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This was something new, a phenomenon for which there was no name.

Galileo saw that the small "stars" surrounding Jupiter were MOVING, following Jupiter in the sky and, furthermore, shifting in their relative locations. They were orbiting Jupiter. Jupiter had objects of its own that were like the earth's moon!

"Moon", at that time, was a term that specifically meant THE Moon, the one and only. Galileo did not, in fact originally refer to them as "moons"; in his first distributed description of his discovery, he called them "Medicean stars" (allegedly hoping this would please the powerful de Medici family).

That term didn't stick. From our vantage point, it's easy to see that calling them "stars" was a poor long-range choice, as they aren't stars and don't have much in common with stars aside from being points of light in the sky. And yet, even so, the rocky little objects orbiting between Mars and Jupiter are still called "asteroids", which is almost as much of a misnomer, so it's possible that "Medicean stars" could have hung on as the new term.

We could have given them entirely new names, of course, without repurposing any existing terms (with or without modifiers like "Medicean"). Or we could have said they were objects that were LIKE the Moon, although that doesn't give them a name.

We call them "moons". The original understanding of the word "moon" was modified, expanded from referencing only the ghostly galleon that illuminates the earthly sky so as to include these similar bodies that orbit other planets.

As you'll recall from your English homework, calling the Moon a "ghostly galleon" is "using a metaphor". Calling the objects orbiting Jupiter "stars" is also a sort of metaphor, and in the context where "Moon" specifically meant our moon, calling them "moons" is an application of language use that is cousin to the metaphor. Our own moon is not literally a galleon (or ghostly) nor are the objects orbiting Jupiter literally stars; a moon orbiting Jupiter is also not identically the same thing as the moon that folks in Galileo's time already knew, and to some people it might have seemed wrong to extend the meaning of "moon" to the new objects.

The success of a literary metaphor depends on the reader's or audience's tendency to embrace the compelling significance of what the compared items have in common. There's always a certain tension between the "wrongness" of asserting an identity that the object doesn't quite literally have, on the one hand, and the "rightness" of the observed similarity that makes us nod in recognition.

Successfully expanding the definition of a word--like "moon" to embrace the new Galilean objects--also involves a tension between the fact that the word's original meaning did not include them versus the compelling similarities that makes such an expanded use resonate with us as sensible and appropriate.

Stating, on the other hand, that the Galilean objects surrounding Jupiter are like the Moon is "using a simile". A simile avoids that tension; it doesn't have that level on which it is using a word to mean something beyond the zone in which it has been applied before. Linguistically, it is a weaker formulation, because it comes with an implicit "except for", a gesture towards the dissimilarities that may exist whether they are specifically laid out or not.

Suppose a feminine male person chooses to say "I am LIKE a girl" or "I am LIKE one of the women". It is, on the one hand, a formulation less likely to provoke a response of "No you're not" than the statements "I am one of the women" or "I'm a girl". On the other hand, it's weaker; hovering around it is an invisible codicil that says "except for these ways in which I'm not". And it also doesn't give a name to the speaker of the statement.

That doesn't mean I haven't used it, myself. In fact I've often said something to the effect of "I am a male who is like a girl or woman except for having a male body". And because that doesn't provide an identity-name (because, as I said, similes don't), I've called myself various NEW things like "invert" or attempted to seize on other existing terms like "sissy". But at a certain point in my life, a partner of mine listened at great length to my descriptions and my backstory and she nodded and said "Oh, I get it, you're a girl!"

I liked it. It had a definite "cut to the chase" directness to it and it emphasized exactly the connection I wanted people to realize in their heads.

I do get those "no you're not" responses from people. There are a lot of folks who resist the expanded word use, the claimed identity--some because they only consider people born female with XX chromosomes to be girls & women, some because they only consider people who are morphologically female to be girls & women, and some because they only consider people who represent themselves to other people as physically female to be girls & women.

Such attitudes are not exactly uncommon. Check out these opinions, in which folks reject anything other than a "two genders maximum" world, even among some who accept the validity of transgender people.

On the other side of things--our side of this argument--there is a lot of resentment among gender atypical, nonbinary, etc people about having our identities refused, our self-definitions rejected. I'm familiar with that firsthand: when someone does the "no you're not" thing in response to my self-identification, yeah, it's intrusively arrogant and sure as hell not reassuring when they attempt to explain to me who I am instead. But the goal, for me, isn't really to get everyone to use my terminology. Well, OK, I do recognize that appearances may be to the contrary... I do have some ego investment and a fondness for the order and pattern I choose, so yeah I PREFER that folks use my terminology! It makes me angry when they refuse to! But even so, I'll say it again: my primary goal isn't to get everyone to use my terminology.

In your schema, in your way of seeing the world and categorizing things and so on, maybe my maleness is of more categorical importance to you than my femininity. If you prefer to conceptualize me as a "guy who is like a girl" in ways other than the physical, I don't reject that formulation, even though I resent being contradicted. I suppose we do all tend to altercast other people within the privacy of our own heads, categorizing them into the identities we perceive them as.

But do not say I am just a guy who is like a girl. Do not say I am merely a male who has feminine characteristics. There's no "just" or "merely" about it. In stating my identity I am making a big deal of it and saying this is a Difference, something that sets me and my experience apart. On that one, do me the courtesy of not rejecting that claim, at least not until you've taken time to hear my story.

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Many folks in the transgender community speak or write about having a sort of schematic diagram in the brain, one that told them that despite the morphological body they were born with, they were SUPPOSED to have a different sex of parts. Trans feminist author Julia Serano (Whipping Girl) is one good example.

Note that no reference is being made to the complex bucket of personality attributes, priorities, behaviors and behavioral nuances, tastes, expressions, or any of the rest of the nonphysical characteristics that tend to be thought of as part of gender.

In fact, if we agree that gender and sex are not one and the same, this phenomenon isn't even about gender. And it isn't about society, or, if it is, it is limited to wanting to be perceived as the correct sex based on how one is able to present when visiting the nude beach. Or in one's bedroom, to one's partner.

I don't have that. I have never felt anything akin to a wiring diagram in my brain that insisted I was supposed to have female parts. That experience is utterly foreign to me.



I think most folks, when they think of transgender people, picture someone like Caitlin Jenner or Chaz Bono, someone who was born one sex but who at some point came to realize they were trans, and they began dressing and presenting as that other sex and they obtained sexual reassignment surgery and hormonal treatments, and now they dress as and behave as the new sex to which they transitioned.

It is not unreasonable for them to do so. The various online and in-person transgender communities and support groups not only contain many such people, they also tend to be places where the people in attendance also think of transgender people in those terms.

But let's backtrack to the schematic-diagram thing. Let's split apart some concepts. Picture someone totally masculine in all the traditional ways, and attracted to feminine women, an extremely conventional kind of guy. Except that Joan isn't a guy. Joan says this male body is just wrong. It has the wrong parts. So she is transitioning to female, at which point she will be a very masculine person with conventionally male interests, but female, and she will live her life as a lesbian.

I haven't met Joan (she's a hypothetical person) but I've described her and had people reassure me that there are indeed such people.

Joan might have a difficult time explaining her situation to the support group. People in the support group often conflate gender and sex as much as mainstream people out on the sidewalk. People describe themselves as children and say things like "I always knew I was female" There's a reason for this: medical interventions for transgender people are expensive, and some people are not convinced of the merits of what medical science is able to do for them. And the transgender community surely does not want to reject people who are planning to transition but haven't the resources to do so yet, or to make such people feel relegated to second-class trans citizens. Besides that, there's an understandable resentment at being treated like sideshow spectacles and asked to lower their pants, verbally or literally, and show folks the merchandise.

But Joan would be facing special barriers in addition to the ones that trans people in general face. Dealing with the gatekeeper-doctors, no picnic for any trans person trying to get cleared for medical treatments, would be a nightmare. (They tend to want all male-to-female transitioners to be utter Barbie dolls and they are inclined to question the psychological readiness of any transitioner who seems to still express the traits of their birth-sex). It might be difficult for Joan to explain her situation to the group as something a bit different from the hassles experienced by other transitioning women.

And think about the current "transgender people in bathrooms" issue. Joan's experience of that is going to be markedly different from that of trans people who adopt and embrace a lot of signature items to convey their target identity. A post-transition Joan would face the same hostilities and challenges as any other extremely butch dyke. How does she explain to other trans women how her issues are not entirely identical to their own?

Intersex people also find it frustrating sometimes to discuss gender and body. "What's inside my underwear does *NOT* define my gender", asserts an intersex friend and ally whom I met on the boards. He isn't opposed to trans people being able to get the surgeries that they seek, but often finds the trans community oblivious and unaware of how unwanted surgeries imposed on intersex people without their consent are regarded by intersex people. "I am a man. That is my gender. A medical doctor decided I should be female and wanted to remove offending parts of me to produce a female. I am not a freak show and I don't have to display my genital configuration in order to prove my gender."

I identify as a gender invert, myself. I tell people I'm a girl, or woman. What makes me a gender invert is that my body is male. What's within my clothing doesn't define my gender either. On the other hand, neither is it wrong and in need of fixing. Just like my intersex friend, I have no wish to modify my morphology to fit other people's notions of what bodyparts ought to accompany my gender identity.

You'd perhaps think, with so many of us on the same page as far as "what I have between my legs is not the same thing as my gender", that we'd see eye to eye on how to talk about these things in ways that don't insult or negate each other's experience. I suppose trying to insist that "sex", and the sex terms "male" and "female", ought to be reserved for physical body and that "gender", and gender identity terms such as "man" and "woman" and "boy" and "girl" and so forth, apply to the other, nonphysiological, factors, isn't going to get me anywhere. Not with so many in the transgender community using the terms differently.

It would make things easier if that "schematic diagram" thing inside the head had its own term. Julia Serano uses the term "subconscious sex".

Perhaps the best way to describe how my subconscious sex feels to me is to say that it seems as if, on some level, my brain expects my body to be female...

I am sure that some people will object to me referring to this aspect of my person as a subconscious "sex" rather than "gender.". I prefer "sex" because I have experienced it as being rather exclusively about my physical sex, and because for me this subconscious desire to be female has existed independently of the social phenomena commonly associated with the word "gender".


— Julia Serano, Whipping Girl pgs 80, 82

If we could go with that extra terminology, transgender people could express that (for example) their subconscious sex identity is female, their born sex was male, their gender is girl or woman. My intersex colleague could say he is a man, that doctors wanted to perform unwanted surgery because he was born intersex and they wanted to make him biologically female. And I could say I am a girl or woman whose biological sex is male.


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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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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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The following is a letter sent to Newsday in response to their printing of op ed article "The Myth of Gender-Neutral Parenting", available here. Newsday declined to print this letter.




Neuroscientist Debra Soh does a disservice to gender-variant people and to parents attempting gender-neutral childrearing ("The myth of gender-neutral parenting", NEWSDAY 2/5/2017, page A 30).

Imagine, if you will, that you have a mango snowcone in one hand and a mint snowcone in the other. Hurl the mango snowcone at the nearest wall from a distance of 5 feet. You get a massive splatter of orange ice a couple feet in diameter. Now hurl the mint snowcone, aiming about 6 inches to the right of where you threw the mango cone, and now you have a second large splatter that substantially overlaps the first one but skews to the right.

THAT is what neuroscience tells us about gender: that there are differences between males and females, but that there is more variation within each population than there is on average between the two populations, and that there is a lot of overlap.

I myself am a gender-variant person, the equivalent of a spot of mango ice over in the portion of the wall primarily occupied by mint green ice-flecks. No different or unusual process caused that ice fleck to be there — ordinary geometry says that any time you have this kind of distribution pattern, with a wide spread within each group and overlaps between the two groups, you are, BY DEFINITION, going to have such points.

The purpose of gender-neutral parenting is not to impose some kind of forced androgyny on children but rather to step back from gender prescriptivism, the belief that males who are not masculine and females who are not feminine are wrong, inappropriate, and not to be approved of.

A typically masculine male child would have no more reason to feel uncomfortable in a gender-neutral environment than a feminine male child like me would. Nothing bad is going to happen to him if he isn't getting his self-expression bolstered with constant messages saying that males are expected to be masculine, as long as he's supported in his self-expression.

The converse is not true. The atypically gendered child has historically experienced the world as a hostile place, because we are perpetually confronted with the message that not only are the majority of the people of our biological sex configured with a different set of personality characteristics, behaviors, priorities, and nuances, but that ours is wrong and that we should not self-express but instead should try to tuck our odd corners out of sight in shame and embarrassment.

If gender-neutral parenting is a threat to a typically gendered child's potential, the typically gendered person must be a fragile hothouse flower indeed.

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Allan Hunter, author of THE STORY OF Q: A GENDERQUEER TALE, is a gender invert, a genderqueer activist; he presents gender theory and leads discussion groups in university women's and gender studies courses and addresses LGBTQ groups.



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ahunter3: (Default)
In my Jan 16 blog-entry ("The Limits of Radical Androgyny") I promised to cycle back to an interesting subset of people in society, the folks who dissent from what we gender activists say — but not for the usual reasons. Instead, these are the ones who say that of course gender variance should be socially acceptable, but they claim that they don't see any sign that it isn't now or hasn't been so, and that we make mountains out of molehills, that there's just no social problem there to speak of.

