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It's been almost exactly a year since I made the announcement that Ellora's Cave would not be publishing my book after all due to the fact that they were going out of business and cancelling all contracts.

This time around, the situation is different, although the result is approximately the same. NineStar Press, the publisher I signed with in May, stipulated from the outset that their acceptance of my book for publication was contingent on me working with them to reduce the size of Part One (which is the first third of the book).

I fully intended to honor that agreement, but once we got past the generalities and shifted to the actual editing process, I wasn't willing to make some of the cuts that the editor thought were necessary.

Yes, I've been haunted by the stereotype of the self-important newbie author who thinks every paragraph that went into the original manuscript is a golden masterpiece, that every utterance is sacred. I've tried to avoid being the kind of author that publishers and editors tell war stories about at conferences, and I hope I'm not parting company from NineStar leaving too much of a bad taste in their mouths, but, yes, I'm admittedly picky about this manuscript. I'm not seeking to get a book published. I'm seeking to get this book published.

Since we weren't able to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement about the cuts, and could not reconcile the impasse, I requested to have my rights reverted back to me. The folks at NineStar were very prompt and cooperative once I made the request, which has enabled me to resume querying immediately.

Oh well... other authors have talked about wallpapering their room with rejection letters. I guess I'll get to be one of the few who gets to wallpaper a room with acceptance letters and contracts that still didn't quite result in a published book.

On the one hand, I've had rather rotten luck so far -- the first publisher going out of business and irreconcilable creative diffs with the second -- but it also means two different publishers bit. I'll find a third.

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I was hanging out with A2, my lower east side girlfriend. We got into a discussion about how we handle similar situations quite differently. She is very much a social extrovert, and when she feels hurt, betrayed, mistreated, or abandoned by people she regards as friends, it is her instinct to seek them out one-on-one and try to settle up emotionally, to let them know her issues with how they've behaved and attempt to get a reconciliation with a acknowledgment or an apology. Often this has the result of her being hurt by them a second time, as she makes herself vulnerable to their dismissive scorn or exasperated disinclination to discuss a behavior they don't feel like defending.

That is so totally not my inclination at all, I told her. "When someone hurts me, my first reaction is to withdraw", I explained. "Unless it's a really special relationship with deep trust, I am quick to think I was silly to believe they really liked me in the first place, and there's more dignity in a quick retreat, or at least waiting to see if they'll reach out in a friendly way without me prompting them to reconnect. No way I'm going to corner them and tell them they hurt my feelings, they might already be laughing at me as it is!"

There are a lot of insights to be gained from having someone in your life who isn't like you, who doesn't think like you do. Although I started off thinking of myself as giving her advice and recommending my way of handling these situations as an improvement over how she does it, it quickly got me to examining my own, and how defensive it is, how carefully I've walled myself off from emotional risks (at least with casual to moderate friendships), and whether my approach is indicative of some pathological adaptations, you know?

Today's blog post is about the damage done to me (and, by extension, to similar people with similar social experiences and histories) by years of being a social outcast and misfit. So it's an elaboration of sorts on why I'm doing all this, why it matters.



As hinted at above, when someone hurts me, I am quick to think it wasn't accidental and wasn't because of unresolved stuff with that person that we should discuss and work out, but instead means that I was SET UP. That's rather paranoid, isn't it? And it means I've made a quick leap to the worst possible scenario, since if this is true it means there was no real friendship at all, I had just been fooled into believing there was -- for the sole purpose of making me look ridiculous.

How would this setting-up thing work?, you may ask.

Well, in 5th grade you could get invited to a birthday party along with some other kids, but when you show up everyone ridicules you for thinking anyone would want you at their birthday party, and they make fun of the gift that you brought and they tell you you can't play the games they're playing, and they make fun of your clothes. And you can decide to keep pushing yourself forward, jumping into the swimming pool anyway (perhaps to get your head held underwater or your eyeglasses hidden) or you can wonder why the heck you thought you wanted to spend time with these people anyway and grab your things and quietly leave, killing time reading comics at the 7-11 so your folks don't realize you left the party early.

In 8th grade you could let the other kids convince you they're trying to normalize you and include you, to get you to conform and be like them, and you let them lead you to where they are playing spin the bottle, and it only gradually dawns on you that the real game is to discomfit whatever girls ended up having to kiss you, so as to tease them later, "ha ha you kissed him you kissed the weirdest kid in school". You notice that if you act playful or interested, she -- whoever she is -- goes even farther out of her way to express an attitude of "just get it over with". And maybe you wonder if there wasn't some genuine attempt to include you and get you to join the others and be more normal, but everyone's so used to mocking you that if anyone does, everyone else will laugh with them. Being more sophisticated than you were in 5th grade, you are learning options that fall between flouncing off and expecting to be included, and you become good at participating without investing much trust or hope.

In 10th grade when your neighbor is going to be picked up by friends to go off to a pot party, and you ask if you can tag along, you end up waiting in the driveway for an hour before deciding they aren't going to swing by and let you hop in. The best way, the most mature way to handle these things is to just be accustomed to it and not get upset or surprised or hurt, because what's the point? Some people don't want you around. Some people don't care and would include you but more often than not they're going to place a higher value on the connections they have with the ones who don't want you around.

There's a movie that came out in the 1990s, Dogfight, the premise of which was that a bunch of guys were to compete with each other to see who could bring the ugliest girl to the dance. The main character in the movie is a nice but not conventionally attractive (at least as dressed and made up and styled) girl who initially believes the Marine who invites her to the dance. I recognized the experience when I saw it: yep, that's being set up. Different specifics, same game.

The damage that gets done to a person is that they learn not to expect much. If a possibility seems attractive and interesting, there's a suspicious reaction that cuts in before any enthusiasm: what's the catch? where's the hook and how does it get set in this one? Over time, that kind of suspiciousness becomes a standoffishness. I've often referred to myself as a "shy snob". A casual and cynical contempt takes root, in which one expects the worst from people and wants less and less from them. Learns to need less and less from people. I tend to think that even some of my facial agnosia (not readily recognizing people's faces until I have seen them many times) and my difficulty learning people's names are side-effects of this. A long habit of keeping people at bay.

