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Naturally, once I had a publication offer from NineStar, I wanted to see who my colleagues were and get a sense of how my book would fit in among the rest of their line. NineStar is LGBTQ-centric but most of it is fiction with LGBTQ characters. My book is nonfiction but it's a narrative with (hopefully) the same kind of story arc and reader-identification with characters that makes fiction fun to read.

Anyway, one of the titles and descriptive blurbs caught my attention and I ordered it and, when it arrived, found myself quickly drawn into it. Yeah, I'm in good company :)

The main character in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL is a high school student named Sam. Sam's situation and experience is different on many simultaneous levels, I discovered, as that situation emerges a bit at a time. Sam's mother and teachers refer to him as "Amanda": Sam is transgender and is not out to anyone yet. Most transgender narratives follow the main character's musings and inner conflicts and put on display for us the process by which they come to realize they are transgender and need to come out and do something about it. We meet Sam as a person who has already done all that internal processing; he knows he's a guy, he's planning a post-graduation future in which he will escape the conservative Mormon-dominated Idaho town he's currently in and get himself to a more tolerant place. He's already made his way into a bar catering to gay lesbian transgender and crossdresser people (during a school field trip) and experienced what it was like to manifest outwardly as the person he is on the inside. And he's already thinking about hormones and surgeries.

In a previous review (Tea and Transition) I noted that it did not sit well with me to be deprived of that narrator's self-discovery process. In fact, it felt like I'd come in after the story's main drama, with her already self-identifying as transgender. That should, theoretically, have affected me the same way in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL, but it didn't. I think it works as well as it does because Sam, despite his post-questioning confidence about his identity as one of the boys, is not generally out yet and is coping with daily experiences under the tension of being in girl drag and constantly misgendered, on the one hand, while being subjected to transphobic violence from a small contingent of hostile students who know his secret, on the other.

Stryker uses a concise canvas with a handful of well-developed ancillary characters: the teacher and secondary-story-narrator Todd Keegan; his sister with her own complex past, Julie, who also gets to narrate some chapters; Scarlet, his trainwreck of a mother; and his stunted brother Stevie. Other characters pass by in the background as part of the social scenery, but the main interactive tensions are between these people.

Switching the observational viewpoint from one character to another is a sophisticated and somewhat challenging approach to writing. It can be off-putting to the reader if the transitions aren't clear, creating confusion, and doing it well requires that the reader feel adequately comfortable behind the eyeballs of each character who narrates. There's a risk of context-switching within too short a sequence, usually because the author wants to reveal the internal thinking of more than one participant. At worst, this results in what authors and editors call head-hopping. But Stryker deploys it skillfully. Within the first couple sentences of each new chapter, the reader is made aware of who is telling the story, and it's done without boldface chapter subtitles. Sam is the primary vantage point from which we experience the tale, and his story is the central plotline; when we're inside Julie's or Todd's head, it is sometimes for the purpose of developing their stories and revealing to us things that Sam isn't present to see, but also on occasion to view Sam and his situation as it appears from the outside.

If I have any negative criticism to make of Stryker's writing, it's his tendency to describe a brief action snippet and then dive immediately into a long protracted internal monologue, often with a flashback to a previous incident, and then continue with the current action. It sometimes left me confused about what was happening in the current moment, requiring me to flip back and reread; and at times the action sequences were described without enough clarity about who had said what, where they were physically located, and what they would have seen or heard, so that I had some difficulty making sense of their actions and motivations. He does quite a good job describing people's internal consciousness, but describing scenes and people from an outside observer's viewpoint is something he does less well.

But there wasn't enough of that confusion and perplexity to keep me from turning the pages. The story itself, the situation in which Sam is embedded and the intrinsic tensions and conflicts thereof, creates a dramatic flow that held me and my attention sufficiently that I carried the book with me everywhere and read it pretty much nonstop from start to finish.

As has often been noted, there aren't enough stories about female to male transitioners. THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL paints a very likable and admirable Sam, who is very much the hero of his own story.

The Simplicity of Being Normal. James Stryker. Albuquerque NM: NineStar Press (1970). Available digitally from NineStar or in print form from major retailers such as Amazon

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Nowadays on LGBTQIA group chats and in leftist social discussions, the phrase "radical feminism" most often appears in a pejorative mention -- TERFS ("trans exclusive radical feminists") being castigated for their intransigence about female-spectrum transgender people, or disparaged for being anti-sex and anti-free-speech as exemplified by the MacKinnon-Dworkin pornography ordinance from a few decades ago, or accused of lying about data and making up statistics and being these vindictively hateful people who just want to blame males for everything.

Not that any of that would be a major surprise for the radical feminists I read throughout the 70s 80s and 90s. They knew they were hitting a nerve and were accustomed to receiving bad press and misrepresentation. I am sad to see them undercredited and disregarded by those who benefit from their insights though.

To review the basics, feminism in a broad general sense was a beacon of hope for me growing up, because its overall attitude towards gender was "hey, if it's sauce for the goose, it's sauce for the gander" -- that, regardless of whether men and women were different or were just regarded as different, it wasn't defensible to use a different yardstick of acceptable behavior. They pointed out the inconsistencies and folks recognized the unfairness. For me, as a gender invert, an exception to society's general rules about males and their personality and behavior, this translated as "hey, if it's OK for girls, it's OK for me; and if it's not OK for girls, then it's not right for the boys and hence it's not right to pressure me to be that way".

Now, RADICAL feminism, specifically, came to people's attention as it began to pinpoint topics that more mainstream feminism in the 70s shied away from: specifically sexuality, both in the sense of sexual orientation (yes, lesbian pride) but also more analytically in the sense of analyzing sexual politics, the politics of sexuality and sexual behaviors. Kate Millett taking contemporary depictions of sex and sexuality and holding them up for us to see how much they were about sex as an act of conquest and hostility, and about the eroticism of men having power over women. Susan Brownmiller writing about rape not as a horrifyingly deviant act but as a horrifyingly normative extension of how things otherwise were between the sexes, and as part and parcel of that overall situation. By going there, by having the courage and nerve to speak of such things as if they could perhaps be otherwise, and daring to condemn these situations instead of accepting them as a shameful but permanent part of human nature, radical feminism was the core from which central feminist tenets and understandings came in the 80s.

Catherine MacKinnon observed in 1987 (Feminism Unmodified), "...our subordination is eroticized in and as female; in fact, we get off on it to a degree, if nowhere near as much as men do. This is our stake in this sytem that is not in our interest, our stake in this system that is killing us. I'm saying femininity as we know it is how we come to want male dominance, which most emphatically is not in our interest."

Adrienne Rich, Jill Johnston and others questioned the "natural" centrality of heterosexuality, positing a different sexuality -- a sexuality between women but specifically different because, unlike heterosexuality as it existed and tended to define sexuality altogether, it could be mutually affirming, sensuous, not violent, an alternative to a conventional model of sexuality in which women's role was that of "natural sexual prey" (Rich) to men.