Oh, if you give examples, they may concede that there some background attitude that we have to contend with, but they'll say it's no worse than, say, the pressure on people to be right-handed. Easy to ignore.

I'll have to admit I've often found such folks frustrating to deal with. What's up with these infuriating people, who say that the social forces we've struggled against all our lives are no big deal? In contrast, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the mindset of the conservative gender-orthodox, the unapologetic prescriptivists with all their fears of horrible things happening if we don't maintain and shore up gender norms and keep men men and women women and so on.

Well, after listening to some of the dismissive people over the course of 35 years of gender activism, I think I've noticed some patterns that may help to explain them a bit, although, as ever, these are reductive generalizations that may not apply to everyone.


PATTERN ONE: Defensive Denial

I've never been in the military and have not spent much time being shot at, but I am told that if you are part of a combat detail and have to attain some objective while people are shooting at you, the best thing to do is to tune it out as best you can and do whatever tasks you have to do with your full attention on them.

In graduate school, my friend Vivian spoke once about crossing a dark campus parking lot at night and how no one ever bothers her the way many female students reported being accosted and harassed. She doesn't move the way a person moves when they are wary and worried about something happening; she moves with complete self-assured confidence, a middle-aged butch lesbian that nobody is going to mess with. Of course, being a middle-aged butch lesbian is no guarantee against unwanted creepy attention in a parking lot, but because her image of herself is so thoroughly that of a no-nonsense person who would not tolerate such things, she broadcasts that self-image, it is manifest in the way she walks, the way she looks at people, the way she holds bags and car keys and so on.

I've deployed a similar technique in a different setting myself, especially in my younger and more volatile days. I would be determined to sit across from some damn school official or organizational bureaucrat and have a conversation, and I discovered fairly early on that if I presented myself to the receptionist and waited to be given permission to go on back, I'd be waiting a long time or would be told that the person in question was not willing or interested in meeting with me. But if I strode past as if I worked there myself and was very busy with whatever mission-task occupied my attention, that would often work to get me past the gatekeeper and would nearly always suffice once I was in the corridors I didn't properly belong in. There is a lot of authority conveyed simply by acting like you know what you're doing and that you belong where you're at.

This is all defensive denial, in various forms. The tricky part can be remaining aware on a detached intellectual level that the risk really does exist, but without dwelling on it and becoming functionally aware of it.

Gender socialization pressures are abstract and complex, and for all of us they are a constant unmitigated backdrop. Defensive denial, which is a great coping mechanism especially for anyone who is somewhat gender-atypical, can become an unconscious habit that I think some people engage in without any awareness, a sort of second-tier defensive denial in which it erases its own tracks from the mind.


PATTERN TWO: Signal Lost Amidst the Noise

If you step out your front door tomorrow morning and find yourself face to face with a grizzly bear, you may make a number of pertinent observations in the first couple moments, but none of them is likely to be the bear's sex.

That's a facile example, in large part because we aren't sexually turned on by bears. Well most of us aren't. At least not actual genuine non-human ursine bears at any rate. We take notice of each other's sex and make a big deal of it in our heads, generally speaking, because sexuality and sexual attraction is a big deal to us, and, for most people's sexuality, the sex of other people is a highly relevant consideration.

But to a less extreme degree, a person who tends to tick off other people's awareness of oddity and atypicality in assorted other ways may have an effect on them where they don't notice or care that that person is also gender atypical. There are many patterns of expected behavior, especially socially interactive behavior, and one interesting effect of being in violation of one or more of those expected patterns is that observers, having already seen and assessed the individual as peculiar in this way and perhaps that other way, take less notice of yet more departures from normative patterns. Or they conflate them into their mental impression of that person's already-perceived oddities.

A person from a foreign culture that isn't often encountered in some environment is seen as foreign and exotic; if that person is also exhibiting atypical gender behavior, the atypical gender behavior is often perceived as part of that person's foreign exotic ways and not as a phenomenon unto itself.

So such a person — a person who is experienced by others as atypical in a variety of other ways — may indeed not experience much social pressure about conforming to gender norms.


PATTERN THREE: Obsequious Denial

Some people who cave to social pressures to be a certain way pretend to themselves and to others that they have not, in fact, allowed social pressures dictate to them how they should be, and then deny that the social pressures amount to much of anything, since by denying the latter they can more easily deny the former as well.

This is also a pattern I've seen from time to time. A resident of the Bible Belt attends church despite having been an agnostic before moving there, and denies having been made to feel that they won't be accepted among their work colleagues and that the neighbor's kids won't be allowed to socialize with his children. He has some reason or rationale for why he has decided to go to church on Sundays, but it isn't social pressure, nope, haven't experienced any of that down here, really. I could stay at home and work on my lawn or watch TV, nothing to prevent me from doing so, I just decided it's kind of peaceful to get away from my daily routine and the stained glass windows are pretty...

When it comes to gender variance, the people I've seen evincing this behavior are most often folks who aren't very far-flung from the official gender norm for their sex, just variant enough that they may have to conform a bit more than they wish to in order to be spared the remarks and glances and other reactions that gender-variant behavior tends to elicit.

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ahunter3: (Default)
"Dear Mr. Hunter", read the email message.

"Please find attached our agreement for your use of “In The Flesh?”. At your convenience, please forward a countersigned copy to my attention via email..."


And in the attached agreement, these terms:

> 1. We hereby grant you the non-exclusive right to reprint a
> lyric excerpt, at your sole expense and cost, throughout the
> United States and Canada, in and as part of the publication
> hereinafter referred to, from the following musical composition:
> “In The Flesh?” (the “Composition”).
>
> 2. The publication covered shall be: The Story of Q: A
> GenderQueer Tale by Allan Hunter (the "Publication").
>
> 3. The lyrics reprinted shall be as follows: “Are there any
> queers in the theatre tonight? Get them up against the wall.
> There’s one there in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me,
> get him up against the wall.” ...
>
> The title, writer credits and copyright notice should appear on
> the acknowledgment page exactly as follows:
>
> In The Flesh? Words and Music by Roger Waters Copyright (c) 1979
> Roger Waters Music Overseas Ltd. All Rights Administered by BMG
> Rights Management (US) LLC All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
> Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard LLC


It's finally official!

I blogged previously about the backstory on obtaining this permission. Today I thought I'd write about the backstory on why I'm quoting Pink Floyd in my book in the first place.



For me, realizing that I had a different gender identity than most of the people around me wasn't a sudden all-in-one-moment burst of self-awareness, like a light bulb switching on. But it also wasn't entirely not like that either. What happened for me was that I thought more and more about how I was a lot more like a girl than I was like a boy, but I didn't know where to go with that line of thought. I'd obsess about it for a while and then I'd slam the door on those ideas, feeling very uncomfortable with it all. And then later on in the week I'd start obsessing about it all over again.

And when I wasn't obsessing about it, I continued to hold on to other perceptions of myself. So I had different notions about my identity that were in play within my mind all within the same time frame, in parallel.

I suspect that's how identity works for most people. You have inside your head your everyday image of yourself, how you've thought of yourself for some time, and you don't toss that out the window first and then consider a new one, but rather instead you entertain the new notion a bit, see how it fits, and maybe if it fits well you embrace it more and more and you think of yourself in the old terms less and less. I've heard people describe changes such as their journey from being a Christian believer brought up in the church to being an atheist (or, for that matter, vice versa) as being like that.

And for myself, I'd been through this kind of sea change once before. In elementary school and on up through the middle of junior high, I had consistently thought of myself as allied with the girls, despite being a male person in body, and one component of this shared sense of self was my belief in the authorities — teachers, parents, the adult world. The world that tended to approve of good behavior, good grades, attempts on children's part to be good citizens. Yet by the time I graduated from high school I had changed sides and was anti-establishment, a rebel-hippie, an anti-authoritarian and a social-activist wannabe. And that self-image, of myself as part of that particular mold, that self-image was largely distilled from male role models. The peace-and-love flower-child component of that model of masculinity, as well as the easy and free anti-coercive "do your own thing, do it if it feels good, don't be trying to be The Man and laying heavy head trips on folks and bossing them around", all that stuff, painted an alternative masculinity that for the first time in my life didn't strike me as toxic. And meanwhile as I'd gotten older I'd seen the feet of clay of the adult authorities I had formerly admired and emulated.

It wasn't an overnight change. I oscillated and my attitude and mood varied, but over time I set aside my faith in the establishment (and in particular my faith that the authorities would protect me from bullying and make it safe for me to be myself) and instead came to see authority and coercive enforcement as just another form of bullying. I didn't directly perceive myself as shifting my gender identity, but the flower-child hippie model of maleness did happen to include a general aura of being sexually active and having girlfriends, whereas I had no working model for how to continue to be one of the girls and also to have sexually active relationships with girlfriends.


Years later, that was all unravelling in my head, and I was increasingly conscious that for most of my early life I had thought of myself in girl terms, emulating girls, admiring girls, incorporating girls' values, seeing them as people like myself. And that others had similarly seen me as girlish and had reacted to me as such. And, furthermore, that beneath the veneer of "flower child", the countercultural male model I'd been trying to inhabit was still too immersed in aggressive and confrontational dynamics, power games, and, in particular, sexually licentious lewdness towards girls that wasn't particularly egalitarian or mutual, and which had not worked for me, just didn't fit me.

That's what had started popping into my head that season: that my attempts to become involved with girls and be sexually active and have relationships had not worked precisely because I was too much like a girl myself, and always had been, to play the expected role and be comfortable with the behavioral expectations.

But unlike the first transition (from girl-identified pro-system person to flower-child), this one wasn't leading me anywhere. Just away from.

If it were true, that I was effectively one of the girls in all the meaningful ways except my body, then I wasn't like the straight boys who have the relationships with girls, which is something I wanted. Nope, I wasn't like them, I wasn't one of them. So what did that make me??

It was widely assumed that I was gay and in denial about it or not "out yet", etc etc. I was attracted to girls and liked girls and admired girls, and yet I had once wondered if this were possible anyhow, that I was gay and lying to myself somehow, you know? But no, some experimentation had confirmed that I just don't find male people sexually attractive, and yeah I really do desire girls, I just didn't seem able to convert that attraction into things happening with them. Because, apparently, I was too much of a girl myself. So once again what did that make me, then?

I'd picked up and read books by people who identified as transsexual* (male to female in particular), and that was an eye-opener for sure. Autobiographical accounts from people born male but who said they'd always been one of the girls, that it had always been their identity — just like me! But in every case, in each of the books I could get my hands on, the author ended up seeking out and obtaining sex reassignment surgery, after which they lived their lives as female people, and they had sexual and romantic relationships with men. I didn't see my body itself as being wrong. I had always been one of the girls, just like these authors, and I had been a male-bodied person, which didn't seem any more wrong to me than being one of the girls. And I wanted sexual things to happen between me and female people, not between me and male people, that was my sexual orientation.

So it was very frustrating, obsessing about all this, because there were no solutions. I couldn't get a girlfriend because I was basically a girl. I wasn't a straight guy. I wasn't a gay guy. I wasn't a transsexual male-to-female candidate. What the hell was I, then?

My mind would go back to it and then run away from it in dismay, no answers there.

In December 1979, some people on my dorm corridor asked me to help them move a friend's furniture to a new apartment, and in exchange we would all trip acid and listen to a new Pink Floyd record, one that I'd never heard. Sounded groovy to me. So I did, and we did. The album was The Wall.


Several hours later, with me on a good couple doses of LSD, the stereo speakers were yelling at me, "Are there any queers in the theatre tonight? Get them up against the wall. There’s one there in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me, get him up against the wall." I certainly fit the description of someone who "don't look right to me", as I was white-faced and trembly with terror that someone could put so much of my life onto a record album. And I realized that yeah, this is not just a notion that has gotten lodged inside my head, this is real. I'm different in a way that can be described and identified by others, from the outside, and it isn't going away, this is who I am and this will be a central factor for me for the rest of my life.

So, forced to confront it head on, no more running away from it, I experienced the final critical transformative moment in my gender identity shift. I still didn't have a name for it but it was who I was: a person in a male body (which wasn't wrong) who was effectively one of the girls (which also wasn't wrong, I was proud of it) who was attracted to female people sexually, and it made me as different as any gay or lesbian or bisexual person, as different as any transsexual person, definitely queerly different in this specific way. And I had to come out now, it was time to be who I was and be seen for who I was, if I were ever going to form meaningful relationships in this world.


I'm curious to know who else in the LGBTQ community had a specific realization point, a game-changing moment like what I've described.


* "Transsexual" was the word in use at the time; some people find it offensive now, but it is not my intention to offend anyone.



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ahunter3: (Default)
an-droj-uh-ni
ændrɑdʒǝni

— having both masculine and feminine characteristics


Androgyny is a term that's been around and in use for awhile. Singers David Bowie and Patti Smith were often described as androgynous. It was often associated with the feminist goals of equal treatment in the law and social policy by way of having genderblind regulations and statutes. That loose but affirmative connection persists in a cluster of modern genderqueer identities — neutrois, androgyne, agender — where people consider themselves to occupy a neutral or in-between position on the gender spectrum, or consider the gender spectrum to be irrelevant to themselves.

It has been embraced as a social goal, with hopeful proponents postulating that gender as we know it is entirely arbitrary and artificial, not based on real irrevocable differences, and therefore that gender is unnecessary and socially harmful; androgyny is therefore in this view something to aspire to: no more gender!

