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

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

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

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

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



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


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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On October 18, Janet Rosen, assistant to Sheree Bykofsky, wrote back to me to say that she had completed her reading of my manuscript and that although it was not without merit, this was not a project that Sheree Bykofsky Associates could pursue.

This wasn't entirely surprising (the longer it became since Ellora's Cave folded and informed me that they would not be publishing my book, the less likely it seemed to me that Sheree Bykofsky Associates would continue to act as my literary agency and find me a new publisher). To review, I obtained their services to help me negotiate a favorable contract with the publisher AFTER the publisher had made their offer; they never took me on as a conventional client. Yes, I was hoping that some intellectual proximity, a bit of sympathetic loyalty, and a pleasant experience of me as a person to work with would make them more likely to represent me than if they had merely received my query letter in the large daily slush-pile stack that lit agents get every day. And maybe it did, just not sufficiently to cause them to embrace THE STORY OF Q, who knows?

So I am situationally back to that mythical drawing board, with neither publisher nor lit agent, and again taking up the querying process.

The experience has changed my attitude and approach somewhat, though, as well as having at least netted me a good solid editing job from EC's Susan Edwards as part of the process. Firstly, I now stand at nearly 800 queries to literary agents, culminating in my query to Sheree Bykofsky Associates post-EC, all of which have failed to land me a lit agent. In contrast, I've queried 12 small publishers and received one publication offer. It may be a mildly tainted offer insofar as it came from a publisher on its last legs and in its dying throes, but any way you cut it, the math speaks for itself. I will continue to query lit agents, mainly because publishers tend to want exclusive consideration while they look at one's manuscript, so I can query lit agents as a way of twiddling my thumbs. But my main effort will go towards querying publishers.

Meanwhile, since I have a publicist — John Sherman & Co, hired to promote my book — I'm diverting his focus towards getting me exposure, speaking gigs, media coverage. I've given some well-received presentations to the kink community, which has been wonderfully supportive of me so far, and I do not wish to denigrate that in any way, but it's a somewhat self-limiting audience: people are relatively unlikely to talk to folks outside the BDSM world about this interesting presentation they heard in a BDSM venue. It is still a world in which privacy is highly valued by most, where people know each other by their FetLife nicknames and may not know a participant's real name or, if they do, would by default assume it is NOT ok to mention it elsewhere. In short, although I apologize for the ingratitude that may attach to expressing it this way, I need to do some of my presentations outside of the BDSM ghetto in order to get more traction. Kinky folks have been extremely welcoming, not only to me but to other identity-marginalized people whose peculiarities are not really a form of erotic fetish — google up "pony play", "puppy play", and "littles" in conjunction with BDSM for instance — but yeah, genderqueerness isn't really a fetish and the people I really need to reach are only sprinkles in moderate levels at BDSM events.

Speaking of making presentations etc, I read a 10 minute segment adapted for outloud reading and venue purposes, at WORD: THE STORY TELLING SHOW on October 19. It was fun, was well-received and well-applauded, and came at a very good time for my frame of mind. I need to do more of this, and more of the drier more abstract material presentations such as I did at EPIC and Baltimore Playhouse and LIFE in Nassau, and perhaps more personal-anecdote of the non-humourous variety sharing, and so on, in order to build my platform and widen my exposure, and because doing so is communication, which is the end in itself, the entire reason for writing the book in the first place.

I am currently working with John Sherman to blanket the world of academic women's studies and gender studies programs, letting them know of my availability to do presentations. We will soon be expanding that to campus and non-campus LGBTetc organizations including student associations on campuses and non-university-affiliated groups.

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I had a very good time with the editor Barbara Rogan's author's colloquium, which ended last Thursday. Unlike some of these courses, which often focus on teaching a technique and then leave you to the task of applying what you learned to your actual work on your own time afterwards, this was one that encouraged us to use our work-in-progress as the source of material that we would submit to be examined and critiqued by the editor teaching the class and by the other participating students.

So I very much took it as an opportunity to put my book in the shop for some body work and a facelift. Several of the scenes I submitted were scenes I'd been thinking of punching up, and did so before submitting them and then modified them after getting feedback. Then I continued with other scenes from my book that were never submitted to the class, drawing on ideas and the energy percolating from all the sharing.

Here's an overview of the modifications to the manuscript:

• Early in the book there is a short overview of childhood in which it is established that as a child I identified with the girls and my friends were girls up until around 4th grade when it fell apart; the main body of the book begins with me in 8th grade, starting in a new school. Clarified brief internal-monologue in 8th grade in which I'm musing that 3rd grade, when I had girl friends, was a long time ago, if I'm going to have friends at all "I needed to learn how to be around boys… and stop thinking of boys as them."

because it needed emphasis; story line parses better when it is understood that I've put that "one of the girls" understanding of myself behind me as kid's stuff.


• Inserted new gym class locker room scene in which the other boys throw my underwear in the toilet while I'm showering, + replaced a bland narrative with a full-dialog scene in the guidance counselor's office in which I demand that those boys be expelled, counselor says "not gonna happen, you didn't see them do it", says "you need to pick your battles", and warns me he can bring them in but they're more likely to retaliate & what are my goals here?

first, because I needed a more fully fleshed-out "being bullied" scene and second, because many readers of my book kept saying "I want to see your character react more, all this bad stuff happens and he doesn't get all freaked out and angry and scared". So I realized I needed to establish more clearly that when he (i.e., me) HAD reacted he had been taught in various ways that no one was going to help & that not letting this stuff get to him is necessary and important. (And, as I said in class, "I think if the MC reacted with disbelief and outrage, anger and fear at each of these occurrences, it would be exhausting and tiresome and would take away from the gut-punch moments where the things that happen really shred him pretty awful.")

Those were in the first long chunk of the book. The balance of the changes were towards the end, in the last major chunk, where things come to a climax and resolution. I had been feeling for some time now that I needed this section to be a more vivid burst of triumph and joy—after my readers have borne with me through all the difficult and unpleasant trials leading up to it, too damn much of my "success story" portion was abstract and intellectual, and the parts that contained actual action were too often told as summary narrative and I needed stuff to pop a lot more here.

• There's a party scene where my character (i.e., me) is frustrated that going to these parties over the years hasn't resulted in connecting with any girls and having either sex or sexual relationship as an outcome. Original scene had him musing sourly to himself that maybe he ought to try acting like other boys and coming on blatantly to girls and not caring if THEY want sex etc, -- classic "Nice Boys™" sour angry stuff -- and he tries it cynically and bloody hell it works! Or he enough of it working to startle him. Redid it as a full dialog scene with named characters and body language and the smell of smoke and the music being played, etc

• Turning point scene is where character is listening to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" for the first time while tripping and feels outed by the music. Also redone as full dialog scene with named characters and more interaction, less summary. Also stripped out all but the most central line from the music itself (copyright issues).

• Figuring-stuff-out scene shortly afterwards, Christmas vacation with friend from college, parent's home front porch, redone with the friend used as a foil to have an out-loud conversation, replacing inside-the-head internal monologue summary stuff. Let the other guy be devil's advocate and argue against some of what I'm putting forth, to let me elaborate and clarify in my responses.

• Inserted new scene, coming out to my parents. Actually happened more awkwardly and earlier when I knew less, but helps to flesh out relationship with parents and clarifies how they reacted & felt about me being different "in this way".