For me, that resonated powerfully: as a kid, I considered myself to be akin to the girls, regarding them and respecting them as colleagues and seeking them as friends, and now as a sexually adult person I wanted that mutually affirming sharing form of sex and wanted nothing to do with the adversarial and predatory model that was predominant in all understandings and portrayals of "wild uncivilized sex".

Nor did I find much to interest me in the non-wild, tamed, civilized version of sex, for that matter. Here there was a disparagement of sex itself as suspect, as something people should abstain from for a prolonged period after attaining the age of feeling the full appetite for it, and even after that should only engage in sex within very narrowly defined permissible channels. Here, perhaps, was a model for engaging in sex (eventually) without embracing all that adversarial and predatory hostility, yeah, sure, but it was basically saying that yes, sex IS like that, it's just that being like that is bad and naughty so sex is bad and naughty and we will therefore put sex in a cage. And even in this context, sexuality was not going to be mutually affirming, not as far as I could see: the nice girls had to preserve their reputations and also refrain from tempting the boys, and the boys were to suppress their desires and not sully the chastity of the girls, and then when he could adequately support a family he could get married and then she'd let him do it to her. The sexuality inside the cage was the same sexuality; the notions and understandings of it were still polarized and painted a picture of male sexuality that I wanted no part of.

Radical feminists tended to see sex as insurrection; they observed that even though it was politically dangerous to women in the current context, putting women in the position of sleeping with the enemy and eroticizing male domination, it was treated as dangerous by the patriarchy as well, and for good reason. The same intimacy that threatened women with too much identification and connection with their oppressor was a threat to the patriarchal system and its requirement that women be perceived as other.

Jan Raymond and Mary Daly, among other radical feminists, have indeed been hostile to any acceptance of transgender women. Those who have expressed such sentiments are not the entirety of radical feminism, though. Buried among the more publicized nasty sentiments, though, have been radical feminist voices whose concerns about the transgender phenomenon mirror, almost exactly, the concerns now being voiced by nonbinary activists: that jumping the fence, as it were, is not a radical solution to the fence between the genders, insofar as it leaves the fence intact. Neither the radical feminists nor the current wave of nonbinary genderqueer folks have a sufficient excuse for being as intolerant as they've often been towards people who simply feel that they personally will be happier when transitioned so as to be treated and perceived as the persons that they are. But it is a gross oversimplification to portray radical feminism as intrinsically opposed to transgender people.

Radical feminists spoke of the centrality of gender polarization. They said the political dynamics between the sexes was the central keystone issue in our society, and that the sexual dynamics as made erotic within patriarchal heterosexuality was the fundamental building block around which our political power arrangements were patterned. It wasn't the first time that one social factor had been pinpointed as the central core of all politics -- Marxism had done it with labor and the ownership of the means of production -- but it was the first to come along in a century and it took some common-place everyday understandings and inverted them to make sense of them in new ways: it wasn't that the awful world of competitive social and economic posturing tended to invade and corrupt the intimacy of sexuality and sexual relationships but that the corrupted form of sexuality and sexual relationships eroticized and rendered irresistible those forms of interaction and made them present everywhere that people interacted.

Society as we know it, as many of us conceptualize as human nature, is sexual subject-object polarized adversarial dynamics, writ large. Robin Morgan wrote about feminism as the "larger context":


For almost two decades, I've written about, lectured on, and
organized for the ideas and politics of feminism for the sake of
women ...as a matter of simple justice. If, in fact, these
were the sole reasons for and goals of the movement and
consciousness we call feminism, they would be quite
sufficient...nor is it necessary to apologize for feminism's
concerning itself 'merely" with women, or to justify feminism on
the "please, may I" ground that it's good for men too... In the
long run, it will be good for men, but even were it
permanently to prove as discomfiting for men as it seems to be in
the short run, that wouldn't make women's needs and demands any the
less just. So the fact that I place feminism in a "larger
context" is neither an apology nor a justification. It is simply
to show, once and for all, that feminism is the larger
context
... The "Otherizing" of women is the oldest oppression
known to our species, and it's the model, the template, for all
other oppressions. Until and unless this division is
healed, we continue putting Band-Aids on our most mortal wound.

The Anatomy of Freedom


Marilyn French wrote about power as the central patriarchal obsession, and taught us to recognize power by its own central imperative: the possession of control. Everywhere, she said, we see the sacrifices made in the name of obtaining and retaining control, as if it were an intrinsic good and a necessity in and of itself. And here again is the eroticized sexual imperative, the attempt to seize and make things happen according to one's own will and without concern for the will of that which is being controlled except as a possible impediment to be conquered.

Within the pages of lesbian radical feminism, as lesbian feminists sought to explain why this was important beyond the expressed choice of who to have sex with, came the growing recognition that in both gay and lesbian sexuality the people involved are not anchored by the body in which they were born to a preordained scripted role -- you weren't tied to being butch or femme, to being the man or the woman, on the basis of your bodily sex; and that that was, itself, radical. It wasn't how patriarchal heterosexuality was constructed and hence it was a threat, which went a long way towards explaining the hostility reserved for gay and lesbian people.

To say "patriarchal heterosexuality" was, and still is, somewhat akin to speaking of "women's lingerie" or "earthly lifeform" -- our conventional understanding of the category completely eliminates any need for the adjectives because those are the only forms we have tended to encounter.

Genderqueer sexual politics is radical sexual politics, and especially so the specific formulation of gender inversion: whether we refer to it as "heterosexual" or choose not to, to posit sexual relationships between male people and female people in which the participants are not gendered as men and women, respectively, elaborates on the radical departure from subject-object adversarial dynamics spoken of by the lesbian feminists; specifically, it extends it to where it is needed the most, directly dismantling what we've been describing as the core of the whole system. Untying male-female sexual possibilities from heterosexuality as we know it.

"Why", you may ask, "is it necessary to embrace gender inversion? Isn't it more useful to discard gender and embrace absolute gender equality instead? And if the female role is and has been on the receiving end of patriarchal oppression, of what conceivable value is it to issue a loud political hurrah for males styling themselves as feminine and wanting to be the girl in their relationships? Isn't that just making a fetish of the accoutrements of being one of the oppressed?"

Firstly, let's consider the limits of "let's just be equal shall we" optimistic idealism against the backdrop of the current eroticized 'devil boy chase angel girl' polarization. We go bravely forth (or we send forth the subsequent generation, all consciousness-raised and socially aware) into a social world that knows there may be sexually egalitarian people. It also knows to expect the continued existence of people in the traditional mold. The social milieu of expectations therefore is newly open to equality while still entirely familiar with the orthodox which is gender-specific. Anyone who has had to spend an evening doing arithmetic homework knows that when you do averages, the average that you obtain is less than the higher number, so when you average out the expectations of sexually egalitarian and sexually orthodox, your result is going to be sexually orthodox by some amount.

