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The second and third major chunks of my book are set partially in Los Alamos and partially in Albuquerque. I wrote about Los Alamos in my July 2 blogentry, so I figured I'd describe Albuquerque a bit in this one.

Physically, Albuquerque is a mostly-flat city but surrounded by mountains to the east and the Rio Grande to the west. The land on the other side of the Rio rises up to a mesa so that from certain angles Albuquerque looks like a city in a bowl with the mountains making the rim. Satellite view The really impressive mountains to the east is the Sandia ridge and the smaller echoing ridge on the other side of the river is West Mesa.

In a pattern that people familiar with Manhattan would recognize, the majority of the city is laid out in a grid of streets making rectangular blocks. Three hundred some-odd thousand people were living in Albuquerque in 1978-1980 when the action in my story takes place. The population is up over five hundred thousand now. It's the big city in New Mexico.

It's at a lower elevation than Los Alamos, although still considered a high-elevation city, and the lower elevation means it is hotter and dryer. The surrounding countryside is a barren landscape of scrub and rock. Once shortly after I moved there, I went out for a long walk after getting stoned courtesy of my neighbor's bong pipe, and got it into my head to walk out beyond the bounds of civilization to be in "nature". The suburban streets featured trees, locusts and cottonwoods and oaks and whatnot, and I think I unconsciously visualized myself coming out into some kind of primitive forest. Instead, I found myself leaving a green oasis of lawns and trees and ending up in the desert.

In the book, I end up living in Albuquerque twice, both times for the purpose of attending a school: First, I was a student at Albuquerque Vo-Tech, a trade school that seems to have disappeared into obscurity (it wasn't the institution called TVI, but rather a different one); I think it was somewhere around Eubank, north of Central. I lived on Grove Street SE in a rented house with another Vo-Tech student in 1978 and 1979. I was 18 and I had bailed out on the college trajectory my folks expected for me because I wanted financial independence early and thought that I'd enjoy being an auto mechanic.

I was regarded by some who knew me at the time as having insufficient aspirations for myself, but my attitude towards money wasn't all that peculiar for the region. In much of the west, in fact, there's sort of an attitude that self-sufficiency is very important, but once you get beyond that you're supposed to be low-key about wealth. It's OK to have it, to be well-off or downright rich, but it's in poor taste to be ostentatious about it. In Albuquerque the millionaires are likely to be wearing denim and to spend very little effort trying to impress other folks or being snobby about how rich they are. And I had met my share of people who simply wanted to earn enough to be adequately comfortable and to put a higher priority on independence and respect, to do something well enough that you could get paid for your skills and call your own shots, move on if you don't like your job because your abilities are in demand everywhere, be your own person who didn't have to take shit from anyone else. Yeah, that looked good to me.

Albuquerque is roughly half Hispanic (or Chicano, as folks say in New Mexico) and half non-hispanic white, with a sprinkling of other races and ethnicities. This is a part of the country where folks of Spanish ancestry were here first, with the oldest families being in the region before Mexico had separated from Spain and other families having come north to settle here between Mexico's independence and Mexico's loss of this land in the war with the US in the middle 1800's. There is some ethnic friction, some of which is apparent as a social backdrop in the Albuquerque sections of my book, but it's not a high tension adversarial hostility so much as an occasional clash of cultures and different ways of looking at things.

I had a bigger problem with being in a virtually all-male environment. There were very few women at the Vo-Tech school, and my experiences during that year brought an increased awareness that I still didn't integrate particularly well with male company. It wasn't so much that I was the target of violence and hostility (although yes, there was some of that) as I was left lonely without people to be friends with and talk to. These were also my first years out of the parental home, getting used to living my own life and learning about myself and becoming an adult.

