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Back in January, I posted to several groups and forums and posting areas that I participate in, telling folks I'd written a book that was a coming-out and coming-of-age story about growing up genderqueer, and asking for advance readers.

I just recently got a series of emails from one of those people who, having found time to read my book, sent me thoughtful comments and feedback.


The following are comments from five consecutive emails (and hence the rest of this post is not me speaking). The only editing I've done is to omit a sentence or two that were on another related topic.



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I'm reading your book now. I must say it's a very interesting unorthodox Bildungsroman, and there should be more of these around, so that those who feel queer could suffer less, knowing that not all people are squareminded!

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I'm half way through it now and I felt very very identified with your accounts of your childhood. I was regarded as a weirdo myself due to my adherence to the adult world and to the dogmatism inherent to it, which I had absorbed and I applied in my behaviour and relationships. That wasn't very wise, but I was young and I couldn't have known better... As a result I was abused for years by my peers, even when my peers changed through the years! But I managed, just as you did, and after acute suffering and suicidal tendencies, I overcame their criticisms and kept on being faithful to who I am.

Other weirdos around me tried to mingle and be a mimicry of "normality"; my sister, for instance. But she grew up to became suicidal in her adult life. Thus, we can consider ourselves lucky!

As your narration sounded so familiar to my ears, I was thinking to myself "why does this guy consider himself queer? his life is like mine" - that is, it's normal from my point of view -. Now I am reading the part in which the protagonist is having some sex both with a boy and a girl - non penetrative yet - and I remember when I had a girl friend I loved so much that I would have gone to bed with her - although it didn't happen -. ;-:-D

My step daughter/son aged nearly 14 is transgender, and s/he has gone through some shit already, although I think s/he is clear in her/his mind about stuff. Book like yours are very necessary, you know...

... Now I'll keep on reading, I'm wondering what is happening next with this guy...


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Hey, the colonel in page 150 is a tough one, I love him! :-D Resembles some gay friend of mine...

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Your book was great, I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the last part of it, when Derek investigates and tries to be himself despite everything. When he wears the wraparound skirt it reminds me of myself on the day I got rid of bullies. I was wearing a wig and acting crazy because I no longer cared, and when they learnt that they left me alone forever. And your allusions are very interesting. Conundrum has been in my list for years until I finally found that it is available in pdf in the net. It is in my to-read list.

When Derek was made to sign all those consent papers to put him in that institution I was like "DON'T!! DON'T DO IT!! THEY ARE CHEATING AND WANT TO PUT YOU AWAY!!!" I mean, really? Are we in Iran or something? God!

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Why on earth people are so influence by external stuff such as aesthetics? In Derek's case, he is just being himself in his choice of clothes which happen to have some esoteric symbolic meaning in our society and which are so crucial in how we see ourselves or in how others do that.

In my case, after years of repression I just showed a bit of myself when I was acting crazy with that wig. It's not that the wig had some special meaning or was any recognizable symbol for others. I think they was thought I was hopeless :-D :-D

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Revision project is successfully completed!

This thing was written, originally, as a nonfiction memoir, but since I'm currently hawking it mainly as a work of fiction, and because I've gotten enough feedback over the last couple years that the writing is a little "disappointing", it made sense to me to go back in and translate generic descriptions of how things were into individual representative scenes, complete with dialog and action and so forth.

That tends to create much longer, wordier blocks of text. One doesn't need to lay down a lot of words in order to say something like "I had tapered off and then quit spending time with the flagpole folks who sang the religious songs. I'd attended some evening sessions in various folks' houses and one day was riding back to White Rock with one of the guys when his VW bus ran out of gas coming down the hill. He cheerfully 'put it in the hands of the Lord' and managed to coast to the traffic light then creep through a left turn and then pick up speed down the next hill and into the service station, and he praised Jesus for making sure we got where we were going without any fuel. I became aware that I simply did not believe what they believed and even though they were not at all confrontational about it I felt less and less comfortable, as if I were faking it just to be singing the songs, so I dropped out of that scene."

