Basically, movements like ours tend to have two goals: to reach out to others like ourselves, in the belief that if you're like us it's easier to have the support of other similar people than to be isolated; and to do social change, to modify how we're treated by others, to stop the mistreatment or oppression, to change the law or the social structures, so as to make the world safe for ourselves.
Today, I want to focus on the second priority, the social change fork.
I don't know what your experience was, but I first ran into hostility, directed towards me for being different, when I was a kid in school. I found it startling, shocking; I hadn't expected it and didn't understand it. Why were these people so hateful and mean?
Looking back on it with the additional benefit of hindsight and a lifetime of thinking about it, I'm aware of a couple of things that escaped my notice in 4th grade:
• To a lesser extent than what they were displaying, but still definitely present within me, I was hostile to THEIR differences from ME as well; mixed in with my anger and hurt was some outrage: how DARE they, I mean LOOK at them, they're pathetic, something's wrong with them, how can they be that way instead of being like me and then on top of that be so wrongheaded as to think I'm the one who deserves to be made fun of? They should look in a mirror, yeesh!!
• They had a notion of what my differences meant. It was all distorted and badly wrong in a lot of ways, and it was shot through with contempt and ridicule, and basically didn't reflect any meaningful understanding of me, but they apparently THOUGHT they understood what it meant to be like me, and they were largely in agreement with each other.
We tend to form our notions of dogs in large part from our experiences with dogs, but our notions of hippopotamuses almost exclusively from what we've heard about them and how they're depicted
When it came to male-bodied people (or people perceived by their classmates and teachers as male) who act like girls and share the interests of girls and so forth, I was often the first direct experience for many of the other kids in 1st and 2nd grade; they hadn't formed a lot of attitudes yet, and although there was some of that basic xenophobia thing — "eww, why are you like that, you're different?!?" — it didn't get bad until later.
The boys and girls who had class with me talked about me to other kids, because it's an item of curiosity, something to be described with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. Their description of me and how I act was formed from their experience of me, although of course shaped by how my behaviors seemed to them, and would not have tended to include much of any self-description by me of my own behaviors and how I saw them.
Within a couple of years, most kids my age had HEARD OF people like me, partly from this process (where kids describe someone that had been in their class who was like me) and partly from things they picked up from TV or things their parents or other adults said. Girlish boys were held up to ridicule for them before they met me, and still, in many cases, before they'd had much actual contact with anyone like me. So they observed a few things, sufficient to make them think "ooh, he's more girlish than any of the other boys in class, let's torment him, it'll be fun", anticipating that I'd rise to the bait and prove my boyish masculinity to their satisfaction... and when I didn't, and didn't try to conceal how I was, they had their first live one, one of those sissy boys they'd heard about. The circus was in town. Come see the weirdo!
This is the situation for marginalized minorities in a nutshell. Mainsteam people (e.g., cisgender conventionally binary people in our case) know about us primarily from what other mainstream people have said in the process of describing us to each other. There's a certain amount of not-very-friendly xenophobia ("ewww, you're not like me, why aren't you like me?") that probably can't be attributed strictly to social structures or "isms" of various negatively discriminatory sorts, but they're heavily fertilized and fed by what's inside the package of shared social attitudes towards us, the stories that the mainsteam have told themselves about us, and yes, in many cases they are also reinforced by institutions, social structures, systems that perpetuate our situation.
Laws can be overturned, policies can be set, and systems, especially formal systems governed by rules and whatnot, can be modified to make room for us, and to make those kinds of changes, it has proven useful and effective to appeal to mainstream people's sense of justice and to point to our injuries and the damages done to us and the unfairness and unnecessary nature of these hurtful things.
But formal structural rule-based aspects of society are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Attitudes may to some extent follow the path initially set by court decisions and institutional policy decisions, but for attitude changes to become pervasive, there has to be understanding, not just compliance.
Race — I dare say this as a white-skinned American who has never been on the marginalized side of racism — the concept that racism is wrong is easy for racially mainstream people to understand. People are born with one set or another of certain ethnic physical characteristics that we categorize as "white" or "black" or whatever; the people thusly categorized are otherwise not inherently different, and treating them on any level — institutionally, personally, culturally, etc — as if they WERE inherently different is wrong, immoral, unfair, has caused great pain and suffering. OK, in actual practice embracing and enacting a racism-free world is not quite as easy or as simple as we once hoped, but as a CONCEPT it has turned out to be something that people could grasp sufficiently well to make overtly racist attitudes socially unacceptable and viewed as reprehensible. Or possibly it only looks that way to me because it's 2015 and the long rough slog it took to get to this point stretches far back into our cultural past.
At any rate, gender and sexual identity, in my opinion, are largely NOT understood clearly by the mainstream folks. I think we're getting a decently generous batch of politically correct compliance and parroting back to us of the most common phrases likely to appear in newspapers and magazines about differently gendered people and our experiences, but it is accompanied by a lot of perplexity and pushback from people who resent being pressured to parrot those phrases when it makes no sense to them, they don't get it. They have some attitude, some annoyance, and some lingering xenophobia ("why can't you just be normal, why do you want to be a special freaking snowflake?"), but not such a high prevalence of real hostility and contempt so much as bewilderment.