Because reviewers have periodically said they wanted to see more about family interactions. Mostly missing in action because there wasn't much to write about: like the dog who didn't bark, my parents were parent who didn't say and do homophobic / sissyphobic things; it's hard to incorporate the absence of a behavior into a story; this is one of the rare opportunities to show their attitude including both their lack of judgmental disapproval and the limits of their interest in discussing or listening to me talk about it.

• Two post coming-out scene in the Siren Coffeehouse (feminist coffeehouse) were punched up with more dialog and more evocative descriptions of the people I interacted with, because I was flirting as well as seeking political-social allies, and my character (me) flirting and feeling sexually confident is a triumphant thing and needed more pop and color

• The last "trauma" of the book is one of those late-in-plot teases, a reappearance of Bad Shit after things have finally started going the character's way etc — in this case, university folks find his behavior disturbing and ask him to be checked out by the psychiatrist "just to alleviate concerns" and his agreeement is treated as a self-commitment to locked ward. Rewrote the arrival scene where he's first brought in, first discovers that he didn't merely consent to a conversation with the school shrink but is being held there, first interaction with the others on the locked ward: redid with full dialog, more solidly fleshed-out characters (the attendant, etc) again to make it pop

• Inserted new scene with dialog with two male gay activist types after a Human Sexuality class in which my character and those two folks presented to the class.

• Inserted new scene of conversation with a transsexual woman in which they discuss transsexuality and my character's own peculiar sense of gender identity, after he is introduced to her by one of the gay guys in the previous scene.

Those two events did not happen in real life at that time, or at all precisely as described, but similar conversations took place about 4 years later. Greatly add to continuity, action, excitement, fleshing out of issues, use of contrast and compare to more fully explain my character's gender / sexuality identity.

• scrapped overly long postlogue in favor of highly condensed flash-forward to give more of a sense of a successful gender-activist life. Previous version tried to do a fast-forward summary of life from approximately the end of the previous chapter to current era; blah and boring and overly long and tedious. New version starts in present era, crisply identified with the closing of a web browser window in sentence 1, main character off to do a presentation on gender issues and genderqueer as a specific category of gender identity. That along with short conversation with girlfriend (and a later "oh and her, well this is how me met" snippet) and a passing reference to a published article do a much better job of "and he lived happily ever after" as well as being much more concise and streamlined.


I am INDEED doing a presentation about being genderqueer, two of them in fact, one later on in April down at Baltimore Playhouse on the 29th and then again at the EPIC Conference in Pennsylvania May 12-16. I need to review my notes and subject anais_pf to listening to me rehearse! But I'm very much looking forward to it.

I'm querying again. Modified my query letter slightly, modified my synopsis a bit (some agents want a synopsis), and of course sample chapters all reflect the above changes. I've got a damn good book here and I will see it into print.

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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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Index of all Blog Posts

Eye Opener

Oct. 4th, 2015 10:18 pm
ahunter3: (Default)
No one had called me back from multiple voicemails I'd left with the Long Island LGBT organization, the one that operates the transgender support groups I've attended in Bay Shore (young, well-attended) and Woodbury (more nearby, sparsely attended). No one had emailed me back from the emails I'd sent to the woman who teaches Women's Studies at Old Westbury (where I was a Women's Studies major 1985-88) and who also runs the women's center on campus. I had put on my calendar a note to myself to get off my ass and follow through on both of these, to talk with the people involved and get the proverbial ball rolling on booking me to give some kind of presentation on gender, to be more of a local presence doing gender here on Long Island. Gotta build the author's platform, you know.

So with the professor at Old Westbury, I obtained her office hours at least, with the notion that I could do this best if I could be seated across from her and sketch out some of what I wanted to present; I was figuring her lack of follow-through and lack thus far of enthusiasm was reasonable, she doesn't know what my content is going to be like, why would she opt to have me present to her class just because I said I'd like to do so?

So next I called the LGBT folks. Similar assumption: they have no reason to rush out and try to schedule me to present my material when they don't know as of yet what my material is. Seems like the thing to do is try to arrange a sit-down where I can explain enough of it for them to gauge my seriousness and the degree to which my perspective adds to rather than clashes with whatever they're putting on. The receptionist took down some basic info including my telephone number and then said she'd have the programming director get back to me shortly.


I get the call maybe 45 minutes later. "So what's this about?", she asks. "Well", I say, fumbling my way into it, "I consider myself to be a subtype of genderqueer... really I haven't found much information about people like me in the materials that tend to be presented, and I guess you could say I'm trying to come out of the closet and be recognized for who I am, but that recognition requires people's willingness to accept another gender identity. I have some materials and I gave a presentation at one local group which went over well, and I was wondering if I could make an appointment to come in and discuss, well, maybe I could do a presentation there, either in Woodbury or in Bay Shore".

"Oh, well, we're not really seeking any additional programming resources at this point but thanks anyway".

"I don't mean I'm trying to get a paid position or anything, I mean just the ideas themselves, I'd like to sit down with you folks as activists".

"That won't be necessary. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"I...um...wait... I don't seem to be expressing myself well. I have trouble doing this over the phone. I'm... I found it difficult to... sort things out for myself growing up and... and I promised myself long ago that I'd see that younger people would not have to deal with this all by themselves, and there's still no voice out there that I can really recognize as a voice of someone like me."

"So is there some specific service you want from us?"

"I...you... I assume you are concerned with social... liberation, justice... in the same ways and that if what I'm trying to do is... meshes with... that we're approaching the same issues and concerns..."

"As I said, we're not looking for any programming to add at this point. We have support groups that meet in Bay Shore and Woodbury that you're welcome to attend and although you said you aren't seeking therapeutic counseling for yourself, that's what I'd recommend for you. Aside from that I don't know what else we can do for you".

I repeated that I felt that I flail badly at this sort of thing on the phone and she suggested I email her instead, so I took her up on it, and explained more completely how I viewed my own situation and how I felt that I had a gender identity that wasn't on the radar, generally speaking, and that I wanted to do something about that. She wrote back once again saying that the best they could offer me was the support group that I'd already been to.


I went to bed that night with an old old frustration burning hotly new, that too-familiar feeling of "I can't believe this isn't of more interest than it seems to be, why isn't anyone inclined to be grabbed by it the way other people's issues grab me when I hear about them? Why the hell can't I make common cause with people?"


I woke up the next morning with a different judgment on myself. I've been kicking myself pretty hard these past 5 years for not trying harder to connect with organizations like Identity House and discuss my issues with gay and lesbian and transgender activists and instead putting all my efforts and energies into connecting with feminists and discussing my issues as aspects of feminist theory and feminist movement gender politics. Oh, sure, I've given myself a pass for having taken awhile to realize the possibilities and potential in gender activism, of seeing msyelf as part of the LBGT spectrum. But there was all that sense that gee, I'd *been there* and that I should have been playing a part of the political scene in which the modern transgender and genderqueer identities have burst onto the scene. But this morning I sat up and realized "I really *did* go to Identity House. And I really *did* try to talk to people about how I was and what my concerns were. And I stopped going or didn't develop a habit of going very often because my concerns did not mesh with the concerns of the people I met there, and they weren't particularly curious about or fascinated by me as someone coming at this from a somewhat different angle than they were.

So now again this seems to be the case.

OK. Fundamentals. The stance I have taken towards "Society", in its overweening unwashed entirety, is an adversarial one. I feel mistreated and scorned and subjected to some harsh and vicious shit and I have spun around and with anger am being confrontational. This here sissy hatred has got to stop. If nothing else, I get to speak for myself, I get to have a voice, and I get to say I am happy to be who I am and I am proud to be who I am.