But if you were going to do that like a screenplay, well, let's see, let's have me arrive and greet some people, come up with some names, specify 3-4 characters standing around the piano, try to recapture the feel of their friendly but treacly way of interacting, put some private thoughts in my head, a line or two of a song, some more dialog, get into the VW bus, some dialog taking place in the van before it runs out of gas, hmm better describe how we're going down this steep hill, NOW run out of gas, now have the driver comment on putting it in the hands of the lord... OK now describe coasting through the traffic light and slowly making the corner then picking up speed down the hill, and the guys in the van doing the Praise Jesus thing, and more internal dialog, then me getting out of the van, some more contemplation, elaborating on me not feeling comfy with those folks any more, then a wrapup sentence or two indicating that this event among others led to me tapering off and dropping out of the folk-religious singers group.

Guess what, we've sprawled out into several pages to cover a scene that used to be described in a paragraph!


So alongside of that, I streamlined and trimmed and hacked off subplots, condensed some characters into one character, and ended up with a narrative that sticks a lot tighter to the central story line, and that seems like a good thing too.

Overall, the manuscript has gained weight, but not too badly.

Old: 302 pages, 95,900 words
New: 318 pages, 96,800 words

With the revision finished, I've gone back to querying. Another 17 went out via email or are queued up for delivery to the post office for snailmailing.

Stats:

Total Queries: 470
Rejections: 380
Outstanding: 90

As NonFiction: total queries = 332
Rejections: 320
Outstanding: 12

As Fiction: total queries = 138
Rejections: 60
Outstanding: 78


Since it's a new edition, I'm again interested in beta readers. If you'd like to stick your nose into this tome, email me backchannel: ahunter3@earthlink.net


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After decades during which the only folks who'd ever heard of genderqueer besides genderqueer folk themselves were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans, there is now more and more newspaper, magazine, and TV coverage of it as a social phenomenon.

Washington Post

Cosmopolitan

ABC sitcom



ON THE ONE HAND, AS WELL AS THE OTHER and any other hands you can conjure up, for that matter, it is an unadulterated good thing that we're not as invisible as we were. So let's be clear on that much: the remainder of this little opinion-piece should not be taken as meaning that I think having some social visibility is a mixed blessing. It's not. There's nothing mixed about that. It's all good.

No, my concern is with some of the forms that it seems to be taking. Specifics that are present (or, more to the point, absent) in our new visibility that could cause problems for all of us. Specifics that are absolutely NOT inevitably part of finally getting some social visibility, they just happen to be part of how our social visibility has developed.

And that problem is this: I don't think anyone consuming mainstream explanations of genderqueer are going to be able to visualize how any of us could have come up with this sense of identity if it weren't already trending.

It is being portrayed as a New Happening Thing, a bandwagon of gender identity that we're jumping onto in order to be cool, to be a part of an edgy new phenomenon.

Let me contrast this up for you a bit. People have some sense at this point of what it might be like to come of age and find yourself attracted to the same sex, and can imagine not only what it might be like in a world that already has a gay and lesbian community with public places where you could meet others like yourself, but also, I think, what it might be like if there WEREN'T. To be like that in an era or in a place where you might not know you weren't the only one. To find the feelings and attractions and confusions and have to figure them all out on your own. To run headlong into the attitudes and assumptions that can make life difficult if that happens to be your situation.

And how about being male-to-female or female-to-male transsexual? Yes, I think people do have a sense at this point of what that might be like, including perhaps growing up in a small town where you'd have to sort that out and figure a good portion of it out on your own. How complicated and how confusing that must be. The situations that would be messy and untenable and difficult to negotiate, and the loneliness and isolation and lack of feeling understood by the people surrounding you.

You're nodding, aren't you? You see where I'm going with this. A considerable number of people out there understand in some sense that we ARE genderqueer and they might be able to get a passing grade on a multiple-choice exam that asked questions about pronouns and apparel and filling out applications that require a M or an F and bathrooms and how one moves and talks and gestures and so on. But if they were asked what kind of shit we would be going through in an environment that did not as of yet have much of a consciousness about being genderqueer, and they were asked to describe what folks like us would have to go through and the things we'd have to process in our minds to come up with a self-awareness of being genderqueer all on our own?

