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Last week I was visiting my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and viewing the solar eclipse with them (they are conveniently living within waking distance of the Georgia/South Carolina border and were in the path of totality), and while I was down there I went rummaging through some old storage boxes in search of some of my oldest "coming out" writings. One of the items I found was a short piece titled "Anonymous Conversation III".

Back in 1980, my first attempt to put my thoughts about gender and society down onto paper ended up getting me into trouble. The 4-page paper didn't make much sense to most of the people I showed it to; the ideas weren't coherently expressed. One person even felt threatened (not, I think, by the content, just by the fact that an unknown male undergraduate had left this incomprehensible document in her campus faculty mailbox) and that, in turn, triggered an overreaction by the university health center whose triage psychiatrist decided I needed psychiatric incarceration and observation.

That didn't shut me up, but I was a bit more cautious in my next attempts.



By 1982, I was starting to work on a book that I titled The Amazon's Brother, in which I would introduce my gender stuff by explaining it in terms of feminism. "Anonymous Conversation III" was intended to be an introduction chapter to kick off the main body of the book, which was going to be (and eventually was) a combination of my own story followed by some chapters of feminist analysis and theory derived from those experiences. I initially thought about setting up the premise of the book as a sort of trial to take place before a feminist court, and "Anonymous Conversation III" was an unfinished draft chapter with that in mind. I never ended up using it (by the time I gave up on getting The Amazon's Brother published, it had a different Intro) and, in fact, it was never even typed out -- what I found in the box was a sheaf of handwritten pages. But it's an interesting bridge piece, still using some of the terminology (e.g., "spectrum theory", still saying "sexism" where I would later have written "patriarchy") from the problematic 4-pager, but doing a significantly better job (I daresay) of explaining things in an accessible manner.




ANONYMOUS CONVERSATION III

Xy: I want to stand trial on behalf of my entire gender. The charge is that we are responsible for sexism.

Xx: No way. The charge is that, as a general rule, people of your gender have fought against the people of mine who have tried to eliminate sexism, and that people of my gender have done almost all of the work and supplied nearly all of the energy for eliminating sexism. Still want to stand trial? Court is in session.

Xy: Eek! Okay. I'll try. May we dispense with the opening statement for the prosecution? Everyone's heard it a thousand times.

Xx: It has not been heard enough times by enough people. Request denied.

Xy: Very well. It is the contention of the prosecution that, as a result of sexism, people of your gender are deemed inferior to those of mine; that stereotypes of personality have been attributed to each gender; that standards of socially acceptable behavior for each gender have been derived from those stereotypes of personality; that the standards and stereotypes of personality and behavior, hereafter referred to as sex roles... uh, where was I... oh, yes, that the sex role for your gender is deemed inferior to the sex role of mine; that the behavior portion of your sex role reduces your gender to the status of domestic and personal servants, with no autonomy; that the portion of your sex role that deals with sexuality itself reduces your gender to the status of passive objects existing for the sexual pleasure of my gender; that the stereotype of personality for your gender includes qualities of nurturance, kindness, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, and a host of others which are of direct benefit to my gender, which shares the companionship of yours; that the stereotype of personality for my gender includes emotional insensitivity, callousness, and similar characteristics which excuse my gender from any empathic or supportive feelings for yours; that, furthermore, the stereotype of personality for your gender includes docility, acquiescence, politeness, calmness, and so forth, which discourages your gender from confronting mine; that sex role nonconformists are deemed inferior to others of their gender, or psychotic, or both. It is also the contention of the prosecution that the vast majority of people who have taken a stand against sexism have been of your gender; that this unequal participation has been even more disproportionate among those who have dedicated their lives to the active opposition to sexism; that the most vehement SUPPORT of sexism has always come from my gender; that the assault on sexism does not constitute a threat to my gender unless people of my gender find sexual equality threatening; that sexism has negative, dehumanizing effects on my gender as well; that this last observation has been pointed out to my gender by yours more often than the other way around... how am I doing?

Xx: I'm impressed. You've been listening. Continue.

Xy: The prosecution contends that sexism and its manifestations constitute a severe restriction of freedom; that the elimination of sexism would result in an awesome increase in the amount of freedom available to human beings; that sexism serves as a barrier to harmonious relations between the genders, both within and outside of marriage and other heterosexual relationships; that sexism cripples the emotional and psychological development of children of both genders; that my gender does not take seriously that portion of your gender that actively opposes sexism. The prosecution points out that courage and valor are listed among the attributes assigned to my gender; that taking opposition to sexism requires courage and valor; that, outside of an egocentric need for my gender to feel superior to yours, sexism is entirely detrimental to my gender as well as your own. The prosecution concludes that my gender has displayed abject cowardice, egocentrism, or both. How's that?

Xx: Oh, if I thought for a while, I could probably add to the list, but since I am a fictional character in your book, I will accept it. How do you plead?

Xy: On behalf of my gender -- which has not authorized me to stand here in its defense --

Xx: Don't make excuses. This is an unofficial trial. Continue.

Xy: On behalf of my gender I plead nolo contendere

Xx: Nolo contendere... you do not wish to contend?

Xy: I feel that, although the evidence is valid, the conclusion does not represent a completely accurate assessment of the situation. There are, and have been, extenuating circumstances.

Xx: Very well. You may proceed.

Xy: To begin with, I would like to introduce the concept I call Spectrum Theory. As other opponents of sexism have often pointed out, sexism assumes that all women are alike and that all men are alike. Yet we know this not to be the case. Will the court accept this point?

Xx: Definitely.

Xy: Now I would like the court to visualize a spectrum of all people of one gender and a parallel spectrum of all people of the other. At one extreme, think of all the people who come closest to being described by the generalizations that sexism makes about women when those people are being their natural selves.

Xx: That is rather difficult to assess, since we don't know how people would behave if sexism were eliminated.