When formulated as an absolute and taken to its logical extreme, androgyny has been something widely feared. Antifeminist people have projected their notion of radical androgyny onto feminism and declared it to be feminism's agenda: that any individual displaying any characteristics of sexual difference would be censured and chemically adjusted and socially harangued as part of a campaign to stamp out gender differences.

Feminists themselves have often been leery of officially androgynous goals, worrying that everything conventionally associated with or considered a part of femininity would be considered "gendered" while things conventionally associated with males men and masculinity would be perceived as "normal" and therefore the new standard.

Meanwhile, a hefty subset of people who think androgynously tend to be perplexed about what all the passion and shouting is about. These are people who are aware of the socially shared notions of gender, but they're also aware of the ideas that I present in my talks as the "distribution diagram" — the observation that there is a lot of overlap between observed male and female behavior rather than male and female behavior being polarized opposites, and that some individual women are more masculine than others (and reciprocally so for individual men), and that, furthermore, any individual has characteristics that vary all over the diagram.

These are people, in fact, who are not only aware of this way of looking at gender, but whose reaction to it is not "wow, that really makes you rethink gender" but more like "well duh, that's just so obvious it shouldn't require saying out loud". That is, they take it for granted that the social generalizations that constitute gender differences ignore the exceptions, and because they themselves see and accept the exceptions as ordinary, they dismiss gender as unimportant. They tend to see both the gender activists and the conservative gender prescriptionists as somewhat ridiculous. They tend to be people who break gender norms themselves, typically without much of a sense of doing something forbidden and dangerous, and if later praised as pioneers or radicals who defied social pressures, they are often dismissive about the social pressures and the cheerleading liberationist radicals as well. I don't think enough gets written about them, and I'm going to circle back in a future blog entry to dwell on them at more length, but they aren't my primary focus today.


The radical androgynists among the genderqueer folks are the ones who identify as "genderfuck". (Which annoys me grammatically, as I always find myself thinking it should be "genderfucker"). They see gender as the artificial and arbitrary social construct, and not as being rooted or having its origins in anything permanently real. And they see it as a horrible misery-perpetuating system with no redeeming features, something to be uprooted and discarded. Their desire is not for a world in which gender variance would be tolerated but rather a world in which no concept of gender or gender variance would exist at all.

There would be a complete absence of socially shared generalizations about the sexes, and as a consequence of that, a massive falling-off in the extent to which anyone would notice or care about other people's biological morphology. The social meaning of a person's body having a penis or a vagina would fall somewhere between "we wouldn't even still have words to express such a distinction" and "people would think and talk about it about as often as they think and talk about their blood type". Genderfuck folks generally posit that sexual orientation would be a meaningless concept, because it just wouldn't occur to people to categorize the world of people by gender and then a second time by sexual appeal to their personal tastes and then make the observation that the people they are attracted to happen to fall into this or that gender category — why would they? They'd just note which people, AS people, they find attractive. Or tend to form stable romantic relationships with or whatever. It wouldn't be about what folks have between their legs and no one would have gender in their mind as a gender identity any more, it would be gone, and good riddance.

Genderfuck activists are not a huge and policy-controlling presence within the LGBTQ world, and I think their perspective is viewed as idealistic and nonthreatening in part because of that, but there is definitely some prospect for a lack of accord between them and some of the other populations who live under the greater LGBTQ umbrella. The majority of transgender people are gendered people. They were born with a body that was categorized by doctors and parents as having one gender, and at some point came to believe that that assigned gender is wrong, and they now identify otherwise. More often than not, the way they identify involves gender. Genderqueer people who identify as genderfluid deny having a single fixed gender identity but they tend to be affirmatively happy in expressing the gender that they experience as the correct and appropriate gender of the moment.

As for me, and any other people like me, gender inverts, we wouldn't exist either. I am a gendered person whose gender is detached from my sex. I identify as a male girl — or, to say it using more words, I identify as a male-bodied person whose sense of self, sense of identity including sexual nature as well as priorities, personality traits, behavioral nuances, and other such stuff, made me one of the girls, and upon observing that as well as having had it pointed out rather rudely by others, I accepted and embraced that and therefore lived a life thinking of myself in those terms. Gendered terms.

Does that make me a conservative reactionary, a gender activist who is too immersed in my own history to let go of gender and sign on with the genderfuck agenda?

Would the world be better if the genderfucks' postgender utopia were to come? Yeah, probably — better than the status quo, at least. I do believe that my own notions of being "one of the girls" is specific to the entire life-context that I traveled through; it is formed from my experiences, and those experiences were of a gendered world. You could say (and a genderfuck person probably WOULD say) that my radical inverted gender identity is still a gender identity in reaction to a gendered world.

Mostly (as I've said before on occasion) I am not very much a prisoner of the limitations of the feminine identity I embraced. I never have the world shouting at me that something I am doing or saying isn't ladylike and therefore isn't appropriate, if you see what I mean. Admittedly, I may have an internalized censor of some sort that does some of that, but I bet it doesn't disempower me as harshly as real-world feedback disempowers people who were born female and presented all their lives as girls and women.

Would there still be any of the role-and-power distinctions that currently overlap gender, such as being a "top" or a "bottom"? That's hard to know. The origins of those notions appear to involve abstracting some elements of conventionally gendered heterosexual relationships and applying them to other relationships. They have taken on a life of their own since then, to be sure: it is now true that a female person can top a male bottom either in a single liaison or as the dynamic of their ongoing relationship. Would eroticized power play, or even a general distinction between a more "inclined-to-act-upon" partner and one less so, persist in a world where power diffs had not already been eroticized in (and as) gender?


I myself do not ascribe to the belief that gender is arbitrary and artificial. I think gender is a generalization about differences between the sexes and that AS a generalization it isn't entirely inaccurate. I say "isn't entirely inaccurate" because I think even at the generalization level it has been distorted by the power dynamic between the sexes (i.e., patriarchy), so yes it is partly inaccurate even as a generalization. But there are some core observations enshrined in it that are true as generalizations. Then, like all generalizations, you have exceptions. I'm one of them, a girlish male, an exception to the generalization about male-bodied people.

I might be wrong about that, but what if I'm right? What are the implications for androgyny if I am right?

• Gender would never disappear. Cleaned of its distortions, and with the prescriptive hateful punitive attitude towards the exceptions stripped out of it, gender would still persist as a far more benign generalization about differences between the sexes.

• The goal would not be the utter elimination of gender but instead the promulgation of awareness, tolerance, and acceptance of the exceptions. Feminine girlish males, and boys who wish to transition to female, and androgynous male-bodied people, all exceptions, would be spoken of, accorded social recognition, as would masculine manly females, and women who choose to transition to men, and androgynous people who incidentally possess female anatomy, all of us exceptions to the rule, outliers who aren't part of the gender norm, but no longer relegated to being social pariahs or made to feel dirty or wrong or unnatural.

• Overall, I see the ideal path as one in which the gender atypical are socially treated and accepted much as gay people are understood and accepted. Not that the latter is a perfect example of a completed transformation in attitudes — there are still homophobic people and gay-bashing incidents and discriminatory institutional policies as well as informal bigoted attitudes and biased practices — but the trajectory of change in attitude and behavior towards gay people points a finger, and where that finger points is the pathway to acceptance of the sort that I hope for for the gender-variant.

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ahunter3: (Default)
In my Sept 14 blogentry, I posted this teaser:

> Things have been simultaneously hectic and non-newsworthy for the
> most part in the land of STORY OF Q. That's a situation that just
> changed today, but I'm not quite prepared to write about today's
> developments (I think the relevant phrase is "waiting for the
> dust to settle"). Watch this space for more activity in days to
> come.

My next entry was on Oct 3, when I announced that the book deal with Ellora's Cave had fallen through. That wasn't the announcement I'd been expecting to make. The news I had been anticipating just before EC dropped their bombshell was that I was *finally* in negotiation with the relevant people for securing the rights to quote some Pink Floyd lyrics in my book.

Here's the backstory on THAT: I started pursuing that matter late last March; I went online, checking the BMI web site and finding out that Warner-Chappell managed the rights to that particular song, "In the Flesh" from side 2 of The Wall. In early May, I corresponded with them and was informed that their affiliate Alfred Music handles those matters.

Corresponded with one Gabriel Morgan at Alfred Music for an iteration or two, but then on May 23 he wrote to tell me that they no longer administer that catalog, that in fact Warner-Chappell no longer publishes any of Pink Floyd music. Apparently the contract expired and Roger Waters opted to sign on with someone else. No, they didn't know who that someone else was. I went back to the BMI web site. Still said Warner-Chappell.

Recontacted Gabriel Morgan and said they had to have had a contact person, an agent if not Roger Waters himself, and therefore whoever that person was should be able to inform them who the contract was with now. Nope, he said, because, well, actually the contract was with our UK affiliate, Warner-Tamerlane. So I go online to find contact info for Warner-Tamerlane in the UK.

By the third week of May, Warner-Tamerlane had informed me that those types of rights are handled by their affiliate, Faber Music, much like Alfred Music does for Warner-Chappell in the US I guess. I make repeated attempts to contact someone at Faber Music, culminating in correspondence with one Charlotte Mortimer, who cc's me on her communication with one Christine Cullen: "please let him know as soon as you have any further news on where the catalogue has gone?" Never heard from anyone at Warner-Tamerlane subsequent to that.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I signed the publishing contract with Ellora's Cave. I would need the Pink Floyd permissions in order for the book to be published.

Meanwhile I had managed to track down the agent directly representing Roger Waters: Mark Fenwick Management, for whom I had only a snail-mail address. I sent a registered USPS international letter which arrived June 3. I received an email on June 7 from Louisa Morris of Mark Fenwick Management: "I am currently dealing with your request and will get back to you as soon as I can".

On 8/1 I email Louisa Morris "Just checking in" having not heard anything.

Checked the BMI website which still listed Warner-Chappell as the relevant publisher for this work. Chatted with BMI support line and they said "sometimes it takes awhile before these things get updated". Yeah, I noticed.

On 8/11 called and spoke with an assistant "Hopefully an answer by end of the week". I hadn't heard anything by 8/29 so I attempted another phone call. No answer. So I sent another email which also went unanswered.

On 8/30 spoke with Louisa Morris on the phone again: "Hopefully we'll have an answer by the end of the week". Not having heard anything by 9/6, I called and spoke with someone named "Kitty" who said Louisa Morris no longer works there, so I re-explained.

Recontacted the folks at Mark Fenwick on 9/15: they're working on it, maybe they'll have something soon...

I went on the BMI web site again and lo and behold FINALLY it lists a new publisher of record: BMG Platinum Songs US

I talk with them, they have me email a copy of the manuscript, and on 9/19 I am told by one Joe Betts that it will be passed on to Roger Waters for approval.

On November 25, I receive an email: my use of the lyrics has been approved "in principle", meaning it is OK with Roger Waters that it be used in this context. All that remains is negotiating with Hal Leonard Music, their affiliate who handles this sort of thing, and they will determine the amount I should pay and all that. I have an application pending with them, but essentially I have the important OK — I may use the lyrics as long as I pay the relevant price for doing so.

Yeesh, that was bloody exhausting.


* * *




I went to a one-woman show in Manhattan a few weeks ago. She was a black butch lesbian woman who had grown up living with her mom in the Bronx. She gave an interesting reading/acting show in which she dramatized the tension between her and her mom, much of which had to do with her rejection of the life she saw around her and her determination to get out. That rejection included a rejection of the identities "black" and "woman" and all the limitations entailed within those. She became acquainted with the East Village counterculture and rock music and avant garde theatre and the alternative gender and sexual orientation culture developing there and made her home in it, the only black person in a homeopathic white-hippie social infusion.

Later, I was engaged in dialog with a roomful of artists and dancers and musicians who had been at the show, discussing what we'd seen. Several of the other viewers complained that she didn't ever "deal with" being black. I disagreed: she had explicitly "dealt with" it by explaining how she did not identify with it, rejected it socially and culturally as an identity. On some fine-grained level you could argue that what she was saying was "even though I am black, I like this rock music, and this theatre and dance, these other cultural things and these other values, and these white countercultural folks are my choice of company". But how she experienced it personally and emotionally at the time, as how she presented it, was "This was my identity; this is who I was and have been, and my mother hated that because I was rejecting her and her identity".

That was true of her gender / sexual preference identity as well. We're a bit more accustomed to that, more exposed to it; she rejected the femininity thing, the being-a-woman thing. If she were coming of age now, she might identify as transgender; in her era, she identified as a butch, a tough masculine no-frills short-haired lesbian who dressed in what was considered men's clothing.

She identified with the white countercultural people she befriended but she did not PRESENT as white; she made no attempt to make any modifications that would cause her to be taken as ancestrally caucasian. In asserting her identity she was effectively asking us to accept that here is a person who is ancestrally and ethnically black but that her identity is other than that, that she is one of the white countercultural folks of the East Village.

That's strongly akin to what I am doing with gender. I present as male and I do not expect to be perceived as female, and yet I assert an identity that is not man, that is not masculine, but is instead a girl or woman identity.


* * *


I recognize that it's not easy for everyone to wrap their minds around that. There's a social awareness of transgender people, but I'm doing something different from what most of them are doing, I'm saying something different from what most people have heard about being transgender, and it requires processing some additional ideas and concepts.

