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Back in April, I showed up for my annual appointment with the tax consultant and slid in across the table from him and exchanged pleasantries. Provided the usual clump of documents and expenditure summaries on cue. Towards the end of our session, I said to him, "Hey, I'm going to have a book published later this year. I'll be doing promotional activities, and there's also a publicist... anyway, I've been doing related speaking engagements for awhile now, can those be included on next year's taxes as an expense even if they predate 2017?"

And he said, "Oh, congratulations! What's it about?"

Not long after that, I was chatting with my primary client (I'm a database developer) and explaining that I might be taking time off, two days here and three days there, on fairly short notice over the next year because I was trying to get some speaking engagements to promote my book, and the conversation quickly swung around to the same question.

In neither case had I specifically planned to explain to these individuals about being genderqueer, what genderqueer means in the first place, or why I thought it was important to tell the world all about it.

In fact, my attitude towards these folks was remarkably similar to the attitude that many folks -- the ones most inclined to say things like "I don't see why you need to bring up all that personal stuff, can't we all just be people together, can't you rejoice in your own unique individual identity instead of needing to label yourself" -- tend to recommend to me. I was figuring that neither my tax accountant nor my database client had any particular reason to know or to care about my gender identity, and frankly whatever gender assumptions they made based on my visual appearance as a male-bodied person were not of any particular concern or interest to me either.

I'm also a singer in the local community choir. I sing baritone. The other choristers there are a fairly conventional sampling of suburbanites from a Republican-majority county, mostly upper-middle-aged and beyond retired professionals. I don't always feel as if I completely fit in there but they make friendly overtures and make me feel welcome and I enjoy participating; I've never deliberately done things that would trigger confusion or "alien in our midst" responses there; it was, once again, an environment where I didn't quite feel driven to express and explain my gender identity, although it was a more personal activity than my business dealings with the tax consultant or my database client.

Well, last year around this time, someone in Manhattan organized a performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony and requested volunter singers for the choral movement with the proceeds to go to the victims' families down in Orlando in the wake of the shootings. So I attended and showed up attired in a situationally-appropriate skirt. During rehearsal, one of the tenors from our community choir hailed me and said it was good to see someone else from our choir there, then glanced down and added, "Umm, is that a kilt?"


To be honest, I don't always handle it well. Unrehearsed and uncontemplated outings are awkward. I feel a mixture of enthusiasm for explaining the topic to anyone genuinely interested, reticent wariness about giving someone a five-minute overview lecture in reaction to passing comment, and annoyance that I can't just blithely toss off a three-or-four word phrase and rely on it to explain as much as needs explaining. Or think I can't.

I do wish for a world where this isn't necessary. It's not something I greatly enjoy doing. Despite what seems to some folks to be an appearance to the contrary, I don't actually get off on perpetually explaining to folks what a peculiarly variant individual I am. Dating back to when I was an elementary school student, I've just wanted to be understood for who and what I am -- a coarse approximation would do -- instead of correcting badly wrong misapprehensions or coping with that special flavor of perplexed curiosity that makes one feel like a pale-bodied multi-legged bug someone just discovered upon overturning a rock.


I have described myself previously as an outlier -- an exception to the general rule, not uniquely so but among the minority who comprise such exceptions. That's the limit of reasonable expectations of normalization, I think, and I'm OK with that: that folks would often find me odd and unusual, but would recognize a term for that specific oddity when it was offered as explanation, and would nod and say "Oh, OK". Some term that is short and pithy instead of paragraphs of explanation. So, yes, a box to put myself in.

Boxes aren't intrinsically bad horrible things that take away folks' freedom and confine them and strip them of their individuality. Especially not when self-chosen. They can be quite cozy and comfortable and protective. They can limit the sense of being out in the open and full exposed. And it's not just us peculiar minority folks who rely on them. I bet most people don't do their best sleeping out in the unenclosed fields! Don't begrudge me my box.

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In my talks, such as the talk I gave last week in Manhattan, I mention Jeff. Jeff is a gay entertainer; he does a show at the microphone where he intersperses personal anecdotes with edgy humor. Jeff, like me, is and has always been a feminine person, more like one of the girls than like one of the boys. He talks about this at the microphone, about himself growing up in a small town in the midwest, about watching the ballerinas on TV and wanting to be graceful and elegant like that himself. "See, I knew even then", he says. "I was only about eight. Me and my sisters all wanted leotards and tutus."

It has become a subject on which one's politics may be assessed for correctness, this question of sexual orientation and gender identity, and we should all pause, as if for station identification, and make the ritual disclaimer that gender identity is an entirely different thing from sexual orientation. It is true. They are not two different ways of saying the same thing. They are different. You can vary either one without varying the other and you can have any combination of the two that you can conceivably imagine.

