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I do tend to whine a bit. In here, and on the topic in general. Comes with the territory: when atypical female people set out to draw attention to social feminization and the expectations and roles and whatnot that they have to cope with, it's widely perceived as aggressive belligerent ranting; when we do our version, it's naturally going to be experienced as narcissistic whining.

I do a lot of my whining about the difficulty of getting more people to listen to me whine.

I was out for one of my long walks last Sunday and wondering how I'd feel about this obsession, and about my life in general, if I never get any significant traction. Would I feel like I had wasted my life and my time? I've occasionally said that in my life I really only set out to do one thing, take on one serious project, and this is it. Now that I've passed the midlife marker, it's a question worthy of consideration: how will I feel if I wake up on one of my last days as an old old person and look back and realize, if such is the case, that I set out to do one thing in my life and failed at it?

Mostly I think I'd feel like I gave it my best shot. And that I had done what I felt driven to do, and was true to what felt right for me. I think if it comes to that, I will feel good about myself for having believed in myself and made the attempt. And I will consider it a life far better spent than if instead I found myself looking back and realizing I had set aside something that I considered an important mission or calling simply because the doing of it turned out not to be easy or swift.

So in light of all that, I should acknowledge that although I complain a lot about how frustrating this all is, I am doing what I have selected for myself; i chose it and it is what I want. I get some measure of satisfaction from it even when it resembles beating my head against a wall.



Meanwhile, I have some news-bits, some morsels that are all flavored up with success instead of that perennial head-against-wall stuff for a change.

• Thanks to musicman, who recommended me to them and encouraged me to keep following up with them, it appears that I will be a presenter at Baltimore Playhouse, most likely on January 22. This will be another performance of the basic talk I gave at LIFE in Nassau last March.

• I finally met with the woman who manages the campus Women's Center and also teaches introductory Women's Studies at my alma mater SUNY at Old Westbury -- Professor Carol Quirke. After what happened with the personnel at the Nassau County LGBT Center, who kept not returning my phone calls and then indicated a nearly-complete lack of interest when I finally got more pushy with them about it, I was mostly starting to think that the Old Westbury people were similarly hoping I'd simply go away before they had to tell me I'm nowhere near as interesting as I think I am. But I made an appointment to drop in on her during her regular office hours, and it went well. I left off some additional materials (including a printout of my blog posting) and we talked about socialization and gender and how we felt about biological essentialism and coercive political correctness and I think we're very much on the same channel as far as how we view such things; I definitely went away thinking she was receptive to my ideas and really is interested in having me come to speak there.

• I'm immersed in a slow shift from mostly querying literary agents to querying independent editors (for feedback, actual content editing, and potential referrals whether they officially refer authors or not) and querying small publishers. One editor, Nikki Busch, has recommended that I find an independent editor who specializes in developmental edit, i.e., "the big picture stuff: organization, narrative voice, pacing, character development, and so on". She's aimed me at the Editorial Freelancers Association to find someone who specializes in memoirs and nonfiction narratives and I'll probably do that. Meanwhile, I have a query in at Neuroqueer Books, an enterprise that I believe Old Cutter John's son started, and I should be hearing back from them any day now. And I'm about to query Manic D Press, another possibility.



Whilst out walking and thinking last Sunday, I processed some other related notions and ideas:

• Some of my difficulties with networking are actually tied to my tendency to speak to people who happen to be members of an organization or participants in some movement-related activity as if they, personally, WERE the movement incarnate. I caused problems for myself back in 1980 when I tried to correspond with the Director of the on-campus Rape Crisis Center as if she were radical feminism incarnate and poised to consider my perspective on behalf of radical feminist thinkers everywhere. It was more recently a behavor causing confusion and miscommunication when I contacted the Programming Director at the Nassau Country LGBT Center to suggest that I present to them there: I spoke to her as malebodied sissyfem genderqueer liberation addressing the existing LBGTQ establishment and not as a potential presenter speaking to an organization official in charge of booking speakers and arranging events.

I do that, I realized, because I am mostly doing my own socio-political activism all by myself, so none of my behavior is supported or reinforced by being a person in a position doing a task or job, or of being a part of a group or organization and therefore experiencing the little social perks of belonging and participating and being engaged in a shared activity.