I was interviewed yesterday evening by Dick_Wound and Minimus Maximus (aka Dick and Max) for their kinky podcast, OffTheCuffs. They were interviewing me specifically as a genderqueer person and as the author of THE STORY OF Q. Dick and Max kept apologizing for using the wrong words (they kept referring to me as someone who was "female" inside or had a "female identity") and they said it was very interesting but more than a little confusing to understand a distinction between sex and gender, to understand what it means for me to be not female but a woman. To be a male woman.

It was an interesting discussion and would have been good publicity for my book. I say "would have been" for two reasons here, the first being that between the time that we first started discussing them having me on their podcast and yesterday evening when I sat before the microphones, Ellora's Cave went belly-up, so at best it would have been good publicity for my story and my ideas and for the eventual potential book that I am determined will some day be available. The second reason is that they had technical difficulties of which we were not aware at the time, but the sound file on the computer was corrupted and unusable.

They asked me to come join them February 11th for a LIVE podcast along with other guests, so stay tuned for further details as February approaches.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Always Love Lucy Theatre

I had enthusiastic anticipations for this show--the advance press on it said it had been rewritten to spotlight issues pertaining to transgender people, and, more specifically, that the character of Eliza Dolittle was being recast as a female to male transgender person. Female to male experience is far less often depicted, so I was really looking forward to the show.

The advance press also noted that this had been accomplished "with almost no changes to the original script".

The performance I saw did indeed match my recollection of Shaw's original dialogue for the most part. Indeed, this version of Pygmalion was pretty close to what you would get if you simply did a cut and paste job on Shaw's classic text, substituting pronouns (replacing "her" with "him") and shoehorning in a couple extra lines of Eliza's dialogue to explain that she wanted to become a gentleman in order to be accorded full dignity and respect and not be beneath Higgins and his friend Pickering, as she perceived his housekeeper to be.

My overall reaction was disappointment: it doesn't work. The original dialogs between Eliza Dolittle and Henry Higgins sheds no meaningful light on gender issues, nor, without far more substantial additional elaborations and modifications, do they provide any kind of situational platform for producer Saima Huq, director Anthony Pound, or the cast to do so. And, reciprocally, modifying Eliza Dolittle's transformative journey so that she is becoming a gentleman rather than becoming a lady fails to show us many new aspects of Shaw's play, either.

Pygmalion in its classic form is about class and the question of presentation— to what extent is our identity merely a matter of how we present ourselves? That's practically a hand-calligraphied invitation to explore that same question as it applies to gender identity, but the personnel who crafted this variant did not RSVP to that invitation; they didn't go there. A playwright considering such issues might choose to assert the absence of any real differences between gendered experiences aside from projected expectations, or might instead choose to use the play to outline the large differences in gendered behavior that were solidly in place during the timeframe depicted, but in this case opted to do neither.

The original Pygmalion is also at its core a tale of developing sexual tension: a lady is an appropriate object of interest for a gentleman of Professor Higgins' class, and the immediate consequence of transforming Eliza Dolittle into a lady is that he finds himself attracted to her, possessive of her, in ways he had not anticipated. The modified Pygmalion had the opportunity here, once again, to play with sexual orientation as well as gender, but in failing to tease out some interesting new tensions or observations it instead left us with a dissonant confusing patch of dialog and interaction in which Higgins is neither fascinated with the man that Eliza has become nor with the woman who underlies the performance as man, and instead utters the original unmodified Shaw lines in a context where they illuminate no new truths and in fact make no sense.

We do at least see Shaw's gendered assumptions exposed, if not neatly skewered, in Higgins' protective behavior and in Dolittle's insistences that Higgins should take responsibility for Dolittle's situation. He has transformed her, but if he has no personal interest in her, what will become of her/him? In this, we see the fingerprints of Shaw's projection onto women of his assumptions about women's vulnerability and need of care. Indeed, the play comes across as willfully blind to the social currency of being (perceived as) male and the opportunities for employment and independent social success that would derive from those, especially with the added benefit of gentlemanly manners and diction. We're treated to Dolittle's tearful complaints that she has nowhere to go and fewer options than she'd had as a woman selling flowers in the streets of London.

Several things are extremely noisy by their absence: Eliza Dolittle at no point expresses any desire to be a man aside from the additional socioeconomic gains she'd get by going above and beyong merely becoming a lady to become a gentleman instead. Higgins teaches Dolittle how to modify her speech but at no point is she given any instruction in the gendered attributes of gentlemanly behavior. Placed in a social setting to try her wings and test her progress, she is criticized for her choices of topics but not spoken to about appropriate conversation for a male in mixed company or, for that matter, for a male among other men.

By default, the play fails to address any issues particularly pertinent to transgender people in part because it fails, on the surface, to contain any transgender people. Eliza Dolittle is a woman in drag, no more a transgender individual than Dustin Hoffman was in Tootsie.

Gender is not class. Grafting gender into an otherwise unmodified play about class and expecting anything meaningful to be revealed is quaint, but Marx and Engels did that 120 years ago and we've had both feminism and gender theory to draw upon since then.

My opinions on the failure of the this version of Pygmalion to deliver on its stated promise notwithstanding, I saw a well-acted performance of Shaw's Pygmalion (nearly intact despite the inserted gender oddity):

Christopher Romero Wilson does Henry Higgins as a willfully clueless social maladroit with a genius for phonics, a geek of the first order with the social awkwardnesses that often plague the single-minded. He's irate, temperamental, and uninclined to be considerate of others. If Wilson tends to sing Higgins all on a single note, it is fair to point out that Shaw wrote him that way.

Pickering is performed with warmth and quiet dignity by David Burfoot. He exudes calmness and kindness that helps anchor an otherwise frictitious bunch of characters. Burfoot conjures up a solid Pickering with nuances and small gestures and tone of voice.

Eliza Dolittle, aka Elijah Dolittle, is rendered for us by producer Saima Huq, whose convincing versatility in speech diction and rhythm as well as her adept gender fluidity onstage were unable to quite compensate for the problems inherent in the insufficiently changed dialog.

Eliza's dad Alfred Dolittle is a character written to steal the show out from under the other performers if the actor is so inclined, and without stepping far beyond an understated confident portrayal, Tony White obliges in this regard. His Alfred is a quite believable rogue and social egalitarian with aplomb and deadpan humor.

Henry's long-suffering mom Mrs Higgins is acted by Bette Shifman, who pivots from exasperation with Henry to a friendlier interaction with Pickering and, later, with Eliza and Alfred. Shifman lets her character grow in the role, warming up to the people she becomes involved with.

The Eynsford-Hill trio—the matriarch (Nikki Chawla), termagant daughter Clara (Sabrina Zara) and situationally maladroit son Freddy (Harsh Lochan) are delivered as cameo or caricature characters, the onstage time being limited to that, and are delivered effectively by these actors.

Also in small roles in the play were Vincent Bivona multicast as Neppomuck and Bystander and Kristi Cini doing Mrs Pearce, the Parlormaid, and the Hostess.

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ahunter3: (Default)
On April 29, I presented my talk about gender inversion and being genderqueer to an audience at Baltimore Playhouse. This was fundamentally the same talk I presented at LIFE in Nassau in March of last year.



It went well — I was a stronger speaker with more confidence, I think I did a better job of establishing and maintaining rapport with my audience, and since last March I culled out some points that didn't contribute well and in other places elaborated or brought up other more cogent points. Oh, and I was also in good health this time, instead of being right on the cusp of a nasty bout of bronchitis, which probably also makes a difference. At any rate I had a good time and I think my message was well-received.

One of the newly added "planks" of my presentation was inserted at the end. Following up on the opening admission that this is just my take on the phenomenon of being genderqueer and that if you went to hear another speaker's talk on the subject you'd be hearing a different perspective, I dove into some of the internal politics that take place within the larger gender-variant community.

Arriving very late -- essentially missing the presentation aside from the question & answer session at the end -- was a woman who does advocacy work involving lobbying the insurance folks who control health care decisions that affect transgender people seeking sexual reassignment surgery and related treatments. But when she asked what the talk had been about, I soon ended up encapsulating some some key points and we ended up having this discussion with her:

ADV: It's frustrating that so many of these people who are trying to obtain the surgery they need can't just get into the program. Instead, we have had to position the need on a biological basis, as correcting a birth defect, and we're trying to show a pattern on MRI of the brain, but that means you have to demonstrate that difference or you would be denied coverage.

ME: Yeah, what do they envision would happen if they covered the surgery for all people who sought it out? Are they imagining that there would be this long line of people who are NOT transgender coming in to get an operation? Who the heck do they think would be seeking it out under false pretenses, and why?

ADV: I know, I know! No one's going to go through that without compelling good reason, it's silly. But it's the only thing that seems to be working.

ME: One of the things I talked about tonight was intellectual dishonesty. Where you take a side in a debate not because you think that side is correct, but because you've looked down the road at the outcome of it being CONSIDERED correct and you embrace that belief not because you think it is actually correct but because of what "believing" it lets you claim or conclude. You aren't getting on board with the idea that there's a built-in brain difference telling people they should have a different set of organs and parts because you have seen the evidence and think it is true. You're promoting that explanation because you believe it will enable you to get insurance companies to pay for the treatments.

ADV: I know, you're right. It is intellectually dishonest. We shouldn't have to couch it that way, but they're from a medical background, and they think in terms of pathology. There's also the problem with needing a psychiatric clearance.

ME: You mean where in order to be okayed, a person who wishes to transition has to embrace all the personality and behavioral nuances associated with the sex they want to transition to? They don't allow a person who was born male who likes traditionally male things and is attracted to women and behaves in a masculine way but says these male parts are all wrong, to transition? So that after transitioning she can live her life as a rather butch lesbian?

ADV: That's right. For a year. You have to exhibit the dominant characteristics of that gender for a year.

ME: I don't know that there aren't built-in biological differences. There might be. I tend to emphasize the social, but there might have been something in me, in my brain, that caused me to gravitate towards girls as the people I fit in with and wanted to emulate and be perceived as. But I'm worried that the model that's being embraced to support transitioning erases the identities of people like me. People for whom the body is not the issue, not the problem. If the narrative that people end up accepting in their heads as the definition and explanation of what it means to be a girl in an apparently male body doesn't leave any room for someone who accepts both their maleness and their girl-ness as healthy and right, people like me have no home in that movement. We end up being erased, told that we don't exist or that we don't matter.

Already I don't identify as transgender myself, because even though transgender is defined as "your gender does not match what you were assigned at birth", the truth of the matter is that anyone who is told that I am transgender is going to expect a transitioner — someone transitioning male to female (m2f) for female to male (f2m). Instead, I identify as genderqueer. Fewer wrong expectations. Better truth-in-labeling.

I am not immune to intellectual dishonesty myself. I try not to be, but I probably skew my presentation of the facts in order that my audience's acceptance of them supports the conclusions I want them to reach. But I am trying not to erase other gender-variant people even when my model doesn't explain them particularly well.

So in my talk I described that male-bodied masculine person, an extremely conventional kind of guy... "Except that Joan isn't a guy. Joan says this male body is just wrong. It has the wrong parts. So she is transitioning to female, at which point she will be a very masculine person with conventionally male interests, but female, and she will live her life as a lesbian.

WHY? Well many transgender activists speak of a biological cause, a built-in difference in the brain. That it is NOT social, is not about personality and roles and what society does or does not consider "masculine" and "feminine". Phantom limb sensation sort of thing. The body in and of itself as wrong...

If there is a 'Joan', she would probably not feel included by an explanation that stresses social messages and social notions and perceptions. So although I have not met her, I am mentioning her now for you to add to your map of possibilities."

(The health services advocate later assures me that there ARE people like Joan. "I've met Joan", she says. That must be an especially frustrating situation, then, in a world where even fairly feminine m2f people feel pressured to practically turn themselves into Barbie dolls in order to "justify" their transition. Wow)

Peace to you, transgender activists. Let us try to support each other and be allies. We aren't entirely in the same situation and we'll sometimes have the opportunity to forward our own cause at the expense of each other because of our different situations. Let's avoid doing that whenever and wherever we can.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Feminist theorist Laura Mulvey introduced the idea of the "male gaze" originally when talking about movies. She claimed, pointed out examples, and made her case that film footage was shot, directed, planned, and edited by males imagining (consciously or by default) a male audience, and that the depiction of women onscreen in particular was being shaped by this: that the camera ogled actresses, that the way the cameras tracked them throughout, etc, was guided and structured around this male gaze.

Years later, as a grad student pursuing feminist studies, I was presented with poststructuralist feminist theory's assertion that every depiction of women anywhere, in any medium, even when filmed or written or painted or described by a female author, was still inevitably always only the male gaze in action. Because men own language, have created the language of depiction, etc. Like most things poststructuralistic, that's ridiculously overstated and I HATE that stuff, that over-the-top (or under-the-bottom) insistence that power is so totally hegemonic that no feminism or other resistance to it has room to breathe. But if one backs off from that extreme position enough to allow for the possibility of movement, it's a useful observation: the male gaze seeps into other perspectives by having set the examples.