So I blithely turned to folks I assumed would be my allies, and blithely assumed that I'd be embraced and accepted there even though I'm different from them, because they're LESS DIFFERENT. But let's stay blunt here: my intention is to change them. To have an effect on them. To alter their agenda. It is not reasonable for me to assume that other people are going to WANT me to change them, to have that kind of affect on them, to get them to set a place for me at their planning table. So this relationship is potentially adversarial too. And I have to approach all my potential allies and comrades and similarly aligned people that I'm trying to make common cause with without expecting them to lap up whatever I exude. I'm not saying I necessarily need to become more abrasive, but I need to not be surprised if they don't immediately latch onto my ideas and priorities and instead are obstructionist and intolerant of differences and myopic in their now-institutionalized thinking on many issues.

I need to remember that, just as with academia and feminism, the individual people at close range tend to be people with job titles or positions within an organizational structure, and probably most of them are not theory-heads who spend enormous amounts of their time playing with abstract ideas about gender and expression and perception and feelings and whatnot and instead are more rooted in everyday pragmatic concerns, on which level my priorities may seem as alien to them as they would be to the local Chamber of Commerce or something.

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Seal Press will not be publishing my book. I received the rejection letter on 9/8.

I was originally planning on querying Cleis Press next: "Cleis Press publishes provocative, intelligent books across genres. Whether literary fiction, human rights, mystery, romance, erotica, LGBTQ studies, sex guides, pulp fiction, or memoir, you know that if it's outside the ordinary, it's Cleis Press."

But then I read some things other authors have written about them in recent months that made them sound like a bad idea.

I've been contemplating Thorntree, publishers of the polyamory guide More Than Two, and in fact I sat down at my desk tonight to review their submissions policy:


To submit a proposal, please first send an email with the following information:

A one-paragraph biography, including any published works

A one-paragraph summary of the proposed work, including your intended audience

Links to your social media and Web presences

If your submission appears appropriate for our list, we will invite you to submit a complete proposal.

We will accept queries and proposals on a rolling basis.




Whether it's the mood I've been in lately or not, I can't say for sure, but right now their submission process is very discouraging. It comes across to me very much as "we might be interested in your book if you've already got a track record of publication and, in particular, if you've got a strong active platform already; outside of that, just summarize your book and its intended audience in one paragraph and we'll let you know".


I have of course continued to send query letters to literary agents. It seems to me that public attention is more focused on gender issues and gender identity than ever before, so my book is squarely located in the midst of a trendy topic. So I keep telling myself that any day now some agent could decide to represent my book and get it published. Well, here's how that's shaping up at the moment:


Total queries to date: 680
Rejections: 613
Outstanding: 67
Under Consideration: 0

As Nonfiction, specifically, total queries: 467
Rejections: 414
Outstanding: 53

As Fiction, total queries: 213
Rejections: 199
Outstanding: 14



I've been trying to make a public ripple, explain the phenomenon of being a male girl or non-transitioning transgender or heterosexual sissy or gender invert or any of the other things I've attempted to call it over the years. I've been trying to do so because once upon a time, a long long time ago, I promised myself that if I *EVER* found out why people treated me this way, if I *EVER* found out why these things were happening to me, I was going to do something about it. I've been trying to do so because once I did, in fact, figure it out, I promised myself that I'd make it so that anyone like me growing up would not have to figure it all out for themselves. I've been trying to do this as my primary avocation and purpose in life, my mission, since 1980.

You could say I've only seriously set out to do one thing in my life and I've been a pretty pathetic failure at it.

That's not entirely fair, I tell myself. Once I figured this stuff out, I also set out to actually live my life, to not merely preach these ideas but to put them into practice. And to my relief and surprise, that's been the easier part. It took decades but I got better and better at communicating up close and personal, I learned from experience how to find what I was looking for, and I found personal solutions. I get to live my everyday life not at all closeted or isolated but instead loved and understood and cared for and appreciated for who I am, and I in turn get to hold and love and cherish and have togetherness and meaningful connection in my life.

Which is to say that I've got damn little to complain about, and also to acknowledge that it is grossly insulting to people who love me for me to characterize my life as a failure.

I get to be me, and not merely in isolation. (Can anyone be themselves without connection and accepting companionship?) But there is "be" and there is "do". I set out to do something. Nothing else I have ever set out to do has held anything akin to the same kind of importance; every other activity or accomplishment has basically been distraction and entertainment along the way, including artistic accomplishments, job and career, and the acquisition of skills. This one thing is where I've invested all my determination. I am stubborn, intelligent, passionate about my issue, and I'm good with words and skilled at explaining complicated concepts, and I can't believe I've accomplished so damn little in so much time!

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
On March 12th, I will be giving a presentation at Life In Nassau at their regular monthly meeting in Woodbury NY, titled "Gender Inversion, being Genderqueer, and how Kink facilitates stepping away from gendered assumptions".

I'll be using a lot of the material from my Gender Isn't the Same Thing as Sex blog posting, including the visuals you see there (I had them printed out on sturdy posterboard to use as visual aids). I've done a run-through with anais_pf kindly sitting in as audience and I covered the material in my notes in 25 minutes. It should be more like a one hour presentation, so I need to go back through and insert anecdotes and examples, describe things in more detail, flesh things out more. That should make it a better talk anyhow. I tend to worry that I'm going to go way over so this time I sort of overshot... undershot? I did too good a job of compacting my message and now it's too short! Anyway, my first venture into lecturing since speaking at the Boston College Women's Center in 2010.

Hey, y'all, I'm building a platform!

I'm going to try to take this show on the road, give the same talk elsewhere, and then diverge from there, expand on it and so forth.



Last weekend I attended a one-day seminar called "The Editor's Eye", presented by Francis Flaherty, a former NY Times feature editor and geared towards helping people edit their own work more effectively. I thought it was well-presented and although some points were self-evident and not exactly news to me, overall I think it gave me a fresh sense of how to approach revamping my own work.

From my notes:

• insert ACTION to make paragraphs pop: sometimes by describing the present as a harbinger of the future, using language that anticipates, use metaphor, set up the future as a consequence of current processes and describe those using ACTIVE verbs.

• similarly use vivid action-inclusive metaphors and similes in describing your characters' mental processes

• describe decisions; don't have your characters float through time passively with things happening to them, be explicit about their decision-making process. Decisions are active

• embed yourself in each scene as if YOU were interested in what was going on at the time; if you are (or were) bored, your readers probably will be too

• sensory descriptions, especially other than visual (although in my case my writing actually does not tend to describe how things look, I'm NOT a very visual writer so in my case all 5 senses need to be punched up).

• Example A is about emotional human face of an abstract theoretical idea. Insert emotional content even if at the level of metaphor throughout the scenes of the book. Add body language: yours, that of other characters

• For trimming, think of your main message as a bullseye target. In each section look at paragraphs in terms of how close or how far they are from the bullseye. Trim more aggressively on parts that are farther from the bullseye.




I opened my my email as usual on Wednesday and saw another email reply from one of my query letters. The overwhelming majority of these are "Thank you for querying but after due consideration we don't think your title would be right for our line, sorry, best of luck" type letters so as I was double-clicking it to read it I was mentally already opening my query database to mark another rejection, yet I found myself staring at this:

> Dear Allan,
>
> Thank you so much for your query and we apologize for the delay in
> getting back to you. Is your manuscript still available? If so, we
> would be happy to read the first fifty pages or so of THAT GUY IN OUR
> WOMEN’S STUDIES CLASS. If you could send them as an email attachment
> with the word REQUESTED as the subject line, that would be wonderful.
>
> Thank you so much, and we look forward to the reading.