I usually see my isolation as a limiting factor (and a source of frustration). But there's a sense in which it means that nearly all of it that I do involves a cerebral connection to the cause qua cause; I'm never immersed in it because my friends are there, or because I like the wine and cheese and music at the receptions, or because it's an ideal socioppolitical venue to meet interesting new people, or because it's my job or my career.

Oh, it's still mostly a limiting factor, and yeah you can be forgiven for pinching your nose at the intellectual snobbery residing in the previous paragraph, don't get me wrong on either account, I know and I know. (The latter is a compensation for the former). But it's still relevant here. If there's a useful takeaway from this observation, it's that I will probably have my most satisfying conversations with the most fervently committed extremists, and that I need to nurture a more pragmatic streak within myself for having conversations with the rest of the folks I encounter along the way.

• When I speak of being a sissy or a male girl or describe that I was always one of the girls despite male body, one of the common misconstruals I get is that people visualize flamboyant emotive dramatic people, people for whom the feminine is centrally about "look at me". That's not it. Actually it was all about "approve of me". More explicitly, it was "obey the rules, be the teacher's pet, show us what a good citizen you can be". There's a not-so-nice element to it which I should probably emphasize more often, if only because it offsets some of the sickeningly-sweet aspects that may be hard for some to swallow: we who bought into that thought ourselves superior, were often smug snobby kids who were sure that we were going to be the ones to end up in charge of things. Because we were doing it right, were doing what adults valued.

Women's studies courses often observe that the "good girl" mystique sets girls up: it turns them into approval-seekers, pleasers of others. What sometimes gets lost is that the girls who embraced it believed in the same tradeoff that I did: they thought they, and not the undisciplined weak childish people who lacked self-control and who did not play nicely with others, would be the ones who would run the world.

At any rate, I was not initially alone among the children. What happened to the rest of the good boys, the nice guys? How did the other ones feel about the bad boys, the disruptive and disobedient boys, calling them girls and calling them sissies and taunting us with the claim that they were doing "boy" right and we were the weak ones, afraid to risk disapproval? I know what happened with many of them: they became convinced and got defensive about it. They stopped caring more about what other goody-goody people (mostly girls) and teachers and other adults thought and started to care about what the bad boys and tough boys thought of them. But what about the others?

Anyway, yeah, we wanted to be better than others. Little Lord Fauntleroy aloof from the riffraff. Tattletale Boy glad to see the misbehaving children get what they deserve. Sure, I'll confess to it. So OK, the world is fully entitled to be wary of our reappearance on the stage to claim once again to be some flavor of better, a new and more sexually liberated way of doing male and all that squeakyclean gender smugness.

How about merely "as good"?, though? You figure people can admire us some if we stand up for ourselves and assert that we like being who we are?

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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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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)
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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ahunter3: (Default)
So I've written this book about being a male person who is akin to male-to-female transgender folks except that I don't think I'm in the wrong body and am not trying to pass for "female" so much as be understood as "girl in male body". And about being attracted to female people but specifically AS a girlish rather than boyish-persuasion kind of male, and how that's different from heterosexuality and all that.

Now, as you may have noticed, this specific gender & sexual-orientation identity is not a "Thing" in our society at the moment. When I've asked people if they think my book would be redundant because this is already well-established and people with that sense of self are all over the place already, they say "Nope, that's definitely not already said-and-done and nope, kinda rare, that particular configuration".

Maybe too rare. What (you may well be wondering) is the basis for me thinking there's anything akin to a population of like-minded, similarly-experienced people who would read my book and identify with it? Why ought I to think I'm some kind of vanguard for an entire gender/orientation identity? What if, instead, I was a person who was a boy by day and a girl by night and was sexually attracted only to androgynous-looking people who flirt by night but consummate by day? I mean, at some point it becomes just my own personal unique turn-on or special-snowflake sense of identity, yes?


There are two factors that I believe play into why there isn't really much of a social presence for this sexual-invert identity I'm trying to talk up.