Anyway, that male gaze is a cisgendered and heterosexually oriented male gaze. That's assumed without modifying adjectives or qualifiers. And as a consequence of that, the male gaze plays a role in informing the world's response to exception males, males who are not cisgender, males who are not heterosexual. One component of homophobia and of its less-often spotlighted twin sissyphobia is what I call the "broccoli eating response": when someone who hates broccoli sees someone else eating it, they may respond "ewww, how can you eat that? broccoli takes horrible!". As if their own subjective experience of it were actually an objective measure of innate broccoli-characteristics. And in a similar way, cisgender hetero males often experience gay males and non-cis males with a reaction of "ewww, you're not doing it right, that's all wrong and stuff!"

Exhibit A: a malebodied* girl. *(By "malebodied" I am referring to the components of a transperson or genderqueer person that are not consistent with their gender, i.e., the physiological and morphological characteristics that people relied on when they assigned them the gender that is other than the gender they identify as now). The operator of the male gaze comes along, perceives, and says "Ewwww, I would not fuck that, that's gross and disgusting". And in response to follow-up questions, says "If you found and trotted out one of those that was sexy and cute, that would be gross and disgusting because that would me me a fag, that would make ME into one of the people I say 'ewwww' about. So that's all wrong". This evaluation assumes that the malebodied girl in question is who she is in order to seek his admiring and appreciative gaze.

For the transwoman who is a "transitioner" —- that is, one who seeks to present as female-bodied, whether with or without surgery or hormones or other bodily modifications -- and whose attraction happens to be towards men, ...here, especially, the mainstream interpretation, informed by the male gaze, is that the desire to be found sexually appealing to the male gaze is the entire reason WHY she is trans.

Well guess what? There are other components; this is, at best, only one factor.

Being able to have female friends without being perceived as a walking appetite symbol, someone whose interest in any woman or girl is always tagged as a sexual interest.

Being able to have one's own behavioral nuances interpreted through the viewer's "dictionary" of girl / woman behaviors.

Having other folks' behaviors geared towards and shaped by a set of starting expectations of what it will mean to be dealing with a girl or woman.

In short, to be thought of as a girl.


I'm holding in my hands a zine titled NOT TRANS ENOUGH: A Compilation Zine on the Erasure of Non Passing and Non Conforming Trans Identified People, compiled and edited by Eddie Jude. In it are the musings and rants and manifestos of others who, like me, run headlong into the attitude that if your goal is not to be sexual eye candy for the cisgender heterosexual people whose attraction is towards the gender that you now identify as, then you make no sense, what's the point of you?

A feminist theorist would point out that even if the transperson in question is a transman, and the anticipated admiring gaze therefore that of a heterosexual cisgender woman, our assumptions about what she would find interesting and attractive are heavily informed by the MALE gaze, as many models of female sexuality are unconsciously and unthinkingly formulated by assuming women's sexuality is just like men's "except aimed in the opposite direction".

Attitudes from the mainstream and, to a significant extent, also from within the trans community itself, towards transwomen lesbians, often has quite a bit of that "what's the point?" component. Doubly so if the person is not a transitioner.

On a message board, I came out as genderqueer, specifically as male (that's my sex) and as a girl (that's my gender) and was informed:

I would consider Trans people as the Gender they feel they are, whether they've had surgery or not. That isn't at all relelvant to your case because YOU AREN'T TRANS! Transgendered people try to live as their preferred gender to the best their social and financial circumstances permit. If they can, they will fully transition, though sadly that isn't possible for a lot of people. You aren't doing that.


No, indeed I'm not. And yeah, apparently I, too, am Not Trans Enough to count.

As a nontransitioning lesbianesque male girlish person, my laundry list of wishes and desires and expectations doesn't seem to appear on that person's social radar. But I would like to be able to connect with and make friends with my peers -- women of compatible age and experience in particular, without all expressions of interest on my part being seen through the lens of expectations about malebodied folk and their interests in women. I want my gestures and postures and tone of voice and facial expressions and whatnot to be interpreted correctly, and to be treated by people in a fashion that makes sense for the person that I am, and all that happens a lot more often when people think of me as one of the womenfolk.

Is SOME portion of it all about marketing yourself as sexually attractive to those you're attracted to yourself? For most of us, I think it probably plays a role, sure. In my case, given my attraction to women, I would formulate it as "being equally able and eligible to be a femme, rather than being relegated to being butch". And that doesn't tend to happen if I'm perceived as a guy or man.

But being generically perceived as sexy, as sexy is generically set up for the gender you identify as, is damn well not the fundamental truth behind this condition.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Asymptotic Gender

Did you click on this thinking it said "aSYMPTOMATIC" gender? Ha! Tricked you into looking!

My dictionary defines an "asymptote" as "a line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance." It's a math thing, which isn't really my speciality area, but hold onto that notion for a moment anyway...

In the political arena where gender identity gets discussed, there are people who believe that gender differences are for real, solidly built into reality quite aside from how we perceive (or don't perceive) them; and then there are people who believe that gender differences only exist as social constructs — you know, stereotypes, arbitrary notions imposed by society, conventions that aren't anchored in anything except tradition.

It probably seems likely to most people that the first group is the problematic group for people who don't ascribe to a conventional gender identity. I mean, that's the broad category that's going to include all the people who think of gender and biological sex as the same thing: "if you got a cock you're a man, if you own a cunt you're a woman, end of story", those people. On the other hand, this first group is ALSO going to include people who believe that transgender people have a gender (not just BELIEVE that they have a gender) that is at odds with their biological sex, and that's why it makes sense for them to transition medically. They may believe that gender consists of neurostructural differences in the brain or the cognitive and behavioral after-effects of hormonal exposures... or they may not have a physical explanation... but whatever gender is to them, they don't see it as an artificial collection of roles and expectations foisted onto people by society.

At any rate, meanwhile we've got this second group of people, who at first glance would seem to be the ones who would harbor liberal tolerant attitudes that would benefit us gender-nonconformist atypical folks. For them, gender IS artificial. Except for history and the unfinished business of getting rid of sexist ideas about male and female characteristics and nature and so on, there's no THERE there; gender, they'd say, is a myth, or a social problem caused by sexist society.

Well, I often get into arguments with people of the second sort, arguments that go something like this:

ME: ... Yeah, gender issues is my main issue at the moment. Trying to
move towards a world where young people who are like I was can grow
up with more understanding and acceptance instead of being treated
like something's wrong with them.

THEM: That's not really an issue any more, though, is it? Things have
changed, I think kids don't have to face that any more.

ME: No, I can't agree with that. No doubt that things are a whole lot
better, but there's still no mental image and no role or role model
for a male-bodied person to live as one of the girls outside of the
boxes marked "gay" and "trans". And by "trans" I mean transitioning.
Deciding that the male body needs fixing in order to be an OK person.

THEM: But what does "live as one of the girls" mean anyway? Girls don't have
to "live as one of the girls" anymore, themselves. We're free of all
that. Boys don't have to live as one of the boys either. It's not
like it was.

ME: You mean there's more acceptance of people who don't conform to the
old sex-specific expectations than there used to be. I agree with
that...

THEM: See, exactly! Now, you take a young boy today, he's got the freedom
to be all macho-man if he wants but he can also choose to be outside
of all that and be androgynous, metrosexual, show his feminine side,
that's all cool now. For awhile it was really only girls who had
that freedom but now it's pretty much true for the boys too. David
Bowie and Boy George, hey, the world isn't what it was when you grew
up in it. So he's got freedom to choose whatever gender expression
fits him best.


Well, no. There's a problem there, hidden in plain sight right there in that very description. Let's conjure up a random and hypothetical observer and stick that observer in the middle school hallway. Into the hallway walks an individual we identity as male, someone presenting as male-bodied, and that's all we know about him, all we've got to go on so far. Our expectations, our anticipations, are that he MAY be a conventionally masculine, stereotypically gendered male-bodied person, or he MAY be a sensitive new-age guy all metrosexual and androgynous, one of the people who do not buy into that old masculinity stuff, and all of that is socially acceptable. Our expectations, in other words, are sort of smeared across an area between masculine and androgynous. What if he's feminine?

"Why would he be feminine?", the liberal social-constructionist voice interrupts.

I shrug. I point down the same hall to where a person presenting as female-bodied is now walking. "You anticipate that SHE might be. Also, of course, that she might NOT be, that she might be androgynous, free of all that feminizing sexist whatchamacallit, but you haven't stopped anticipating that she MIGHT be feminine".

So the socially liberal folks who think of gender as an artificial social construct maintain different expectations. Not because they think gender is inherently real but because they expect some people to still ascribe to it, and because they haven't withdrawn acceptance for female-bodied people who are indeed exhibiting traditionally-feminine characteristics. Why would they? If asked, they would say that they believe strongly that people should not be FORCED or PRESSURED to conform to the gendered expectations associated with their sex, but that doesn't mean that everyone should get frog-marched at the point of a politically-correct disapproval-gun into the androgynous zone whether they like it or not.

Within the framework of their liberal acceptance, the expectations and anticipations projected onto females and those projected onto males approach each other asymptotically, and we hail it as progress, but they do not meet.



-----

So my big new project of the moment is a colloquium-class of six people, taught by a professional who has been an author, an editor, and a literary agent. It's an online course (so no physical classes together) but presumably we will interact through software and via commenting on each other's writings, both our big writings-in-progress and our little essays and exercises and whatnot. It officially starts Thursday and I'm looking forward to it!


In other news, my presentation to Baltimore Playhouse, "Gender Inversion, Being Genderqueer, and Living in a World of Gender Assumptions", was postponed because of the big snowstorm and has been rescheduled for April 29. Between now and then, I hope to do some readings in Manhattan at various "writers read their works" / "open mike" events. My partner A2 (she who lives @ lower east side) has made a concerted effort to link me up with several such opportunities and I've submitted some of my work to "Word" at the Sidewalk Cafe, and plan on submitting samples / proposed readings to Dixon Place and Cornelia Street Cafe and a few others. I've anointed this spring and summer as my season to get myself in front of a microphone (or podium) and start presenting my material. Also in this broad category is the possibility of presenting to some combination of Women's Center and LGBT Center at SUNY / Old Westbury.


I continue to seek to get my book published, of course.

Four small publishers have rejected it: Seal Press, Harmony Ink Press, Bookoutre, and Triton Books.

I have inquiries pending at Manic D Press and Neuroqueer Books.



... and here's the status of my pitching The Story of Q to lit agents:


Total Queries to date: 718
Rejections: 700
Outstanding: 18

As Nonfiction, total queries: 500
Rejections: 483
Outstanding: 17

As Fiction, total queries: 218
Rejections: 217
Outstanding: 1

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ahunter3: (Default)
Last year around this time I carved a pumpkin and playfully dubbed the result "Jill O Lantern"



One person who saw the photo on Facebook posted the question "Why do you call it a 'Jill o'Lantern'? I don't see anything feminine about it. If you want it to be a Jill O Lantern you should make eyelashes, or do lips in a kiss shape to indicate lipstick, or put some hair with a bow in it, so people will know it's supposed to be a girl lantern".

Umm, well that was sort of the point. There's nothing about the design of a conventional Jack o'Lantern that's intrinsically male. It's an old old observation: generic characters with no distinctive sex markers apparent are altercast by average viewers as male characters.

There are some strong cues that identify a person as a woman or girl, clothing and adornments that aren't typically used by males in our society. If your body is such that people who see you cast you as a woman, you don't need to utilize a double-handful of those strong cues (and indeed the city sidewalks are decently well-populated with female people wearing jeans and sneakers, a t-shirt, sporting short hair and not carrying a purse). But in the absence of something to communicate feminine gender, a fully generic appearance recreates the Jill o'Lantern problem.

Trans women are sometimes criticized for going way over the top with the full-on Barbie paraphernalia, with fingernail polish and make-up and overtly girlish clothes as well as the full repertoire of nuances and gestures and voice tones and so on. But if you happen to be a person who was born male (i.e., assigned male at birth) and have wider shoulders and narrower hips than most people born female (i.e., assigned female at birth), and are tall for a woman, and have big feet for a woman and more of a square jaw and an enlarged larynx, you might find that, in the absence of using as many strong female-indicative cues as you're able to, people won't read the gender signal you intended them to read.

I have my own Jill o'Lantern problem. I don't consider myself female and don't attempt to present in such a way that people will believe me to be female-bodied. Yet I identify as a girl, a gender inverted person, a male who atypically has more of the pattern of behaviors and inclinations of girls than of boys, and who identified with the like-minded and similar-behaving girls rather than identifying with the similar-bodied boys. And in response to that self-description, people often say to me "Oh no, you seem entirely masculine to me, I don't see that at all, you're completely male".

Instead of flouncing around indignantly and whining that my experience is being denied and negated by meanspirited people (something that I admit I do on some such occasions), let's give it some serious consideration, shall we?

First, let's dispense with the obvious oversimplifications and babytalk-level stuff. I don't disavow being male-bodied so anyone who is saying I seem "entirely masculine" or "completely male" who is in any shape way fashion or form deriving that from my physically male body is speaking of irrelevant things. Therefore we shall assume they are referring to my personality and behavior, how I think and feel and behave. I think we can also dispense with overly absolute notions, as if there are behaviors that only boys and men ever display or behaviors that all girls and women display — that eliminates any legitimate use of "I saw you do this once, that means you're a boy" or "I've never seen you do this and girls always do, so you're a boy".