Secondly, yes, I can understand the misgivings about a set of traits and behaviors marked as submissive and subservient and offering them to males as a desirable experience and identity. But it is the subject-object adversarial worldview that tends to see things only in terms of power over and of domination or submission. Exactly WHAT is it that males are deprived of in a patriarchal context? Does it not strike you as odd that a patriarchy, a system of male power and privilege, should deny freedoms to its males with such intensity as it denies variant gender expression? The answer is that power is not a substance owned by the powerful. Power is instead a relationship that defines all parties involved, the powerful and the oppressed alike.

It's not about seeking subserviency or making a fetish of being dominated; there is and has always been an encoding of traits as feminine as part and parcel of encoding power as male, AND no, the boys don't get all the good ones. You're never going to understand this if you don't understand that some things are more desirable than power. But yes it is not a desire to be oppressed (by women or anyone else). I share Robin Morgan's and Marilyn French's radical feminist vision of a world no longer anchored by the obsession with controlling others.

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Tea and Transition: A Story of Love, the Human Spirit, and How One Man Became One Woman, by Nicola Jane Chase (Telemachus Press: 2015)

Barriers to Love: Embracing a Bisexual Identity, by Marina Peralta with Penolope James (Barriers Press: 2013)



These are a pair of memoirs, one from a transgender woman and one from a bisexual woman. Both are effectively self-published (Telemachus is basically a vanity press, and Barriers Press appears to be therapist Marina Peralta's own publication vehicle). I am all too familiar with the difficulty involved in getting a conventional publisher to publish an LGBTQIAetc memoir, and both of these books were recommended to me in response to my searches for such stories.

I began Nicola Jane Chase's book a couple months ago and ended up putting it aside, unfinished, for several weeks because it did not draw me in at the beginning. To be honest, I was expecting a standard narrative story arc and didn't get one. I mean, I opened the book expecting "My childhood was like this, you see, and here is when I first began to realize I was different from other males, that I was one of the girls instead of one of the boys", and then a tale of events and realizations and so on.

Instead, I was immediately plummeted into the current mental world of a trans woman. Chase warns in the prologue that "All true tales should start at the beginning. However, in my case I can't be sure when that beginning was." I flipped the page and she was already writing of her impending sex reassignment surgery appointment. The flow of Tea and Transition is nonlinear, more akin to listening to a very verbose and chatty companion rattle off thoughts from the top of her head than akin to reading someone's meticulously wrought story of what it was like to be her and to go through the experiences she has gone through. There's no objective reason to require a chronologically linear tale, and, indeed, many excellent authors bounce around between years and settings in the process of telling what they wish to tell, but it did not sit well with me.

I found myself formulating a mental image of the author, and it was one I was not comfortable with. To be quite blunt, I discovered myself thinking of her as a scatterbrained airhead, all fluff and trivialities. I felt squirmy about that, because there's a strongly misogynistic strand in that, of thinking of women in that dismissive fashion, and a transphobic / trans-hostile strand also, I think, involved in viewing transgender women that way as well: was I harboring creepy sentiments that I needed to deconstruct and examine before proceeding?

I eventually decided -- somewhat cautiously -- that I was not guaranteed to always like each and every woman, nor each and every transgender woman, that some individual human beings may indeed leave me with the impression of being scatterbrained, and that unless I had a pattern of seeing all folks in a category that way, it wasn't necessarily an illegitimate reaction on my part. So I picked up the book and this time I kept reading. And it got better.

There are many books written by transgender people which are more like the book I was initially expecting, books that detail identity-formulation from some point in childhood. Tea and Transition is entirely focused on adulthood and in large part this is because Nicola Jane Chase did not become conscious of a differently gendered sensibility until well into adulthood. Even at that point, there is not as much mulling over of the relevant issues as I would have wished. I suppose I'm guilty of some degree of projection: why hadn't Nicola been less comfortable considering the prospect that she was, indeed, a she? Instead, the narrative describes considering it, dipping a toe in the water (cross-dressing), liking it, and proceeding blithely onward. Be that as well it may, the journey soon enough required serious commitment, and in this, the author describes an almost agonizing passion to hold on to this despite the threat of high prices to be paid. Will she be able to retain good relationships with her mother, best friend, her place of employment and career? There's nothing trivial or airheaded about her evaluation and acceptance of these risks, which were clearly nontrivial risks. And there is more about this aspect of the trans journey in Tea and Transition than most such narratives provide.

At some point I came to realize where some of my hostility was coming from. It's defensive on my part. I myself identified with girls back when I was 7 or 8 years old. As an adult, presenting to other people as a genderqueer and gender inverted individual, I have encountered an expectation, sometimes explicit but more often hinted at, that I, and any other male who identifies as a girl in some fashion, crave the specific female experience of being a sex object. It's more of a sore point for me that I realized, but there you have it: my sexuality outgrew in complicated ways but it was entwined with gender and had a whole lot more innocence (and perhaps eventually the erotic potential of corruptibility thereof) than it had of either the boys' contempt-flavored delight in the crude or the adult female sex object's confident enjoyment of a status as arousal material for others.

And Nicola Jane Chase was too much exactly what I'd been suspected of: someone whose realized identity as femme was very much grounded in a desire to wear Victoria's Secret and to slink into a bar and be hit on, to be visually desirable precisely as a female, to be the hot chick.

So yeah, my hostility. Yeesh, I'm basically a frowny-faced disapproving censorious puritanically prudish tight-lipped femme person, shaking my head negatively at Ms. Chase. I don't think it's quite slut-shaming (I like and respect sluts), it's more... sex-object-shaming. Calling her shallow in my head and all that.

At a minimum, chalk one up for Nicola Jane Chase for teaching me more about myself. Title available from Amazon.



I picked up the Marina Peralta title specifically because I had not run across many bisexual coming-out / coming-of-age stories and I wanted some for my bookshelf collection. I'd read little articles and online posts on Facebook and whatnot about how bisexuals were not exactly embraced by the lesbian and gay folks within the LGBTQIAetc community but were instead treated as if they'd already been spoken for since gay males and lesbians had had their turn, while at the same time treated as if they were hedging their bets with one foot in the straight world, and regarded as risky partners who would be likely to dump you to be in a straight relationship.

For the second time, I was somewhat disappointed that the book I picked up didn't meet my initial expectations and projected assumptions. Peralta's book does not delve much into participation in the modern lesbian-gay-etc community and this is in part because of the temporal setting: she came of age and had most of her relevant experiences (as recounted in the book) in the 1950s and 1960s before a post-Stonewallian movement existed to contend with or belong to.