Me, I'm not a 4th grader any more. I'm sure of myself and my gender identity, I am not plagued with nervous self-doubts about my difference, I understand how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and I'm willing to be in the circus sideshow. Yeah, come see the weirdo. Ask your questions. Wanna hear my story? I'll tell you how it is, what it's like. Don't worry about offending me, I've heard worse, I assure you. Interact with me. Think about this stuff. I want you to understand. The more you mainstream folks understand the more you will hold attitudes that I want you to hold because they just plain make sense, not because everyone will point fingers at you and tell you you're an insensitive privileged cisgendered boor of an asshole who should be ashamed of yourself.
That is how I view our activity. I'm glad we're winning at the policy-change level, but the current rising trend towards correcting people for microaggressions and castigating them for triggering behavior and otherwise trying to roll out social change by demanding compliance before understanding, that doesn't appeal to me.
Even the phrase "social justice" is getting on my nerves lately. The word "justice" is a heavily loaded term. We live in a punitive society. The systems that dispense justice largely do so by identifying evildoers and perpetrators and violators and wrongdoers, and then punishing them, as well as or sometimes instead of stopping them from continuing to do so. And they are all of them systems that rely on authority, coercion, power over other people, to lend force to their implementations of justice. Oh, I understand anger, all right, and the gut-level desire to see the shoe forced onto the other foot, oh yeah WE shall coerce YOU and designate you as a perpetrator of our oppression and FORCE you to stop it, punishing each offense, identifying it as a social misdemeanor against us, connected historically with how we've always been treated up to this point, and if it makes you feel disempowered in the process, yay, so much the better, assholes. But it's morally wrong, it's tactically wrong, it's factually wrong, and it's, dammit, politically wrong.
I don't believe in the Culprit Theory of Oppression. I don't think the white cisgender able-bodied male people gleefully plotted everyone else's plight in the primordial paleolithic boys' bathroom and then subjected us all to this. I also don't think people intrinsically benefit from having power over other people and therefore are unfair beneficiaries whenever someone else is disempowered and silenced and marginalized and oppressed. Furthermore, if it were true, it that really were the case, YOU CAN'T FIX IT since if it is intrinsic, you are, by definition, saying that you would oppress if given the opportunity to do so; that anyone, ever, with the opportunity to oppress will do so; that anyone set up to be in a position of protective power to enforce equality will use that power to oppress, instead, because, well, it's intrinsically beneficial to them to do so.
It's a measure of how marginalized (ha! so to speak...) I am within our own activist communities that I just got booted from a Facebook group, the Genderqueer, Agender, Neutrois, Genderfluid, and Non-binary discussion. The precipitating event? Someone had posted a link to an article about Triggering. In the article, the author, Gillian Brown, said "Triggering occurs when any certain something (a 'trigger') causes a negative emotional response", and then went on to explain the necessity of preventing triggering from occurring, and the necessity of stepping in to protect people and keep the space SAFE by reminding people to put trigger warnings. I replied with some derision: by that definition, we would all have to preface anything that might cause a negative emotional response in anyone with a trigger warning. It's a silly definition. More to the point, this is simply not how I think we best make the world a safe space in which to be genderqueer people. We make the world safer by making ourselves understood. We make the world safer for ourselves by stepping out, being brave, being seen, letting people point and ask questions, by risking hostility and derision, by being brave enough to SHOW that we aren't going to be intimidated by the risk of hostility and derision, by not being ashamed of who we are.
It didn't go over well, apparently. (I can only conjecture; my membership in the group evaporated without any private message and I can only assume they decided I was a trigger and made people in the group feel unsafe).
I haven't blogged in an embarrassingly long while. A big part of it is that I'm metaphorically holding my breath while an agent is reading my entire manuscript, trying not to become unduly hopeful that she'll represent me, but not succeeding in that attempt. I can't help it. I may be setting myself up for a horrible letdown but I am full of excitement and joyful daydreams.
I have, however, at least succeeded in not just sitting motionless in these endeavors. I've continued to send out query letters. And as a matter of fact, I got a request for a partial (a request to read the first 50 pages) from a query letter and therefore, for a couple weeks at least, for the first time ever, had two agents simultaneously expressing interest and reviewing my writing with the possibility of representation. Unfortunately, this second agent soon wrote back on June 3:
> We were impressed by From a Queerly Different Closet: The Story of Q's
> holistic approach to the underwritten topic of growing up queer.
> However, we struggled to engage emotionally with Derek because of the
> lack of specificity in prose. For example, it was difficult to
> understand why, in middle school, Derek found boys' behavior to be
> "bad" (rather than merely displeasing or disruptive), when Derek had
> not expressed a desire to be "good" or why Derek was ostracized
> growing up without knowing how exactly he was teased in each school he
> attended. Without such basic details, it was difficult to get a sense
> of Derek's personality and essential conflict. Ultimately, this meant
> that we couldn't completely fall in love with the story.
That was such a thoughtful and personal rejection letter that I did something I never do in response to rejection letters: I wrote back!
> Hi, and thank you for the most thoughtful rejection letter I've ever
> 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.
Total Queries (Story of Q): 562
Under Consideration: 1
As Nonfiction, specifically, total queries: 373
As Fiction, total queries: 189
Under Consideration: 1
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