But, for Jeff, being feminine—being like his sisters—is not a different thing from being gay. When he is at the microphone describing his days in high school and his experiences coming out, he makes no distinction between things that happened the way they did because he was a feminine person and things that took place because he was attracted to other males. The people surrounding him, reacting to him, didn't make any such distinction because to them being a gay male and being a girlishly feminine male were not separate things, and nothing in Jeff's own personal experience gave him a lot of reason to need to make such a distinction either.

So discussing gender and sexual orientation as if they had NO EFFECT on each other seems to be an unnecessary and unproductive interpretation of the maxim that they aren't the same thing.

Let's be blunt, shall we? The historically prevailing counterposition has not merely been that they are basically the same thing, it is that they are the same thing and that thing is sexual orientation. The people who deny that gender identity is a separate thing are usually trying to claim that it all boils down to sexual orientation, that being differently gendered is just a batch of fancy-schmantzy word salad and that if you strip the fancy words away you've got straight people and gay folks, nothing else to see here.

And a lot of the politically correct restating-ad-infinitum of the fact that they aren't the same thing is basically a frustrated denial to that counterposition.

In this posting I'm going to upend both assertions. They're both oversimplifications and they're both wrong.

Chloe is another feminine person. She has a lot in common with Jeff and with me. She has a bit more in common with Jeff because she, too, has a same-sex attraction. She's a lesbian.

Not everyone accepts her word for it that she's a lesbian. A fair number of guys find her interesting and cute. She's a feminine female. They keep smiling at her when she thanks them for whatever complimentary things they've said but declines their requests and offers, explaining that she's a lesbian. They keep smiling and they keep making requests and offers.

That would be annoying enough but except when it verges into hostility and violence she doesn't particularly care what a bunch of guys think. If only that were all there were to it! But she also gets flack sometimes from women. She's been accused of playing at being a lesbian because it's edgy and trendy, and told that she's obviously keeping her options open. And once or twice she's been told that because she passes as straight, she's got it easy. And that she's not committed to the lifestyle. Chloe indicates that she is totally committed to living her life as a lesbian, it's who she is, she's known who she was attracted to since before she got her first period.

Chloe and I have some things in common that we don't share with Jeff. People have tended to question my sexual orientation, too. Neither of us fit the stereotypes for folks whose attraction is towards female people. We both have had people indicating that they know better, that they know how we really like it. Or how we'd really like it if the right male-bodied person gave us the right experiences.

Our gender expression affects perceptions of our sexual orientation. Since both gender and sexual orientation are social currency, things that we don't just hold in our heads but communicate to other people, other people's perception of us in these parameters is part of our identity, whether we like it or not. We can get good at filtering things out but it's part of our ongoing experience of who we are. And thus our gender expressions color our sexual orientations and vice versa.

Meanwhile, one of the most centrally social aspects of sexual orientation is the market of potential partners and how you find them, appeal to them, and position yourself to be perceived by them as a person of potential sexual interest. This is a severely underdiscussed aspect of sexual orientation. You know how the moon only presents one side to us in perpetuity? Well, this is the back side of sexual orientation that never seems to be facing us, that so seldom gets discussed: not OUR appetite but the appetites of those we wish to find us appetizing, the attractions of the people to whom we find ourselves attracted. Obviously in a perfect (and ego-gratifying) world there would be complete overlap but in reality we seek not only those to whom we are sexually oriented and specifically attracted but also those who are sexually oriented to our type and specifically attracted to us in return.

As I also tend to mention in my presentation talks, OKCupid now allows a person to identify their own gender not merely as man or woman, but lets us pick from a long long list. But then you get to the screen where you specify which searches your profile will be included in and THOSE are still confined to searches for men, searches for women, or both. And for your own searches you can indicate that you're interested in men, interested in women, or both.

Nowadays, the list of personal gender identities that people may use for themselves is pretty long: man, woman, male, female, agender, demiboy, demigirl, female man, male woman, neutrois, genderfluid between man and woman, genderfluid between agender and demigirl, genderfluid between boy and demiboy, girl, boy, male girl, female boy, bigender, trigender, gender invert, genderfuck, genderfluid between neutrois and female boy, butch, femme, demibutch, demifemme, pangender, nelly, bear, twink...

How do those gender identities come into play when it comes to finding someone who would be attracted to you?

Concepts of sexual orientation lag behind the array of gender identities; it still assumes that people have a sexual orientation that would fall neatly into a very small and finite set of options: heterosexual, gay/lesbian, or bisexual. Heterosexual means that one is attracted to "THE opposite sex". If a person identifies as being a demigirl, what is "the opposite sex"?