What WAS fascinating about Barriers to Love was the author's narrative of trying to understand her sexuality in an era when "bisexual" wasn't really on the map of possibilities to choose from. As a genderqueer person who came of age when there was no identity such as my own available to me, I saw parallels there and could relate to her own slow and gradual trying-on of identities only to find out later "no, that's not really it", and to keep requestioning and searching for a valid answer all pretty much on her own.

Also of relevant interest was the way in which conventional heterosexual appetite, for a girl of that era and in that setting (Mexico), was treated as a perversion instead of being nonchalantly accepted as normative. It was a world in which females with their own sexual interest in boys were told this is bad, this is wrong. I think we forget how this maps onto and against the tapestry of attitudes towards gay and lesbian sexuality, and this becomes more vivid precisely because of the author's bisexuality: YES, once confronted with the even more scary prospect of her daughter's being a lesbian, the author's mom becomes interested in seeing her paired with an appropriate male, but her first sexual interest was towards a male and the same mom was appalled to see that appetite expressed and condemned it and did what she felt she needed to do to kill it and prevent it from consummation.

From Peralta, too, I would have appreciated more internal / mental life, more about the inside thinking processes that led up to concluding "Hey, I am a bisexual person". (Or the equivalent realization in her own terms if she came to that realization before being exposed to the concept).

It is, however, a moving personal account and although it is rooted in a specific time and culture, it has a lot of universal content about what it can be like to be sexually receptive to both sexes and how the two patterns are similar and how they are different and how others perceive and react.


I have some very fresh news but it isn't ripe yet. Watch this space. I hope to have new things to reveal soon.

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"Do you often feel you have to choose between being an activist and making an issue of this stuff, or finding romantic-sexual partners? I've been doing this shit for 35+ years and it has always felt like the search for personal solutions and the attempt to educate the planet about the relevant issues were like 'choose one; you can't do both', if you know what I mean".

I've mentioned occasionally in passing that speaking out and self-identifying as a gender invert has not tended to be a good mating strategy for me or, presumably, for anyone in my specific situation. I delved into it a bit in this blog post from 2014 for example. And yeah, I'll be honest: I think one of the reasons I'm doing this gender activism stuff now, in my late 50s, is that when I was younger I was lured into spending more time and energy seeking those personal solutions, trying to find a girlfriend. It's only now, with that basically working for me, that I seem to be giving the activism attempts more of my focused attention.

I assume this is NOT true in an analogous way for all people within the LGBTQIA-etc tent. Most centrally, it seems self-evident to me that gay and lesbian people, if they are open about being such and attend gay / lesbian social-political organizational meetings, will be that much likelier to meet precisely the people to whom they are attracted. And that therefore being out and about and having some degree of public visibility and/or seeking out clusters of similar people IS conducive to finding potential partners.

Gay and lesbian folks may not be all that aware of how it doesn't quite work that way for some of us who identify as sexual-orientation or gender-identity minorities.

Consider transgender folks, in particular the conventional transitioning variety, those who wish to transition, are in the midst of transitioning, or have transitioned. A transgender woman may find friends and form alliances within a support group or political action group composed of transgender women and men, but for most of them it doesn't form a very good pool of potential partners. To be precisely fair, it is possible that a transgender woman who was straight could become romantically involved with a transgender man, or that two gay transgender people of the same sex could do so. But most trans folks of either gender want to be seen and accepted as people of their target sexual identity and to have the experiences that are typical for such folks. Transgender men generally wish to live the lives of men, and transgender women to live as women, with as little emphasis as possible on their being transgender. Typically, they want to "pass". Being out and making a public spectacle of their own trans status could be seen as working against those interests. Most transgender people are not hoping to meet potential partners who have an erotic or romantic interest specifically in transgender people.

It's a phenomenon that also occurs in groups other than those associated with being part of LGBTQIAetc. Consider the situation of a radical feminist woman whose attractions are towards males. Conventional wisdom says that although her perspectives and political interests rule out a nontrivial percent of what would otherwise be her potential dating pool, she may meet some more-evolved males who are politically conscious and thoughtful people... but that her direct and immediate feminist activities aren't a set of behaviors that are especially geared to making that more likely to happen. Feminist women tend to accept the conflict of interest as a given: being a radical feminist is not in and of itself thought of as a mating call for meeting such guys. At best, it's perceived as a useful filter for driving away the attention of folks whose attention one would not want anyway.

There are groups for which I would think it could be a mixed bag for their identity-factors to be openly known. For example, bisexual people (and by extention pansexual people, to whom the rest of this generally applies) have often indicated that when potential partners learn that they aren't exclusively straight or gay, it makes many of them reluctant to get involved. Both potential same-sex and other-sex partners often tend to feel more at ease dating folks who are attracted in their own direction exclusively. It is, of course, entirely possible for bisexual people to become involved with other bisexual people, where those attitudes would not be an issue. And one would more easily meet other bisexual people via the process of being out and participating in political-social groups openly as a bisexual person. As for the non-bisexual people who would also be part of the pool of potential partners, it might once again function as a useful filter.

I don't really know for sure whether it's intrinsic to my own kind of gender and sexual identity that being out and loud and public work against the likelihood of linking up with attractive partners. My observations all come from the current (lifelong, so far, but current and hopefully transient nonetheless) situation, the situation in which gender inversion isn't on the public radar yet as an available identity. So we have to remove from consideration the notion of being part of a social-political network of gender inverts and all that that could provide. Certainly I think it would make it easier for gender inverts to find partners if I were to succeed in publicizing the concept and people were inclined to recognize themselves in the description and begin to think of themselves in those terms. But would the kind of women who find gender-inverty males attractive be attracted to the ones who are overtly self-labeling? That's the question to which I don't know the answer. It's a bit of a moot point for me (dating and connecting when you're a middle-aged person is, in general, more flexible and more geared towards the post-labels complexities that folks come to appreciate after a few decades of experience). In the entirety of my 20s and 30s, I can only think of one time when someone's interest in me may have been sparked, in part, by things she heard me say about my gender identity. But, once again, it wasn't a world where women would have heard a few things that I said and thought "Aha, he's one of those gender inverts".



I presented down in North Carolina, at Mars Hill University. I promise to blog about it next!


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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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ahunter3: (Default)
So I was examining all my previous blog posts the other day, to see how often and in what detail I had blogged about the psychiatric system and being a psychiatric survivor, and found to my surprise that I haven't really covered any of that.

Which, to those who know me from the message boards I frequent, must be sort of like hearing from Al Sharpton that he blogged for two years and somehow never got around to discussing racial oppression and race relations in America. I mean, psychiatric oppression is notoriously one of my "climb up on soapbox" issues.

Maybe, possibly, I was disinclined to spoiler my own book. For those of you who read last week's blog entry about my transformative event listening to Pink Floyd? Well, the immediate fallout was that I tried to come out on campus as a different gender and sexual orientation; and the fallout from that, 3 months in, was being asked by my dormitory resident advisor to get some kind of bill of good health from the mental health clinicians across the street. And when I attempted to cooperate with that I found myself on a locked ward, treated like someone for whom a lack of coherent mind had already been established. And yes, it's an important axis around which the final section of the plot of the book revolves. But I don't have to reiterate the narrative that's in the book. I have other interests in writing about it.