I wasn't always that way. There was a time before. I think the last time I made a real effort to be outgoing and connect with people, the last time I set out to shine socially -- and be popular, even -- was 5th grade. I hadn't made many friends the previous year, which had been my first year in a new elementary school, and during the summer before 5th grade I made my preparations. I was going to show them who I was and they would like me.

The little things I'd not paid much attention to before, like being taken shopping for new school clothes and 3 ring notebooks and so forth, became things I cared about. I remember picking out a 3 ring notebook that looked like it was made of leather, and had nice subject pockets inside in subdued variations of shaded gray with a pebbled texture. The paper was college ruled. You can tell a man by the little things like the tasteful choice of his notebook. I picked out a comb to keep in the tray under my desk seat so I could keep my hair combed. I selected a miniature appointment book in the same design as the notebook to keep in my back pocket to put notes and appointments in. I obtained a pack of Clorets breath freshener chewing gum for after lunch so as to always have fresh breath. I picked out nice plaid shirts each of which was to go with a specific pair of solid twill pants that they coordinated with. I changed from my typical choice of boring black leather shoe to a rich brown suede Hush Puppies shoe. I was ready to unveil the new me on the first day of class.

All year long, it seemed that the more I tried to show off a bit and be an interesting non-wallflowery character, the more ridicule and hostility I provoked. It was awful. The lesson sank in and I never did that again.

I learned to step back and get out of people's way. I learned never to ask things of people, lest they blast me with contempt for daring to do so. I unlearned things too. I forgot how to remember names and faces. I forgot to expect good outcomes, pleasant encounters, fun. Then, later, I had to unlearn or relearn all that even though the reasons continued to apply a good portion of the time.



Then there's the Big Worry, that's the other primary damage that gets done. You see, I knew, after a few additional years of this, that I was Other, that I was Different. But I didn't know what made me Other. I wondered about it, I thought about it a lot: was it intelligence, was I just unusually smart and the other kids were so much less so? I wanted to believe that, for presumably obvious reasons, there was a lot of compensatory ego stroking in that particular explanation. But I wasn't so intelligent that I never encountered other kids who were as smart or even smarter (at least in some ways) and not all the smart kids were singled out for this kind of treatment. Well, was it because I was a nonconformist and everyone else was a fad-following conformist sheep? Oh, I liked that one, too. All that pressure for everyone to be like everyone else, and for what? Why were kids making it practically a moral imperative to have your hair cut the same way or wear the same style of clothes or listen to the same music?

Among all these considerations of what might be making me Different was the fact that I was more like one of the girls than I was akin to the other boys. Yeah, of course I knew that about myself, but it didn't stand out to me yet as The Reason Why. Kids are verbally abusive and much of what they call each other is chosen not because it fits accurately but because it is derogatory, chosen merely because it is an insulting thing to call another kid. So, yes, I was called faggot and queer, but I was also called things like retardo and skinny little toothpicks and square and weirdo. And keep in mind that not fitting in means not seeing yourself as others see you, at least not very clearly.

So the Big Worry that got planted and grew within me was "something is WRONG with me". Something unknown, unspecified. Something I could never dismiss because it could be anything, really, from an infinite array of negative traits or impairments or character defects that I hadn't considered or admitted to myself yet.



A2 says that although I don't have a multitude of friends, I have very good friends who care a lot about me, and that I have picked well, they are very good people who are kind and intelligent and fun to be with. Like so many social impairments there are flip sides to my situation, strengths and advantages to the shape that my character has taken. And I am who I am in large part because of what I have been through, and I do like being who I am.

I'm still working on my trust issues. I have a pro forma trust approach, I accept the risks and accept in advance whatever may happen. But my expectations are still colored dark. I have had to learn to suspend the paranoid suspicion of being set up. That too is pro forma. I tell myself often that my species is damaged.

I less often confess to the damage that was done to me but yes I want these lessons to cease to be taught.


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For the most part, I regard the manuscript of my book as "finished", with the only changes being outgrowths of suggestions or requests from my editor.

But last weekend at my high school reunion, a guy who had been in 8th grade with me approached and described this event: "I had a squirt gun and I came up to you in the cafeteria and squirted you in the face. You just sat there and didn't react and I wanted a reaction so I kept on squirting you. And after a moment you got up and broke your cafeteria lunch tray over the top of my head."

I did, of course, remember the event. I haven't racked up a lot of experience smacking people aross the head with lunchroom trays, so my foray into that activity sort of stands out in my mind. Why didn't I include the event in my book when I wrote it? I don't know for sure; maybe I found it a bit too cringeworthy, or maybe I had a disinclination to portray my 8th grade self as violent. This incident stands out as a solitary "man bites dog" event against the everyday backdrop of the biting going the other direction, and it was my goal, during the original composition of the autobiography from which my book was distilled, to convey how intensely and mercilessly I was picked on, and how alienated and hated I felt. Maybe that's it. Also, I did have a mention of a bunch of disgusting food being dumped all over my lunch when I was trying to eat, so maybe a second mention of an event in the cafeteria seemed too redundant.

Either way, having it brought up to me during the reunion, and hearing it described from the perspective of the other party to the encounter, got me thinking.

A couple years after the event, my next door neighbor laughed about it and said "Oh yeah, you were famous. Everyone was talking about that. There were people who even saved some of the plastic fragments of the broken tray as souvenirs". So let's designate it as memorable. And part of the purpose of attending the reunion was to drum up interest in the book among people who were there for some of the events described within it.

Then there's the interaction I've been having with my editor. He'd like to see more emotional vividness in the early part of my book, more of a sense of what I was feeling at the time. "It's too dry and emotionless. You need to tell it with all the bloody bits... readers want to feel what your character is feeling". But what I was feeling, from pretty early on, was shut down. I'd been told over and over again to not let the bullies see that they were getting to me, and it had become apparent to me that no one was going to intervene — and that I just had to suck it up. So the lunchroom tray incident makes a nice bridge scene in a way: I start off NOT REACTING, and (as we now know from his own description) the boy with the squirt gun wanted a reaction so he kept going, kept squirting me over and over. Then I do react, smashing the tray over his head. So it's got some expression of frustration and anger, and at the same time it contributes to the narrative that I am becoming increasingly unreactive and stoic at this time in my life.