Admittedly, that last question elides any distinction between gender and sex; these identities are genders, we said. But that raises the next box of questions: is sexual orientation generally an attraction on the basis of morphological sex, or is attraction more often by gender?

Gender, as we've come to collectively acknowledge, is one's self-assigned / self-verified identity. But attraction is in the eyes of the beholder, so (as if things weren't already sufficiently complicated) we should now perhaps distinguish between self-assigned gender and observer-assigned gender. At least long enough to consider the previous question of whether sexual orientation is actually gender orientation or if it's mostly about morphology and bodily plumbing.

There's more than a faint whiff of evidence that it is the latter, that what we typically conceptualize as sexual orientation is a fascination for a specific set of body parts and shapes. But there's less there than many folks think there is, because when making such considerations most folks (especially the more mainstream, those who would most likely identify as heterosexual) are once again subsuming gender into sex. In other words those who think of themselves as attracted to male-bodied people on the basis of them having male morphology are quite often also projecting onto those male bodies the expectation of a manly gender. Switch in in Jeff, or me, and they may wrinkle their noses in disapproval. Similarly, those who conceptualize themselves as having a thing for the female-bodied might back away if the example offered were a stone butch who was less feminine than they were. Not always, but I'm suggesting it's a counterbalancing trend that offsets the baseline morphological attraction.

So sexual orientation is also not just an attraction to someone with a specific physical morphology. Even though physical morphology would appear to be far from irrelevant.

Back to our hypothetical demigirl. She (or they, if they prefer) would, if being specific in looking for those most likely to find them sexy and desirable, want to find those people who are, a), sexy to them and b) attracted to demigirls. It might be the case that finding people who are attracted to girls in general, or to female people in general, would be sufficient for the latter specification... but it might not be. It depends on whether a generic taste for girls, or female-bodied folk, would have sufficient overlap. If it kind of tends NOT to, positioning herself to be perceived on the market as a girl (and/or female person) would just waste a lot of her time.

I know of whence I speak. I am a gender invert and I am a male-bodied girl. I present as male. (I do make some effort to present as a male-bodied feminine person, but I don't as of yet enjoy a surrounding cultural notion of what a male girl would look like). I have dated, and in fact I will confess that I probably put more time and energy between the ages of 16 and 41 into seeking potential partners than I spent on being a gender activist. I discovered early on that it simply did not work for me to position myself as a male, and there was no non-problematic way to position myself simply as a girl, either, insofar as I was male-bodied. I was still a virgin when I first realized I needed to position myself and advertise myself as a differently gendered individual, in order to meet people who would find that unconventional package intriguing and attractive. And it worked.

So, in short, rather than gender identity being something that collapses down into just sexual orientation if you stare at it hard enough and don't buy into a bunch of doubletalk bullshit, it's the other way around: sexual orientation is a subset of gender identity. In simple cases it may not be necessary to invoke one's gender identity to explain one's sexual orientation, but that's due to the things people can be counted on to take for granted. For the rest of us, to express our sexual orientation we needed to first explain our gender identity.

And to use that explanation as a mating call.

Yes, oh yes indeed. It's not the only area of life in which being perceived as the gender we perceive ourselves to be makes any difference. But sexuality is a central part of life. Of course it is. Of course it is a big part of why.

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The Library of Congress summary, provided by the publisher, reads: "Grayson, a transgender twelve-year-old, learns to accept her true identity and share it with the world; middle grade fiction".

Gracefully Grayson's title character is a male-bodied person who uses male pronouns throughout (as does the author, unlike the publisher who wrote the summary, and so I will do likewise); but Grayson secretly understands himself to be a girl.

When literature is written for a middle grade audience, there are both constraints and freedoms available that are not present when writing for an adult audience: Grayson twirls in an oversized shirt and imagines it to be a skirt, and this motif, repeated throughout, acts as a stand-in for all of the complexity behind "What does it MEAN to be a girl instead of a boy if you're male?"

That's somewhat necessary, since a book aimed at 10 year olds could be a tough sell on the market if it were to delve excessively or explicitly into questions of genitalia, gendered aspects of sexuality, or musings about sociology and biology and their respective input into behavior and its interpretations.