When the request was made of me by the RA, I didn't find it surprising. I was a young college student who was talking to a lot of people about gender and sexuality. If I had been a person who seemed obsessed with anything that constituted a set of unusual and new ideas, there would have been the possibility that folks would think I was crazy, but ever so much more so when the obsession-topic was so directly focused on SEX, right? Thanks to Sigmund Freud, we're all very much exposed to the notion that disturbances of mind come from disturbances of a sexual nature. If we tend to think that some middle-aged guy who liquidates his retirement fund to buy an expensive red sports car is expressing some sexual insecurity, isn't that an even more likely armchair diagnosis when some college student starts risking social standing to tell people he's really a girl and that neither the assumptions normally attached to guys nor the assumptions normally attached to effeminate guys are appropriate?

Yeah, I was totally not surprised that there was a reaction basically amounting to "maybe you're not OK in the head and should talk to a shrink about this".

And reciprocally, I knew from my own firsthand experience that before I had a clear healthy understanding of my identity, I'd found the whole subject matter of sexual identity and gender to be emotionally threatening. I'd been squirmy and uncomfortable about it even while I was obsessing about it all the previous semester, trying to figure myself out. So from the outside, yeah, sure, it seemed reasonable that my current excitement and inclination to start talking with a lot of intensity about this stuff could be perceived as a kind of acting out of unresolved tensions and worried uncertainties. The fact that I now felt I was in possession of important answers rather than haunted by disturbing questions didn't change the fact that the subject matter was a sort of ground zero for emotional and cognitive stability issues.

As it turns out, approximately two years AFTER this, long after I'd successfully pried myself loose from the university's affiliated psychiatric system and gone on my way and had begun composing my first serious effort to write and publish a book about my gender identity, I found myself seriously craving something akin to a consciousness-raising group, some sort of sharing and counseling experience from which I could hone my ability to express what I was trying to express and get some feedback from other people on what I was trying to say... and let myself be talked into checking myself in to another such institution. Yeah... fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on ME, highly embarrassing, but yeah...

Whereas the first institution was an old-fashioned central-casting loony bin, with us patients mostly padding around between TV sets, cafeteria, domino games, and an occasional session of "occupational therapy" doing arts and crafts stuff, interspersed with being shoved into seclusion and tied down and shot up with thorazine and all that, the second institution was new and shiny and ostensibly modern in approach and attitude. "The staff all wear street clothes and so do the patients. No bars in the windows, it's more like staying at a hotel. And they won't try to put you on medication, they don't believe in that approach, instead there will be biofeedback and dramatic role play. And the patients all participate in each other's therapy. Everyone is here to work on their own shit. Not at all like that snake pit you were in before".

Yeah. Right. Oh yes, the staff did all wear street clothes but unlike us they had keys to the locked doors. No bars on the windows, to be sure, but the screens were made of heavy metal mesh that created a barrier you weren't getting past without some industrial-strength cutting tools.

And, yes, patients "participated in each other's therapy", all right. Here's how that worked: when you first came in you were assigned to a social status called "level 4". To eventually get out, you have to be gradually promoted to "level 1", and at each level-promoting opportunity all the patients on the ward gave feedback but the final decision-making authority lay with the psychiatrist running the place. One of the behaviors for which you would be evaluated was the kind of feedback you provided about other patients' progress. Making and expressing your own observations that coincided with the opinions of the staff would definitely work in your favor; expressing attitudes or perspectives that did not coincide with those of the treatment team, on the other hand, could work against you. In short, the psychiatrist operating the facility was manipulating the entire social environment, controlling what positive feedback and what negative feedback each patient would receive, and making it so that the institutional message was being effectively echoed by all the other patients, by penalizing them if they did not participate in that fashion.

They didn't much appreciate it when I analyzed all of the above, pointed it out and designated it as a reward-and-punishment behavior-modification tank, a Skinner box. They invented a new social status for me alone, effectively a "level 5", removing from me some of the privileges I'd originally had upon my first arrival.

Oh, and it was largely true that they did not believe in medications. They were achieving their results without them, mostly. Not so much in my case, though, so I was eventually told that I would need to start taking a drug called Navane. I took that as my cue that it was time for me to leave. Using a table knife from the cafeteria, I took out the screws attaching a retaining slide lock from one side of a set of double doors, then escaped through the gap between the doors despite the chain looped around the handles. Hitched out of the state and haven't been tempted to place myself in psychiatric custody at any time since.



Psychiatric diagnostic labeling has political significant for gender activists in particular, and I think everyone in this movement should take note of these things:

Delegitimizing — Any time a person's behavior is attributed to their disturbed mental condition, that is code for "you can ignore what they're actually saying because it doesn't make sense and there's another, more hidden, reason for why they're saying it that's different from their stated concerns and objectives".

Usually this is couched as an act of kindness — instead of seeing yon person as a destructive maniac doing horrible things, please see that person instead as acting that way because their brain is misbehaving and don't hold it against them; and if they express hateful wrathful attitudes or creepy desires and intentions, don't take it as face value that they really feel that way and really want to do those things, there are underlying reasons causing them to "act out" like that.

But if you start with the assumption that the person in question is expressing exactly what they intend to express, it is obvious that regarding them as impaired in this fashion has the effect of discounting and disregarding them. And if you then coat that very political act in the drape of kindness, it doesn't appear to be a hostile act and those who engage in it need not feel guilt or share for having silenced someone's voice.

Depoliticizing — It is normal and natural that a person who has been made to feel marginalized, marked as inferior and different, oppressed, subjected to hostility and violence because of the category they are perceived by others to be in, and so on, feels painful emotions as a consequence and has a mind plagued by self-blame and self-doubts and other recurrent cognitive content of that ilk. That is the essence of what it means to be a victim of such social processes, that it gets inside your own head. Psychiatry and the surrounding penumbra of "mental health" counseling services often focus on the victim and the victim's thoughts and feelings, to attempt to provide ameliorative and supportive services. Doing so, by itself, though, identifies the problem as being located in the victim.

A political approach to marginalization and oppression and such categorical social exclusions is to identify the problem as being located NOT in the victim, at least not in the primary original-causal sense, but instead being located in SOCIETY which has done them wrong.

Even the therapeutic act of talking about what one has been through and processing one's feelings and thoughts can, and should, be political. It is important for victims to see the experiences they have been through as due to an ongoing social phenomenon in need of fixing. If this perception does not take place properly, the victim typically continues to blame themselves, for having reacted as they did emotionally.