I blinked. Wait a minute. Oh wow, this is about BOOK TWO, which I haven't sent queries out about since last April. Heck, I haven't even been reporting my second book figures when I've posted my stats on # of queries sent and all that. The original idea behind book two was that, firstly, one way to get your book published is to get a different book published, then you're a published author; and, secondly, that I could directly query academic presses about the second book while still being able to say, honestly, that the main book has not been sent to any editors yet. But not too long after I'd started sending out query letters for the second book, I decided the book needed a massive restructuring and rewrite of its final 30%, that I had made it too much about a pissy argument with my academic advisor when I should have focused on how it led to me deciding I could not pursue a career as a feminist theorist in academia, that as a male person I could not theorize in directions that feminist women were not already pursuing, since trailblazing inevitably brings conflict and that in turn would lead to me arguing with feminist women about how to properly pursue the enterprise of feminist theorizing. Anyway, book two has been dormant and virtually forgotten. Except that now I have a request.

Fortunately, the first 50 pages are prior to the section that I think needs the radical surgery. I just finished applying some of my newly-honed editing skills, cutting some chaff and tightening the narrative.

Only 22 queries for book two were ever sent out. This is the one and only reply expressing interest and asking to see additional material.



Current Stats:

THE STORY OF Q

Total queries: 536
Rejections: 466
Outstanding: 66

As NonFiction—
Total queries: 348
Rejections: 332
Outstanding: 16

As Fiction—
Total queries: 188
Rejections: 134
Outstanding: 50

GUY IN WOMEN'S STUDIES

Total queries: 22
Rejections: 21
Outstanding: 0
Under Consideration: 1

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Index of all Blog Posts
ahunter3: (Default)
Here's the query letter (aka pitch letter) I'm using for agents who handle literary fiction:

-------------

Derek is a girl. He wasn't one of the boys as a kid; he admired, befriended, and socialized with the girls and always knew he was one of them, despite being male. That wasn't always accepted or understood, but he didn't care: he knew who he was.

Now he's a teenager and boys and girls are flirting and dating and his identity has become a lot more complicated: he's attracted to the girls. The OTHER girls. The female ones.

FROM A QUEERLY DIFFERENT CLOSET: THE STORY OF Q is a 95,000-word literary fiction tale set in the 1970s but aimed at today's gender-questioning world.

Junior high to college, the stage on which Derek's adolescence and early adulthood takes place, is mostly hostile to gay people; transgender isn't a word in common use yet; and against this backdrop, Derek seeks friends and companions and someone to love in a world that has no name or concept for who he is. Years of painful questioning, vulnerability and confusion are interspersed with fragile optimism and hope and a willful determination to survive.

In 1980, 20 years before the word "genderqueer" would roll off anyone's tongues, Derek attempts to come out. He's confident, excited about the social and political implications of this gender identity, and eager to find out if these ideas are as powerful to other people as they are to him. The result is incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.

Undaunted, he starts a mental patients' liberation movement within the locked ward and gets kicked out for disrupting the facility. He goes on to fall in love, to succeed in college as a women's studies major, and gets his controversial gender ideas into print as feminist theory.


This story will appeal to fans of Alex Sánchez's RAINBOW BOYS and Julie Anne Peters' LUNA, as well as to readers of nonfiction works such as Daphne Scholinski's THE LAST TIME I WORE A DRESS and Jennifer Boylan's SHE'S NOT THERE; like these titles, my book will be a resource for anyone exploring questions of identity and questioning their own sexuality.


----------------

Authors' agents often ask NONFICTION authors to submit a formal proposal, which presents the premise of the book in a longer wordier version than the query letter, explains why the author is the best person to write it and why these ideas or concepts will work well as a published book; provides a list of similar titles and how this book is different; and how the book might best be marketed and publicized.

They don't ask that of FICTION authors, apparently; instead, what is most requested (aside from the ubiquitous query letter) is a synopsis, explaining the plot trajectory on a chapter by chapter basis. I never posted my nonfiction proposal here (too long and stultifying) but I like the way the synopsis came out so without further ado...



=== SYNOPSIS ===

(page numbers based on double spaced Times New Roman 12 pt)


1) PROLOGUE starts page 1

A short 3-page teaser in which the main character Derek is beaten up at a party on very little provocation, prompting him to ponder his differences, his now-questionable sense of being accepted, and how things had led to this.


2) CHILDHOOD starts page 4

Derek in first/second grade in Los Alamos New Mexico begins to compete with the girls, aspires to do well in school in deportment as well as subject areas. Makes one close male friend. Family moves to Georgia. Polarization increases: hostility from other boys, close friends with other girls, epithets including "queer" from other children, hostility from some adults for not being a normal boy. As he gets older, girls cease to be friend with him, he is increasingly isolated and lonely. Awareness of sexual attraction towards girls takes place before he knows what it means. Derek looks forward optimistically to adolescence, thinking he will again have girls as friends and as romantic girlfriends.


3) JUNIOR HIGH AND HIGH SCHOOL starts page 19

The family moves back to Los Alamos. Day to day life over the five years from 8th grade to high school graduation, beginning with Derek being ostracized not just for being the new kid but for being a "faggot", subjected to extensive harassment and horrified as he discovers that sexuality is not going to bring him closer to the girls, who link up with masculine boys. Derek makes a significant effort to discard his own prim judgmental standoffishness, make friends and fit in: he joins Boy Scouts, plays in the band and sings in the choir, re-establishes contact with his boyhood friend and somewhat belatedly rebels against adult authority like the other kids. His hopes of falling in love and having a girlfriend don't quite pan out but he hopes getting out of the fairly small town and into a college environment will let his life truly begin.


4) THE LIMBO YEARS starts page 131

Derek hates the conservative southern Mississippi college and daydreams about joining the hippies and flower children he's read about, not fully realizing the people and ideas described in the library books are not culturally ascendant any more by 1977. He drops out of school and seeks to become economically self-sufficient as soon as possible by taking vocational school courses in auto mechanics. The all-male environment isolates him, dating or even meeting girls seems impossible, and he wonders if maybe people who've called him gay knew him better than he knows himself; he tries gay sex, first with the boy he's been friends with since 1st grade; then, when that wasn't very pleasant, he decides maybe it was too much like incest but gay sex with a kind and friendly stranger is even worse. Still horribly lonely, Derek is becoming increasingly confident and self-reliant until he narrowly escapes being raped and then later is assaulted at a party (the incident in the PROLOGUE). He'd had one good connection with a girl who seemed to want him as a girlfriend in all this time but he'd met her while her family was on vacation and she lives across the country in Boston. But now he's desperate for something to work out with girls so he goes to visit her there. It doesn't go well: she's amenable to making out in the basement but is not interested in him personally, and he's devastated.


