, viewed, and understood as a normal ordinary member of the sex/gender that they identify with, with a minimum focus on the sex/gender to which they were assigned by birth, with a limited-to-nonexistent focus on the wrong/unwanted sex-specific bodyparts they were born with.

So to the extent that that's not a misrepresentation, and is true for more transgender people than not, I'm not one of them, my situation is different. The genderqueer community is a better match, perhaps, for people who would have the same complaint that I do. Regardless of whether a person is a gender invert like me, or genderfluid or andrygynous or non-binary or agenderous or something else instead, I would imagine that most of us want not only to be allowed terminologies to describe ourselves, but also the opportunity to meet people who WANT our particular configuration (whether to the exclusion of any other config or not) as what they are ATTRACTED TO. And as long as descriptions of what people are attracted to is still limited to "you like guys, or girls, or both, or neither?", we aren't being accorded real attention and real understanding.

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ahunter3: (Default)
I hear some people occasionally wondering how, and why, transgender people ended up affiliated with gay and lesbian and bisexual folks, pointing out that gender identity is really a separate consideration from sexual orientation. I imagine it happened sort of like this: lots of people, when they encounter someone who appears to be of one sex but who exhibits lots of signs and sends lots of signals associated with the other sex, assume the reason, or purpose, of those gender-nonconforming behaviors, is that that person is gay.

I chose the words "reason or purpose" intentionally: a purpose indicates an intentional act, while a reason implies an explanation, and both of those get applied to this thinking some of the time. As "reason", the thinking goes something like this: "being sexually attracted to guys when you yourself are a guy is a way of being more like girls; that is, being sexually attracted to guys is something that mostly happens to girls; so this person is gay as part of a general tendency to be more like girls". (Or mirror-image of that for lesbians). As "purpose", the thinking runs more along these lines: "acting and dressing and behaving like a guy when you are actually a girl is a way of trying to resemble the people that most girlfolks are sexually attracted to (i.e., guys), so that they'll think of you in sexual terms; you do that to signal that you are a lesbian and want to have sex with other girls". (Or mirror-image of that for gay guys).

So mainstream hetero people would mentally categorize transgender people as gay as a consequence of this kind of thinking.

Gay and lesbian people themselves, I think, weren't immune to that kind of assumption, at least at first, before transgender people had come out to them fairly often and in significant detail: "OK so you want to change your body to fit your gender identity, that's cool with me" could shift to perplexity in cases where the transitioning person was (for example) transitioning to male and then planned on living as a gay male afterwards: "Huh? Then why bother? What are you doing it for?" Certainly the surgery clinicians and psychologists were making assumptions that collapsed orientation with gender identity: to be a good candidate, you were supposed to aspire to be a very NORMAL person of the sex to which you were transitioning, and that meant being postoperatively heterosexual, didn't it?

Therefore, I tend to imagine that a lot of initial coming-out self-revelations by transgender people were made to gay and lesbians people. Because, having been pigeonholed along with them, it made sense to seek understanding there, to find resources and support there and so on; but to get that understanding, some explaining was going to have to take place



All that is kind of prologue.


You see, I consider myself to be in the same kind of situation except that I'm grouped with trans people, because I seem (both from the outside and sometimes from among trans people themselves) to fit the description, but I feel different from most of you. And I don't feel understood in the absence of coming out and explaining a bit. Coming out to you as part of a smaller minority the same way transgender people have been a minority within the LGBT community.

One thing I want to say before I go any further is that it is hard for anyone to talk to a group about how they're different from the others in the group without a risk of it sounding like they're saying "YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG, THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE". If I come across to you, reading this, as if I'm prescribing MY gender identity as some kind of improvement over yours, can you give me the benefit of the doubt and try not to take it that way?



OK, one of the biggest differences I feel when I'm discussing this stuff with trans people is "passing". A very large percent of the message-board posts on trans boards is about passing. Do I look like the sex that I'm transitioning to? Here's my latest selfie, do I look like a member of that sex to you? Where can I get this or that garment or piece of equipment or device to make me look more like that sex? And so on. Me, I don't want to pass. It is not my intention to be seen and thought of as a cisgendered female person. I'm a male girlish person. I want to be seen as a male girlish person. I want to be understood and accepted as a male girlish person, or, when that's not an option, to be hated and reviled and despised and detested as a male girlish person.