So we're looking at generalizations and trends. Both boys and girls (and men and women) sometimes do boy things and sometimes do girl things, behave in boy ways and behave in girl ways, but in general boys and men tend to do more of the boy things in boy ways more often and do the girl things in girl ways less often when compared to the women and girls. And in that context, saying "you seem entirely masculine / completely male to me" is tantamount to saying "in general, your behavioral pattern would stand out when compared to the behavioral pattern of a bunch of girls, you do significantly more of the boy things in boy ways and less of the girl things in girl ways than the girls in general would do; but when your behavioral pattern is compared to that of a bunch of boys, your pattern would not stand out, you'd seem entirely typical".

If that is true to some observers, it is in contrast to the expressed observations of other people who have said the opposite. It is also in contrast to my own observations, but my own observations introduce an entirely separate level of information, the internal world of thoughts and feelings. External observers see and interpret my behaviors; they don't directly perceive my feelings, know my thoughts, have access to my world-view and my priorities and all that stuff.

(That, therefore, causes me to toss in this side-question: is the inner world irrelevant, relevant but less so than externally observable behaviors, more relevant, or definitive all by itself in such matters? To me it seems pretentious to ask of other people that they understand me in a different way than they already do based entirely on how I perceive myself internally. Doing so would not cause me to make more sense to them than I do now, however much it might make me feel better. I don't see how it would be different than demanding that people treat me like I'm the emperor of Japan or the sexiest rock star in the western hemisphere — why should they? But I'm inclined to accord it *some* relevance, this inner world that others don't get to directly see. I suppose if pressed about it I end up saying there are a whole froth of tiny micro-behaviors that people do see even if they don't identify them, and they are subject to unconscious interpretation, and that if interpreted through the lens of one set of assumptions they have a clearer and more consistent meaning than if interpreted through another; and that these micro-behaviors are the iceberg-tips of a person's internal world)

Returning to the matter of observable behaviors, though, I think it is important to realize that a different internal world comes into play during such observations: the internal world *of the observer*. As with the reading of a novel, the meaning that the reader/observer arrives at is not due entirely to the content that is read. Instead, the author encapsulates some intended meaning in words and the reader, upon reading those words, has some meaning evoked, meaning that is dependent on commonality, shared references and experiences-in-common. And because the reader's prior experiences will only overlap to a matter of degree, the meaning thus evoked will differ from one reader to another. And that brings me back to my Jill o'Lantern.

I think people who experience me as "entirely masculine / completely male" often experience my behaviors as entirely masculine because I am completely male. That is, prior to the time that they observe a behavior, they have already altercast me as a man or boy based on me being male, and through the lens of that identity-assumption there are more behaviors than not that make sense interpreted as feminine behaviors *or* as masculine behaviors, with somewhat different intentionalities and moods and priorities being imagined of me and bestowed upon the behavior to explicate the behavior's meaning to the observer.

Which, naturally, kicks me back to square one. The square from which I ask the observer to suspend that identity and try the different alternative one I've suggested and, with that one as the new lens, see if my behaviors make sense as the behaviors of a girl or woman, and if so whether they fit better to an observer than they did when viewed through the prior lens of assumptions.

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ahunter3: (Default)
I was around 8 or 9 years old when I first experienced the boys' bathroom as an unsafe place. The other boys would talk about dicks and shitting and piss, had quite the case of pottymouth on them, and they quickly noticed that I was a prudish and prim and prissy kid who didn't join in and wasn't comfortable around them. They'd cluster around me sometimes when I went in, to ask me obscene questions and enjoy making me uncomfortable, and I didn't much care for their company, especially when combined with the intermingled necessity of having our pants open and our private parts exposed.

That made it all the more startling when, just a few years later, adult males accused me of loitering and being up to something disgusting. They didn't specify what but said I should knock off the phony innocent act and they better not catch me hanging out there, do my business and leave, and I should be ashamed of myself.

I went to summer camp one year in my grandmother's home town where no one knew me. I went in enthusiastic because it would be a fresh start, instead of being among people who had already singled me out as someone to ridicule and harass. That made it so much worse when the same behaviors spontaneously generated themselves and made me fully aware that it was me, not something uniquely messed-up about the people on my block and at my school.

I was showering in the locker room after gym class and when I headed back to the area with the lockers and benches to put on my street clothes, the other boys watched with expectant amusement. I tried to ignore them and just get dressed but after a moment I realized my underwear was missing from my locker. "Where are your panties, Alice? Did you leave them at home?" I stared from face to face, miserable, expecting someone to toss them to me along with further mocking comments but instead everyone was delighted to make suggestions about how I might find them. Eventually a theme developed: I should really go check out the stalls, they think I might find them there. I did: floating in a filthy unflushed toilet.

When I was 19 I was at a party outdoors and a guy there decided I needed some attitude adjustment. He punched me a couple times then an hour or so later came up to me, pretending he wanted to apologize, offering me his hand, and then punching me again when I went to take it. Suddenly his friends had flashlights shining in my face and blinding me while he proceeded to kick and chop at me while everyone laughed. The consensus seemed to be that I had it coming for being such a sissy fag.


So I felt like I'd been through some experiences that were pretty nasty and creepy and I hadn't done anything to deserve such things happening to me. I didn't know why but I promised myself that if I ever figured out what caused this to happen to me, there was going to be some settling up about it. I was going to show the world, get some justice, have some satisfaction.



Now I want to fast-forward to the current era and talk about something I did just the other day: I told some gay men and some transgender women (male to female) that the group I was trying to start, a group for people like me, wasn't really intended for them. (Although they could participate as allies and supporters and be welcome in that capacity)

That not only sounds and feels highly suspect, it's hard not to label it inexcusible bigotry. I mean, WHAT?? I'm starting some kind of group and keeping out gay men and transwomen??

Let me explain how that came about...



In the last 2 weeks...

• I finally got pushy enough with Long Island LGBT center to prompt someone to call me back. It didn't go well: "I'm director of programming... so you're offering your presentation as something we could include in programming, well thank you but no thanks we don't need any additional programming". I wasn't expecting it to feel quite so much like dealing with an Institution; I was expecting it to feel like dealing with a fervent social change activist who maybe would be dismissive of my perspective on some kind of political grounds, but this made me feel like a salesperson being told "no we don't need what you're selling".

• I posted to my liberal-intellectual internet message board and was told I am not gay and I am not transgender so I should shut the fuck up, that gay people's concerns are legitimate and transgender people's concerns are legitimate but I'm just a cisgender hetero guy who has some traits socially considered "feminine", just like most guys do, and apparently I just want to be a special snowflake and pretend that I have a social cause. With less hostility, some of the others posted that I can't be a movement unto myself and that I need to network with others like me, if I can find them; and if I can't find them then maybe I really AM a special snowflake and that when I speak I'm not speaking for anyone other than my own individual self and, if so, why should anyone care what I went through if it's not still happening in any meaningful way to anyone else like me?

• I decided that was a good point and went into Identity House on International Coming-Out Day and had an individual session. I figured my need and desire to participate as an activist and shed some light on my personal gender identity as a social cause was, indeed, a personal need, something relevant to my own emotional health and well-being. It went... OK. The two peer counselors didn't treat me like "WTF are you doing here, you're just a hetero cis guy". On the other hand, they were less helpful than I'd hoped for as far as connecting me up with Identity House people who might be interested in hearing more about this as another gender identity needing political attention. They DID say they'd put me on the email list for a Gender Exploration Group to be scheduled for sometime this fall, which I could be in, and when I indicated an interest in doing what they were doing, i.e., being peer counselors, said they'd put me on the list of people who could be called the next time they do an in-house training. That would get my foot in the door as well as being something I think I'd be decently good at and would enjoy doing.

• And meanwhile, I started a Meetup group titled "OTHER Victims of Homophobia, Transphobia, & Sissyphobia". I figured that plus the descriptive blurb I wrote about it might get me in contact with other people like me in a way that my blog and my participation in genderqueer and transgender and related Facebook groups has not. What happened instead was that about eight people quickly joined my Meetup group and the ones who wrote anything at all about themselves either identified as gay males or as transgender women (MTF). And because I was specifically trying to see if I could find and network with other malebodied people who identify as girl-like or effeminate, and/or as girls or women, but not with intention of presenting as female-bodied or becoming female-bodied, I found myself informing them that they could be supporters and welcome here in that capacity but that the group was intended as a group to bring together males OTHER than gay guys or male to female transgender who had been victims of homophobia-and-company.


So...

How politically legitimate is it, how legitimate CAN it be, to be starting a group that disincludes gay people and trans male-to-female people? I'd prefer that you not judge me blithely but at the same time let's not dismiss this concern lightly either. It's a question that goes deeper than this one Meetup group, but rather has to do with my entire gender identity itself.

From my vantage point, I was mistreated for being a sissy and so I set forth to come out and confront the world as an activist sissy. But the gay question is the Giant Pink Elephant in the Living Room. When people were being hostile towards me for being a sissy-boy, they expressed it as hostility towards gay guys. When people expressed sympathy and tolerance towards me, they expressed it as sympathy for and tolerance of me as a gay guy. And the reason I still perceive a need to change the message that kids hear out there is that some hypothetical kid like me growing up is going to hear some continuing hostility towards sissy guys, identifying them as gay, and they are going to hear a strong social dissent that says it is perfectly OK and downright fabulous to be a sissy gay guy.

I could already hear that social dissent in the 1970s when I was a teenager, but it wasn't helpful to me. No one was saying it was OK to be someone like me.


But it means I'm distancing myself from gay guys, making a point of saying I'm proud that I'm not. Or rather that I am proud of who I am and who I am is a sissy-guy who is not gay, which still collapses to the same thing.

Maybe that's part of why it's so damn difficult to find others like me.

On top of the other problems that come with it, we're setting ourselves up to be perceived as homophobic. And/or as protesting awfully loudly, like we're in denial or something, because why else (people tend to ask) would people go around asserting that they aren't gay? So maybe the other sissy males who are not attracted to male-bodied people don't identify as sissy in order to avoid being more rapidly and completely designated as gay, and don't identify as "sissy but NOT gay" in order to avoid being designated as homophobic and closeted and in denial and gay.


The transgender part of it is somewhat different. Although I was occasionally taunted and mocked as a kid by someone explicitly calling me a girl, it has generally NOT been the case that people assume that because I exhibit feminine qualities I must be a male-to-female transgender person. (Gay continues to be the default assumption). It's only where and when I go to the trouble of explaining that I am a male-bodied person who is a girl inside that I find a lot of my space taken up by the Little Pink Elephant, the assumption that anyone who is born in a body designated as male but who identifies as a girl or woman is going to want to transition, is going to identify as female as well as girl or woman, because, after all, girls and women are female.

Outside of one Facebook group, I have not been accused of being transphobic or politically incorrect about how I am attempting to identify. But I've found it difficult for people to comprehend. A lot of people are willing to believe that there is something primordially female in some folks born in male bodies, but they find it less easy to understand that a person born in a male body could possess the personality and behavioral characteristics and patterns of a girl or woman and could come to consider that to be a far more essential definition of SELF than the physical body, but not reject the body itself as any more wrong than being a woman is wrong. "What does it mean to be a woman if you're not female?", people ask me. I'm talking here about people who accept the transgender phenomenon, not the people who go around saying "If you got a dick you're a man not a woman". They could understand if I said I was SUPPOSED to have been born female, that I'm a woman inside and therefore this body is a birth defect. But they don't comprehend how I could feel and say "I am male and I am a girl and there's nothing wrong with me that needs fixing, get used to it".



My mind these last two weeks has returned to the question: WHY is it so damn difficult to put these ideas out there and WHY do I not find them resonating with other people? WHY do they not have the explanatory power for other people that they do for me? (I'd think that even for people who aren't at all like I am, these ideas would explain a lot of things they've observed in the world and they'd go "Aha, lots of things just clicked into place for me").



Maybe I'm the only one. (Seems unlikely, but what if?)


And then there's Douglas Hofstadter, who in his book Gödel Escher Bach spoke of systems of expression (mathematical languages or computer programming languages or any other formal system) and how, for any of them, there are things that are true but which can't be derived or expressed according to the rules of those very systems of expression. That's the essence of Gödel's theorem, but Hofstadter took the idea and ran with it in more universal directions. At one point he posits a high-end audiophile's sound system and asks (paraphrased *) "Won't any such system have sounds that they can't play because those very sounds, themselves, if reproduced with accuracy and volume, would be destructive to the delicate parts that comprise the sound system?"

Perhaps in the gendered world as it is familiarly constituted, the experiences I am trying to express are not expressible — that the act of expressing them interferes directly with their expression, that the architecture of ideas and language that we use to express things somehow contains a sort of Bermuda Triangle of entwined connotations that makes these particular notions impossible to convey, as every attempt to do so conveys something else instead. (Seems unlikely and quite the conceit on my part to entertain such a notion, but yeah, obviously I've done so).

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ahunter3: (Default)
As promised, a review of my talk at Life in Nassau / Nassau LGBT Center in Plainview.

It's hard to believe that was over two weeks ago. I'm still in the process of recovering from bronchitis infection. Two days before the presentation I started having some early symptoms and I was quite worried that the cough (it started with a cough) was going to take away my voice before Thursday night; I spent Thursday afternoon drinking hot herbal tea and gargling with salt water and nodding or making hand gestures or monosyllabic grunts as replies to anais_pf... but it worked out well, I had the energy and the voice to do it and, frankly, I nailed it!