And in retrospect, I think it is good to show my main character (i.e., me) as someone other than a passive victim to whom bad things are happening, and to show how indignant and outraged I was when being treated this way. So in it goes.

I have yanked the short mention of someone dumping a huge glob of mushed-up food all over my lunch and inserted the entire squirt-gun and lunchroom-tray scene as a better replacement.

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Los Alamos NM is where the first third of my story takes place, covering the critical years of puberty and adolescence when questions of gender and sexual orientation emerge from a person's negotiations towards adult sexual expression.


This weekend, my high school held its 40th reunion. I had not been back to Los Alamos since my parents retired and moved elsewhere, and I hadn't been to a reunion since the 10th in 1987; so from a combination of nostalgia, a desire to see some people I hadn't seen in eons, and an opportunistic interest in promoting my book to people who were there for the events portrayed in Part One, I opted in for this one and made the journey.

Hey, it doesn't take much to get the author of an autobiographical account to start talking about themselves, we're admittedly rather self-immersed!


I made arrangements to have an author's table to receive interested visitors and discuss gender issues, growing up genderqueer in Los Alamos, and my forthcoming book specifically, to sign folks up to be alerted when it becomes available for order. And I posted to various relevant Facebook groups so the class of 77 knew about the book and were invited to drop in at the author's table.

My girlfriend A1 (one of my partners) flew out with me to Albuquerque and we hopped into a rental car. I think I would have managed the journey using the dusty rusty memories of making the drive back in the day, but I was glad to have our GPS along. Northern New Mexico, and the Jemez Mountains in particular, are still heartbreakingly beautiful. Our rental economy car chugged and gasped its way up the road, desperately trying to burn gasoline at 7200 feet; we weren't doing a whole lot better ourselves, with our six-decades-old, sea-level-acclimated lungs and hearts. I rejoiced in the dryness, mostly, but my lips and my nose were dissenters, chapping up and otherwise protesting the lack of moisture.



• There was an interestingly varied reaction on the part of my former schoolmates to my coming out + book project, but by an overwhelming margin the most common reaction was supportive and congratulatory. People said "you are doing a good thing" or "thank you for this" or "I thought I was the only person who was a gender or orientation minority in Los Alamos, no one talked about it back then". People said "I remember you and I always thought you were very brave. You were your own person and you stood up for yourself". People said "Congratulations! When is it coming out? Can I order it yet? Oh, I'm definitely going to buy a copy, I'm looking forward to reading your book".

• I received one heartfelt apology in private from someone who remembered having participated in harassing me back in the day. He said that looking back on it he viewed his behavior at the time as ignorant and hateful. I found the gesture healing and I did my best to extend the same to him, noting that I hadn't been very tolerant of masculine boys and their ways and behaviors either, at the time, and my own hostility and judgmental attitude didn't make me an entirely innocent victim.

• Another person recalled a specific incident from back in 8th grade at Cumbres Junior High: "I had a squirt gun and I came up to you in the cafeteria and squirted you in the face. You just sat there and didn't react and I wanted a reaction so I kept on squirting you. And after a moment you got up and broke your cafeteria lunch tray over the top of my head." I remembered the incident well -- I think it was a rather famous incident, in fact, as my neighbor told me when reminiscing a couple years later: "Some people even saved fragments of that lunch tray as souvenirs". Anyway, I explained to the guy that by the time of the squirt-gun incident I had been bullied and harassed so often that my reactions were pretty shut down, but when I did react it was all out of proportion because it wasn't about him, it was about the whole ongoing phenomenon, and because he wasn't stopping. We shook hands, and later he came over to hang out at our table. I hadn't included that event in the final version of the book but now I'm thinking I should reinsert it: it's a good example of the way in which all the advice to "not let them see that they're getting to you" started to show up as me not reacting when things like this happened.

• Perhaps understandably, the event organizers weren't 100% comfortable with the prospect of a bullying victim returning to the scene and attending an event that would also be attended by some of the participants in my erstwhile victimization. One person wrote, "Please consider that our committee has worked really hard to try to make this a fun reunion, and conjuring up bad feelings about high school or junior high events that were unpleasant puts our efforts in jeopardy." I had to grin to myself at the image it conjured up, of me returning to settle up 40-45 year old scores as my fellow alumni backed away in horror. "Don't worry", I said (reassuringly, I hope), "I'm not going to descend like Maleficent to point my bony finger at people and curse the proceedings. Like everyone else, I'm looking forward to seeing people I haven't seen in years; this isn't a vengeance and retribution visit, I promise!"

• People did ask me about the book, not merely at the author's table but as they came by and (re)introduced themselves. "So I hear you wrote a book?" One couple asked enough questions to get me started (hey, it doesn't take much to get the author of an autobiographical account to start talking about themselves, we're admittedly rather self-immersed); in as abbreviated and encapsulated form as I could, I summarized an early life in which I'd identified with the girls and made efforts to not be seen as one of the boys, and had protected myself from hostility and harassment by being a teacher's pet and embracing adult protection; then had come to Los Alamos in 8th grade just around the age that hormones were kicking in, and as it turned out I was attracted to the girls. "So the book really revolves around the question of how to negotiate sexual relationships with girls when I had modeled myself as someone just like them, a girlish person myself". The guy half of the couple didn't really get it: "So... would you say you're more gay, then?" Well, there's a reason I wrote a full-sized book, a representative memoir. It doesn't encapsulate easily into a quick overview that everyone can follow. In our society we see and interpret things through the lens of how we understand the world, and the world does not have an understanding of how a male person can be a feminine and yet function as a heterosexual person, a male person who would have sexual experiences with female people -- any more than I myself did.

• A majority of the people who expressed interest in the book did so in passing rather than at the author's table I'd booked, so I did not harvest their email addresses. In a separate post to the various FaceBook groups I will invite them to send me their email address and that way I can let them know when the book becomes available and include a direct link to where they can place an order for it.