Being a male person is part of who I am. I do not hate my body. I do not have dysphoria. Being male is not something I need to fix. I have some nice skirts and some purses I use when I wear them, and they are expressions of my girlness and it feels good to wear them in public, proud of who I am. But I do not have any bras. I do have a pretty dense collection of facial hair. I like it; it's pretty and it grew there naturally and I never wanted to shave it off, nor do I want to pluck it out.

Being a girl person, of course, is what was perceived by most people as the part that was WRONG. As a male I'm supposed to be a BOY person. I am to be pitied, considered pathetic. I'm believed to have always fervently wished to more closely resemble those masculine creatures who inhabit the other male bodies. Of course you're nodding, of course you know how that goes, THAT'S WHY I'M IN HERE, PART OF THIS COMMUNITY, to be among my own kind, as much as that is a possibility, and yeah, this is ground zero dead center home base of what we've got in common. I most certainly do not want to be a boy person, I am proud of being one of the girls, proud of remaining who I am in the face of the hostility and ridiculous pressures and hatefulness directed towards girlish male folk. That certainly doesn't need fixing either!

But we aren't all alike in here. And I need to feel understood in order to be able to feel fully accepted. I'm not transitioning. I'd like to get the world to transition towards understanding that males can sometimes be girls as well as boys, and that that's OK. But me, I'm fine where I am, stubborn and unchanging.


And now, some comments about language and terms. I don't want to behave all super-triggery-sensitive or make you think I'm going to lash out at you and accuse you of horribly damaging uses of words that hurt my feelings, but yeah, some of the ways that some of you trans folks use certain terms does kind of make me squirmy and uncomfortable. Let's start with "female" versus "woman" and "male" versus "man". To me they're the specific versions of "sex" versus "gender", and although I acknowledge that it's sometimes a bit of an oversimplification to say that sex is the body (chromosomes, organs, biology) and gender is the identity (personality, the real self), it will do as shorthand. So a woman or girl is someone who identifies as such, and a man or boy is someone who identifies in that manner instead, and they are NOT just by-products of our SEX, our physical equipment. But I keep seeing people describe themselves as (for example) a transgender FEMALE or speak of being a real MALE inside when they are referring to the internal self and not their current physical configuration.

I can see how that would make sense to someone who (for example) intends to transition and become female, but that kind of thing makes me feel a little bit erased. It is very liberating TO ME to have language that makes it possible for me to explain that I have a body of one sex but the gender that usually goes with the other — male, girl — and from my vantage point when I hear or read trans people eliding any difference between "female" and "woman" (or girl) it strikes me as a threat to my ability to say that and be understood. It muddies the water. In an ideal world there would seldom be a need to draw such attention to one's biological plumbing, but we aren't IN that ideal world and I, for one, still need to be able to speak about my situation and draw attention to it as one that needs social consideration.

In an ideal world we wouldn't be pigeonholed into little categories, but in order to speak against the pigeonholing process you often have to identify the category you're in and speak about how the categorial treatment that's tied to it is unfair and oppressive.

Look, I'm not the language police or anything, but I'm letting you know how it rubs me when I read that kind of thing. If you want to disagree, by all means write up a response, and I promise to read it with thoughtful consideration.

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We like simplifications when we find ourselves wanting to explain complex things to people who have less need to understand them that we have need for them to have that understanding. Especially if they aren't in our social sciences class and don't need a good grade from us at the end of the semester!

So it's not unsurprising that in explaining gender issues and gender politics and gender identity and whatnot, we've often tended to present it something like this: GENDER ISN'T THE SAME THING AS SEX. SEX IS BIOLOGY. SEX IS THE BODY. GENDER IS SOCIAL AND MENTAL, IT'S IN YOUR HEAD, IT'S ABOUT BEHAVIOR AND IDENTITY, AND IT ISN'T THE SAME THING AS SEX.