ONE: Personality itself. My partner Anais_PF heard me describe this one and it really "clicked" for her. Visualize my mostly-opposite corollary person for a moment: female bodied, has a very boy-identified past and in both personality and behavior is more like one of the guys than one of the other girls. And is attracted to male-bodied people albeit not necessarily the most conventionally masculine amongst them. Such women are not shy about their existence. They may not be melded into what you'd think of as a "movement" constituted around that specific identity, but they are a visible component of other more general movements and expressions of identity.

Feminism doesn't enshrine traditionally manly characteristics but it embraces the notion of even-handed fairness and hence the idea that if it is good for male people to exhibit certain characteristics, they must be equally admirable in women even if social norms and values say otherwise. And although the political consideraton of women's oppression and the demand for a level playing field have made feminism attractive over the years to a wide spectrum of women, we DO have a stereotyped notion of a woman of a certain personality who finds feminist sentiments particularly and personally validating, these being the women who proudly defy expectations of feminine daintiness and delicacy. Robust women. Some of whom, of course, are lesbians, confirming a certain expectation associated with those behaviors and expressions of personality; but some of whom, even if they aren't loudly distancing themselves from their lesbian cohort, are definitely NOT. Their not-lesbianism is often manifest in their critical assessment of male behavior, the complaints of women who at least potentially find male people attractive, were that maleness not quite so entangled with those males being MEN.

Yeah, OK, now consider us. Our situation is comparable, mirror-image, but being outspoken and confrontational about expectations is not merely a response to a situation; being outspoken and confrontational are also behaviors that reflect personality attributes to some extent, and so are the expections that are BEING defied, THEMSELVES. Visualize a roomful of males who, by our definition, are not feeling well-described by the masculine gender stereotype of personality characteristics. The robust women in the other room are defiantly tough confrontational women reacting to the definitional expectation that they be dainty and delicate, but in this room we have guys reacting to the definitional expectation that we be noisy boisterous aggressive tough guys, guys who are reacting to that because that description does not fit us. See the problem?


TWO: The, Umm, Being Coy Problem. Y'all remember the post about the "nice guys", the fellows who are perceived as manipulative whiners, guys who complain that women don't "give them sex" as rewards for being nice but instead "give sex" to guys who treat them horribly and all that? Well, as I said, those guys are sort of us and sort of not (and I've both acknowledged the overlap and made some rather emphatic distinctions). Let's take this opportunity to rephrase and reshape the expectations: not that women would "give us sex", because sex is not a commodity that females possess and for which males are the consumers; and not that we would get a "reward" for being "nice" because being "nice" is a personality characterisic, or a constellation of them, an aspect of who we are, and not some kind of favor we're doing women (or for that matter, anyone else).

If there's something we expect, or at least hope for, it's probably better expressed as women perceiving us as cute and imagining what they might do to us, what they might want to make us feel. Perceptions of our personality, the, umm, "niceness", might play a part in that. So, not women "giving us sex" but selecting for themselves an opportunity that they visualize themselves as being in charge of, that it is at their initiative and part of their pleasure coming from that dynamic. I would like to suggest to you that if the guys in this room are sort of imagining that, fantasizing about that kind of thing, we're also thinking that if we hang signs around our neck that read "We're hoping you'll do this, oh please DO ME, DO ME!", drawing attention to ourselves as individuals who would kind of, you know, react to that kind of situation with a significant degree of satisfaction and pleasure, that...that ... it's just not DEMURE, ok?? It would likely repel the women we're hoping for. If such scenarios have the possibility of playing out, if this can be a Thing, or even if the guys just maybe THINK it could be... well, the women involved in that scenario are going to want to believe it's their idea, at least to the extent that any really overt expression on our part of the fact that we want this to occur is most likely to be a major turnoff for them.

Yeah. There's no dignity in saying so. Yes, I do feel faintly ridiculous at the moment, thanks for asking.

By staying silent, we are deprived of the benefits of a collective identity, but those of us who need it the most (young ones coming of age and having to figure this out in order to function) would be the least able to speak out, and those in the best position to speak out (people like me who have not only figured it out but are actively IN relationships with people who understand us pretty well, thus have less to lose by being overt instead of coy about being sexually reactive), well, we have less pressing need for our gender and sexual orientation to be widely understood... we've GOT ours, if you see what I mean? And the ones in the middle, who have perhaps developed a sense of self and of their sexual nature that's somewhat congruent with what I've described here, but are still looking for partners in some significant sense of the word, well, the situation asks them to choose between being social activists about it or being viable potential partners.