I did a pretty decent job of maintaining eye contact, and no one complained of not being able to hear me, which was a relief since I'm very quiet-spoken and people often DO complain about that when I address a group.



As I explained earlier, I used a lot of material from my November 14 blog posting, including the three illustrations I used there, printed onto nice sturdy 24 inch x 36 inch posterboard suitable for ongoing use if I get the chance to make the same presentation elsewhere.

The main, most important diagram, was this one, the one I refer to as the distribution diagram:



Orange is male, green is female, left is masculine, right is feminine. I described the distribution graph as being what you'd get if you hurled a mango snowcone at the wall and then followed up with a mint snowcone that landed somewhat to its right.

The main departure from the blog posting was the development of representative characters. I first introduced the room to "Dan", conventionally masculine male over on the left side of this distribution graph. Then I introduced his girlfriend "Karen", a conventionally feminine female over on the right.

With the two of them as examples, I sort of fleshed out the experience of having your own experience match up with cultural expectations, showing how for the two of them there wasn't any need to have different terminology, "SEX" and "GENDER", and why they would find it confusing and unnecessary to make the distinction, even as tolerant friendly non-judgmental people.

At the same time, I made the point that the distribution diagram shows that there always WILL BE orange particles over on the right and green ones over on the left — because any time you have a scattered distribution like that, with overlap between the two populations, those kinds of points will invariably be present.

Then, from there, I described myself, and using myself as an example, described the situation of being one of those outlying points, a gender invert, in my case a feminine male person. I described myself in much the same way I'd described Dan and Karen, fleshing out the experience, but now I could show how messages about male-bodied people would describe such people as masculine (which I am not), and messages about feminine people would describe such people as female bodied (which I am not), and by doing so I illustrated why it was so useful and necessary to distinguish between SEX and GENDER.


A couple people who don't normally attend Life In Nassau, but who had met me through a separate ongoing Queer Munch, came to hear the presentation, and they along with a couple Life in Nassau regulars who also have alternative gendered experiences, asked questions at the end and elaborated on a lot of the points I'd been making, which added depth to the talk.

One of the more telling snippets of feedback I heard was from someone who does not consider herself gender-atypical but who has been exposed to the general concepts of being genderqueer and so forth: "I really liked it that your talk was not all full of instructions about 'Don't ever say this' or 'You should never do that'... your talk was all positive and accepting of people with all kinds of gender identities and differences. Most of these things I've gone to before, it's been all about what we have to be careful about in order not to offend people or oppress their sexual identity or whatever. I liked this a lot better".

Good! I'm not trying to position myself or those in my situation as fragile victims of evilbad normal folk. I'm convinced that if they understand us, they'll adjust their behavior accordingly simply from due consideration for our circumstances. Or enough of it that when they don't we'll sass them back and that will be sufficient. Personally I'm not interested in playing the victim card nor in whipping out my scars and playing "my oppression trumps yours".


I've begun negotiations to present at SUNY / Old Westbury, where I was a women's studies student in the late 1980s, perhaps to some womens' studies classes or perhaps to the independently-run women's center on campus. I also want to connect with Identity House and/or other LGBTQish centers in Manhattan to begin exploring the possibility that I have content that they're not currently presenting, and hence would make my presentation there.

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ahunter3: (Default)
To refer to myself as "transgender" or "genderqueer" is a bit like referring to a tortilla chip as a "corn chip".

It isn't WRONG; a tortilla chip really is a corn chip, that's what it's made out of. The problem is that when you say "corn chip", people's minds immediately jump to Fritos, not Tostitos.



On the transgender and genderqueer groups and message boards, I so often feel like serious Special Snowflake Syndrome, constantly posting and reposting my identity, reminding people that "hey over here, don't forget about me & hypothetical others like me, I was a girl in a boy body, no dysphoria, not transitioning, don't need anything fixed except society's expectations that male bodied people are always boys".

When I identify as transgender, it isn't incorrect—I have a gender that is not the one I was assigned at birth—but the connotation for most people is that I therefore feel *trapped in a male body* or that I would wish to present as female and pass as female, and for more people than not, it will be assumed that I have transitioned, intend to transition, or wish that I could transition surgically to correct my body so that it matches my gender.

"Genderqueer" is a more variable term; it should make it easier to be one of a half-dozen specific flavors of genderqueer and I could feel less like a tortilla chip in a bag labeled "corn chips". But in practice I'm finding from my participation on the genderqueer groups that I've still got a corn chip problem. I'm very unusual in that community for considering myself to have a sex (or "physical identity" or "morphology" or "phenotype") and also a gender, the two not being one and the same.

Other genderqueer folks tend to be genderfluid (boy days and girl days) or bigender (does anyone else read that as "big ender" as if GenderLilliput 's other island would have "little enders" or something?) or agender, or are somewhere along a continuum-spectrum such as demiboy or demigirl. They are mostly nonbinary: they reject the oversimplified "two possible categories" system of male (or men) and female (or women). Well, I do, too, but in my understanding of myself I am using binary categories, I'm just applying them to two, not merely one, axis. I have a physical axis in which I am a malebodied person and I have a psychological-behavioral and personality axis in which I am a girl or woman or feminine persona. Heck, I don't even know if that makes me nonbinary or binary. Quaternary or Tetragonal, maybe?

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ahunter3: (Default)
I've written about this before in passing but it's been on my mind throughout the year, so since this is a good time for an end-of-year summary, I'm going to focus on it today. Look at the following and check out the disparities:


OKCupid, the dating site, has recently expanded their options for describing yourself. I can now identify myself not merely as either a woman or a man, but also as androgynous; or bigender; or cis man; or cis woman; or genderfluid; or genderqueer; or gender nonconforming; or hijira; or intersex; or non-binary; or Pandenger; or Transfeminine; or Transgender; or Transmasculine; or Transsexual; or Trans Man; or Trans Woman; or Two Spirit. Is that incredible and impressive in its flexibility, or what? It's a real victory, isn't it! Oh, and that's just my gender and sex; for orientation I can specify not merely whether I am gay or straight but also could identify as Bisexual; Asexual; Demisexual; Heteroflexible; Homoflexible; Lesbian; Pansexual; Queer; Questioning; or SapioSexual.

So now we move to the section where people position themselves for their own searches and for where and how they appear when other folks search for potential partners. I see that I can be looking for women, for men, or for "everyone". And I can be included in searches for men, for women, or for "everyone".

*scowl*


The oft-mentioned Genderbread 2.0 diagram starts off with the compelling and provocative notion that rather than just one axis (male/man versus female/woman) or two (male/man versus female/woman and gay versus straight) or even three (male versus female, man versus woman, gay versus straight), we need at least four (gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and who you're attracted to): For gender identity I could identify myself as nongendered or as a strongly gendered person (man or woman) or anywhere along the continuum. For gender expression, I could consider myself agender (or androgynous) or as a strongly gender-expressed masculine or feminine person, or anywhere in between. That's actually more complexity than I myself tend to find necessary, since we haven't even gotten to biological sex yet—I mean, I guess one could consider one's self to be strongly gendered as a man and to be strongly gender-expressed as a feminine person, regardless of what bodily plumbing they've got, but even on the Genderqueer and Transgender community groups and boards that I'm on, I have to say I haven't encountered that. Anyways, onwards to biology: I can specify that I am asexual (or intersex) or that I am specifically sexed as male or female, or anywhere along the spectrums between. That's an impressive set of choices, isn't it? I could register as a woman, as feminine, as male.

So then for attraction I'm offered the choice of being attracted to nobody (asexual) or attracted to men/males/masculinity or to women/females/femininity.

*scowl*


Y'all see the problem, right?

My own attraction involves female-bodied people. But if I sought out female-bodied people generically in hopes of a sexual/romantic connection, I'd be wasting a lot of their time, and mine, since some of them are going to be attracted only to female-bodied people and some of them are going to be attracted only to masculine manly people and I am neither of those things. So I would want to be placing myself where I would show up on the radar of female-bodied people who want feminine womanly male-bodied people, naturally. Well YEESH! Neither OKCupid nor the Genderbread diagram have a slot for any such attraction! With all their expansive flexibility for self-description, their array of choices for what you're looking for and, therefore, what your potential audience of seeking-people might be on the search for, is limited and reductionistic and damn traditional. OKCupid lets me be genderqueer and gender nonconforming but those who might appreciate meeting someone like me have to choose between "looking for men" and "looking for women". Genderbread lets me be a male feminine woman but there's no way to diagram a person who would be ATTRACTED TO a male feminine woman.

And if my own attraction towards female-bodied people isn't generic, if for example I don't have much taste for girly girls and would like to narrow my defined interest to more willful, more tomboyish, less feminine-flavored female-bodied people, that's not available on OKCupid or on the Genderbread diagram either, now is it? There's a REASON I do not identify as "heterosexual". It's not just about me myself not being adequately defined by the terms "man" or "male" or "woman" or "feminine" by themselves. It's also about the personality and interests and sexual tastes of the other person.

*sigh*

Conveniently, I am not for the moment actively seeking new partners, being involved and immersed in good ongoing relationships, but that's neither here nor there. Being able to identify in terms of what floats your boat IS part of self-definition and we DO use that as part of the explication of ourselves to others. The problem doesn't just go away once you're no longer on the prowl, as it were!


Side Note

Even the admittedly admirable array of self-descriptives doesn't have a real home for me when you get right down to it. I mean, thank you OKCupid for the increased set of choices but "genderqueer" and "gender nonconforming" basically translate as "it's something else" without saying what. "Transgender", despite the inclusive expansion of the umbrella to include folks like me, doesn't differentiate between someone like me and someone who experiences dysphoria and wants to change their body to fit their gender, and THEY were here first, it's THEIR word. And I'm not straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, demisexual, heteroflexible, homoflexible, or pansexual.


I'm gender inverse and my orientation is straightbackwards. I'm still not on the damn map.

OK, pardon the self-hijack, let's get back to the main issue here.

Being Wanted

In the transgender community, the prospect or possibility of someone being specifically attracted to transgendered people is not by any means greeted with unproblematic acceptance and joy.

"Chasers" are regarded by many transfolk with wary suspicion, that such people have an overly-prurient interest in an aspect of them that they themselves regard more or less as an unwanted medical condition. The goal or ideal situation for MANY transgender people is that they be seen, viewed, and understood as a normal ordinary member of the sex/gender that they identify with, with a minimum focus on the sex/gender to which they were assigned by birth, with a limited-to-nonexistent focus on the wrong/unwanted sex-specific bodyparts they were born with.

So to the extent that that's not a misrepresentation, and is true for more transgender people than not, I'm not one of them, my situation is different. The genderqueer community is a better match, perhaps, for people who would have the same complaint that I do. Regardless of whether a person is a gender invert like me, or genderfluid or andrygynous or non-binary or agenderous or something else instead, I would imagine that most of us want not only to be allowed terminologies to describe ourselves, but also the opportunity to meet people who WANT our particular configuration (whether to the exclusion of any other config or not) as what they are ATTRACTED TO. And as long as descriptions of what people are attracted to is still limited to "you like guys, or girls, or both, or neither?", we aren't being accorded real attention and real understanding.

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ahunter3: (Default)
I hear some people occasionally wondering how, and why, transgender people ended up affiliated with gay and lesbian and bisexual folks, pointing out that gender identity is really a separate consideration from sexual orientation. I imagine it happened sort of like this: lots of people, when they encounter someone who appears to be of one sex but who exhibits lots of signs and sends lots of signals associated with the other sex, assume the reason, or purpose, of those gender-nonconforming behaviors, is that that person is gay.

I chose the words "reason or purpose" intentionally: a purpose indicates an intentional act, while a reason implies an explanation, and both of those get applied to this thinking some of the time. As "reason", the thinking goes something like this: "being sexually attracted to guys when you yourself are a guy is a way of being more like girls; that is, being sexually attracted to guys is something that mostly happens to girls; so this person is gay as part of a general tendency to be more like girls". (Or mirror-image of that for lesbians). As "purpose", the thinking runs more along these lines: "acting and dressing and behaving like a guy when you are actually a girl is a way of trying to resemble the people that most girlfolks are sexually attracted to (i.e., guys), so that they'll think of you in sexual terms; you do that to signal that you are a lesbian and want to have sex with other girls". (Or mirror-image of that for gay guys).

So mainstream hetero people would mentally categorize transgender people as gay as a consequence of this kind of thinking.

Gay and lesbian people themselves, I think, weren't immune to that kind of assumption, at least at first, before transgender people had come out to them fairly often and in significant detail: "OK so you want to change your body to fit your gender identity, that's cool with me" could shift to perplexity in cases where the transitioning person was (for example) transitioning to male and then planned on living as a gay male afterwards: "Huh? Then why bother? What are you doing it for?" Certainly the surgery clinicians and psychologists were making assumptions that collapsed orientation with gender identity: to be a good candidate, you were supposed to aspire to be a very NORMAL person of the sex to which you were transitioning, and that meant being postoperatively heterosexual, didn't it?

Therefore, I tend to imagine that a lot of initial coming-out self-revelations by transgender people were made to gay and lesbians people. Because, having been pigeonholed along with them, it made sense to seek understanding there, to find resources and support there and so on; but to get that understanding, some explaining was going to have to take place



All that is kind of prologue.