That enables us to explain why a person who has, for instance, Xy chromosomes, and the body parts that are conventionally described as penis and testicles, or which would be identified as such by the overwhelming majority of disinterested average people asked to identity them, at any rate, isn't necessarily "a man". Why some of us consider ourselves to be "women" instead. Or genderfluid (perhaps sometimes men, sometimes women, depending on how we feel). Or nonbinary (perhaps not relating to that whole "are you a man or a woman" thing at all). Or some other variation entirely. So we say to our audience of mainstreamish ordinary people, ACCEPT THIS. LET PEOPLE DEFINE THEMSELVES, GENDER-WISE, DON'T ASSIGN THEM BASED ON YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THEIR BODY BITS. BECAUSE GENDER ISN'T THE SAME THING AS SEX. And those of them who are tolerant of diversities and respectful of other folks' experiences often nod and add this to their list of socially appropriate attitudes and, at least in socially liberal diversity-tolerant circles, that becomes The Truth and they themselves begin to correct other folks who conflate sex with gender.

Except, well, it IS a simplification and like all simplifications it is on some occasions an OVERsimplification, one that can make some explanations and elaborations even more complicated. Like when someone asks why, if gender isn't sex, someone with a male body who identifies as a woman wants sex reassignment surgery: isn't that the body? Or when you're trying to explain that yonder person, who identifies as a woman, considers herself to have a clitoris, considers her body to be a female body, even though she was assigned male at birth (AMAB for short) and has Xy chromosomes and body parts that would be identified by the overwhelming majority of other people (who had not been informed otherwise) as penis and testicles and whatnot. We begin retreating from our original distinction, saying things like "Well, actually SEX is also a matter of perception, the interpretation and categorization of the physical is a social process, maleness and femaleness are themselves social constructs". And the people who were on board with the notion that SEX IS BIOLOGY AND GENDER IS SOCIAL look back with glazed eyes and perhaps ask, "So sex and gender are sort of the same thing after all?" and perhaps add, unnecessarily, "... I'm confused!"


Well, what I'm about to do here is probably ALSO an oversimplification on some level, but I think it may be a useful second level that's worth a mental climb that I don't think will be too bad.

First off, yeah, GENDER is social and mental. But is isn't unaffiliated with SEX which is biological and of the body. Gender is basically a set of generalizations (a more loaded term is "stereotypes") based on observed sexual differences. Gender is also affected by other social stuff, factors that aren't strictly biological. For example, social systems tend to try to control individual people's reproductive behaviors, because either too much or too little reproduction can play havoc with resources, and for that matter so can too random versus more narrowly channelled into specific situations. The more that the social system is defensively poised on the edge of a threat to its survival, the more tight this control tends to be. Well, one form that this control takes is the promotion of ideas about what the sexes like and want and what their "nature" disposes them to do, whether in fact those ideas are close reflections of the real actual generalized behavior of those sexes or not. Sexual propaganda, you could call it. You can see how that makes gender MORE than just generalizations about SEX, yes? But for the rest of this discussion, that's just a side issue. For now let's just put an asterisk next to where I said GENDER is a generalization about SEX and the asterisk means there's some distortion involved for various social reasons and now let's go back to the simple bit about generalization.

Here's how generalization renders gender out of sex:

Belief

First, it's BINARY. Because in general there are two sexes and since we're generalizing we ignore the exceptions and we say we have MALE and we have FEMALE. Two dots.

Then we focus on differences. Men are "this way" and women are "that way". We compile a list of characteristics and separate them into male and female. Orange and green. Him over here and her over there. And because he's over here, from his perspective she is in THAT direction, whereas because she's over there, from her perspective he is in THIS direction, and thus the directions THEMSELVES, the over-there-ness versus the over-here-ness, that becomes gendered. In yon direction lies the female characteristics, the feminine stuff. Over thereabouts, that direction means masculine, the male characteristics.

Now let's toss up a less generalized diagram that reflects the same reality but doesn't oversimplify it as much:

Distribution

Here we see two populations, the male population in one color and the female population in another, and we still see an overall tendency, a sense that in general the females are "more over this way" and the males are "more over that way", but we also see that there is overlap. And that makes immediate sense, we all know that some individual women are more this way than others and that any characteristic is manifested some of the time by all of either sex and quite often by some of either sex and so on.