A contributing factor to my loneliness was the format of partying and socializing in Albuquerque. I had come from Los Alamos where the teenagers and young adults would congregate in a single specific parking lot and obtain beer and learn where the outdoor bonfire party was at this evening; and then the party was public and no invitation was required. The equivalent social action in Albuquerque took place either in people's private homes or in bars or, especially for younger people who couldn't legally drink in bars yet (like me at the time), driving around, cruising certain blocks and showing off your car and chatting with people through the car windows and so on. The indoor scene required social connections and invitations and doing the car cruising thing successfully required having enough money to spiff up your car and keep the gas tank filled. As a student on a tight budget with no income of my own, I could afford some weed and some beer but not much else.

I did, however, scheme and plan about pimping out my ride. I was training as an auto mechanic, after all. Someday, when I could afford it, it was going to have this additional equipment and that color paint job all deep lustrous laquer, and more chromium and seats like so... oh yes, despite whatever difficulties I was having mixing with the guys, I still conceptualized myself as a guy and I embraced some images and notions about how to be a guy, notions I expected to work for me. Countercultural cool, longhaired intellectual blue-collar neo-hippie, you know?

The attempt to kick off a career as an auto mechanic did not pan out for me for a variety of reasons. I passed the course but came out the other side without the years of experience that some guys had. I returned to Los Alamos but ultimately I was unable to land and hold on to a job that would give me the self-sufficiency I'd sought. A year later my folks succeeded in talking me into trying college after all, and I came back to Albuquerque to attend UNM in 1979.

The University of New Mexico is a commuter campus for the large number of students already living in Albuquerque, but this time around I lived in the dorms. I was in Coronado Hall. The campus is mostly compact instead of being sprinkled in pieces all over the city as some urban college campuses do; most of UNM's campus sits between Central and Lomas Boulevard with a somewhat looser sprawl of buildings north of Lomas. There are a lot of business catering to the student experience and campus life in the blocks south of Central Ave, trendy shops and eateries. Back in 1979 there was a head shop selling marijuana paraphernalia and Freak Brothers comic books and across from it a vegetarian restaurant called The Purple Cow, a used record store, and so on. Some scenes in the book take place in the Frontier Restaurant, home of the best huevos rancheros you'll ever eat, and in the Siren Coffeehouse, a feminist hangout that used to host poetry readings and women's music.

The front lawns of the campus were a congregating spot for people to sit and party and socialize. In addition to students, there were travelers hitching or driving through and local people who didn't attend the university but liked the scene. Here at last I found the informal socializing environment that most closely resembled the party scene I missed from Los Alamos. (It was also where one went to purchase weed and other psychoactive substances).

The music department buildings were nearby. I was majoring in music with the intention of becoming an orchestral composer and a performing / composing pianist, and I would get high and chat with folks on the lawn and then dive into the practice room, notebook and portable cassette player in hand, to practice and write my music.

It was during my time as a university student that I came out. It was an environment that theoretically should have made that easier--instead of the all-male and macho-inflected world of VoTech or the small-town cautions of Los Alamos, I was now for the first time in a place where other students were sending me signals left and right that they thought they knew my secret and that it was OK, that I should accept myself and that when I did I would find that others accepted me too. But I didn't know who--or what or how, if you will--I was yet. It wasn't what they thought I was, the identity that they were so ready and kindly willing to accept. They were onto something though. It was that kind of difference. The winks and gentle hints were as discomfiting to me as the violent hostility had been, a never-ending poking and nudging at me to deal with these questions for which I had no answer.

And that's the setting for the book's climax and reconciliation.


My book, The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, is scheduled to be published by NineStar Press on November 27 of this year.


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My book, The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, is scheduled to be published by NineStar Press on November 27 of this year. This year is, coincidentally, also 40 years since I graduated from high school, and therefore the 40th reunion is imminent, scheduled for September 23. I haven't been to a reunion since the 10th in 1987 but it's too irresistibly tempting to attend this one under the circumstances. With any luck, between me and my publicist John Sherman, we'll manage to get me booked into a space where I can speak to an audience and read some from the book and combine that into the same trip.