Xy: Very well. Make it abstract. Regardless of the quantity of people, or even the presence or absence of them standing at that extreme pole of the spectrum, that is what that end of the spectrum represents: those qualities of personality and behavior traditionally regarded as feminine.

Xx: Male and female?

Xy: Correct. That end of both spectrums represents feminine qualities.

Xx: You are aware of the sexism in using the label "feminine", I trust?

Xy: I am. Let's call that direction north, or blue. Whatever. Moving to the opposite extreme, we find the people, or at least the abstract qualities, traditionally called "masculine". Personality and behavior. Both genders. South. Red. Between the two extremes is a blur, a smooth blend. Theoretically, everyone is somewhere on that spectrum. Right in the middle is abstract androgyny. A person with a mixture of traits that are traditionally thought of as masculine and feminine, but with a greater preponderance towards the so-called feminine end would be green. Between the middle and one extreme. And so forth.

Xx: How about the person who behaves and feels differently at different times?

Xy: If you took a spectroscope and pointed it at the sun, you would find that it produces blue light, yellow light, red light, and so on. But it looks yellow because the yellow part of the spectrum is where the sun's intensity is at. If you go out at night, you will see red, orange, yellow, and blue stars. They each put out many different wavelengths too, but what you see is the brightest color, the place where their intensity is concentrated. And it's not the same for every star.

Xx: Or every person. That makes sense. Go on.

Xy: Now I'm sure you would object if I were to say that all women should be this way or all women should be that way, but I would expect you to object more strenuously if I said all women should be like Susie Q the girl next door than you would if I said all women should be like you.

Xx: I'm not sure I agree with you. Are you saying that... well, I guess I see what you're saying. I might be opposed to inflicting a new standard for women to have to conform to, and I would be, but it wouldn't affect me directly and personally if I myself were the prototype. I would automatically be normal.

Xy: Exactly. And you have experienced the frustration of not being the prototype or resembling the prototype close enough to be seen as normal without pretending to be someone you are not. If you had been born with a personality that just happened to coincide with sexist expectations you wouldn't know what it would be like to be at odds with them.

Xx: I will accept that. I'm curious to see where you're leading. You may continue.

Xy: Going back to our spectrum, or our parallel spectrums, let's take a look at what sexism does. On the male spectrum, sexism says to the red, or south-polar people of my gender, "You are normal. All males should be like you." Meanwhile, on the female spectrum, the people of the very same red south-polar personality and so forth are hearing, "You are weird. You are abnormal. You aren't doing it right. Something is wrong with you". Same personality. There are only two differences: gender, and the message they are getting from sexism. I ask the court which difference is most likely to make a difference in the attitudes of these people? Gender, or exactly opposite messages?

Xx: I would assume that any rational person would say the messages they are receiving.

Xy: And on the other end of the spectrum the situation would be reversed. Blue, north-polar women get the message that they are normal. All women should be like them. Blue, north-polar men are told they are weird. Something is wrong with them. The people in the middle get messages sort of like "You're okay, but you ought to be more this way, or that way". Sexism irritates them but it doesn't assault them with a full-fledged negation of their identities. Which people are most likely to be fully opposed to sexism?

Xx: Red... let me see if I have your terminology straight... yes, "red" women and "blue" men. We are tallking about men and women who would be described in sexist terms as unmasculine men and unfeminine women. Go ahead, I'm listening.






That's as far as I got with "Anonymous Conversation III". I can tell you where I was going with it, though:

Conjure up a conventional stereotype of a feminist woman. You did? Well, is she assertive? Verbally aggressive? Belligerent? Does she have fewer feminine mannerisms and behavioral characteristics including body language and how she participates in discussions? And/or more masculine characteristics, for that matter? OK, there's a scintilla of truth within many stereotypes. Feminism specifically says that holding different expectations and using a different evaluation ruler for women than the one used to evaluate men is sexist, and while feminism doesn't lack appeal to women whose personal characteristics pretty closely map to what you'd call "feminine", it constitutes a particular validation for women whose characteristics do not. So you end up with a situation involving tough confrontational women reacting to the definitional expectation that they be dainty and delicate. The very act of engaging in this type of confrontation is an act that comes more easily to a person whose characteristics tend more towards being dominant and aggressive, and furthermore the act of doing so is, itself, a reiteration of the statement that women are claiming for themselves the right to be powerful.

Yeah, now consider the mirror-image situation for males. Those for whom eliminating sexist expectations and behavioral standards would appeal most directly would be those who least exemplify the set of characteristics we call "masculine", in other words feminine males like me. If, as I just said, engaging in social confrontation comes most easily to dominant aggressive people, and the act of doing such confrontation is, itself, a message about that person's tendency to be adversarial and socially combative and so on, we've got a mismatch on this side instead of a convenient confluence. The double-handful of atypical women drawn to feminism in part because it embraces their atypical "unfeminine" personality characteristics are warriors, and when they join their voices with those of other feminists in conflict with sexist society their activity echoes their message; but the atypical male people who resent sexism for similarly personal reasons are (pretty much by definition) NOT very warrior-like and are NOT particularly likely to be well-suited for confrontational endeavors; and when they engage in it to the best of their ability ANYWAY, their activity is difficult to reconcile with their intended message.

We are sometimes told that we're acting entirely like men tend to act —- self-immersed and selfishly concerned and confrontationally combative about other people's attitudes and behavior. More often, we are dismissed as whiny and pathetic. Because yelling about things and being provocatively belligerent is so superior to whining, I guess. At any rate, it's more complicated. The things we are deprived of aren't about power and you can't really attain them by seizing them. So we tend to seek solutions in less socially visible ways in the smaller arenas of our personal lives.


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In 1980 in my first attempts to come out, I tried "straightbackwards person" and placed an ad seeking other people who matched expectations for the opposite sex and/or for gay people of their sex a lot more than they lived up to expectations for heterosexual people of their own sex, but whose attraction was nevertheless towards the opposite sex. It wasn't the clearest description or the best label to use for it, I suppose, but I was new at this.