5) BACK TO UNIVERSITY starts page 206

Unable to make a go of it as an auto mechanic, Derek lets his family talk him into trying college again, this time in Albuquerque at a far less conservative institution. The University of New Mexico's student body is indeed far more socially liberal and tolerant than anywhere else he's been: people who think he is gay go out of their way to let him know it's cool with them, instead of being hostile and violent. Derek tries to focus on just having a good time and maybe losing his virginity, and putting his bad experience with the girl from Boston behind him. But casual sex and flirting and dating are impersonal and the assumptions roles and attitudes are very sex-specific and don't fit him at all. He finally acknowledges to himself that he's always thought of himself as one of the girls and now realizes that this may make him incompatibly different from what's expected of males in heterosexuality. He reads about transsexualism and it resonates but he realizes he doesn't think his body is wrong... just what people think it means to have that body. Other college students keep urging him to come out and accept himself. Finally something clicks: he sees the parallel between what he's going through and what feminists have said about sexism and sex roles. He begins writing manifestos about his gender identity and sexual orientation and circulating them to other students and to his professors and to others on campus. People worry about him: they don't understand what he's driving at and he disturbs them by being so excited about it. He is asked if he'll talk to a psychiatrist and he agrees, not realizing that the "permission slip" they have him sign will result in being locked up on a locked psychiatric ward and not allowed to leave. Derek, however, is for the first time certain that there ISN'T something wrong with him, and he talks and listens to the other patients and organizes a patients' rights movement that disrupts the facility, which discharges him abruptly.


POSTLOGUE starts page 288

Derek goes to California seeking the hippies and flower children he read about, and actually finds a commune, lives there for awhile, and loses his virginity without having to take on the unwanted male sexual-initiator / sexual-aggressor role. Later, in the library, he reads about a women's studies department at a college and realizes that if he were a student there, the kinds of things he wants to talk about would be typical subject matter in the classrooms. His parents are understandably relucant to send him to college a third time so he hitches to New York and endures a period of homelessness before establishing himself and getting into the school, at which point he gets solid A grades and an enthusiastic reception by his feminist professors. He goes on to graduate school and publishes his theories about gender and sexual orientation in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Over the years that follow he gets into relationships with women, learning from each, culminating in solid yet nontraditional relationships in which he is accepted and understood as a male girl.





Total Pages: 301

Word Count: 95,993


{optional bit if writing sample is requested:}

*****

Your contact information at YOURLITERARYAGENCY.com/submissions indicated that I should include the first 5 pages / 10 pages / 20 pages / one chapter / two chapters / whatever, as a writing sample. Pasted inline below this line:


=======================

{appropriate writing sample goes here, if requested}


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ahunter3: (Default)
On August 25, I got yet another one of those "your platform isn't good enough" responses to a query letter:

> Thank you for the opportunity to review your project. While I
> appreciate that you thought of me for your work of nonfiction, I'm not
> sure that your author platform is quite at the level necessary to
> launch a book. I suggest that you continue to establish and grow your
> platform so that you will be in a stronger position to pursue a book
> deal.
>
>
>
> Thank you again, and best of luck with your work.

So after a few melodramatic fantasies of creating a platform by kidnapping an array of author's agents and thus getting myself covered in the news cycle, I decided it was time to question one of the earliest decisions that I faced when it came to trying to get this book into print: fiction or nonfiction?

The first batch of query letters actually didn't specifically position the work one way or the other: "The names have been changed and it could be treated and marketed as either fiction or nonfiction". But that's not how the agent-querying business works. And when I decided last year to attend the NY Writer's Pitch Conference, I had to pick nonfiction or fiction; autobiographies and memoirs are definitely listed as nonfiction (whereas no subcategory of fiction sounded quite right) and at the conference itself I was told "Yes, definitely you should market it as nonfiction, you've got a memoir, that's powerful, authentic, comes from real experience" and so on, so that's what I've been doing.

But in the back of my mind, I kept remembering that Rita Mae Brown's RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE was technically marketed as fiction (fooling no one), as was Marilyn French's THE WOMEN'S ROOM (I think most of us figured that Mira was either entirely or mostly Marilyn French), and so was the far more blatant WHO WAS THAT MASKED WOMAN? by Noretta Koertge, in which the supposedly fictional Tretona Getroek's adventures are told.

So I sat down and wrote a new query letter, describing my book as a work of fiction. (Oh yeah, the same issue of no obvious subcategory of fiction again presented itself. It turns out that it would apparently be "literary fiction", which is everything that isn't "genre fiction", the latter of which comprising your basic mysteries, romances, sci fi, thriller action-adventure stories, vampire gothics, and so on).

And, because fiction queries are sent off with a synopsis, not a proposal as nonfiction is, I wrote up a synopsis.

Early end result: in the first week of querying it as a fiction book, I got a request to see a 30 page sample of the manuscript. For comparision, I have exactly two agents who have requested additional material after receiving the nonfiction query and that's after a year of querying.

I'm going to continue querying it as nonfiction but will definitely send at least 50 % of each week's queries as fiction queries.


I will post my fiction query letter and synopsis in subsequent blogposts.

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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)
Got this reply from an agent*:

> Thanks so much for sending your heartfelt memoir. The big issue
> standing in the way of my taking you on is not editorial, since you
> write cleanly and smoothly. It's a matter of platform, that built-in
> audience who knows the author through some form of media. With the
> comparisons you gave, it's the authors and their reach beyond the book
> world that distinguishes them. Feinberg has long been a rights
> advocate in the spotlight, Boyle had a successful writing career as a
> man, and the Scholinkski was a case that got media coverage that led
> to a book deal, not the other ay around. Publishing is an industry
> that can ride a wave but is not so great at making them. It's a shame
> that a good book is no longer enough, but I see a tough road ahead
> without a really impressive platform. I appreciate the chance, though,
> and wish you luck connecting with an agent who doesn't share my
> reservations.


This is pretty much where I came in, the impetus for starting this blog.


On the one hand, it IS encouraging to get some occasional confirmation that the problem isn't that the book isn't good enough to be published, and QUITE encouraging to get some signal that the problem isn't with the quality of my query letter, either.

On the other hand, the platform isn't something I can easily do much about. I've been operating this blog for a little while now (it's one of the few platformy things that seems to be within my reach), but as much as I deeply appreciate you folks reading it, and commenting on it, I suspect that the agents who are looking for an author's platform won't be impressed with blogging unless there are hundreds of followers lapping it up, not the dozen or so that I have. And I have no clear idea what kind of magic tricks I need to do to drive people en masse over here to read my stuff.

I've been to more GLBT meetings and have found myself understood and accepted there, with reciprocity, but if being part of those structured organizations is going to morph into "a platform", it will take awhile.

I've spoken a couple times at open-mike events where performance artists and poets and comedians and other folks get 5 minutes at the mike, and will attempt to do more, but at the moment I don't see that growing into some kind of huge cult following.

As far as I can tell, my best bet is to just keep plugging away and accept that the lack of platform means I have to do this for a lot longer than if I were famous or had a built-in audience. That I have to believe it makes my road difficult, not impossible.


Current query status (The Story of Q):

total queries: 305
rejections: 193 (includes no reply > 3 months)
outstanding: 111 (no reply yet, < 3 months)
under consideration: 1


* agent's name and agency not included here due to lack of explicit permission. I don't really have permission to reprint the email, either, I'm just doing it anyhow. The references to Feinberg, Boyle, and Scholinski are from my query letter and proposal identifying "comparable books": Leslie Feinberg's STONE BUTCH BLUES, Daphne Scholinski's THE LAST TIME I WORE A DRESS, and Jennifer Boylan's SHE'S NOT THERE

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ahunter3: (Default)
First I pick where to fish for new names:


Some of the largest and most popular sites for this kind of thing let you search for either fiction or nonfiction subject areas that agents have specified an interest in, and gives you the matching agent records along with all their contact info. I'm pretty sure that agents fill in their own interests from a supplied checklist. For any given agent, an indicated interest in "memoirs" could mean anything from "I specialize in representing memoirs" to "oh let's see, mysteries and young adult fiction and science fiction and romances and what else? yeah sure, memoirs, I could do that...". One cannot search on terms that the site doesn't use; hence on agentquery.com, for example (they're one of the big popular sites), one cannot search for "gender" or "feminist" or "trangender", although there is a "gay and lesbian" search term under nonfiction that I've used as a search term.