The first major chunk of my memoir is set in Los Alamos. (The second and third sections are divided between Los Alamos and Albuquerque NM. I may describe Albuquerque as the second story setting in a later post).

A handful of the specific events described in my book as well as the general social environment portrayed there may be recognizable to other people in my Los Alamos graduating class from their own recollections.



Los Alamos was neither an especially safe venue nor a nightmarishly horrible hellhole in which to grow up as a sissified feminine male person. It is most famously known for being the community where nuclear physicists developed the atomic bomb during World War II, and it is still very much an intellectual science-centric community with the scientific laboratory dominating much of the culture. The population is less than 15,000 people and, as is typical of towns of that size, folks tend to know each other or to know of each other, and that is especially true of students in school. Physically, it's at high elevation (over 7000 feet) and is spread out along the top of several mesas interspersed with deep canyons, and there is a lot of undeveloped land immediately near the schools and houses.

It was (and is) a somewhat old-fashioned town in many ways. The highly educated scientists were disproportionately recruited from small colleges in small communities, so there's an interesting tension between the tendency towards sophistication that comes with being an intellectual with an advanced degree and the conservative outlook that reflects those small-town origins.

It wasn't the conventional central-casting junior high and high school environment reflected in so many books and movies. First of all, it wasn't anywhere near as athlete-centric, although yes we had athletic students and, true to stereotype, I did have a lot of conflict with the male sports-centric boys. But whereas in some towns (at least as described by other authors in their own books) the entire school's social life seems to revolve around male athletic boys and their cheerleader girlfriends, in Los Alamos they were just one clique and not an overwhelmingly dominant one, and there was a lot of overlap with other social clusters that mainstream America doesn't tend to associate with athletes, such as Yearbook Committee or the drama club and so forth.

The most popular kids often belonged to several factions, such as student government and school sports and Olions (the theatrical drama and performing-arts kids) and choir and band and orchestra, and to know and interact with people from more than one social cluster.

I started off as a new kid in town in 8th grade and did not integrate into the society of the junior high school very effectively. I wasn't particularly nice or pleasant to the other kids and held myself aloof, and also had a rather thin skin about being teased and mocked, which wasn't a good recipe for speedy acceptance. Almost overnight I acquired a reputation. In a small town, all new kids get a fair amount of curious attention; in my case I became a source of widespread amusement. Eighth and ninth graders aren't widely known for their tolerant attitudes or their easy acceptance of people who are different, and these small-town dynamics made it worse for me, but I think it is important to point out that I didn't start off being very tolerant of their differences from me either. I was often a hostile and judgmental sissy, glaring at masculine boys and disapproving of their way of being in the world. It's just that I was just severely outnumbered!

The social clusters where I eventually put down roots were the Boy Scouts (which tended to have a high concentration of geeky boys who liked to read science fiction), band and choir, and, finally, the loosely affiliated cluster of kids who attended pot parties. The latter group is a counterintuitive group for a kid like me to have found welcome, but that, too, is heavily shaped by factors that were specific to Los Alamos. Unlike larger communities, or the suburbs of built-up metropolitan areas of the country, the kids in Los Alamos did their partying mostly outdoors on that undeveloped land I was talking about. And one thing that meant was that you did not need an invitation to be at a party, nor was the party taking place at some host's home, a host who might declare some unpopular kid unwelcome.

The general attitude of adults — parents, teachers, policemen, etc — towards teenagers was an interesting combination of permissive and dismissive. Our behaviors were tolerated with very little effort to shut us down; we were not generically regarded as troublemakers nor our inclination to gather as a worrisome precursor to vandalism and other crime. That hands-off attitude also manifested as a disinclination to insert themselves into our affairs and change how we treated each other, and as a consequence of that I was pretty much on my own, interacting with a contingent of kids my own age who had very few constraints on their behavior towards me.

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