Decades later, one of my detractors dismissed my description of myself as genderqueer: "He just wants to get on the bandwagon", he said, describing me. "He's just a straight male with some non-stereotypical characteristics -- like nearly every other straight male out there -- but he really wants to be a sexual minority so he can be edgy and trendy".

It's a pattern: gay people can be genderqueer as well as gay, bisexual and pansexual people are welcome to identify as genderqueer as well as bi or pan, and transgender people may identify as genderqueer if they don't feel that a binary identity as male or female properly describes them; but if there isnt some other meaningful and recognizable sense in which you're queer, being genderqueer by itself apparently isn't enough to count.

If you can't be genderqueer without being gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or transgender, no wonder some people don't include it in the alphabet-soup acronym!

Well, I wasn't at all sure that gay and lesbian activists would think I belonged among them, wasn't at all sure that I'd be welcome there. If you think transgender and intersex people are marginalized within LGBTQIA now, you should consider how it was back in the 80s. Trans people were hypothetical people -- the movement, as manifested in the form of people who come to meetings at Identity House and other "out" organizations, was made up of gay and lesbian folks. I nosed around and tried to get into conversations but it wasn't obvious to me or them that we had enough in common for me to belong there.

I continued to use "straight" or "heterosexual" to describe myself while trying on other terms for the gender difference -- for instance, the self-chosen label "heterosexual sissy" -- and that didn't exactly emphasize an identity-in-common with the gay rights folks. I was trying to do my own identity politics and the main bandwagon that seemed to be headed where I wanted to go was feminism, not the politics of sexual orientation.

I joined the Straight Dope Message Board, my primary online social home, in the late 1990s. In 2001, someone started a thread titled "Opposite of Tomboy?" asking what you call a male person with feminine characteristics, and I answered,


I use "sissy". Yeah, it's pejorative, but that's because folks tend to think the concept itself is pejorative. The word itself means "sister-like", so it doesn't really have negative denotation unless you hold a low opinion of females.

I needed a term to refer to myself in this regard, so I figured I'd follow the lead of gay folks who proudly refer to themselves as "queer" or "faggot", so I call myself "sissy".


Roughly around the same time, a gay male (I'll call him "Matt") posted that he was sick and tired of butch macho gay guys saying derogatory things about nelly femme guys like him. "I did not decide to be femme to obey a stereotype, OK?", he wrote. "If there is such a stereotype, it is conforming to me".

Three years later, Matt started a thread decrying the lack of a term that would be the male equivalent of "tomboy". (As you can see, this is clearly a recurrent theme). This time I replied,


I used "sissy" for a long time, it was a good word, even despite the negative-connotation baggage.

I don't use it much any more because it is increasingly used in a specific narrow sense to mean males who get a sexual thrill out of being "feminized", i.e., forced (or at least "forced" within the context of having a safe word and within the constraints of a defined "scene") to dress in frilly underpants and dresses and skirts and high heels and stuff. It's a humiliation-based kink. See in particular "sissy maid".

(not my kink)

With the greater social awareness of transgender people these days, I just say I'm a "male girl".
It's actually closer to how I perceived myself when I first came out.


It was Matt who first stumbled across the term "genderqueer" and recognized it as a good one, and he suggested it to me in 2004. I had started a thread of my own, titled "In which AHunter3 pits/debates/seeks opinion on his maleness", in which I thrashed around in one of my dysphorically frustrated moods. Matt, in his reply, suggested "genderqueer" might be a concept of interest to me. A trans board member, Kelly, agreed: "Welcome to the poorly-defined land of the genderqueer".

By 2006, I was starting to utilize the term myself. In my first use of the term on the Straight Dope, I wrote


3) Are you gay or straight? I'm tempted to answer "no". Straight I guess, but different. I'm not into masculinity (as conventionally defined at any rate) and don't play heterosexuality along sex-polarized lines if I can avoid it, for gut-deep personal reasons not as politicized protest etc , and so I think I'm as genderqueer as anyone.


... and shortly after that, in a thread asking about gender identity disorder,


Well, I wouldn't embrace a label that says I have a disorder, but I'll go with genderqueer, which is sort of the same thing minus the intrinsic medicalization and value judgment.

And in my case, I have no problem with the body I was born in. My problems with "being a man" don't seem to center on the architecture of the male body per se.


Finally, in January of 2011, I was invited to speak to a book club at Boston College about my 1991 paper "Same Door Different Closet: A Heterosexual Sissy's Coming-Out Story". As I roamed around the room setting up audio equipment and trying to calm the tummy-butterflies, I spotted a bookmark. LGBTQ, it said. That's the moment in which it clicked into place for me. That Q, that means people like me. They're including me. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and people who are queer in other ways too, like genderqueer.

So at that point I ended up on the rainbow bandwagon. It kind of stopped by and picked me up. It was going my way after all.


I reject the thesis that I'm doing something cynically opportunistic. I was doing what I do before gender politics erupted onto the national landscape in a big way, and before being genderqueer became a trendy edgy thing. I do acknowledge that I engage in positioning, of figuring out how to present and explain a concept, what words to use and how to juxtapose what I'm saying against the backdrop of stuff that people are already somewhat familiar with.


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Naturally, once I had a publication offer from NineStar, I wanted to see who my colleagues were and get a sense of how my book would fit in among the rest of their line. NineStar is LGBTQ-centric but most of it is fiction with LGBTQ characters. My book is nonfiction but it's a narrative with (hopefully) the same kind of story arc and reader-identification with characters that makes fiction fun to read.