Smaller resources are often things like lists of memoir agents or lists of agents interested in LGBT content that someone on some web site somewhere has assembled.


I do my searches and skip to the results page where I left off, or pick up where I left off on someone else's list, and spend awhile reading agents' profiles and checking to see if I've already queried them (or another agent at the same agency). I have several different prospective lists and I switch between them at random, continuing from where I was when I last worked from that list.





I keep a database of literary agents I've sent query letters & proposals to. I'm a database geek — that's my day job — so I made a FileMaker Pro system to keep track of it. Let's say I'm doing my search for nonfiction subject = "memoirs" on agentquery.com . The next entry is for Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management, who represents memoirs that include personal and experiential growth and cultural conflict. Sounds good. Keeping my web browser page with her data open in front of me, I turn to the other monitor and do a find in the database window. Nope, haven't queried Erin Harris before, although I've sent to her colleague Michael Harriot who is also at Folio and he hasn't responded yet.


New Record. I drag from the web browser window her name, email, the organization name and its weblink, the postal address, phone number, and her blurb about what kind of material she represents. Then I click on the link to "How to submit" and scan it to see what form of submission she prefers. I have an initial breakdown into either "Email", "Snailmail", or "WebPortal". Many agents do not accept anything but email or will not accept email and require it be mailed with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for the reply; others will accept multiple formats but have a preference; still others do not appear to have a preference, which leaves it up to me. In the case of Erin Harris, she wants all submissions to be uploaded using Folio's web form: answer the questions and click the "upload proposal" button and upload the material. I check "WebPortal".


The next field in my database distinguishes between types of material the agent wants to receive: query only? query with sample of your writing? query with formal nonfiction proposal? query with proposal AND sample? Then I have a field for stipulation of what type of sample for those who want an included writing sample. The most common options are First Chapter and First xx pages, but I also have indicators for Sample Chapter (any of the author's choosing), first TWO chapters, Selections Up to xx Pages, and First XX Chapters Up to YY Pages.


I fill out that Erin Harris wants a Query with the first 10 pages only of my proposal (unusual option) and first chapter as writing sample. I flag the record, indicating that no query has been sent yet, but also flag the "OnHold" field because I'm not sending to her until I get a rejection from her colleague Michael Harriot, or until enough time has elapsed that I can figure I would have heard if he were interested. (Some agents do not reply except in the affirmative).



I move on to the next agent in the search results. Meh... their writeup says they are interested in memoirs of experts in the medical or industrial-sciences fields, not my kind of memoir, skip that one... OK here's a good one... I make the new record, drag the fields into my database, then, since this person wants the query via email I click the button next to email address and my database auto-generates the email with the agent's name and email address in the To header, with the subject line: QUERY--The Story of Q, copy my query letter text and paste it in as the body, and then I personalize the attached proposal (putting in the correct name and address) and send.


I have a related table of correspondence records. I input that I "sent NewQuery 8 + proposal via email" and it auto-dates the record with today's date. When a rejection letter comes in I will find the record and input "Declined interest" on the next line and that will generate a second related record with that day's date.


The next agent wants the proposal via standard US mail ("Snail mail") with SASE. I stick more paper into the laser printer, personalize the proposal front page and print it, print the pitch cover letter and sign it, paperclip the proposal, then click the "Print Agent Label" twice and "Print SASE Label" twice. My little Dymo label printer obediently prints my mailing labels and I crack and peel one set onto a new envelope, slap on a Forever stamp, grab that and the cover letter and proposal and slip them into the big parcel envelope, seal that and crack and peel the second set of labels onto that and mark my database record "sent NewPitch 8 + Proposal w/ONE chap snail w/SASE".


I get nine or a dozen or sometimes fourteen or so done and call it quits for the week's endeavors. Stack the outbound US mail envelopes in the chair, where I (or anais_pf) will get around to mailing them when we're out and about and the rest of it's out of my hands. All I can do is keep fishing.

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ahunter3: (Default)
There are two recurrent and interrelated comments or lines of thought that have cropped up quite often over the years in which I've been trying to do this:


• What is it that you hope to accomplish? What's your goal, your ideal outcome, if your efforts were to succeed?


• Why do we need to identify and "have liberation" for this or that specified out-group? Shouldn't we just have human liberation, embrace the ideal of equality for absolutely everybody and leave it at that? I mean, by identifying yourself or your group as ThesePeople™, you're adding more energy into the old tired labels that labeled you as ThesePeople™ to begin with; if you don't wish to be treated differently, that seems kind of counterproductive.


The real AND the assumed answer to the first question is implicit in the second: when extrapolated to the final ideal outcome, yes, the ultimate desired end result is that the category should not matter. In this case, that either gender ceases to be a factor in how people think of other people (we might still be quite conscious of biological sex and have sexual orientation and preferences and so on based on that alone, but without differing notions and expectations of personality and behavior, let alone different yardsticks of desired or acceptable personality and behavior), or, alternatively, that we keep gender around in some fashion but have a multitude of variations and roles that we "play with" and none of them are specific to just one sex.


If I may step a step or two (or a dozen) back from the ideal outcome to a more in-my-lifetime attainable sort of outcome, one that is more closely linked to what I personally am trying to do, it would be that people end up holding in their minds a notion (a stereotype, a vague concept) of male-bodied people who are women or girls or sissy-esque or however you want to express that whose sexual orientation is towards female-bodied people; and, along with that notion (however cartoonlike or caricatured it may be) a sense of how male-female sexual behavior plays out. How people like that probably flirt or get laid or what they get hot for or who gets hot for them and so on.





So, now (finally) a reply to the second question. Whether it is being asked about feminism (as opposed to "humanism" or "people-ism" or whatever), or one of the movements against specific types of racism, or children's liberation, or schizophrenics' liberation, or this, my own home-rolled personal gender identity concern, the GENERAL answer to the second question is that most of the world already agrees in principle with "everyone should be equal", but huge chunks of that population have huge holes in their awareness of the ways in which equality is still lacking and in which their own perceptions and assumptions and attitudes may be playing a role in that.


Circa 1776, Thomas Jefferson rather famously stated that all men are created equal and are governed with legitimacy only with their consent, and furthermore have not only the right but the duty to throw off any government that becomes destructive of its legitimate purpose, which is to provide for their safety and happiness. It has often been pointed out in the modern era that when he and his cohort spoke of equality, they meant WHITE men who OWNED LAND. Rather than calling them dishonest or cynical, I would tend to assume that they believed that they did indeed want liberation for everybody, that they did indeed really support universal equality--they just had blind spots that seem suspiciously large to us, making it difficult for some modern people to reconcile their racist attitudes and assumptions (and laws) with their idealism.


We, of course, being enlightened, have naturally discarded all those exceptions and when we speak of equality we really do mean for everybody. Well, not for children, of course, they really are different, and it would be genuinely silly to try to treat them as equals in law and in everyday interaction, not to mention how massively impractical it would be... oh, do you hear a bit of an echo?