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Dalí is a person of the changeling sex, living in a future world within the domain of the Sol Fed government. Dalí is an ambassador for Sol Fed.

A changeling is someone whose body is neither inherently female nor male but can be either of those, changing structurally according to need and circumstance. Changelings are empathic, picking up on the emotions of people around them, and tend to morph their bodies to match desires and expectations, although they can also shift their shapes on their own whim.

Changelings are a minority and a fairly recent phenomenon, and are targets of hate crimes in this future world. Many people condemn them as unnatural freaks. Dalí's life has been upended by such violence: Dalí's two spouses, Gresh and Rasida, were murdered, and Dalí is still ripped up by it, scarcely caring whether they lives or dies.

Yes, two spouses. Dalí is poly. Polyamorous marriages are common in this future world. But they don't usually involve changelings and some folks are so creeped out by the idea of changelings marrying and consorting with normal folks that the prospect brings them to violence.

Dalí gets recruited to participate in undercover work to investigate these hate crimes. They ends up in jeopardy, a prisoner of a cosmic black market trader where, along with other captured changelings they is kept in a luxurious suite but faces the prospect of being sold as a sex slave.

Sharing those quarters are two other changelings, Dru and Kai. They have no idea that Dalí is working undercover and has allies who are working to spring them.

Holding the keys to their comfortable cage is Lord Rhix, he who rules this black-market domain. Rhix is the amoral vicious gangster feared by the traders and slavers and other denizens of the market, or so it initially seems, but when we get a closer look we discover a barbarian of principle, an evil lord whose stomach turns at some of the techniques of his predecessors. An enlightened hoodlum, he.

The person whose actions most directly got Dalí into this situation is Jon Batterson, son of the Sol Fed president and very much a spoiled powerful privileged wealthy villain, athletically powerful and arrogant. He is one of the bigoted haters and we learn pretty early that he's immersed in the kidnapping and selling of changelings, a convenient way to rid the Sol Fed system of unnatural freaks while profiting economically from their disposal.

Jon Batterson has a battered wife, or, rather, ex-wife. Tella Sharp escaped him and coincidentally happens to be the provider of nursing care when Dalí is recovering from Batterson's assault on her in the space station corridors. Tella finds Dalí enticing and returns for some steamy aftercare in Dalí's quarters.


DALÍ is a delightful gender fantasy. How totally fine, to be able to match one's body to one's gender of the moment, including a convenient neuter when you feel like it!

Yes, it does manage to echo the notion--held strongly by cisgender bigots and even loosely by some transgender folks (truscum)--that to properly be a given gender, your body must correspond. Being a changeling can be conceptualized as sex reassignment surgery on-the-fly, or, as Dalí's partner Rasida's journal article expressed it in the book, "A natural progression allowing transgenderism to correct itself".

But there's nothing in DALÍ that opposes ideas of gender variance that do not involve physical transitioning, and I just can't bring myself to be curmudgeonly enough to resent or criticize the formulation: it's just too damn deliciously cool. I don't have physical dysphoria and despite identifying as a gendered feminine I have never rejected my physical maleness, but if I could have a body that could speak either physical language? Hell yes, that would be more fun than being able to fly like Superman!

DALÍ avoids the pestersome problem of pronouns by using first person. "I walked down the corridor" instead of he, she, they, or some other formulation doing so. There are third party attributions of Dalí's gender--such as Brian, Jon Batterson's little brother down in the Rosetta Labyrinth referring to Dalí as "she"--but because they are third party designations of gender, we, the readers, may dissent.

There is hotness in this book. DALÍ gives us a sensuous and often horny changeling. I appreciated some of the departures from clichés that surround sexual shapeshifting characters in fantasy and science fiction, especially Tella Sharp directly lusting after Dalí as theirself, as opposed to seeking either a male or a female, and the scenes with Rhix in which Dalí is betwixt and between sexual morphologies and is manifesting with external tingly parts. That's seldom done: most tales featuring someone who can sexually shapeshift have the character bedding boys when shaped like a girl and doing girls when configured as a boy.

I was never very clear on the distinction the book attempts to make between "third gender" and "changeling". There are people who are described as "third gender"; and then "changeling" is either a subset of that or else a new and different (yet similar) thing. Tella Sharp, while examining and treating Dalí, says

"I studied third-gender anatomy, of course, but each person’s genitalia varies according to their dominant sex." Her fair complexion bloomed with rosy color as she discussed my genitals. "You don’t have one."


Seems to me that either a "third gender" person in this universe has physical anatomy that corresponds permanently to their "dominant sex", which differs from being cisgender only in the implication that they may also have a "non-dominant" sex (but we aren't told what a "non-dominant sex" actually is or what it does for a living); or else being "third gender" means one's physical anatomy is flexible and can change, in which case being "third" doesn't differ in any readily discernable way from being a changeling. As an atypical genderqueer person myself, far be it from me to cast aside or look askance at anyone else's gender identity just because I don't understand why the heck we need this additional category, but as a configuration within a work of fiction that doesn't explain it or utilize it more fully, I don't think it adds anything to the story.

Dru and Kai, the other two changelings in the story, don't change. Not because they can't, it just doesn't transpire that they ever do. Dru presents as female with a purseful of stereotypical femininity, while Kai is perennially male and manifests with textbook masculine traits throughout. I think it would have been more interesting to see Dalí interact with other changelings, but these are ersatz changelings, these two. They get gendered pronouns. Dru is all "she" and "her", and Kai is totally a "he" and "him" person throughout. Only Aja, a changeling who doesn't survive long enough to become conscious, is a "they".

Jon Batterson is a bit of a cardboard cutout, a bit too much unrelieved portrayal as stupid and dense, evil and deceitful; there's no individual and no allied group or contingent in the book which were ever in Batterson's personal orbit that he doesn't betray as soon as the opportunity presents.