Anyway, one of the titles and descriptive blurbs caught my attention and I ordered it and, when it arrived, found myself quickly drawn into it. Yeah, I'm in good company :)

The main character in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL is a high school student named Sam. Sam's situation and experience is different on many simultaneous levels, I discovered, as that situation emerges a bit at a time. Sam's mother and teachers refer to him as "Amanda": Sam is transgender and is not out to anyone yet. Most transgender narratives follow the main character's musings and inner conflicts and put on display for us the process by which they come to realize they are transgender and need to come out and do something about it. We meet Sam as a person who has already done all that internal processing; he knows he's a guy, he's planning a post-graduation future in which he will escape the conservative Mormon-dominated Idaho town he's currently in and get himself to a more tolerant place. He's already made his way into a bar catering to gay lesbian transgender and crossdresser people (during a school field trip) and experienced what it was like to manifest outwardly as the person he is on the inside. And he's already thinking about hormones and surgeries.

In a previous review (Tea and Transition) I noted that it did not sit well with me to be deprived of that narrator's self-discovery process. In fact, it felt like I'd come in after the story's main drama, with her already self-identifying as transgender. That should, theoretically, have affected me the same way in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL, but it didn't. I think it works as well as it does because Sam, despite his post-questioning confidence about his identity as one of the boys, is not generally out yet and is coping with daily experiences under the tension of being in girl drag and constantly misgendered, on the one hand, while being subjected to transphobic violence from a small contingent of hostile students who know his secret, on the other.

Stryker uses a concise canvas with a handful of well-developed ancillary characters: the teacher and secondary-story-narrator Todd Keegan; his sister with her own complex past, Julie, who also gets to narrate some chapters; Scarlet, his trainwreck of a mother; and his stunted brother Stevie. Other characters pass by in the background as part of the social scenery, but the main interactive tensions are between these people.

Switching the observational viewpoint from one character to another is a sophisticated and somewhat challenging approach to writing. It can be off-putting to the reader if the transitions aren't clear, creating confusion, and doing it well requires that the reader feel adequately comfortable behind the eyeballs of each character who narrates. There's a risk of context-switching within too short a sequence, usually because the author wants to reveal the internal thinking of more than one participant. At worst, this results in what authors and editors call head-hopping. But Stryker deploys it skillfully. Within the first couple sentences of each new chapter, the reader is made aware of who is telling the story, and it's done without boldface chapter subtitles. Sam is the primary vantage point from which we experience the tale, and his story is the central plotline; when we're inside Julie's or Todd's head, it is sometimes for the purpose of developing their stories and revealing to us things that Sam isn't present to see, but also on occasion to view Sam and his situation as it appears from the outside.

If I have any negative criticism to make of Stryker's writing, it's his tendency to describe a brief action snippet and then dive immediately into a long protracted internal monologue, often with a flashback to a previous incident, and then continue with the current action. It sometimes left me confused about what was happening in the current moment, requiring me to flip back and reread; and at times the action sequences were described without enough clarity about who had said what, where they were physically located, and what they would have seen or heard, so that I had some difficulty making sense of their actions and motivations. He does quite a good job describing people's internal consciousness, but describing scenes and people from an outside observer's viewpoint is something he does less well.

But there wasn't enough of that confusion and perplexity to keep me from turning the pages. The story itself, the situation in which Sam is embedded and the intrinsic tensions and conflicts thereof, creates a dramatic flow that held me and my attention sufficiently that I carried the book with me everywhere and read it pretty much nonstop from start to finish.

As has often been noted, there aren't enough stories about female to male transitioners. THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL paints a very likable and admirable Sam, who is very much the hero of his own story.

The Simplicity of Being Normal. James Stryker. Albuquerque NM: NineStar Press (1970). Available digitally from NineStar or in print form from major retailers such as Amazon

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Nowadays on LGBTQIA group chats and in leftist social discussions, the phrase "radical feminism" most often appears in a pejorative mention -- TERFS ("trans exclusive radical feminists") being castigated for their intransigence about female-spectrum transgender people, or disparaged for being anti-sex and anti-free-speech as exemplified by the MacKinnon-Dworkin pornography ordinance from a few decades ago, or accused of lying about data and making up statistics and being these vindictively hateful people who just want to blame males for everything.

Not that any of that would be a major surprise for the radical feminists I read throughout the 70s 80s and 90s. They knew they were hitting a nerve and were accustomed to receiving bad press and misrepresentation. I am sad to see them undercredited and disregarded by those who benefit from their insights though.

To review the basics, feminism in a broad general sense was a beacon of hope for me growing up, because its overall attitude towards gender was "hey, if it's sauce for the goose, it's sauce for the gander" -- that, regardless of whether men and women were different or were just regarded as different, it wasn't defensible to use a different yardstick of acceptable behavior. They pointed out the inconsistencies and folks recognized the unfairness. For me, as a gender invert, an exception to society's general rules about males and their personality and behavior, this translated as "hey, if it's OK for girls, it's OK for me; and if it's not OK for girls, then it's not right for the boys and hence it's not right to pressure me to be that way".

Now, RADICAL feminism, specifically, came to people's attention as it began to pinpoint topics that more mainstream feminism in the 70s shied away from: specifically sexuality, both in the sense of sexual orientation (yes, lesbian pride) but also more analytically in the sense of analyzing sexual politics, the politics of sexuality and sexual behaviors. Kate Millett taking contemporary depictions of sex and sexuality and holding them up for us to see how much they were about sex as an act of conquest and hostility, and about the eroticism of men having power over women. Susan Brownmiller writing about rape not as a horrifyingly deviant act but as a horrifyingly normative extension of how things otherwise were between the sexes, and as part and parcel of that overall situation. By going there, by having the courage and nerve to speak of such things as if they could perhaps be otherwise, and daring to condemn these situations instead of accepting them as a shameful but permanent part of human nature, radical feminism was the core from which central feminist tenets and understandings came in the 80s.