No, this is not about to become a treatise on children's rights or children's liberation, but it makes a good example, doesn't it? Regardless of whether we someday rethink and reconfigure the treatment of children, MOST people in today's society haven't consciously thought about and then rejected the notion that we SHOULD extend equality to children, so much as it simply hasn't crossed their minds. That's what I mean by a blind spot. I'm saying that in Thomas Jefferson's time, the average enlightment-inspired idealist didn't think one way or the other about race when they considered equality.


So that's the general answer: we can't just hop to an all-encompassing "humanism" or "people-ism" because first we find it necessary to draw people's attention to specific discrepancies in folks' widely-shared thought patterns that get in the way of that.



Now, the SPECIFICS:


Yeah, I could say "let's just can it with the sexist assumptions about behaviors and personality traits and agree on sexual equality", but y'all--you, the rest of the society I've spent my life living in, addressing you generally and in the plural--y'all have a specific blind spot. Me.


Most people have a notion about how sex works between male and female people, whether you are highly conscious of it or not. You tend to think of sex as something that girls and women consent to, or choose not to consent to. As something that boys and men seek to make happen, thus prompting girls and women to respond with that consent or lack thereof. No, not always, I know not all of you always think in those terms. But when you think of it in a more egalitarian and less sex-polarized way, you are often thinking of sex as it occurs in what is already an ongoing relationship. Or you are thinking of it as an individual scene, a liaison or tryst in which things went down according to some other sequence of behaviors, whether it be a highly mutual flirtation-to-consummation sort of thing or one in which a sexually forward female person flings a leg over or makes an overt pass or otherwise is distinctively the initiator...


So let's snag that lattermost possibility, since it sort of stands out as a clearly undeniable against-the-grain sort of image. What happens next? Does an ongoing romantic relationship develop out of this rendezvous, or is she just out for a tasty bit of nookie? What if she wanted a boyfriend and not just a sexual encounter? What if he wants a relationship if that's a possibility here, should he try to slow her down and make sure she's also interested in him as a person, or should he assume that if he's available for more than the roll in the proverbial hay she will probably be willing to explore that possibility with him? Under what circumstances would you most want your daughter to avail herself of this particular sexual strategy? What's your advice to the guy, if he wants to meet women and get involved and have a girlfriend?


How does the movie play out, with characters who, because of how they are, in temperament and how they think of themselves and so on, are predisposed to these kind of dynamics? I think probably you have an easier time conjuring up her and thinking of her and what happens to her in her life. She's been portrayed, although usually as a Bad Example. Hey, girls, you wouldn't want to follow her lead. Look what they call her, not just behind her back but to her face. Look how she ends up alone and lonely. But she talks back, doesn't she? You've heard her voice, maybe, because she isn't all that demure and shy about expressing where she's coming from. Anyway, whatever you figure she's in for as an outcome, I think maybe you have some sense of her and maybe you can sort of see how there's a mesh between her personality characteristics and these specific sexual behaviors, even if you can also see the pragmatic wisdom in the general advice that she should modify her behavior if she wants a better outcome for herself, is that perhaps the case?


But that's in part because when folks visualize her and what might happen with her, they aren't thinking of her meeting up with someone like him. Or a model of heterosexuality arranged around how things can be with someone like him. Oh, it's not entirely that he never gets portrayed at all, but how he feels about who he is is entirely in the shadows. We're led to believe he would be a lot more assertive and take a much more active role if he weren't such a chickenshit cowardly spineless wimpy person. On the rare occasion he gets to have a voice, he's all bitter and full of hate because those evil women don't like nice guys like him and instead throw themselves at horrid despicable bad boys who treat them like shit. Well, he says bitterly, no more mister nice guy, I'm going to grow a mustache and I will twirl it and I will be in the clock tower with my rifle. Well... it's better than no image of us at ALL, I suppose, but we're still very much erased and I think when people consider sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender they do not think of guys like us who like being how we are, who are not bitterly trying to cast that aside, who do not aspire to being like other guys, who are proud of being like this, and who actually manage to make this way of being male work, who get to have relationships and get to feel sexy and desirable not in spite of but because of how and who we are.


I think that when people conceive of a person like that and add it, in their heads, to their model of the types of genders and sexual orientations that exist, it changes the mental landscape. I think it's sort of a missing puzzle piece and when it drops into place and folks stop having that particular blind spot, it makes sexual equality and the liberation from gender norms an actual possibility.


I'm shy and self-conscious about a lot of this, and it feels very personal, to talk about this and then have to worry (I can't help it) about looking utterly ridiculous as well as whiny and so forth, to anyone I can get to listen to me long enough to understand the message. But, well, practically by definition, anyone who fits the description is going to be shy and self-conscious about it, even if the necessary message were not so unavoidably twined up with "ooh look at me I'm so DIFFERENT", not to mention "ooh, the world has been very MEAN to me". Because. Because, think about it, that's who we are. The "personality politics" of gender at close range. Prim and private and demure, we are. So this isn't the most comfortable task possible, what I've set for myself. But someone's got to say it and so I guess it shall be me.


I'll get better at it as I go.

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ahunter3: (Default)
I've changed the title of my book.


Well, the portion after the colon—is that more properly referred to as its subtitle?


OLD: The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale
NEW: The Story of Q: From a Queerly Different Closet



To explain why, I am going to have to drop back and explain why the original title. As I said in my introductory post on this blog, I've taken to using the term "genderqueer" but it doesn't really explain much. That the term exists seems to me a good thing. A single-word method of saying "different in some other as-of-yet unspecified way". That's useful in and of itself, although it's akin to saying "etcetera" is a specific type of expense in my budget. The implication is that you'd have to dig deeper and bring it into sharper focus before the finer, more granular categories will appear on your screen, and that worked for me as a premise for the book since it delivers on that.


But more to the point (he confesses), it's a trendy new term. It's a current phenomenon, people using that term as description of themselves. So my thinking was that literary agents and publishers might be alert for an inside story from such a person and hence would seize my cover letter and say "Aha!" when they read my pitch for the story.


Well, 200 query letters later, I found myself having serious second thoughts about that. My pitch isn't bad and it definitely conveys what the book's going to be about, so if agents were actively looking for a genderqueer memoir or coming-out story, it seems like more of them would have requested a peek at the manuscript.


OR, perhaps, those who are indeed on the lookout for a story of that ilk are being turned away by the realization that I am not a twenty-something. (My cover letter does make that apparent). As I said, it's a trendy new term. Most of the people using it to refer to themselves are young. I can visualize an agent scanning my letter and tossing it into the slush pile, thinking "Yeah, I could go with a story like that, but it has to be from the target audience of genderqueer folks who would buy it and read it, and they are not going to want to read about a middle-aged guy who says he's one of them".


Then there's this: as I've sought out people to be early readers or people with whom to discuss these issues, the ones whose personal stories are the most like mine do not call themselves "genderqueer". Some say "transgender", some say "it's complicated, it's something else, I don't have a name for it", much as I've said all my life. The people who actually call themselves "genderqueer", although none have said "No, you shouldn't call yourself that", are more likely to be "anti-gender" people, "I do not have a gender" people, or "sometimes I am this, sometimes I am that" gendered people.





Here's the new version of the query letter I'm using (it's not very different, actually):



I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm male, that's my sex; I'm attracted to females, that's my orientation.


I don't feel as if I were born in the wrong body.


In 1980 there was no book I could find by anyone like that. Still isn't. I've written a 95,000-word coming-out memoir, THE STORY OF Q: FROM A QUEERLY DIFFERENT CLOSET.