You do the math.

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ahunter3: (Default)
On Monday I went again to the GLBT Center trans group in Nassau County, and on Wednesday I attended the much-larger Suffolk County trans group.



This was my third meeting at the Nassau group. They tend to have about six people in attendance on average, counting me and the GLBT center facilitator. On Monday, there were five and two of them were newcomers, young trans people attending for their first time. One was a male to female, in her upper 20s, the other a female to male who looked barely 18 but was probably more like 23. The remaining person (another middle-aged guy who uses male pronouns) had to leave early, leaving me, the two newcomers, and the facilitator.

One advantage of a small group is that in the course of a 2-hour meeting you're generally going to have the opportunity to open up and talk at some length without fighting to interpose yourself into the discussion or worrying that you're taking away time from someone else. So at a certain point midway through the evening I said, "One of the things I find frustrating is that sense of never fitting in. People make a default assumption because I present as male. Some people go on to observe that there's something a bit off about me as a male person and they make a second-tier default assumption about me as an unmanly male. Even in places like this meeting, where on the signup sheet..." (I pointed to the clipboard I'd been handed when I first sat down) "...we're asked to indicate our gender, I found myself twiddling the pen and wondering what to write down. Other entries said 'M2F' and 'F2M'..." (I made momentary eye contact) "... but I don't have a simple term like that for what I am. For me, I'm a male and I present as male and I don't have a problem with the body, my issue is not with the plumbing. It's that when people made an issue of me being too much like the girls when I was a kid, I embraced that proudly, that's who I am. I wrote down 'genderqueer' on the sheet, but that doesn't really say very much. Anyway, I still worry that I'm going to come to meetings and organizations for trans people and still not fit in, that other people there won't related to me or feel comfortable with me there".

Dead silence for several beats. Then the facilitator said something about the "plumbing" being a clever way to put it. More silence. Someone eventually started a new conversation about something they were dealing with, gender accommodations at their work place or acceptance issues with parents. I made an observation or a suggestion. Cool unresponsive faces, more silence.

A lot of what was going on with me by that point was within me, of course. No one was saying I didn't belong there. It was a very small group and the two others there (aside from the facilitator) were young and attending for their first time. One disadvantage of a small group is that someone can really put you on the spot if they say something you don't know how to respond to. There may be no one else there to fill up the awkward silence and your own lack of response comes across differently than it would in a room full of people.

So it would be unfair to attribute my feelings to my specific gender identity and conclude from their behavior that I really don't fit in among trans people, but yes, that's how it felt.


On Wednesday for the first time I made the longer and more inconvenient trek out to Bay Shore to attend the Suffolk trans group. My partner anais_pf kindly lent me her car and cancelled her own tentative plans so that I could. I fought through rush-hour traffic and got there a half hour early.

Another group was using the meeting room so the receptionist invited me to hang out in the computer room until the meeting time. I logged in and poked around on LiveJournal and other sites but soon became more interested in checking out the titles of the books on their bookshelf. (Andrew Tobias, Martha Shelley, Guy de Maupassant, Jill Johnston. Fiction with gay or lesbian characters. Travel advice for gay and lesbian people.)

A couple of young people came into the room, in mid-conversation. I found myself feeling awkward, intrusive (even though I'd been there in the room first), potentially perhaps an older creepy person or a person sufficiently different in sexual orientation or gender than whatever had brought them to the GLBT center. I made only brief and intermittent eye contact and did not say "hi" or anything; they ignored me. After a moment two or three others came, and greeted the first ones, then more. Soon the room was full of teenagers and 20-somethings, embracing and laughing and greeting and texting and showing each other things. I was still ignoring them and vice versa. Then someone indicated that the meeting room was available and yes, indeed, this cluster of people was the trans group I'd come for.