Carol Hanisch wrote the quintessential article on the subject, "The Personal is Political", back in 1970, published in both The Radical Therapist and in Notes From the Second Year, the first being a compendium of writings about psychiatric liberation and the second being a compendium of writings about women's liberation, thus underlining the connection between gender activism and a radical questioning of psychiatric practice.


Gatekeeping — For transgender and intersex people in particular, another issue of concern is the role of the psychiatric establishment in disbursing available medical treatment. Hormones and surgery that are desired by a person in order to allow them to perceive and to have others perceive their body as their gender identity and sense of ideal bodily integrity require are quite often restricted to those who have been deemed appropriate for those treatments by a psychiatrist.

At a time when a person is in the most intimate and personal portions of the process of defining themselves to themselves and to the world around them, they are put in a position of having to entertain and engage with someone else's notions of acceptable identities and appropriately gendered behaviors. Persons seeking surgery or hormonal intervention that would typically make it more likely that they will be perceived as female people often have to adopt the most ridiculously pink Barbie doll mannerisms and express the corresponding priorities and interests or else risk being deemed an inappropriate candidate for the medical services they seek; likewise for individuals seeking medical interventions that are socially associated with being perceived as a male person — anything deviating from the most narrowly constrained uptight masculine in activities and interests, gestures and thinking patterns, can cause a psychiatric professional to withhold access to the sought-after procedures.


Pigeonhole-Defining — The psychiatric profession is not ignoring the phenomenon of people claiming variant gender identities. New terminologies have appeared within the psychiatric lexicon over the course of years, phrases such as "gender dysphoria" and so on. And in all fairness, not every recognition of a gender-variant identity is necessarily infused with the stigma of being considered a mental disorder, although they've certainly done their share of providing us with that kind of recognition.

They do, however, tend towards a kind of thinking in which there are a finite set of phenomena and each legitimate phenomenon is accorded an official name and often some theories about causality, even where pathology isn't being evoked. In the case of transgender people, for example, they have largely come to the point of believing that such people exist (as opposed to believing that someone who thinks of themselves in those terms has a mental disorder, which is certainly progress). Some of them believe that the phenomenon of transgender people is always caused by a biological built-in difference in the brain. Many of them harbor the expectation, consciously or not, that normal transgender people are exclusively heterosexual, do not deviate from the sex role of the gender to which they are transitioning, that they all do wish to transition, and that any ambiguity or multivariate expression of gender indicates that the person has not properly adjusted or perhaps is not genuinely a transgender person in the first place.

It's a very different mindset than one that says gender is mostly a social contrivance and that, as such, there are an infinite number of healthy ways to self-perceive and to socially present as a gendered person. The latter is about freedom and the authenticity of one's own representation of gender identity; the former is about slotting every person into a finite number of officially legitimated category-boxes.

To the extent that they've promoted this kind of thinking within the LGBTQ+ community itself, they've contributed to an environment where young people, in particular, think in terms of there being a specific and limited number of possible legitimate genders, and that it is their task to worry about which one they really are.

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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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Well, here's a genuine rarity— a genderqueer memoir and coming-out story! Audrey MC, which appears to be the nom de plume of Audrey Michelle Culver, has written about what it means to be genderqueer, what it is like, and how she came to that understanding of herself. And, in doing so, has beaten me to the punch.

Life Songs: A Genderqueer Memoir, Audrey MC (Chicago: Miniminor Media 2014)



Mixed feelings, to be sure. My proposals and pitch letters have often highlighted the utter absence of any such resource:

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

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

In 1980 there was no book I could find by anyone like that. Still isn't.



On the other hand, to hold in my hands the story of someone else like me... even now, I experience joy and surprise to find I'm not the only one, and it feels powerful to consider our story, OUT THERE, for people to read.

Like me, the author is malebodied and raised as a boy, identifies from early on as one of the girls instead, and at puberty finds sexual attraction to the (other, female) girls. And is very driven throughout the tale by a hunger for passionate being-in-love "movie moments", romantic intensity and give-your-heart relationships.

In a world where "genderqueer" is a multi-hued grab-bag of alternative gender identities, finding so much similarity made the first chapters so compelling that I had to keep reading. There are so many other forms that genderqueer may take. The author could, of course, have been born female and less than comfortable being cast as a girl or woman; or could identify as a demiboy or demigirl, a genderfluid person, or agender -- http://genderqueeries.tumblr.com/identities

Alas, the experience of strong identification was not destined to last. The author is subject to dysphoria, feeling (as many transgender individuals describe) that the strong sense of being a girl implies or necessitates that this male body is wrong; and following up on this, the author chooses sex reassignment surgery in order to live as a female person, a lesbian.

And that, in turns, makes it unusual that the author is self-described as genderqueer. Most people whose lives follow that trajectory self-identify as transgender or transsexual. What makes Audrey genderqueer is her eventual awareness, post-transition, that she was increasingly uncomfortable with excessive femininity; as female hormones did their work, she found herself choosing increasingly androgynous or masculine modes of hair-styling and dress, presenting as a rather boyish person, eventually embracing an identity "beyond the binary" of being either male or female, woman or man.

Oh, well... the perils of overidentification and the complexities of competition betweenst male girlish folks makes for some strange reactions on my part: how is it possible to feel simultaneously disappointed and relieved to find that Audrey's experience and story isn't so closely parallel to mine?


LIFE SONGS begins with a very good first section, the portion of the story taking up roughly the first third of the book, covering childhood adolescence and early adulthood. There are good hooks, a suspenseful setup: where will this go, what's going to happen to this person in this unusual situation?

The remainder of the book is a sometimes-giddy and sometimes-painful account of romantic obsessions and joyous beginnings as Audrey chases love and finds it and loses it and chases it yet again.

The main weaknesses of the book lie with what it omits. Several sequences of long passionate buildups and the sparking of relationships are followed by short choppy detached summaries of the breakups. This is a book with far more hearts and flowers (and love songs) than storm clouds and soul-baring confrontations. Audrey's relationships with Annie, Renee, daughter Penelope, and Becca come to a close with scarcely any dialog and no more than a modicum of internal monologue. Admittedly, the author is somewhat aware of this tendency to avoid the sturm und drang of the darker side of drama, as evidenced by her description of how she broke up with Annie — deliberately leaving a note from next lover Renee where Annie would find it. Audrey describes Annie's irate arrival and confrontational accusations and crying scenes when she does so, along with Audrey's own avoidance and discomfort.

But that avoidance permeates the book itself, not merely confessing to being afraid of such scenes but glossing over losses and pains. For example, the portion of the book that describes Audrey's relationship with Renee starts on page 92; the first hint that not all is well in that particular paradise occurs on page 119, followed by a superbrief summary of the breakup on page 120, then elaborated on briefly on pages 122-123 —

By late 1995, Renee and I have been together for over five years and married for two, but our union began to crumble. We had nightly talks, navigating the potholes that had developed along our previously smooth road... From the conversations, we knew that we were no longer the team we once were...