But it's also freeing. I can state from experience that saying (as an adult) "I'm different, I'm actually a woman inside" means having to face a gauntlet of questions — "Do you dislike your male body?"; "If you just prefer a skirt and like to wear your hair long, how does that make you a woman, Scottish men wear kilts and men at several times throughout history had their hair long?"; "Are you claiming that your brain developed in a female pattern in utero?"; "Will you be getting surgery and, if so, which ones, and how about hormones?"; "How do you know you're 'like a woman', as you say, since you've never been one?" — Grayson's story operates on a simpler and more elegant level; for Grayson and for his classmates and family, his being a girl instead of a boy is forbidden, and hidden in secrecy, and then at a certain point not hidden and on display for people to accept or be shocked at and outraged about, but it isn't deconstructed and thrown back in his face with a demand for more explanation.

And because none is demanded, none is given. Is Grayson going to be sexually attracted to males? Certainly some of the other kids think this must be the case, and, from their behavior, so do some of the adults; but if Grayson himself has sexual feelings and inclinations of any form, we aren't brought in on them, and sexual feelings and orientation don't appear to play a part in Grayson's own consideration of his gender. Will Grayson seek a physical transition? The question is never posed to him and in his imagination he doesn't visualize himself with (or, for that matter, without) female bodyparts, just with girlish adornments and garments. At the end of the book, we don't know. We're left with the strong sense that Grayson will seek to be perceived as a girl and accepted as a girl, including (as strongly hinted in a late scene) going into the girls', not the boys' bathroom. But that's as much as he knows and that's as much as we know after reading the final pages.

Interestingly, this makes it one of the few coming-out narratives I could identify with from start to finish. (Although Grayson is described by the publisher as a "transgender" character, I was able to read it as a story about another genderqueer individual like me, a gender invert who is, and would remain, a male-bodied girl).

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I was in Bluestockings (the book store) the other day and a book titled INTERSEX (For Lack of a Better Word) caught my eye.



Since I fancy myself an activist in the gender & sexual prefs rainbow these days, and intersex is (like genderqueer) one of the latter-day additions, I figured it would do me good to read it and get more of a sense of the experiences of intersex people. Because, you know, even though my situation doesn't really overlap theirs very much, it would be useful to have at least a generic familiarity with their concerns in case someone asks me someday while I'm presenting about genderqueer issues and whatnot, right?

OK, OK... so I should be aware, by this point, that I'm likely to recognize myself in descriptions and identities I wasn't previously familiar with. It's not like I don't have a lifetime history of that. I'm not now identifying as an Intersex person, but reading Thea Hillman's exposition left me with the strong urge to write her an email or something, commenting on things we have in common.

Hillman herself had run into the term "intersex" quite some time before deciding that it truly applied to her. She's had Virilizing Adrenal Hyperplasia from early childhood on, but received medical interventions that blunted the impact of her body's unconventional cocktail of hormones. "Intersex", she thought, "means people who have ambiguous genital, and I have normal-looking genitals". It took awhile for her to decide that yes, her experiences with doctors peering and poking at her breasts and vagina and inspecting her clitoris, being prescribed various hormonal medications and taking them as shots down at the nurse's office at school, internalizing a sense of herself as not necessarily OK, yeah, that qualified her to use the label. It took longer than that, and based on her writing seems to be an ongoing process, to be comfortable with the idea that she would at times be the face of intersex, the person showing up at conferences as the designated intersex person. Worrying that she wasn't "intersex enough" and that someone else would challenge her, discredit her.

As I read that, I found myself nodding because I often have that feeling about my own identification as genderqueer. That someone on some message board or in some forum or at some conference is going to say that if I don't ever feel a need to present as female, if I'm not genderfluid or otherwise inclined to want to be seen as a female person at least some of the time, and I'm a male-bodied person who is attracted to female people, then I'm just some cisgender hetero guy who wants to be edgy and is therefore colonizing the experience of legitimately marginalized minorities. Yeah, I know what it's like to worry and wonder that you've stolen someone else's label and that sooner or later someone's going to object.

Then Hillman goes on to describe trying to network, especially with transgender people. And finding that although, yes, they have a lot in common that links them, she often finds the issues of medical transitioning to be divisive. Because for intersex people, being surgically modified to pass as one sex or the other is something so often done TO them without their fully-informed consent, very often as infants or young children. Hillman describes how disconcerting it was to be the lone intersex activist surrounded by transgender activists discussing surgical intervention as a solution, not a problem, and describing it in glowingly positive terms as an choice-affirming and life-affirming resource. To complicate matters, Hillman was informed that she, too, qualifies as transgender: "By taking hormones", she was told, "you transitioned away from being intersex towards something else, towards a more traditional female".

And there again I was struck with the sense of shared experience. I'm not a transitioner and the issues of surgery and other medical intervention make me feel pretty alien and different too. And I, too, of course, have been told many times that the term 'transgender' applies to me, as a male rather than female girl-person, regardless of whether or not I wish to modify my body accordingly.