Now comes the fun part. Let's zoom in:

From this Perspective

This is a mostly-green region of the "population" diagram, zoomed in with an orange point circled to draw your attention to it. Let's drop our awareness into that location and look around us and make some generalizations FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE:


• Compared to the diagram as a whole, who "we" are is definitely quite strongly off in a "green direction". Most of the dots who are like us (i.e,. in our general location) are "green".

• Generalizations about "orange" individuals most often won't apply to us. Except for our "orangeness" itself, we don't have much in common with them. When the main body of orange points expresses itself in collective solidarity with the orange direction, we aren't going to feel very included. When the main body of green points does the equivalent, on the other hand, we're likely to say "me too". Except when the subject being discussed is about orangeness or greenness ITSELF, of course.

• In the binary graph, I spoke of a sense of "over-there-ness", a sense for the orange that their relationship to the green involves the green being "over there", in THAT direction. For our isolated orange point in this graph, the green isn't so much "over there" as "right here around me". The other orange points in general, however, THEY are "over there" in a contrasting direction.

• The "green" points will in general have the experience that the color opposite of them (i.e., orange) tends to be in an "over there" (generally leftward) direction. Our isolated orange point is positioned where the color opposite (i.e., green) can also be found to some degree in that same (leftward) direction even though that's mostly contrary to orange-dot experiences.

Now let's translate some of that into how it manifests in the world of gender and identity.


• Even if gender were a pretty accurate generalization about sexual difference (n other words we continue to ignore the "asterisk effects" or we dismiss them as anything more than minor background noise), the distribution model means that there are inevitably feminine malebodied people and masculine femalebodied people. It's not a "deviant behavior", or a "behavior" at all, per se, it's a direct result of distribution with overlap. If you've got distribution with overlap there will BY DEFINITION be such people.

• For masculine malebodied people and feminine femalebodied people, gendered experience tends to be unitary and nonambivalent, and (this is important) THEIR EXPERIENCES are broadcast as the experiences that are expected and anticipated, reinforcing for them the "identification" with other such folks. In other words, not merely "you, male, you're expected to be masculine" but also "you, male, you are expected to find female people to exhibit characteristics in a more feminine direction than your own characteristics" as well as "you, male, are expected to find other male people to exhibit characteristics that are NOT in any particular 'direction' but rather more or less surrounding your own traits". But in contrast...

• For feminine malebodied people and masculine femalebodied people, identity factors are much more convoluted just because of their location in the distribution. Let's consider the masculine femalebodied person. In body she is one of the femalebodied but in a multitude of other characteristics she has more in common with the other masculine people, so that's the first tier of non-unitary identity factors. Then there's the comparison of her experiences with the experiences broadcast as the expected and anticipated: the other femalebodied voices say that malebodied people are more masculine, but that's not generally true of her own experience, although some malebodied people may be more so. The other masculine voices say that the opposite sex (females for the males, males for the females) are more feminine, but for her the opposite sex will have characteristics more clustered around her own traits, although again there will be some for whom that is true.

• It would be an oversimplification (yet again) to say that people in that kind of situation EITHER identify with those of the same biological SEX or ELSE identify with those who have the same constellation of characteristics. Both of those are possibilities, definitely, but the identification experiences are in conflict and hence non-unitary, and that opens up many other possibilities. Continuing with our masculine femalebodied person, she may react to the discrepancy by feeling neither more akin to other femalebodied people nor to other masculine people but instead identifying in a more finely granular way with other masculine femalebodied people. Or she may reject the binary either/or propositions inherent in the identity question and identify mostly with people of any sex and any personality characteristic set who also feel alienated by the whole sex-and-gender thing. If she identifies with the other masculine folk, the fact that she is femalebodied and is perceived as such may be experienced as an obstacle to that identity; it may have more to do with other folks' perceptions (the expectations that are part of the backdrop of broadcasted gendered experiences), or it may mostly focus on her own desire to resemble the people she has identified with and to feel validated in that identity, but either way her SEX as perceived by her becomes intertwined with the process of identification and come to be regarded as wrong and in need of alteration. That alteration in turn may involve modifications at the level of behavioral presentation or may involve body modifications at the physical level. If her reaction to the overall situation takes the form of rejecting the binary categorization, she may similarly seek to modify either presentation or body, but seeking an indeterminable or neutral representation of SEX rather than male or female.