As 1997 approached, Renee and I continued to have issues. We moved into our own apartment , trying to start fresh on our own, but we had just as many bad days as we had good.


It's not the only area of omission: I would have appreciated far more about being genderqueer specifically. One does not begin to be genderqueer only at the moment that one first realizes it and embraces the term, of course, but the discussion of gender identity above and beyond being a girl or woman originally born male starts on page 232 of a 246 page book, and again suffers from a detached kind of summary and glossing-over:

Prior to meeting Alice and before my queer enlightenment, I thought of myself simply as a lesbian with a birth defect who had it fixed. But after she entered my life and I became more involved in the queer community, I realized how absurd it was for me to identify as a lesbian, for it was a term that was so limiting in its binary construct. My identification as queer became an expression of my recognition that I completely rejected our society's imposed binary system. Nothing is that black and white. We live in greyscale, ebbing and flowing along an infinite number of points on a spectrum.


There's a likelihood here that I am being unfair to an author I overidentified with and for whom I also feel a sense of rivalry. Yet another aspect of the contradictory feelings elicited in me by that was on display when I checked up on the stature of the publisher and found that Miniminor Media does not appear to have any other titles. I looked for reviews of LIFE SONGS and found four short single-paragraph ones on Amazon, where the book is sold.

I realized I was paying far more attention to reception and reviews and whatnot for this book than I've tended to do when I've reviewed transgender and other LGBTQ books and plays and movies — another byproduct of identifying with Audrey and her book. And what I carry away with me is a somewhat ominous self-warning: I must do whatever I need to do to fend off the possibility that my book will be published but quickly sink out of sight, largely unread and unreviewed and unnoticed.
ahunter3: (Default)
I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.


I have a bookshelf on which my feminist theory books reside (Robin Morgan's The Anatomy of Freedom; Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology, Marilyn French's Beyond Power, Sonia Johnson's Going Out of Our Minds, Elizabeth Janeway's Man's World Woman's Place, Naomi Wolf's Promiscuities, Myriam Miedzian's Boys Will Be Boys, and so on); and I have a different bookshelf I've been populating with books pertaining to transgender experiences (Jan Morris's Conundrum, Mario Martino's Emergence, Chaz Bono's Transition, Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There, Dhillon Khosla's Both Sides Now, etc).

Serano's book kicks the transgender issue into the larger context; she's written a book that is clearly a feminist theory book; not merely about being transgender and transsexual, it is a book about what gender means, and what it means to be a feminist in relationship to gender and vice versa, exploring that from the vantage point of a person who is a lesbian, a woman, and a transsexual person. She's given me some pushback on some of my own attitudes towards people's claims to feeling specifically that their bodies, their physical morphology, is wrong, making me realize that because that specific experience is foreign to me, I've been resistant to it, inclined superficially to accept it as a possibility but inwardly pretty damn dismissive of it, believing (I confess) that most dysphoria is really about having a personality and behavior pattern that doesn't fit the expectations attached to one's biological sex. Because that's my experience, I'm feminine, girlish, womanly, yet have a male body. But no, I don't have a schematic diagram in my mind insisting that I'm supposed to have female parts. And since I don't, well, gee, the people that say they DO probably don't realize they're just mentally associating the morphology with the personality and behavior constellation that our culture attaches to it. So, Serano's right when she says that people who are queer on one possible axis can be just as opaque about another possible axis as any cisgender heterosexual conventional person. She's right that I've been that way, at least in the more private parts of my head, and she's given me a righteous shove away from that attitude.

It's a privileged attitude. I don't know what you would call it, terminology-wise: "cisgender" isn't right since I was born (and remain) male but identify as a woman or girl. Non-transsexual. Serano refers to "subconscious sex" (that schematic-diagram-in-the-head thing) and says everyone has one, but only those who have one that is a mismatch for their physiology become aware of it as something separate from their sex and their (social-behavioral) gender. Here, at last, at least, is a place in which I am a part of the sexual-gender mainstream, whatever you choose to call it, because I certainly don't have that experience. And as with many people in the privileged situation of being part of the mainstream, I've been oblivious and condescending to folks who have been describing their own, different, non-mainstream experience. Guilty as charged.



What finally prompted me to open my text editor and make a blog entry about it today, though, was this little passage on pgs 274-275:

...I was born transgender—my brain preprogrammed to see myself as
female despite the male body I was given at birth—but like every child,
I turned to the rest of the world to figure out who I was and what I
was worth... I picked up on all the not-so-subliminal messages that
surrounded me...[which] all taught me to see "feminine" as a synonym
for "weakness". And nobody needed to tell me that I should hate myself
for wanting to be what was so obviously the lesser sex.


I had been nodding along with Serano, chapter after chapter, page after page. (Even the section where she upbraided genderqueer folks like me who don't have that bodily dysphoria and try to condense Gender down to social roles and behaviors and personality characteristics). But I read this and realized I was shaking my head. This didn't match my experience at all.


I don't know when I first became aware that The World in the large authoritative sense considered girls and women to be inferior, but for me it was preceded by many years in which I thought the only people who thought so were people who belonged to an obviously inferior and suspect class — boys. They obviously thought so, but who cared what THEY thought about anything, if you even wanted to dignify anything they did by calling it "thinking"? If anything, their opinions of girls just added to the evidence that they themselves were inferior, because anyone could clearly see the real facts of the matter. Girls were mature, self-monitoring and self-controlling of their own behavior. Girls could be mean, but if they were mean it wasn't because they were like untamed dog-creatures frothing and lunging at the ends of their leashes, as the boys were. And most of the girls weren't mean, most girls were kind people, thoughtful people, trying to be good to other people as part of being good citizens.

By the time I was realizing that many (maybe most) adult men believed themselves superior to adult women, I was also hearing the voices of the women's liberation movement; it was the era I grew up in. And I was older yet when it began to dawn on me that so many adult men considered BOYS superior to GIRLS. Seriously??! Are you fucking KIDDING me?!? At first when I encountered this I interpreted it as meaning "the boys are more important in the long run because they will grow up to be men" (and by then I'd realized they thought men were superior to women), but I still assumed it was like someone putting a higher value on a sack of seeds than they would put on a bag of ripe yummy blueberries because the seeds would eventually yield a whole crop that would be worth more, but you still don't want a mouthful of seeds instead of a mouthful of blueberries if you see what I mean. I was already nearly an adult before I fully realized that many adult men viewed the actual characteristics exhibited by boys in general as superior to the characteristics exhibited by girls in general. Meaning that they were proud of exhibiting those same characteristics even as adult men and had never changed course and started trying to emulate girls and women in order to be socially interactive and cooperative humans and stuff.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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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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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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Sommerfugl is a dramatization of the story of Lile Elbe, described as the first trans person to undergo gender reassignment surgery, in 1930.