Catherine MacKinnon observed in 1987 (Feminism Unmodified), "...our subordination is eroticized in and as female; in fact, we get off on it to a degree, if nowhere near as much as men do. This is our stake in this sytem that is not in our interest, our stake in this system that is killing us. I'm saying femininity as we know it is how we come to want male dominance, which most emphatically is not in our interest."

Adrienne Rich, Jill Johnston and others questioned the "natural" centrality of heterosexuality, positing a different sexuality -- a sexuality between women but specifically different because, unlike heterosexuality as it existed and tended to define sexuality altogether, it could be mutually affirming, sensuous, not violent, an alternative to a conventional model of sexuality in which women's role was that of "natural sexual prey" (Rich) to men.

For me, that resonated powerfully: as a kid, I considered myself to be akin to the girls, regarding them and respecting them as colleagues and seeking them as friends, and now as a sexually adult person I wanted that mutually affirming sharing form of sex and wanted nothing to do with the adversarial and predatory model that was predominant in all understandings and portrayals of "wild uncivilized sex".

Nor did I find much to interest me in the non-wild, tamed, civilized version of sex, for that matter. Here there was a disparagement of sex itself as suspect, as something people should abstain from for a prolonged period after attaining the age of feeling the full appetite for it, and even after that should only engage in sex within very narrowly defined permissible channels. Here, perhaps, was a model for engaging in sex (eventually) without embracing all that adversarial and predatory hostility, yeah, sure, but it was basically saying that yes, sex IS like that, it's just that being like that is bad and naughty so sex is bad and naughty and we will therefore put sex in a cage. And even in this context, sexuality was not going to be mutually affirming, not as far as I could see: the nice girls had to preserve their reputations and also refrain from tempting the boys, and the boys were to suppress their desires and not sully the chastity of the girls, and then when he could adequately support a family he could get married and then she'd let him do it to her. The sexuality inside the cage was the same sexuality; the notions and understandings of it were still polarized and painted a picture of male sexuality that I wanted no part of.

Radical feminists tended to see sex as insurrection; they observed that even though it was politically dangerous to women in the current context, putting women in the position of sleeping with the enemy and eroticizing male domination, it was treated as dangerous by the patriarchy as well, and for good reason. The same intimacy that threatened women with too much identification and connection with their oppressor was a threat to the patriarchal system and its requirement that women be perceived as other.

Jan Raymond and Mary Daly, among other radical feminists, have indeed been hostile to any acceptance of transgender women. Those who have expressed such sentiments are not the entirety of radical feminism, though. Buried among the more publicized nasty sentiments, though, have been radical feminist voices whose concerns about the transgender phenomenon mirror, almost exactly, the concerns now being voiced by nonbinary activists: that jumping the fence, as it were, is not a radical solution to the fence between the genders, insofar as it leaves the fence intact. Neither the radical feminists nor the current wave of nonbinary genderqueer folks have a sufficient excuse for being as intolerant as they've often been towards people who simply feel that they personally will be happier when transitioned so as to be treated and perceived as the persons that they are. But it is a gross oversimplification to portray radical feminism as intrinsically opposed to transgender people.

Radical feminists spoke of the centrality of gender polarization. They said the political dynamics between the sexes was the central keystone issue in our society, and that the sexual dynamics as made erotic within patriarchal heterosexuality was the fundamental building block around which our political power arrangements were patterned. It wasn't the first time that one social factor had been pinpointed as the central core of all politics -- Marxism had done it with labor and the ownership of the means of production -- but it was the first to come along in a century and it took some common-place everyday understandings and inverted them to make sense of them in new ways: it wasn't that the awful world of competitive social and economic posturing tended to invade and corrupt the intimacy of sexuality and sexual relationships but that the corrupted form of sexuality and sexual relationships eroticized and rendered irresistible those forms of interaction and made them present everywhere that people interacted.

Society as we know it, as many of us conceptualize as human nature, is sexual subject-object polarized adversarial dynamics, writ large. Robin Morgan wrote about feminism as the "larger context":


For almost two decades, I've written about, lectured on, and
organized for the ideas and politics of feminism for the sake of
women ...as a matter of simple justice. If, in fact, these
were the sole reasons for and goals of the movement and
consciousness we call feminism, they would be quite
sufficient...nor is it necessary to apologize for feminism's
concerning itself 'merely" with women, or to justify feminism on
the "please, may I" ground that it's good for men too... In the
long run, it will be good for men, but even were it
permanently to prove as discomfiting for men as it seems to be in
the short run, that wouldn't make women's needs and demands any the
less just. So the fact that I place feminism in a "larger
context" is neither an apology nor a justification. It is simply
to show, once and for all, that feminism is the larger
context
... The "Otherizing" of women is the oldest oppression
known to our species, and it's the model, the template, for all
other oppressions. Until and unless this division is
healed, we continue putting Band-Aids on our most mortal wound.

The Anatomy of Freedom


Marilyn French wrote about power as the central patriarchal obsession, and taught us to recognize power by its own central imperative: the possession of control. Everywhere, she said, we see the sacrifices made in the name of obtaining and retaining control, as if it were an intrinsic good and a necessity in and of itself. And here again is the eroticized sexual imperative, the attempt to seize and make things happen according to one's own will and without concern for the will of that which is being controlled except as a possible impediment to be conquered.

Within the pages of lesbian radical feminism, as lesbian feminists sought to explain why this was important beyond the expressed choice of who to have sex with, came the growing recognition that in both gay and lesbian sexuality the people involved are not anchored by the body in which they were born to a preordained scripted role -- you weren't tied to being butch or femme, to being the man or the woman, on the basis of your bodily sex; and that that was, itself, radical. It wasn't how patriarchal heterosexuality was constructed and hence it was a threat, which went a long way towards explaining the hostility reserved for gay and lesbian people.

To say "patriarchal heterosexuality" was, and still is, somewhat akin to speaking of "women's lingerie" or "earthly lifeform" -- our conventional understanding of the category completely eliminates any need for the adjectives because those are the only forms we have tended to encounter.