As a child, I admired the girls so I emulated them and competed with them and played with them. By puberty I was being called "faggot" and "queerbait" and beaten up for my presumed sexual preference.


By the age of 21 I was under a lot of pressure to identify myself as something, but there was no term for it at the time. When I did try to come out, the result was incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.


Newly confident that I was OK, I started a mental patients' uprising and was kicked out for disrupting the facility. I went on to get a college degree in Women's Studies, where same ideas that got me locked up were published in peer-reviewed journals as feminist theory articles.


This story will appeal to fans of Leslie Feinberg's STONE BUTCH BLUES, Daphne Scholinski's THE LAST TIME I WORE A DRESS, and Chaz Bono's BECOMING CHAZ, and it will be a resource for anyone exploring questions of identity and questioning their own sexuality.


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ahunter3: (Default)
I had just tried coming out to people on campus and that had gotten me locked up in the nuthouse. My expectation had been that once they were satisfied that I wasn't insane, the conversation would go on from there: after all, these notions had relevance and applicability to mental health! That's not what went down, though. They transferred me to the "moderately deranged" ward, gave me a day pass, and while I was out of the building they dumped all my clothes and books and stuff in a pile and told me upon my return "We've decided you aren't crazy and you can't stay here. Take your stuff and leave".


Hand-lettered sign on my bedroom door three years later: IF I THOUGHT IT WOULD RESULT IN YOU UNDERSTANDING THE THOUGHTS IN MY HEAD I WOULD GLADLY PLUCK IT FROM MY SHOULDERS AND DASH IT OPEN AT YOUR FEET; I WOULD GIVE MY LIFE TO ATTAIN A MEANINGFUL COMMUNICATION WITH YOU


Between 1980 and 1998, this is what I did with my life. I worked on expressing it in words and finding a venue in which to express it. I cornered friends and strangers and bade them listen to me talk about my cause. It was frustrating. People actually don't spend much time sharing thoughts and ideas they consider momentously important, and aren't expecting others to start doing so. If one presents it to them more as the sharing of ideas that are interesting and innovative or entertaining, they listen more readily but with a lessened awareness that you're speaking of things you consider really important, and they think you're just making conversation.


I had to get people's attention long enough to speak. Then I had to come out, although they would not understand right away what the fuck it was I was coming out as. It was different from what they were familiar with so I had to explain it. The predictable result was that the people willing to listen thought I was whining about my insufficiencies, my sad failure to be a man, or that I was whining that other people were mean to me.


I suppose in a sense that is what I was doing, but I saw it as political. I didn't want personal sympathy, I wanted social change. Wanted to raise folks' consciousness, not just prompt them to say Aww poor baby you had a rough time.


Between 1998 and 2010 I put it down, set it aside. I didn't stop understanding myself in these terms but I stopped trying to tell the world about it. It's exhausting trying to dig in and make something happen and feeling like you aren't getting any traction whatsoever, and all that anger is hard to carry around. Maybe I convinced myself that it was healthier, and me happier, to just live my life and let the world be the world, you know? Besides, I'd at least gotten my article into print.





Now that I'm picking it back up, my partners and friends have seen some frustration on my part and I suspect they worry about me a little bit.


Yeah, there is some, indeed:


In 2010 I began writing my autobiography, to reassess myself and get my bearings, and as I put my experiences into words I realized this was a new tool in my hand. But having a publication-worthy book doesn't get you published. These days one doesn't directly query a publisher, one gets an agent and the agent contacts publishers on your behalf. So first you have to get an agent interested. Being able to write a clever snappy query letter isn't really the same skill as writing the book, so for months I cranked away at it, editing my pitch, being told by other authors in blunt terms that it was no damn good. Then I'm told that my original website (where I have many of my academic theory papers up for folks to read) is so "unprofessional" and antiquated-looking that it will drive away any potential agents who see it. Then I'm told that it's not very likely that a memoir will get published unless I have a platform, I need a social presence, a premade audience of potential readers of my book, fans-in-advance. Where have I been doing public speaking?


Well, OK, yeah, I could do presentations, I've been a teacher... but when I go forth to volunteer myself as a speaker, people may say "Yeah, who are you? What's your audience, who will come to hear you speak?" You need a blog, I'm told, so I have a blog (and hey, this is fun!)... but now how are you going to direct sufficient traffic to it? Who is tweeting about you?


I am by nature reserved and shy, even if also self-confident; so now I gotta be some kind of effusive gregarious extroverted salesman? Not just that but an effusive gregarious extroverted salesman explaining really personal things about myself. Thrills.


But I'm in a different space now than I was when I was 23 or 30. I am now in the relationships that were only theoretical when I was first trying to come out. I have the good life and the personal joy and happiness that my ideas told me I could have. I have the confidence that comes from all that.


And frustration is not a bad thing. Not at all. Consider: I am trying to tell the world, "Hey, world, hey society, look at what you're doing here. This shit's got to stop". It is an angry sentiment. To express it, I am going to have to do a lot of things that will not come easy to me: putting myself out there, being pushy about having a message to convey, shoving myself forward into networks of people, grabbing them by shoulder and hand and introducing myself. Networking and self-promotion. To do that, I will need to have the energy to do it. The determination to do it. The stubbornness. I will need the anger.


I embrace my frustration. It will be my engine. I will temper it with confidence and patience and I will harness it.


This is what I intend on doing, if necessary for the rest of my life. Watch me.

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ahunter3: (Default)
OK, I guess I'm going to be a blogger. I'm trying to get my book published, and after 8 months and 200 query letters (and some abrasive feedback and depressing advice from other authors) I'm feeling the need for a venting outlet of sort.


The book is a memoir, and, more specifically, it is a sexual-identity / sexual-orientation coming-out story. This sentence right here is where I'd tell you what it is that I come out as, if there were a nice simple term for it. For example, one of the speakers who spoke at a conference on gender issues introduced her vantage point as being that of "a typical urban married lesbian working in academia".


See how convenient it is to have a recognizable term?


I myself am not a married lesbian, nor am I a gay man, a heterosexual man, a heterosexual woman, a bisexual man or woman, a transgender male-to-female or female-to-male person, or an asexual person. And there's virtually no cultural awareness about my situation, which goes hand in hand with the absence of a term for it. It's something else. I'm currently using the term GENDERQUEER, although it isn't very self-explanatory, is it?



Well, that's why I wrote the book. More on the book itself shortly.



Anyhow...I have been advised that I need to be concerned with having a "platform"... by which they mean


What contacts do you have in your target markets? Have you already created a website or blog to promote yourself as an author, or to promote your book? Are you scheduled for any speaking engagements at bookstores, colleges, libraries, appropriate conferences? What else are you willing to do to sell your book (go on tour, talk shows, radio shows, book signings)?


and...


The Marketing Plan. Yessir, you’re going to sell your own book, and sell it well. The agent wants to see that not only have you built and developed your platform, but that you’ve considered how best to get your book into the hands of readers.


This "platform" thing apparently stems from the fact that my book is a work of nonfiction. Most non-memoir nonfiction is going to be a factual tome of some sort, and therefore it is logical that one would want the author to be an expert in that field, whether it be history, gardening, law enforcement, the presidential election of 2012, or auto mechanics. Personally I don't see how this applies in the same fashion to memoirs.


Maybe I should be hawking the damn thing as a novel and stick one of those "All characters appearing in this work are fictitious / any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental" disclaimers.

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