Whereas the Nassau meeting had sent around the sign-in sheet and folks had been writing in "M2F" and "F2M", the Suffolk group had us go around and introduce ourselves and the pronouns we prefer. That meant either jumping in (and coming out) as a male-bodied non-transitioning girl who is neither M2F nor F2M when everyone else was just saying "I'm Celia and I go by 'she' and 'her'" or else not doing so and remaining unidentified, and feeling shy and nervous I did the latter. I wasn't, fortunately, the only middle-aged person present; the median age was probably around 23 but the average age somewhat higher, with about seven of us spread in the agerange of 40 and above.

There were lots of interesting situations, stories, experiences related. Their angers and exasperations and hurts, the things that bothered them or got them fired up, were things I could relate to and was so seldom able to talk about with other people who had those same reactions and experiences and feelings. My initial feeling of isolation, carrying over from the waiting period in the computer room, was sharply juxtaposed with my desire to join in and fit in.

That's rare, really rare. I go to social events and expect to not fit in, I anticipate maybe some hostility and, far more often, polite cordial distance; I tend to sit back in my corner (metaphorically if not literally), both shy and snobbishly reserved, politely cordial myself, expecting that over time people will learn my name, become accustomed to me being there, and still have no sense of who I am, still not integrating me in as more than an acquaintance, because that's just how it is. I don't blend. I have a private life with special individual people who understand and love me and I'm entirely used to not having a crowd I hang with as more than a peculiar stranger. That's how it is with choir. That's how it is with the kinky fetish scene. That's how it is with the polyamorous groups. It's how it was in college, in the classrooms, in the dorms. It's how it was in the psychiatric patients' liberation movement organizations, even, or on the fascinating hippie commune in Virginia that we visited earlier this summer. Those latter two are much more central identity factors for me than the other things mentioned here, which are more "things that I do" than they are "who I am". But I was reminded afresh and anew last night how much more powerfully, personally resonant the gender identity thing is for me. It's the central defining characteristic that has shaped my individual identity, the thing that if other people don't understand they "don't get me".

I should back up a moment and admit that I sometimes doubt that. I sometimes do wonder if I so desperately wanted an Explanation that, having had this one occur to me, I embraced it and adopted it fervently as both identity and answer... but that, as a one-time partner once said of me, I'm actually a person who likes to embrace his differences, who likes to be unusual and quirky, that I'm a nerdy intellectual who would not have fit in as a kid any better if I had been born female.

But last night it was in the air for me. A really compelling sense of the potential for fitting in, really fitting in, despite a lot of diversity and many factors that should have been sufficient to make me feel like an odd person in that room. And with it, the awareness that I crave it, when it seems like it's an actual possibility. Not feeling so standoffish, instead wanting the meeting to just continue, stay overnight and keep going, tell me more, and I'll tell you my story too. And also the unusual fear: what if they don't like me?

One disadvantage of a large group is that it can be difficult to select a good moment and jump in and start saying really personal things about yourself. I wanted to. I was on the verge several times only to be beaten to the opportunity by someone else. So as of yet I still don't know whether the room as a whole would have looked at me in perplexity and found me strange and not like themselves once I came out.


On the ride home I realized something about myself. I am mostly not a very damaged person despite the world's treatment of sissyboys / male girlpeople / genderinverted guys, but one area in which I'm kind of crumpled from it all is that shy-snobby-unfriendly demeanor. I wasn't always that way. I can recall as an 8 year old, a 10 year old, approaching other kids enthusiastically and expecting them to like me, and recoiling with shock when they were mean and hostile and made fun of me and ridiculed me for thinking they'd want anything to do with me. Over time I learned. Now it's ingrained: I tend to sit quiet and small in corners and if someone approaches I make sure to get out of their way; I have self-effacing mannerisms and I make it easy for people to have nothing to do with me without them having to push me away or reject me; I don't remember names or faces and I'm usually oblivious to conversations going on around me.

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ahunter3: (Default)
One of the themes in both my book and in this blog here is my historical lack of much of any sense of community or shared identity over this gender-identity stuff.