The dynamic going on between Lord Rhis and Dalí is full-on neogothic: a brooding evil captor who turns out to be chock-full of ethical and moral concerns and is therefore worthy of the MC's love, and the MC can get through his emotional armor and cause him to love her too. I do love a well-delivered gothic romance and I liked the departure from conventional gothic trajectory too: the absence of any full reconciliation after he discovers Dalí's true identity as spy. Their departure scenes are more akin to heroic male opponents who express a grudging respect for their adversary. How appropriate! Well done.

DALÍ, by E. M. Hamill. NineStar Press.
E. M. Hamill

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Unlike my parents, I wasn't a morning person. My Dad was making puns and trying to engage me at breakfast, and I just wished he'd shut up and leave me to my dull early-morning haze. My little sister Jan's morning mood trended more towards cranky. "Tell Derek* to quit slurping his cereal, it's gross!" I scowled at her and considered doing it more to annoy her further but I was too groggy to put any energy into it.

We walked down the road to the curve to wait for the school bus. Theresa Jones and the Jackson boys, from across the street, boarded at the same bus stop. "Hey Derek, what do you like better, football or motocross?" Jerry was putting dead pecans from the nearby pecan tree into a slingshot and shooting them at the stop sign where they ricocheted with a ping. "What, you don't watch either one? Why not? Hey, what's that you got there?" I showed them the old blue Nancy Drew book I was reading. The younger boy, Jerry, shook his head, "Why you want to read a girl's book?" The brothers looked at each other and smirked.

Jerry threatened to fire a pecan at Doug, dancing back out of reach and drawing back the slingshot. "Why you holding it that way, you nigger? Who taught you how to shoot?" Indignantly, Jerry huffed, "Who you calling nigger? You're a retard! You got a rubber butt and you fart!"

The school bus pulled up and we climbed on. I sat by myself next to a window and opened my book and went back to my reading.

Pine Grove Elementary was only about 10 miles away by car, but the bus meandered up and down little side roads, first suburban and then rural. It would take awhile before it finally discharged us in the school's parking lot. I always read on the bus. There was nothing wrong with reading Nancy Drew books. I liked Hardy Boys too, but my mom and my aunts had a whole bunch of old Nancy Drew books they gave me when they found out I liked to read, and they were good.

We had a spelling bee after Mrs. Sarwinsky took roll and saying the pledge. I always did good and today I was one of the last four kids but I didn't do "Mediterranean" right and had to sit down. Jill got it right and ended up being the winner. I'd probably beat her tomorrow. I was as good as she was.

"I have to step out for a little while", Mrs. Sarwinsky told us. "I want you to keep working on your geography lessons, and stay in your seats and keep quiet until I get back. Suzy, take down names of anyone who acts up while I'm gone, OK?" Suzy nodded. She got asked last time, it should be someone else's turn to take names. It should be me more often. It was hardly ever a boy, and it's not fair.

My friend Mike McDowell sat behind me and one row over. We traded books sometimes. He liked science fiction and he had gotten me interested. I liked stuff about the stars and flying to other planets and that kind of thing. Sometimes I played with Mike at recess but more often I would go to where Jill and Karen and the twins Rhonda and Wanda liked to play. Today I saw Jill playing jacks with the twins, so I went over to join them. "Hi, Derek!" Jill indicated for me to sit. Behind us, other girls jumped rope, chanting about how many times someone came a-knocking at the door. "Let's say you have to pick two from here and one from the little pile before you can catch the ball" "No, put them closer, I can't do it that fast". The boys usually played marbles instead, or would climb on the monkey bars; the playground wasn't officially divided, it just ended up split up that way. Sometimes I'd play with boys, sometimes here with the girls.

I fell asleep on the bus on the way home and when I woke up it was stopping on an unpaved road in front of a sad run-down house with a sagging wooden front porch. There were broken toys in the yard and the curtain in the window was ripped and hanging. Two kids in the front yard were saying something to the one who got off the bus and I could see this one kids' mouth, and his teeth and gums looked weird like something was wrong. Their clothes were all worn-out looking and maybe it was because I was still half-asleep or something but I got scared like this could happen to me, to get put out in a place like this where everything was worn out and broken and sick and sad.

Karen and I got off at the same stop every day. We went to her house to play for awhile. "Is it OK if we play with paper dolls?", she asked. I nodded. We traced some of the clothes and cut out new ones and drew on them with colored pencils to make patterns and then bent the tabs down to attach them to the dolls. "OK, you be the grocery store man and I'll be the mom shopping..."

Later, at home after supper, Jan and I sat on the floor watching TV. During the commercial we started playing that game where you alternate patting your partner's hands then your own then your knees then alternate across while singing. "My mama told me, when I was young, she's buy me a rubber dolly..." we kept speeding up until one of us would miss, then we'd giggle and start again. "Hey, you two, stop being so silly and loud! C'mon, the program's starting again", my mom interrupted, exasperated. She'd asked me earlier how my day was, how things were at school. "Fine", I said. She asked me about it pretty often. I was good in school, I liked it.

After recess, we would always line up in long lines to be let back into the building. You were not supposed to cut the line, that was the rule. One day a girl I didn't know and I got into an argument, with her claiming I had cut in front of her and me claiming she was trying to cut in front of me, which I believed to be the case. The assistant principal said "I don't think this little girl would lie about such a thing" and he made me wait until everyone else had filed in to the building, which totally enraged me, that he would automatically take her word over mine just because she was a girl.

Mrs. Sarwinsky was sometimes late getting into our room after lunch and kids would be in the classroom already before she came in. "C'mon, Derek, don't be such a pansy", Thereas's's brother Corey demanded. "Write some stuff on the board. Sarwinsky won't be back for ten minutes, she won't know who did it". He took up a piece of chalk and wrote 'Fart on science' next to the science assignment. Doug Jackson laughed, then asked us all, "Hey, want to hear a dirty joke?" I shook my head. Disregarding me, he went into a long unfunny story about somebody going to the bathroom in the dark and getting piss and shit all over themselves.

Corey was OK, actually, when the Jacksons weren't around. We went bike riding together. He had a short bike with those fashionable deep U-shaped handlebars and the banana seat, and his bike would start off real fast. Mine was an older bike, a used bike, taller and with bigger tires, and it took a lot longer to get it moving fast but I could outrace him if the race was long enough.