Genderqueer sexual politics is radical sexual politics, and especially so the specific formulation of gender inversion: whether we refer to it as "heterosexual" or choose not to, to posit sexual relationships between male people and female people in which the participants are not gendered as men and women, respectively, elaborates on the radical departure from subject-object adversarial dynamics spoken of by the lesbian feminists; specifically, it extends it to where it is needed the most, directly dismantling what we've been describing as the core of the whole system. Untying male-female sexual possibilities from heterosexuality as we know it.

"Why", you may ask, "is it necessary to embrace gender inversion? Isn't it more useful to discard gender and embrace absolute gender equality instead? And if the female role is and has been on the receiving end of patriarchal oppression, of what conceivable value is it to issue a loud political hurrah for males styling themselves as feminine and wanting to be the girl in their relationships? Isn't that just making a fetish of the accoutrements of being one of the oppressed?"

Firstly, let's consider the limits of "let's just be equal shall we" optimistic idealism against the backdrop of the current eroticized 'devil boy chase angel girl' polarization. We go bravely forth (or we send forth the subsequent generation, all consciousness-raised and socially aware) into a social world that knows there may be sexually egalitarian people. It also knows to expect the continued existence of people in the traditional mold. The social milieu of expectations therefore is newly open to equality while still entirely familiar with the orthodox which is gender-specific. Anyone who has had to spend an evening doing arithmetic homework knows that when you do averages, the average that you obtain is less than the higher number, so when you average out the expectations of sexually egalitarian and sexually orthodox, your result is going to be sexually orthodox by some amount.

Secondly, yes, I can understand the misgivings about a set of traits and behaviors marked as submissive and subservient and offering them to males as a desirable experience and identity. But it is the subject-object adversarial worldview that tends to see things only in terms of power over and of domination or submission. Exactly WHAT is it that males are deprived of in a patriarchal context? Does it not strike you as odd that a patriarchy, a system of male power and privilege, should deny freedoms to its males with such intensity as it denies variant gender expression? The answer is that power is not a substance owned by the powerful. Power is instead a relationship that defines all parties involved, the powerful and the oppressed alike.

It's not about seeking subserviency or making a fetish of being dominated; there is and has always been an encoding of traits as feminine as part and parcel of encoding power as male, AND no, the boys don't get all the good ones. You're never going to understand this if you don't understand that some things are more desirable than power. But yes it is not a desire to be oppressed (by women or anyone else). I share Robin Morgan's and Marilyn French's radical feminist vision of a world no longer anchored by the obsession with controlling others.

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I was listening to NPR last week while eating breakfast and they were discussing the release of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and talking about the rise of disco music in the '70s.

I confess: I'm one of those people who really dislike disco music.

It's a point of divergence between me and male gay culture (if not each and every gay guy) and, in our larger culture, disparagement of disco music by males is more than marginally associated with homophobia. It gets worse: I like rock, hard rock, the cultural home ground of many of the males known for chanting "disco sucks!" and the form of 20th century music associated with grandstanding males strutting around onstage with their penis-guitars angled upwards and out at the audience.

Disco was hated and ridiculed, we are told, by rock audiences for being light and happy fun and, in particular, for being associated with the urban gay scene. Not wanting to be tagged by others as belonging to that homophobic cohort, I've been a lot more reticent about my opinions of disco than I was as a young adult, but I still don't like the stuff.

For me, being genderqueer was an indirect factor in becoming a fan of hard rock, odd though that may seem to some folks. I walked the hallways of junior high school in the early 1970s as a male who had spent elementary school identifying with the girls. My hormones were kicking in and my sexual attraction to girls was becoming a lot more imperative and important to me, but within a few short years I found that it was going to be complicated to be a male who was one of the girls and was also into them sexually.

Being attracted to girls gave me something in common with the boys. There hadn't been many other factors that did and I had done what I could to repel classification as one of them, because I considered them violent, abrasive, stupid, coarse, crude, hatefully mean, insensitive, and disgusting. You know, snakes snail and puppy dog tails and all that.

But right around this time I became increasingly aware of an alternative portrayal of maleness, the flower child hippie countercultural guy. He was willful and rebellious but peaceful, nonviolent, and accepting. Everything was cool except being a downer and disapproving of someone else's thing, and we could all do our own thing, you dig? He wasn't into all that military violence-glorifying stuff or the authority-struggle impetus to be the one to boss others around. He grew his hair long and played music and wrote poetry and talked about love, gonna love one another right now, and all men are your brothers. He was, in other words, a lot more like the girls than the conventional notion of how boys were supposed to be.

And the bonus was that he was sexual, he was sexually active, girls found him cute and there was a model of sexuality that was a lot more mutual-sounding. On the one hand, get rid of all that puritanical uptight rule-making stuff about sex being restricted, let's set it free, forget promises and marriages and sexual jealousies and possessiveness, just do it when it feels right. On the other hand, no more putting down of girls for putting out, no more enshrining virginity, all this freedom is supposed to be for both sexes, and that means no heavy trips being laid on girls trying to make them do stuff.

So although I didn't get there overnight, I gradually drifted towards this new identity. It didn't feel like I was turning my back on being like the girls but it allowed me to embrace an identity in common with the boys. And so for awhile in my life boys were not "them" and instead there was some semblance of "we".

And "our" music was rock. Rock was passionate, fervent, serious emotive music. It was associated with hippies and social change and "meaningful" things.

But then disco took over. There were a limited number of radio stations in northern New Mexico and they changed format and stopped playing Led Zeppelin in favor of dropping the needle on KC and the Sunshine Band. Songs warning us about the grand illusion or reaching for higher consciousness at the risk of going insane were replaced by songs about boogie fever. Disco infested the airwaves, it stole our stations, and it was everywhere, unavoidable.