In 1980, the year when I first developed this understanding of myself and tried to come out to people, the term "transgender" wasn't in widespread use yet, and most people (me included) had never heard of it. Albuquerque had gay and lesbian community centers and a small handful of sex-segregated gay or lesbian bars and one or two that were mixed-sex and encouraging of bisexuals to come and meet there. I went to them a few times and tried to mingle and strike up conversations but I didn't get any encouraging nods of recognition. The support centers didn't have anything relevant. Gay marriage was decades away, gays were not tolerated in the military, and it was considered entirely legitimate to discriminate in housing or employment. Critically important to do so, even: gotta protect the children from the predatory attention of those deviant fags and all that.


I often tried to start conversations around the theme of transsexuality, which I *HAD* heard of, and the split off from that to explain how I was a variation on that, but although people had generally heard of it, it was regarded as a freakshow kind of weirdness and it was conflated both with homosexuality and with cross-dressing. Those conversations weren't getting me where I was trying to lead, and I didn't meet people who said "Oh, you too?"


I was in Athens GA from 1981 to 1983, and the trendy downtown evening scene, heavily leavened with music (the 40 watt club) and lefty politics and vegetarianism and whatnot, was also a scene where ambivalence about one's sexual orientation and gender was fashionable. Here, also, though, I neither met up with kindred spirits nor explained my issues well. If I floated through parties and interacted in cafes and hung out at poetry readings and played up the unspoken messages, I was wearing the same trendy question mark, and the question was all around straight versus bi versus gay. When I opted to be more overt, my shyness turned it into a ponderously serious lecture that folks found less than entertaining.


By 1984 I was in New York City and had dropped in on Identity House, the solidly established support and community center for gay lesbian bisexual and etcetera folks downtown, but even here... they had weekly support groups for gay guys and lesbian gals and mixed groups for political issues like the worrisome new health crisis and so on, and once a month they had a bisexual support group, fourth tuesday of each month. I attended a few and asked about, well, less common variants... someone mentioned transsexuals and a coordinator there laughed and said "they can meet on the fifth tuesday of the month". It wasn't that they were unwilling to offer services, but there was no demand for it, and for most people it was something they'd heard of more than a phenomenon represented by people they'd actually met in person. Well, except for me, but that's not who I was, either. Transsexual meant you thought you were in the wrong body. Really close yet still not quite it.


In the mid-1990s I consulted with a therapist, explaining how cut off I felt over this, and she became all excited about it and seemed very understanding about it, and she said I had "gender dysphoria disorder" and it was a "thing". It felt nice to be understand, but the implicit pathological-izing of sticking a "disorder" label on it overweighed any of the good stuff. And still no sense of shared identity-in-common.


Didn't find it in school. Dropped in on Identity House again in the 2000s and still didn't connect.


SO... yesterday evening I attended a group specifically for transgender people! My partner anais_pf and I ate dinner and then she lent me the use of her car and I headed off to Woodbury. Got tied up in traffic, tried to take shortcuts, got confused, then temporarily lost the slip of paper with the address on it. I was frenetic, wild-eyed, frustrated, worried that I'd be late, worried that I wasn't going to find it at all if I couldn't find that damn piece of paper, then lost in a labyrinth of big industrial-looking blocky buildings poorly marked for specific street names and addresses. Been looking all my life for a group that would constitute "us" and now I'm going to be late or miss it, this can't be happening!!! But it worked out and I arrived and they were just about to get started and it was... it was really nice and I *DID* feel like for once I was with people who shared this in common with me. Not carbon-copy clones, but they knew what I was talking about and they were interesting to listen to as they talked about their situations. They thanked me for coming and said I had a lot of good and useful feedback and interesting attitudes.


I don't conceptualize myself as primarily "seeking therapy" or "support", so much as finally finding allies to talk about what we want to say to the world at large, discuss the politics of our identities and all that, but they made me feel like my presence was a good thing, that I was a good listener and knew what they were going through. And for me... it felt good. I felt like I belonged there, something I never managed to feel in all the years of going to Idenity House and other such places, attending groups that weren't really centered on my stuff, places where I felt like a possibly unwelcome interloper.


I'm OK on my own, having built a life with people who understand me and love me as I am, and as I told them during the initial go-around-the-circle introductions, I am having a good life and I'm lucky and quite happy.


But yeah, it sure felt good to finally be in a room with others like me.

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