"Now... you fold it like this...", I intoned, turning the paper over and folding all the corners in once more. I opened it up and got my fingers into the little pockets. "OK, now pick a color". Karen studied the outside of the little paper contraption and pointed, "Blue". I manipulated the device, alternatively showing one set then the other set of numbers while counting off "b, l, u, e... OK now pick a number..." I had learned the game from Jan's friend Tracy, who had come to our house to play last week. Jan and I mostly liked each other's friends and we all played together a lot because she was only two years younger.

"I like you", I told Karen. "I think you're my best friend". Karen said she liked me too. I put my arm around her shoulder; she slid up closer to me. We stayed that way for awhile. "You want to get some Kool-Aid? My mom doesn't let me have sodas", Karen explained apologetically. I nodded; we went into the kitchen. Her dad was in his chair in the living room. "Hey, Derek. Karen, honey, maybe Derek needs to get on home to his own family". Karen told me once that her parents wanted her to play with girls more, and thought it was odd for me to be coming over so often.

Kids at school made fun of us sometimes, singing "Derek has a girl friend" or "Karen and Derek sitting in a tree" and stuff like that. And there was a teacher at school who acted like I was doing something wrong if I was playing with the girls on the playground: "You ought to be ashamed. Do you think this is right? What would your father say? You know better! Don't let me catch you here again! Now go play with the boys!"

"I like you and you like me", Karen said. "I don't care what anyone says". I agreed. We weren't going to let anyone split us up.


----

* Portions of the above were a part of early beta versions of THE STORY OF Q, but dropped when I needed to make the book more concise. I have left in the aliased names for the sake of consistency.

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ahunter3: (Default)
This is a question that I get fired at me from time to time when I talk about being genderqueer.

I don't think someone should have to come up with a proposed solution or social change strategy before being allowed to complain about an unpleasant situation. And I do think that the "well, then, what's your recommendation?" response is sometimes used as a tactic for shutting people up (or making us look foolish for not having a good answer). But that doesn't mean it's never a legitimate question.

I'm not particularly interested in acquiring a virtual ruler and going around smacking misbehaving people for using the wrong words or expressing tastes and preferences that leave me out or expressing opinions about people like me that are less than warm, accepting, and welcoming.

Yeesh, that sounds awfully judgmental towards people who get upset about being misgendered, or folks who are sick and tired of surface-level "tolerance" that is sprinkled with derogatory comments and jokes. And I don't mean to be pointing fingers at them and saying that they're doing it wrong or are asking things of people that aren't reasonable and fair.

But my head is in a different place. I don't face a lot of judgmental hostility from people who harbor hate for genderqueer people. I don't suffer from the cruel barbs of demeaning jokes and quips about genderqueer people and what they are like and how they behave. I might not like it if and when I start getting a periodic dose of that kind of thing, but for now that would be a step forward.

Oh, sure, I have experienced hostility, but the hostile people were expressing hostility towards gay guys. Or towards transgender gals. Or towards sissy feminine male people. The people with the hostility have not tended to make a distinction there. I think we're mostly all the same to the ones who hate us. But amidst the hateful rhetoric about men who have sex with other men, and men who become women, I seldom feel directly targeted so much as hit by the general spatter.

They, along with the liberal accepting tolerant folks, haven't heard enough from my ilk to get a good stereotype or caricature going.


My partner just forwarded me a link to a thread on a message board where someone posted to ask why he gets so much pressure to transition to female. He identifies as a cross-dresser. His situation is different from mine: he gets a sexual thrill from dressing in feminine clothes and from embracing femininity in general. He says "I am a Man. I am straight"; and his connection with the feminine is, as he puts it, all about "my sexuality not my sex". And yet, because people are more familiar with what it is to be transgender -- what the personal story-lines are, what the typical narrative is -- he gets told that he's never going to be happy until and unless he transitions.

He says that's totally not true; like me, his identity and experience are different, although certainly there's some overlap with that of transgender people.

I can relate to all that. In 1979 as a University of New Mexico student, the assumption was not that I was trans but that I was gay, but I, too, was the recipient of warmly-intended compassionate friendly advice, that I should accept myself, that I should come out.

People are often amazingly tolerant of identities that they can understand.



What do I want?

I want to shoehorn in a new concept, a new category, into people's mental set of boxes, their notions of the kind of people who exist and whom they might encounter.

Partly because I believe that the hostility depends, in a weird sense, on conflating sexual orientation, sexual identity, and gender identity, and that understanding them as different things challenges the hostility.

Partly because I think a lot of people are like me, and if the world has the head-space to understand us, we'll be understood and accepted for who we are. Instead of for who we are not.

Partly because -- and a respectful tip of the hat, here, towards Walter Becker of Steely Dan, who just passed away -- as the Steely Dan song "Deacon Blues" puts it,

"They got a name for the winners in the world,
I want a name when I lose"

... I want a somewhat-recognizable rendition of my identity to be out there, whether people accept and admire it or not. Naturally, I would like to be accepted and celebrated for who I am, but if I can't have that it is still better to be rejected and hated for who I am than for who I am not.


----

I got a rather late rejection notice from a literary agent yesterday. At this point, all queries to lit agents have been marked in some fashion -- either as overt rejections or as "No reply within 3 months" which counts as a rejection. The same is true of queries to publishers, except that there's an additional status there: accepted for publication

No queries are outstanding at this point. And at least until next book, my querying days are over, and good riddance. Here's the final tally:


The Story of Q — total queries to Lit Agents = 974
Rejections: 974
.. as nonfiction: 748
.. as fiction: 226

The Story of Q — total queries to Publishers = 31
Rejections: 29
Accepted for Publication then Publisher Went out of Business: 1
Accepted for Publication (current): 1

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ahunter3: (Default)
Last week I was visiting my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and viewing the solar eclipse with them (they are conveniently living within waking distance of the Georgia/South Carolina border and were in the path of totality), and while I was down there I went rummaging through some old storage boxes in search of some of my oldest "coming out" writings. One of the items I found was a short piece titled "Anonymous Conversation III".