Disco seemed airheaded, frivolous, and yet also seemed to from a colder social world of popularity-seeking and of flirting on the dance floor and appearances being above substance; it came from a world of velvet ropes and lines of people waiting while other people, cuter people and celebrities, were allowed to cut in and be admitted.

I was initially oblivious to how much macho masculinity still remained just below the surface of the countercultural male role. In my book I delineate the years of embracing this identity only to be disappointed and to find myself marginalized and ridiculed and left out. It was still too much masculinity and it was not where I belonged. I was similarly -- and simultaneously -- oblivious to the more aggressively masculine preening bragging and sexually threatening element in rock.

By the time I'd reluctantly jumped ship on the countercultural male identity thing, I'd passed through the years generally regarded as folks' musically formative years. I may roll my eyes when Robert Plant sings "gonna give you every inch of my love...way down inside, woman, you need it", but I still thrill to the driving sound of Kashmir.

I don't like disco's beat. I don't like that "boomp THUD boomp THUD" simplistic squared-off sound. I don't like the way that any fill-in notes from the instruments all tend to fall directly on subdivisions of the main beat; disco doesn't tend to syncopate, and it pounds mechanically like clockwork. It doesn't tend to have delicate fragile passages or thrilling driving phrases or soaring majestic constructions. Most of it sounds like short repeated loops with no build, like listening to the squonk and clatter of the escalator motor at the 51st street station platform.

But yeah, it's also my ponderously serious and boringly sincere personality coming to the fore. I've been told that if I were put in charge of film and theatre, every subsequent production would be a heavy-handed morality play with a Big Important Message with which to beat my audience over the head. I've been told that I really ned to learn a lighter shade of expression and learn how to entertain gently and gently season that with just a briefly sprinkled evocation of social relevance. And that I need to realize that disco was, for many people, a joyous celebration of finally being able to dance and move and flirt in a world that used to raid and batter and lock up gay guys simply for being in a gay-tolerant establishment.

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(an outsider ponders male heterosexuality)

I haven't often made any attempt to answer the above question. I don't answer on behalf of men because I don't identify as a man. When young, I would not have spoken on behalf of the boys in general either. Other boys made it plain that they didn't consider me to be a valid representative. As for me, I found them largely inexplicable and strange anyway.

Unlike the parallel question of what women want, famously posed with some perplexity by Sigmund Freud, it's apparently not a question that most folks find difficult to answer. Judging from the things I've heard people say on the subject, men are considered to be simple straightforward uncomplicated beings.

Sex, they say.

They say that as if that were a simple straightforward and uncomplicated answer. Which I have always found odd, since I find boys and men, and this answer, far from self-explanatory. The more I heard, the less I felt like it applied to me, although I wanted sex too but it certainly wasn't simple, straightforward, or uncomplicated in the least. "What, exactly, do you mean, men just want sex?"

Men just want to get their rocks off, I'm told.

Oh... orgasms? I understand orgasms. I discovered my capacity for them when I was a child in the one-digit age range. The presence of another person isn't really necessary. I trust you are aware of this. You're trying to explain men's behavior by saying it's all about this?

Oh, they say, no, not masturbation. Yeah men wank, they jerk off, but men are hard-wired to want to have sex with women, with as many women as possible, as often and as fast as possible. Because they want to spread their seed around. That's what we mean about it all being about sex, about men wanting to get their rocks off.

(What about the ones who want sex but not with women?, I ask. They shrug. We dunno, something went haywire. We don't think of them as men. They don't count)

Hmm, well, I have no doubt that we all have the desire for sex because of reproduction, but the blueprint doesn't appear to require us individually and locally to crave pregnancies and babies as part and parcel of desiring sex. Instead, it would appear that a general appetite for sex tends to result in enough pregnancy and childbirth as an outcome. So we don't need to crave pregnancy or to hunger for babies in order to want sex. I've been in many a situation where we had a rather strong interest in not having pregnancy result, and believe me, it didn't interfere with being interested in sex at all. You saying men in general crave the causing of pregnancies and that's causing them to display the sexual behavior you've been describing, of trying to have sex as quickly as they can with as many women as they can?

No, they admit, not a direct conscious desire for pregnancy to occur. They concede that I am right, that evolution may desire that outcome but individual people's lust for sex has a somewhat separate existence. But, they go on to add, subconsciously that's still the agenda. Men want to plow all those fields and stick their seeds in, even if they don't consciously want their girlfriends to get inconveniently pregnant and maybe stick them with child support and pressure to settle down and stuff. See, women, especially when pregnant, are hard-wired to want a pair-bonding thing and make him the provider, that's how she best passes along her own genes by making sure her baby survives and stuff. But he don't want that, it's in his nature to fertilize as many as he can. So they have a little conflict of interest, you might say.

Aah, I nod sagely. Well, that explains why men hold women who are readily sexually available in such high esteem, since they can make the circuit of such women and have sex with a great number of them. They get to spread their little seeds all over the place that way. Never mind that in actuality there may not be a lot of actual pregnancies resulting in the modern era, with birth control, but as we've already established it's not directly about trying to make actual pregnancies, but rather is a subconscious agenda, as you said, a carryover from our past. Umm, but actually men don't have very good opinions of sexually available women. Why the nasty hostile contempt for sluts? And isn't it true that men tend to end up waging a long protracted campaign to obtain sex from less slutty women, taking up a lot of time to get to the same point they could get to with the slutty women, at the conclusion of which they often end up committing themselves to a monogamous relationship that keeps those little seeds from going into any other fertile furrows? How does that square with your portrait of men being all about sex as quickly as possible with as many women as possible?

So then they usually start babbling on about men needing the thrill of the chase and the triumph of conquest, and paternity and property and passing on his name, and my eyes glaze over. Men are so complicated, and weird and inconsistent.