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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.


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Continuing from More Repositioning Part One...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

http://ahunter3.livejournal.com/9662.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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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

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ahunter3: (Default)
I take long walks as my primary form of exercise and to clear my head. Yesterday I was around mile 15 of a 25 mile hike down suburban roads in Suffolk County and had noticed a patch of raspberry bushes that still had berries on them, and had stepped off the road to pick and eat some of them.

Another middle-aged white guy came down the same road and veered off in my direction when he saw me there. "Ooh", he said cheerfully, "what brings you here?"

"I'm eating some of these raspberries", I responded, indicating the thicket in front of me.

"Oh, they look delicious! May I try some?"

"Sure! They're nice!"

"Oh, they're divine! I want to eat them up, every one of them!"



There have been several times in my life when someone's sexual attention made me feel like a steak being eyed by a hungry dog, a sense of being drooled over that gives me the creeps; and as with most of those other times, this fellow hadn't said or done anything overt that I could draw attention to ("stop that!" "stop WHAT?"). So I answered cordially while tamping down my revulsion and after a couple more comments he bid me enjoy my raspberries and he went on his way.

As it turned out, his way was the same direction I was walking, and after picking and eating a few more berries I found myself heading out after him, and because I am in good shape and walk fast I realized I was going to overtake him in a bit. I viewed that prospect with distaste: would he think that my doing so indicated that I sought more of the attention he'd given me previously? But then I became annoyed with myself and my reactions. Here I am, a genderqueer trans-whatever sissyboy, and I'm intimidated by the possibility of flirtatious behavior from someone I'm not attracted to? First off, I shouldn't have to put up with being made to feel as if how I am, how I look or behave or whatever, means that I'm fair game for their sexual attentions and don't get to say no to it. But second and more important, that isn't what happened: assuming I'd read his signals correctly, he'd conveyed his interest, I'd managed to convey my lack of reciprocal interest without being a jerk about it, he'd accepted that and moved on. "Get over yourself", I told myself. If and when I caught up to him, maybe we'd speak or maybe just nod, and if he wanted to start a conversation, well, maybe it would be GOOD to have a conversation with a gay guy like that in a context out in the open, outside of LGBTQ meetings and whatnot.

I didn't see him glance back so I wasn't sure if he'd noticed me behind him, but he broke into a jog for awhile despite the blast-furnace midday heat, and I wondered if maybe he didn't want a re-encounter either for some reason.

The road took a bend and a rise and I did not see him for awhile, then when I came to the top I had again lessened the distance considerably. I saw him step away from the road briefly and when he came back he was carrying a branch and using it as a walking stick. Then, after another 5 minutes' of walking and additional lessening of the distance between us, he began nonchalantly flicking the stick around, behind his head, into the other hand, back behind the small of his back, something that could be seen as casual activity like kicking a pine cone down the road but also emphasized the fact that he was carrying a decent-sized stick in his hand. I realized he was nervous about me coming after him, and probably had experiences that gave him plenty of reason to think he needed to be.

I confess to feeling a brief moment's sardonic amusement: "Oh, so now my behavior makes you feel uncomfortable?" But then I thought about what it would be like to have to worry that someone like me would come after him with violent intent, and now I felt bad for not having switched to the other side of the road. I'd been worried only that he might accost me again as I drew near and hadn't considered that coming up behind him as I had could be experienced as threatening.

He turned away from the road to walk into a grassy area to let me either pass by or to follow and confront him. He was prepared to face whatever this was going to be. I passed, nodding briefly. I considered saying something — "I'm not a basher or anything, it's cool" or something of that ilk — but rejected it instantly, figuring if I were to say one word it becomes a much scarier situation for him than if I just pass on by.

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