Back in 1980, my first attempt to put my thoughts about gender and society down onto paper ended up getting me into trouble. The 4-page paper didn't make much sense to most of the people I showed it to; the ideas weren't coherently expressed. One person even felt threatened (not, I think, by the content, just by the fact that an unknown male undergraduate had left this incomprehensible document in her campus faculty mailbox) and that, in turn, triggered an overreaction by the university health center whose triage psychiatrist decided I needed psychiatric incarceration and observation.

That didn't shut me up, but I was a bit more cautious in my next attempts.



By 1982, I was starting to work on a book that I titled The Amazon's Brother, in which I would introduce my gender stuff by explaining it in terms of feminism. "Anonymous Conversation III" was intended to be an introduction chapter to kick off the main body of the book, which was going to be (and eventually was) a combination of my own story followed by some chapters of feminist analysis and theory derived from those experiences. I initially thought about setting up the premise of the book as a sort of trial to take place before a feminist court, and "Anonymous Conversation III" was an unfinished draft chapter with that in mind. I never ended up using it (by the time I gave up on getting The Amazon's Brother published, it had a different Intro) and, in fact, it was never even typed out -- what I found in the box was a sheaf of handwritten pages. But it's an interesting bridge piece, still using some of the terminology (e.g., "spectrum theory", still saying "sexism" where I would later have written "patriarchy") from the problematic 4-pager, but doing a significantly better job (I daresay) of explaining things in an accessible manner.




ANONYMOUS CONVERSATION III

Xy: I want to stand trial on behalf of my entire gender. The charge is that we are responsible for sexism.

Xx: No way. The charge is that, as a general rule, people of your gender have fought against the people of mine who have tried to eliminate sexism, and that people of my gender have done almost all of the work and supplied nearly all of the energy for eliminating sexism. Still want to stand trial? Court is in session.

Xy: Eek! Okay. I'll try. May we dispense with the opening statement for the prosecution? Everyone's heard it a thousand times.

Xx: It has not been heard enough times by enough people. Request denied.

Xy: Very well. It is the contention of the prosecution that, as a result of sexism, people of your gender are deemed inferior to those of mine; that stereotypes of personality have been attributed to each gender; that standards of socially acceptable behavior for each gender have been derived from those stereotypes of personality; that the standards and stereotypes of personality and behavior, hereafter referred to as sex roles... uh, where was I... oh, yes, that the sex role for your gender is deemed inferior to the sex role of mine; that the behavior portion of your sex role reduces your gender to the status of domestic and personal servants, with no autonomy; that the portion of your sex role that deals with sexuality itself reduces your gender to the status of passive objects existing for the sexual pleasure of my gender; that the stereotype of personality for your gender includes qualities of nurturance, kindness, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, and a host of others which are of direct benefit to my gender, which shares the companionship of yours; that the stereotype of personality for my gender includes emotional insensitivity, callousness, and similar characteristics which excuse my gender from any empathic or supportive feelings for yours; that, furthermore, the stereotype of personality for your gender includes docility, acquiescence, politeness, calmness, and so forth, which discourages your gender from confronting mine; that sex role nonconformists are deemed inferior to others of their gender, or psychotic, or both. It is also the contention of the prosecution that the vast majority of people who have taken a stand against sexism have been of your gender; that this unequal participation has been even more disproportionate among those who have dedicated their lives to the active opposition to sexism; that the most vehement SUPPORT of sexism has always come from my gender; that the assault on sexism does not constitute a threat to my gender unless people of my gender find sexual equality threatening; that sexism has negative, dehumanizing effects on my gender as well; that this last observation has been pointed out to my gender by yours more often than the other way around... how am I doing?

Xx: I'm impressed. You've been listening. Continue.

Xy: The prosecution contends that sexism and its manifestations constitute a severe restriction of freedom; that the elimination of sexism would result in an awesome increase in the amount of freedom available to human beings; that sexism serves as a barrier to harmonious relations between the genders, both within and outside of marriage and other heterosexual relationships; that sexism cripples the emotional and psychological development of children of both genders; that my gender does not take seriously that portion of your gender that actively opposes sexism. The prosecution points out that courage and valor are listed among the attributes assigned to my gender; that taking opposition to sexism requires courage and valor; that, outside of an egocentric need for my gender to feel superior to yours, sexism is entirely detrimental to my gender as well as your own. The prosecution concludes that my gender has displayed abject cowardice, egocentrism, or both. How's that?

Xx: Oh, if I thought for a while, I could probably add to the list, but since I am a fictional character in your book, I will accept it. How do you plead?

Xy: On behalf of my gender -- which has not authorized me to stand here in its defense --

Xx: Don't make excuses. This is an unofficial trial. Continue.

Xy: On behalf of my gender I plead nolo contendere

Xx: Nolo contendere... you do not wish to contend?

Xy: I feel that, although the evidence is valid, the conclusion does not represent a completely accurate assessment of the situation. There are, and have been, extenuating circumstances.

Xx: Very well. You may proceed.

Xy: To begin with, I would like to introduce the concept I call Spectrum Theory. As other opponents of sexism have often pointed out, sexism assumes that all women are alike and that all men are alike. Yet we know this not to be the case. Will the court accept this point?

Xx: Definitely.

Xy: Now I would like the court to visualize a spectrum of all people of one gender and a parallel spectrum of all people of the other. At one extreme, think of all the people who come closest to being described by the generalizations that sexism makes about women when those people are being their natural selves.

Xx: That is rather difficult to assess, since we don't know how people would behave if sexism were eliminated.

Xy: Very well. Make it abstract. Regardless of the quantity of people, or even the presence or absence of them standing at that extreme pole of the spectrum, that is what that end of the spectrum represents: those qualities of personality and behavior traditionally regarded as feminine.

Xx: Male and female?

Xy: Correct. That end of both spectrums represents feminine qualities.

Xx: You are aware of the sexism in using the label "feminine", I trust?