Feel free to contradict me, but I think the average liberally tolerant person who knows about "genderqueer" would think——if not necessarily say to our faces—— that if there weren't already a subgroup of people already out there "doing genderqueer", we'd never come up with it on our own; that it isn't a real gender or sexual identity the way that being lesbian or gay, or even trans, is, with real suffering and alienation anchored in the way that who we are isn't what is expected based on our bodies. I think they'd pause and think on it for a few moments and then say that we'd choose from among the nearest-best-fitting of the other sexual / gender identities: many of us would consider ourselves gay or lesbian, many would identify as transsexual, and quite a few would decide that we were straight and cisgendered. And not suffer to any measurable degree as a consequence. Because we have no narrative. People know (sort of) what it's like to be us (due to us telling them) but not much about what it is like to be one of us and failing to fit in as mainstream, as exception to the rule, or even as exception to the exception to the rule.

Important disclaimer: All of the above is quite self-serving insofar as I've written a coming-out story, so of course I'm inclined to see reasons why my story addresses an important void.

But even so.

Mine is just one story. I cannot write the story of what it is like to be nonbinary genderfluid. Because that's not my experience. Someone else needs to. I can't explain what it's like to be asexual in a sexualized world that attraction-codes people on the basis of their bits. Someone else needs to.

If we don't, I fear that a few years will tick by and then some other trendy phenomena will make stories about us less new and shiny and we'll get written about far less often, without ever causing people to understand why any of this MATTERS.


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Authors and agents and writing coaches have a mantra: "show, don't tell". Instead of saying that John and Theresa had a fight, you describe the glares and the raised voices, you provide the dialog, describe the way the silverware jingles and bounces when the hand smacks down on the table, and so on.


There's an entire category of memoir that ought to have a name—illustrative memoir, demonstrative memoir, exemplary memoir, representative memoir, something like that—in which the author is trying to show a situation to the reading audience as an alternative to telling them about it in a polemic or a manifesto. In other words, their memoir is less "This is the story of me-the-author, ain't I interesting?" and more "This is the story of a ______ person, so that you can see how it is".


And there's a gamble in doing that. The author is gambling that the readers will get out of it what the author intended, that they will perceive the book as being a representative example of whatever situation or phenomenon the author is trying to draw attention to.



Marilyn French wrote The Women's Room. Her tale (recast as the tale of Myra) could have been received and reviewed as a sort of soap-opera days-in-the-lives story of a suburban woman and her circle of similar white women in the 50s and 60s, but it was seen (quite rightly) as a show-don't-tell presentation of women's lives in patriarchy, the Exhibit A to go along with Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan's theory works.


Jan Morris wrote Conundrum: From James to Jan. She gave us her first person account of growing up as a male child increasingly aware of feeling that the real person in that body was a girl, later a woman, and of the conflicts and complexities of that experience, eventually culminating in a successful sex reassignment surgery. Almost no one perceived it as anything other than an inside look at what it is like to be a transsexual male-to-female person, as Morris had intended it should be.


Not all attempts to illustrate a concept by telling a representative tale work out as planned, although the most prominent example isn't a memoir, but fiction instead: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair intended his tale of Jurgis Rudkus, immigrant from Lithuania, to be an illustration of the miserable lives of impoverished immigrants in a class-stratified society. Instead, it was widely received as an expose of what goes on in slaughterhouses as told from the perspective of someone working in them.


In some situations, the novelist (and novel fans) have often expressed a desire to have, for example, gay main characters without the book being ABOUT being gay; or mixed-race family characters without the book being ABOUT a mixed-race family. It's the opposite of trying to write a representative memoir: the desire for the difference to be accepted as normative.


When Rita Mae Brown wrote Rubyfruit Jungle, it was perceived as a coming-of-age story of a lesbian, an inside look at what it is like to grow up lesbian. If it were being published for the first time *now*, might it be perceived instead as the tale of an interesting semi-rural lower-income southern girl who goes on to college and who also oh yeah is lesbian and has to take some shit for that?


In my case, I am very much trying to be "Exhibit A". I am counting on people reading my book and seeing a social phenomenon, without me jumping up ever 3rd paragraph or so to say "Now, you see, that would have gone down differently if I had been a typical boy instead of a girlish / girl-identified male".

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