Well, I admitted that I want sex myself, but that I didn't see it as simple and straightforward and uncomplicated. So I guess I can't then point fingers at men and say they are different because they are not simple, straightforward and uncomplicated, can I? Well, it does seem different from how men and their sexuality are described, whether we're equally complicated or not. Now maybe the description is inaccurate and how it is for me isn't so different from how it is for these men-people. Let me explain what I understand of my own and see where that takes us.

Sexual appetite for me is also not just the craving for orgasm — just like with the men, I don't find masturbation satisfying. Likewise for it not being directly about wanting babies. What it is about is connection, the yummy being-in-love emotional high, the deliciousness of full intimacy.

And it's somehow inherently about idealizing it, sort of making a fetish out of the ideal sexual-girlfriend relationship, spending a lot of time and energy thinking about it and fantasizing about it and, on some level, not quite obsessive but always sort of watching out for the possibilities, seeking that out. Looking for it. And even bigger, beyond even that, of trying to create the conditions under which that ideal relationship could and would occur.

It's like the greatest most wonderful thing ever would be an ideal relationship taking place in a context where it would thrive. And that means making yourself the person capable of being in such a relationship, and it means cleaning up and getting your life working so that things are running on an even keel so that you could make use of an opportunity. Writ large, it even means improving the entirety of society until the social environment is such that the happiest and most satisfying sexual and romantic connection can take place and thrive.

Now, lots of people through time have talked about sex being some kind of sacrament, some holy thing you're not supposed to trample into the mud. Some shiny thing you're not supposed to profane. I'm not sure if that's the same thing I'm driving at or not. A lot of the time it does not seem to be. Much of the conversation about sex being holy and special and all that seems to have to do with restricting when it can happen and defining really narrow "OK zones" for sex and saying sex outside of those definitions means you're doing the mud-tramping thing. And frankly that sounds to me no different from sex-hating, sex-fearing condemnation of sexual pleasure and appetite, all that fault-finding and attempting to define sacred untrammelled sex.

In fact, I have come to think that sexual appetite is powerful and revolutionary and for this reason institutionalized social structures fear it and have sought to erase it, constrain it, define it narrowly while prohibiting outside-definition expressions; they've sought to attach its glamour to other items, they've attempted to harness it and make it motivate people to do the institution's bidding, and they've sought to bottle it and market it as a commodity.

In its resulting distorted forms, sexual appetite has often been experienced by people as the enemy of their self-determination and freedom. History has not been without radicals who have sought to free themselves of institutional control by transcending sexual desire.

But ultimately it is more radical to embrace it, pay attention to it, and let it lead the mind as well as the heart, because of what it intrinsically seeks.


Now, back to the men thing, men and their sexuality. I mean, yeah, I could just dismiss all that descriptive stuff and say men probably aren't like that to begin with. But it's so often men themselves saying those things about men's sexuality and what drives men and so on. Me, I've spent a lifetime being defined, both by myself and by others, as someone on the outside of the whole being-a-man thing, so take this with as many grains of salt as you find appropriate, but here's my outsider's take on it, OK?

First off, there's this game, the game I call "Heterosexuality", which is played according to these game-rules:

1. The females want to "fall in love" and be loved in return by a cute guy who will be the boyfriend, and, within that context, they want good sex (in earlier times, marriage was necessary first). The males don't really like most females that much, unless they are in love, and they aren't necessarily trying to fall in love at all, and, so, in or outside of that context, they want good sex. Therefore...

2. Males come on to females, usually because they are physically attracted to them, since their main interest is physical and appearance is a physical phenomenon. Sometimes they come on to a female because she has a reputation for being sexually available to males whether they love her or not. Either way, the females can reject the guys they don't have any interest in at all, but the other males have to be kept interested but slowed down so that proximity and time creates the possibility that he will really start to like her, perhaps fall in love. Females do not overtly come on to males.

3. Males who are rejected are allowed to keep on trying, since males who think they are not really being rejected, just slowed down a bit, are supposed to keep on trying, and sometimes you can't tell which is which anyway. But if a male thinks a female is being too hard to get, so that it isn't fun for him any more, he can quit paying attention to her - he doesn't have to keep on trying. Females are not supposed to pursue the matter. It is up to him to press the issue.

from "Same Door, Different Closet: A Heterosexual Sissy's Coming-out Party, 1992

Now, not all men are playing the Heterosexuality game, but a great many of the male people who don't are either defined by others as not-men, or define themselves as other than men, or (as has been the case for me) both of those things.

So you have to understand men in the context of the Heterosexuality game that most of them are playing. Suppose they want the connection-thing and the ideal-relationship-thing too, as their first and foremost real desire, so that they're basically just like me? That would mean that the folks who say men just want sex as quickly and as often with as many women as possible are wrong, but just suppose. Go along with me here. Let's say this is what the men want even if they aren't consciously aware of it, that it is what they want even if they themselves believe they just want sex as quickly as often etc etc. Well, how are they going to get there within the context of the Heterosexuality game as described? Well, by losing. By finding the woman who will successfully trap him, catch him, and "domesticate" him into the ongoing emotionally-connected relationship he craves and needs. In other words, this is the flip side of the conventional notion about sex described so well by Robin Thicke: the nice good girl really wanting to be seized and done unto masterfully by the bad boy who knows she wants it. On this other level, the level of ongoing intimate connection, she's the one who knows what he really wants and makes it happen. Which sex is doing the more meaningful steering?

There's nothing new about identifying the establishment of a long-term relationship as some kind of female win, or even evoking an image of the conquered man shackled. But now we are negating the notion that he wanted something different. This is what he wants, but he's in denial; he believes he just wants sex as often and as quickly and with as many women as he can. So in the Heterosexuality Game he's actually being set up to be brought down. A need for conquest, indeed!

Oh, did I ever mention that what I, as a male girl, want is that I not be deprived of the powers and privileges that female people have, both within sexual liaisons and within relationships, and during initial courting and flirting and negotiations for any and all of that to occur?

Self-identified real men may dissent.



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