You see, I consider myself to be in the same kind of situation except that I'm grouped with trans people, because I seem (both from the outside and sometimes from among trans people themselves) to fit the description, but I feel different from most of you. And I don't feel understood in the absence of coming out and explaining a bit. Coming out to you as part of a smaller minority the same way transgender people have been a minority within the LGBT community.

One thing I want to say before I go any further is that it is hard for anyone to talk to a group about how they're different from the others in the group without a risk of it sounding like they're saying "YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG, THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE". If I come across to you, reading this, as if I'm prescribing MY gender identity as some kind of improvement over yours, can you give me the benefit of the doubt and try not to take it that way?



OK, one of the biggest differences I feel when I'm discussing this stuff with trans people is "passing". A very large percent of the message-board posts on trans boards is about passing. Do I look like the sex that I'm transitioning to? Here's my latest selfie, do I look like a member of that sex to you? Where can I get this or that garment or piece of equipment or device to make me look more like that sex? And so on. Me, I don't want to pass. It is not my intention to be seen and thought of as a cisgendered female person. I'm a male girlish person. I want to be seen as a male girlish person. I want to be understood and accepted as a male girlish person, or, when that's not an option, to be hated and reviled and despised and detested as a male girlish person.

Being a male person is part of who I am. I do not hate my body. I do not have dysphoria. Being male is not something I need to fix. I have some nice skirts and some purses I use when I wear them, and they are expressions of my girlness and it feels good to wear them in public, proud of who I am. But I do not have any bras. I do have a pretty dense collection of facial hair. I like it; it's pretty and it grew there naturally and I never wanted to shave it off, nor do I want to pluck it out.

Being a girl person, of course, is what was perceived by most people as the part that was WRONG. As a male I'm supposed to be a BOY person. I am to be pitied, considered pathetic. I'm believed to have always fervently wished to more closely resemble those masculine creatures who inhabit the other male bodies. Of course you're nodding, of course you know how that goes, THAT'S WHY I'M IN HERE, PART OF THIS COMMUNITY, to be among my own kind, as much as that is a possibility, and yeah, this is ground zero dead center home base of what we've got in common. I most certainly do not want to be a boy person, I am proud of being one of the girls, proud of remaining who I am in the face of the hostility and ridiculous pressures and hatefulness directed towards girlish male folk. That certainly doesn't need fixing either!

But we aren't all alike in here. And I need to feel understood in order to be able to feel fully accepted. I'm not transitioning. I'd like to get the world to transition towards understanding that males can sometimes be girls as well as boys, and that that's OK. But me, I'm fine where I am, stubborn and unchanging.


And now, some comments about language and terms. I don't want to behave all super-triggery-sensitive or make you think I'm going to lash out at you and accuse you of horribly damaging uses of words that hurt my feelings, but yeah, some of the ways that some of you trans folks use certain terms does kind of make me squirmy and uncomfortable. Let's start with "female" versus "woman" and "male" versus "man". To me they're the specific versions of "sex" versus "gender", and although I acknowledge that it's sometimes a bit of an oversimplification to say that sex is the body (chromosomes, organs, biology) and gender is the identity (personality, the real self), it will do as shorthand. So a woman or girl is someone who identifies as such, and a man or boy is someone who identifies in that manner instead, and they are NOT just by-products of our SEX, our physical equipment. But I keep seeing people describe themselves as (for example) a transgender FEMALE or speak of being a real MALE inside when they are referring to the internal self and not their current physical configuration.

I can see how that would make sense to someone who (for example) intends to transition and become female, but that kind of thing makes me feel a little bit erased. It is very liberating TO ME to have language that makes it possible for me to explain that I have a body of one sex but the gender that usually goes with the other — male, girl — and from my vantage point when I hear or read trans people eliding any difference between "female" and "woman" (or girl) it strikes me as a threat to my ability to say that and be understood. It muddies the water. In an ideal world there would seldom be a need to draw such attention to one's biological plumbing, but we aren't IN that ideal world and I, for one, still need to be able to speak about my situation and draw attention to it as one that needs social consideration.

In an ideal world we wouldn't be pigeonholed into little categories, but in order to speak against the pigeonholing process you often have to identify the category you're in and speak about how the categorial treatment that's tied to it is unfair and oppressive.

Look, I'm not the language police or anything, but I'm letting you know how it rubs me when I read that kind of thing. If you want to disagree, by all means write up a response, and I promise to read it with thoughtful consideration.

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We like simplifications when we find ourselves wanting to explain complex things to people who have less need to understand them that we have need for them to have that understanding. Especially if they aren't in our social sciences class and don't need a good grade from us at the end of the semester!

So it's not unsurprising that in explaining gender issues and gender politics and gender identity and whatnot, we've often tended to present it something like this: GENDER ISN'T THE SAME THING AS SEX. SEX IS BIOLOGY. SEX IS THE BODY. GENDER IS SOCIAL AND MENTAL, IT'S IN YOUR HEAD, IT'S ABOUT BEHAVIOR AND IDENTITY, AND IT ISN'T THE SAME THING AS SEX.

That enables us to explain why a person who has, for instance, Xy chromosomes, and the body parts that are conventionally described as penis and testicles, or which would be identified as such by the overwhelming majority of disinterested average people asked to identity them, at any rate, isn't necessarily "a man". Why some of us consider ourselves to be "women" instead. Or genderfluid (perhaps sometimes men, sometimes women, depending on how we feel). Or nonbinary (perhaps not relating to that whole "are you a man or a woman" thing at all). Or some other variation entirely. So we say to our audience of mainstreamish ordinary people, ACCEPT THIS. LET PEOPLE DEFINE THEMSELVES, GENDER-WISE, DON'T ASSIGN THEM BASED ON YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THEIR BODY BITS. BECAUSE GENDER ISN'T THE SAME THING AS SEX. And those of them who are tolerant of diversities and respectful of other folks' experiences often nod and add this to their list of socially appropriate attitudes and, at least in socially liberal diversity-tolerant circles, that becomes The Truth and they themselves begin to correct other folks who conflate sex with gender.

Except, well, it IS a simplification and like all simplifications it is on some occasions an OVERsimplification, one that can make some explanations and elaborations even more complicated. Like when someone asks why, if gender isn't sex, someone with a male body who identifies as a woman wants sex reassignment surgery: isn't that the body? Or when you're trying to explain that yonder person, who identifies as a woman, considers herself to have a clitoris, considers her body to be a female body, even though she was assigned male at birth (AMAB for short) and has Xy chromosomes and body parts that would be identified by the overwhelming majority of other people (who had not been informed otherwise) as penis and testicles and whatnot. We begin retreating from our original distinction, saying things like "Well, actually SEX is also a matter of perception, the interpretation and categorization of the physical is a social process, maleness and femaleness are themselves social constructs". And the people who were on board with the notion that SEX IS BIOLOGY AND GENDER IS SOCIAL look back with glazed eyes and perhaps ask, "So sex and gender are sort of the same thing after all?" and perhaps add, unnecessarily, "... I'm confused!"


Well, what I'm about to do here is probably ALSO an oversimplification on some level, but I think it may be a useful second level that's worth a mental climb that I don't think will be too bad.

First off, yeah, GENDER is social and mental. But is isn't unaffiliated with SEX which is biological and of the body. Gender is basically a set of generalizations (a more loaded term is "stereotypes") based on observed sexual differences. Gender is also affected by other social stuff, factors that aren't strictly biological. For example, social systems tend to try to control individual people's reproductive behaviors, because either too much or too little reproduction can play havoc with resources, and for that matter so can too random versus more narrowly channelled into specific situations. The more that the social system is defensively poised on the edge of a threat to its survival, the more tight this control tends to be. Well, one form that this control takes is the promotion of ideas about what the sexes like and want and what their "nature" disposes them to do, whether in fact those ideas are close reflections of the real actual generalized behavior of those sexes or not. Sexual propaganda, you could call it. You can see how that makes gender MORE than just generalizations about SEX, yes? But for the rest of this discussion, that's just a side issue. For now let's just put an asterisk next to where I said GENDER is a generalization about SEX and the asterisk means there's some distortion involved for various social reasons and now let's go back to the simple bit about generalization.

Here's how generalization renders gender out of sex:

Belief

First, it's BINARY. Because in general there are two sexes and since we're generalizing we ignore the exceptions and we say we have MALE and we have FEMALE. Two dots.

Then we focus on differences. Men are "this way" and women are "that way". We compile a list of characteristics and separate them into male and female. Orange and green. Him over here and her over there. And because he's over here, from his perspective she is in THAT direction, whereas because she's over there, from her perspective he is in THIS direction, and thus the directions THEMSELVES, the over-there-ness versus the over-here-ness, that becomes gendered. In yon direction lies the female characteristics, the feminine stuff. Over thereabouts, that direction means masculine, the male characteristics.

Now let's toss up a less generalized diagram that reflects the same reality but doesn't oversimplify it as much:

Distribution

Here we see two populations, the male population in one color and the female population in another, and we still see an overall tendency, a sense that in general the females are "more over this way" and the males are "more over that way", but we also see that there is overlap. And that makes immediate sense, we all know that some individual women are more this way than others and that any characteristic is manifested some of the time by all of either sex and quite often by some of either sex and so on.

Now comes the fun part. Let's zoom in:

From this Perspective

This is a mostly-green region of the "population" diagram, zoomed in with an orange point circled to draw your attention to it. Let's drop our awareness into that location and look around us and make some generalizations FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE:


• Compared to the diagram as a whole, who "we" are is definitely quite strongly off in a "green direction". Most of the dots who are like us (i.e,. in our general location) are "green".

• Generalizations about "orange" individuals most often won't apply to us. Except for our "orangeness" itself, we don't have much in common with them. When the main body of orange points expresses itself in collective solidarity with the orange direction, we aren't going to feel very included. When the main body of green points does the equivalent, on the other hand, we're likely to say "me too". Except when the subject being discussed is about orangeness or greenness ITSELF, of course.

• In the binary graph, I spoke of a sense of "over-there-ness", a sense for the orange that their relationship to the green involves the green being "over there", in THAT direction. For our isolated orange point in this graph, the green isn't so much "over there" as "right here around me". The other orange points in general, however, THEY are "over there" in a contrasting direction.

• The "green" points will in general have the experience that the color opposite of them (i.e., orange) tends to be in an "over there" (generally leftward) direction. Our isolated orange point is positioned where the color opposite (i.e., green) can also be found to some degree in that same (leftward) direction even though that's mostly contrary to orange-dot experiences.

Now let's translate some of that into how it manifests in the world of gender and identity.


• Even if gender were a pretty accurate generalization about sexual difference (n other words we continue to ignore the "asterisk effects" or we dismiss them as anything more than minor background noise), the distribution model means that there are inevitably feminine malebodied people and masculine femalebodied people. It's not a "deviant behavior", or a "behavior" at all, per se, it's a direct result of distribution with overlap. If you've got distribution with overlap there will BY DEFINITION be such people.

• For masculine malebodied people and feminine femalebodied people, gendered experience tends to be unitary and nonambivalent, and (this is important) THEIR EXPERIENCES are broadcast as the experiences that are expected and anticipated, reinforcing for them the "identification" with other such folks. In other words, not merely "you, male, you're expected to be masculine" but also "you, male, you are expected to find female people to exhibit characteristics in a more feminine direction than your own characteristics" as well as "you, male, are expected to find other male people to exhibit characteristics that are NOT in any particular 'direction' but rather more or less surrounding your own traits". But in contrast...

• For feminine malebodied people and masculine femalebodied people, identity factors are much more convoluted just because of their location in the distribution. Let's consider the masculine femalebodied person. In body she is one of the femalebodied but in a multitude of other characteristics she has more in common with the other masculine people, so that's the first tier of non-unitary identity factors. Then there's the comparison of her experiences with the experiences broadcast as the expected and anticipated: the other femalebodied voices say that malebodied people are more masculine, but that's not generally true of her own experience, although some malebodied people may be more so. The other masculine voices say that the opposite sex (females for the males, males for the females) are more feminine, but for her the opposite sex will have characteristics more clustered around her own traits, although again there will be some for whom that is true.

• It would be an oversimplification (yet again) to say that people in that kind of situation EITHER identify with those of the same biological SEX or ELSE identify with those who have the same constellation of characteristics. Both of those are possibilities, definitely, but the identification experiences are in conflict and hence non-unitary, and that opens up many other possibilities. Continuing with our masculine femalebodied person, she may react to the discrepancy by feeling neither more akin to other femalebodied people nor to other masculine people but instead identifying in a more finely granular way with other masculine femalebodied people. Or she may reject the binary either/or propositions inherent in the identity question and identify mostly with people of any sex and any personality characteristic set who also feel alienated by the whole sex-and-gender thing. If she identifies with the other masculine folk, the fact that she is femalebodied and is perceived as such may be experienced as an obstacle to that identity; it may have more to do with other folks' perceptions (the expectations that are part of the backdrop of broadcasted gendered experiences), or it may mostly focus on her own desire to resemble the people she has identified with and to feel validated in that identity, but either way her SEX as perceived by her becomes intertwined with the process of identification and come to be regarded as wrong and in need of alteration. That alteration in turn may involve modifications at the level of behavioral presentation or may involve body modifications at the physical level. If her reaction to the overall situation takes the form of rejecting the binary categorization, she may similarly seek to modify either presentation or body, but seeking an indeterminable or neutral representation of SEX rather than male or female.

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