1930 was a very different and much more binary place than today's world. If you were male you were a man and you wore man clothes and did man things, with very attenuated possibilities for overlap with the experience of being a woman. It was a time without much option of playing the role without having the expected morphology. Echoing my observation of the middle-school book Gracefully Grayson, which I reviewed on September 8, I'd say that Sommerfugl's setting similarly permits author Bixby Elliot to express the idea of a male-bodied person being a woman in simple concise terms: Einar (later Lili) discovers he likes to wear a dress and when a man flirts with him while so adorned, he finds himself responding to it, hence he's a woman. The complexities and nuances that would be more likely brought up as alternative interpretations by skeptically hostile people in today's world were not considerations in 1930, and there are advantages to that straightforward simplicity.

Wayne Alan Wilcox is convincingly pretty and demure without needing girl-clothes and a girl-hairdo to complete the impression. His gestures, facial expressions, his reactions and the way he moves, particularly when dancing, all illustrate for us that this male-bodied person is a quite believable fit from the outside as a womanly person.

Bixby Elliot appears to have chosen to have his characters speak with a post-Victorian sentence structure, something which I do believe does accurately reflect the speaking style of the 1930s. Wayne Alan Wilcox's delivery of those oft-ornate lines was sometimes stilted and woodenly precise, making the moments when we was speaking become the occasion where he sounds affected and not natural. That's unfortunate, since as the lead character he speaks a lot in this play.

Aubyn Philabaum portrays Einar/Lili's wife Grete. Philabaum is emotionally compelling when on the tearful edge of distressed cheerfulness, right on the verge of a loss of decorum and control. The same prissy Victorian dialog rolls more fluidly and elegantly from her tongue. It is Grete who, needing an artist's model, first gets a reluctant Einar into a gown and tells him what a lovely woman he makes, and she's a gleeful co-conspirator when Einar is becoming Lili for the duration of a party and it's all in good fun. She's believable in the realistic scene where the transition is ceasing to be an entertainment and where Einar, and not Lili, is the pretense, and she finds herself frightened and uncertain about how to behave towards this stranger: "I don't know who you are any more, and if I don't know who you are I don't know who I am!"

Many transitioning people find themselves in that very situation, where initially supportive friends and family members suddenly find that the overall gestalt of visual cues and shapes and adornments now causes their mind to gender that person as the destination gender and it all becomes inescapably who that person now is and not just something that that person is "doing".

Bernardo Cubria plays multiple additional love interests (Claude, who comes on to Lili, and Rudolfo who charms Grete) as well as giving us Dr. Steuben. Cubria brings a robustly masculine Latin passion to the play, which turns out to be what both Lili and Grete wanted — he's the one to sweep a girl off her feet. The similar roles in a minimalist play lacking complicated costumes caused me some difficulty with differentiating the two romantic characters, a situation that can be hard to avoid when there are more roles than actors.

Michelle David portrays Anna, the model whose lateness prompted Grete to put Einar in a dress, and also plays his sister Kira and, thirdly, the hospital nurse. She turns in a solid delivery of these multiple supporting roles. As Kira, she gives us another person who loves Einar and who is having difficulties relinquishing his identity and allowing Lili to exist and be accepted.

I was drawn into this story because of its situation: here was a person who had no opportunity to look around, take notice of transgender people, read about their experiences, and then decide "I must be one of them". The sense of identity that the main character chose was not previously in existence. Einar not only had to invent Lili, but also had to synthesize the entire phenomenon of being transgender with no role models, no name for it, no prior example of how such a thing could be done. Those of you who read my blog will recognize that I find myself in that same situation as a male girl-woman who, unlike more conventional (transitioning) transgender activists, is OK with my physiological maleness and with being perceived (accurately) as a physiological male, and wherein I'm all about trying to create head-space in people's minds for the idea that there are male girls and female boys as well as the more conventional & more typical female girls and male boys, and that we should be accepted as we are, with no pressure to change behavior, presentation, or morphology.

In the story arc of Sommerfugl, that journey of synthesis is a multi-person process, with Grete getting Einar into women's garments, Einar and Anna the model enjoying taking him out in public for the fun of it, Einar becoming increasing convinced that he is more himself when Lili and uncomfortably less so when he reverts to being Einar and has to wear boy drag again, and Dr Steuben taking things to the next level by providing the unknown and unprecedented possibility of the surgical solution.

Sommerfugal by Bixby Elliot. From Sept 24 through Oct 10, 7:30 PM at Fourth Street Theatre in Manhattan. Presented by InViolet Theatre, Directed by Stephen Brackett.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one I'm starting with is Seal Press.


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Boy Meets Girl is a movie featuring Michelle Hendley as Ricky, a trans girl in a small Kentucky town. It's a conventional romantic comedy: the main character has a long-term friend she's known since 1st grade — Robby (Michael Welch) — who has not tended to think of her in romantic terms until she starts to get involved with someone else. Meanwhile, Ricky is seeking to get into a fashion school in New York, and hovers by the mailbox hoping for the acceptance letter, but receives a "regrets, sorry" form letter instead, and is reconciled to giving up her dream of being a fashion designer. Everyone pulls together behind her back to crowdfund her so she can pursue her career after all, thus not only providing a happy ending to the fashion-design career subplot but also demonstrating to her that she is loved and appreciated and cared for.

Obviously, casting a movie around a trans person puts an unconventional twist on the conventional romcom architecture, which is in and of itself a powerful message: yes, you've seen this kind of movie before, and, see, you have no difficulty relating to the main character, so yep, we're people just like you are.

Hendley gives us a confident and admirably self-possessed Ricky. The situation is one that would have easily yielded quite believable scenes of alientation and violence and the drama of ugly confrontation, but this movie is not another Boys Don't Cry. Despite the southern conversative small-town environment, Ricky, who grew up here, exists as a resident, not secretive about her identity, and accepted at face value by considerably more people than not, and handles the exceptions with grace and courage.

The movie doesn't quite candy-coat matters, though. In the scene where Robby is accusing her of discarding her new romance interest, Francesca, he says she needs to be more careful about the feelings of people she gets involved with, stating that we are all of us struggling with issues of intimacy; in the heat of the argument he accuses her of excusing herself from emotional responsibilities she should be held liable for, worse than a real...

Robby halts himself in midsentence there but not before the hurt has been inflicted, and thus is the movie's most poignant scene set up: Ricky acknowledges what Robbie had said about us all strugging, but observes "yes, but the rest of you have an 'us' to turn to in those struggles. The only 'us' I've ever have to turn to contains no one but me. Would you like to try that for awhile and see how that goes?"

[Apologies for not having the quote verbatim; it was much better than I've rendered it here but I can't find it online and I couldn't exactly jot it down in the movie theatre]


That feeling of never having a shared identity-in-common, of always being alone with it, of not having a sense of "us" the way mainstream cisgender guys and girls do, is one of the most profound elements of being a gender-variant person. And why we seek a support community.

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