Sorry if I sound like I think I'm such a Special Snowflake, but always after experimenting with so many of these identity-labels, I've found myself backing away politely: "No, that's not it. It's something else".

When I finished the book, I made a note of the publisher — Manic D Press — and made an entry for it in my query-letter database.

Oh, and yeah: I'm no longer under consideration by the literary agent who requested the full manuscript. And with 640 queries to literary agents and 589 rejections, I've finally crossed the literary Rubicon and sent my first query letter off to a small publisher. It's something I've avoided doing up until now because more than a handful of literary agents have a policy against taking on any new author if any publishers have already seen their book and passed on it. And so up until now I've maintained the ability to say "nope, no publishers have seen it". Except that that isn't 100.00% true. Because when I attended the New York Writers Workshop Nonfiction Pitch Conference back in October 2013, one of the conference events was the opportunity to pitch our books to each of three publishers. Publishers, not literary agents. Well, so if I've actually been deflowered anyway...

Mostly though simply because it was time. The publishers I will be querying will be small publishers, the sort that consider small-volume titles and do not require that only literary agents contact them about books. Publishers that publish niche titles that literary agents tend to pass on because they won't attract a mainstream readership and hence won't appeal to mainstream presses with the larger profit margins that a mainstream book sale can command.

You'll perhaps have noticed that I've never mentioned the specific literary agents I've queried when I've blogged about them. Just a sort of superstitious nervousness on my part. I don't suppose there's any reason to keep it a secret, nor any reason to keep secret the fact that I'm querying any specific publisher. Probably less so, in fact, since I'm only going to query one publisher at a time.

The one I'm starting with is Seal Press.


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Requerying

Jun. 28th, 2015 06:39 pm
ahunter3: (Default)
Janet Reid — one of the literary agents who blog — was once asked whether it is ever OK to requery a literary agent who has already sent a rejection. She replied that you can, if it's after a major revision; but that you should inform the agent, and gave this mockup as an example:




> Dear Snookums,
>
> I've revamped my novel SharquesGoneWild from an adult to a YA
> thriller. It's a lot better now. I hope you'll want to take a second
> look.
>
> Obviously of course, not those exact words but you get the idea.



Thanks to Janet Reid, notes of this nature are noted in my database and in my head forevermore as "snookums" notes.


Yes, I do requery.

• If I sent a query letter to an agent and get no reply, I may requery a year later especially if my standard query letter is quite different by then.

• If I sent a query letter positioning my book in one way (memoir nonfiction) and it was rejected, I may requery at a later point pitching the book within a different category (YA fiction for example).

• If the lit agent was one of those who request a partial (first 10, 25, 30, 50 pgs, first two chapters, etc) and rejected or did not reply, and it has indeed been rewritten since they saw that material, I may requery with a 'snookums' note acknowledging that they've received a query on this book before, but that it's been substantially revised.


You should not take this as a stated opinion that requerying literary agents is a perfectly acceptable practice. It's a practice that probably does annoy some of them. I've thought about it and concluded that my situation is somewhat different from that of an author who expects to write several books over the course of the next dozen years. They need to get published periodically. I need to get this book published. Authors who tailor their work to the market in order to get a book (or another book) into print learn to recognize when it's time to put one in the trunk and move on, and can't afford to annoy literary agents who might otherwise represent one of their future offerings. Me, I'm pushier. I have one book to find a home for and less to lose if some lit agents blacklist me for requerying.


• I don't want to descend to the status of "spammer" though. If I've requeried and received a second rejection, I won't keep pestering them about it. At least for now. (Ask me in 3 years if I'm still unrepresented and unpublished. In fact, check the web for stories about a crazed author in prison for kidnapping agents and tying them to chairs and forcing them to listen to him read his book out loud... that's not in my plans either, but...)


Anyway, I've made some modifications to how my system collects stats. Requeries were not being counted in the totals. Now I can optionally include those to get a better sense of how many queries I've actually sent (as opposed to how many agents I've queried).


NOT COUNTING REQUERIES (hence comparable to prior stats reports):


The Story of Q, total queries: 572
Rejections: 537
Outstanding: 54
Under Consideration: 1

As Nonfiction, specifically: 383
Rejections: 354
Outstanding: 49

As Fiction: 189
Rejections: 183
Outstanding: 5
Under Consideration: 1

----

COUNTING REQUERIES:

The Story of Q, total queries: 623
Rejections: 568
Outstanding: 54
Under Consideration: 1

As Nonfiction, specifically: 433
Rejections: 384
Outstanding: 49

As Fiction: 190
Rejections: 184
Outstanding: 5
Under Consideration: 1

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