Xy: I am. Let's call that direction north, or blue. Whatever. Moving to the opposite extreme, we find the people, or at least the abstract qualities, traditionally called "masculine". Personality and behavior. Both genders. South. Red. Between the two extremes is a blur, a smooth blend. Theoretically, everyone is somewhere on that spectrum. Right in the middle is abstract androgyny. A person with a mixture of traits that are traditionally thought of as masculine and feminine, but with a greater preponderance towards the so-called feminine end would be green. Between the middle and one extreme. And so forth.

Xx: How about the person who behaves and feels differently at different times?

Xy: If you took a spectroscope and pointed it at the sun, you would find that it produces blue light, yellow light, red light, and so on. But it looks yellow because the yellow part of the spectrum is where the sun's intensity is at. If you go out at night, you will see red, orange, yellow, and blue stars. They each put out many different wavelengths too, but what you see is the brightest color, the place where their intensity is concentrated. And it's not the same for every star.

Xx: Or every person. That makes sense. Go on.

Xy: Now I'm sure you would object if I were to say that all women should be this way or all women should be that way, but I would expect you to object more strenuously if I said all women should be like Susie Q the girl next door than you would if I said all women should be like you.

Xx: I'm not sure I agree with you. Are you saying that... well, I guess I see what you're saying. I might be opposed to inflicting a new standard for women to have to conform to, and I would be, but it wouldn't affect me directly and personally if I myself were the prototype. I would automatically be normal.

Xy: Exactly. And you have experienced the frustration of not being the prototype or resembling the prototype close enough to be seen as normal without pretending to be someone you are not. If you had been born with a personality that just happened to coincide with sexist expectations you wouldn't know what it would be like to be at odds with them.

Xx: I will accept that. I'm curious to see where you're leading. You may continue.

Xy: Going back to our spectrum, or our parallel spectrums, let's take a look at what sexism does. On the male spectrum, sexism says to the red, or south-polar people of my gender, "You are normal. All males should be like you." Meanwhile, on the female spectrum, the people of the very same red south-polar personality and so forth are hearing, "You are weird. You are abnormal. You aren't doing it right. Something is wrong with you". Same personality. There are only two differences: gender, and the message they are getting from sexism. I ask the court which difference is most likely to make a difference in the attitudes of these people? Gender, or exactly opposite messages?

Xx: I would assume that any rational person would say the messages they are receiving.

Xy: And on the other end of the spectrum the situation would be reversed. Blue, north-polar women get the message that they are normal. All women should be like them. Blue, north-polar men are told they are weird. Something is wrong with them. The people in the middle get messages sort of like "You're okay, but you ought to be more this way, or that way". Sexism irritates them but it doesn't assault them with a full-fledged negation of their identities. Which people are most likely to be fully opposed to sexism?

Xx: Red... let me see if I have your terminology straight... yes, "red" women and "blue" men. We are tallking about men and women who would be described in sexist terms as unmasculine men and unfeminine women. Go ahead, I'm listening.






That's as far as I got with "Anonymous Conversation III". I can tell you where I was going with it, though:

Conjure up a conventional stereotype of a feminist woman. You did? Well, is she assertive? Verbally aggressive? Belligerent? Does she have fewer feminine mannerisms and behavioral characteristics including body language and how she participates in discussions? And/or more masculine characteristics, for that matter? OK, there's a scintilla of truth within many stereotypes. Feminism specifically says that holding different expectations and using a different evaluation ruler for women than the one used to evaluate men is sexist, and while feminism doesn't lack appeal to women whose personal characteristics pretty closely map to what you'd call "feminine", it constitutes a particular validation for women whose characteristics do not. So you end up with a situation involving tough confrontational women reacting to the definitional expectation that they be dainty and delicate. The very act of engaging in this type of confrontation is an act that comes more easily to a person whose characteristics tend more towards being dominant and aggressive, and furthermore the act of doing so is, itself, a reiteration of the statement that women are claiming for themselves the right to be powerful.

Yeah, now consider the mirror-image situation for males. Those for whom eliminating sexist expectations and behavioral standards would appeal most directly would be those who least exemplify the set of characteristics we call "masculine", in other words feminine males like me. If, as I just said, engaging in social confrontation comes most easily to dominant aggressive people, and the act of doing such confrontation is, itself, a message about that person's tendency to be adversarial and socially combative and so on, we've got a mismatch on this side instead of a convenient confluence. The double-handful of atypical women drawn to feminism in part because it embraces their atypical "unfeminine" personality characteristics are warriors, and when they join their voices with those of other feminists in conflict with sexist society their activity echoes their message; but the atypical male people who resent sexism for similarly personal reasons are (pretty much by definition) NOT very warrior-like and are NOT particularly likely to be well-suited for confrontational endeavors; and when they engage in it to the best of their ability ANYWAY, their activity is difficult to reconcile with their intended message.

We are sometimes told that we're acting entirely like men tend to act —- self-immersed and selfishly concerned and confrontationally combative about other people's attitudes and behavior. More often, we are dismissed as whiny and pathetic. Because yelling about things and being provocatively belligerent is so superior to whining, I guess. At any rate, it's more complicated. The things we are deprived of aren't about power and you can't really attain them by seizing them. So we tend to seek solutions in less socially visible ways in the smaller arenas of our personal lives.


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ahunter3: (Default)
I feel a little bit like an air traveler whose plane has reached the destination city area and now the plane is circling round and round in a holding pattern, waiting for their turn to use the runway. I had a little bit of a suggestion from the editor about the types of changes that would be requested, so back in July I did some preliminary edits, but I've pretty much taken that as far as I can until the editor actually gets to my book.

The one thing that's available for me to focus on (and obsess about, to be honest) is the publicity effort. I don't want to look back on this a few years from now and think "I could have reached a far wider audience if I'd contacted these people or advertised it and promoted it over there". Well, I probably will anyway, but I'm at least inclined to put a fair amount of effort into trying to think of such things NOW, when I can act on them, and do what I can (or what I can afford to do).

• I have a database I've been compiling all year, with over 10,000 institutions and 1-8 contacts for each institution. These are organizations or resources who might be interested in selling, stocking or reviewing my book when the time comes. Some of them are academic: women's studies or gender studies programs, and campus-based LGBTQIA centers. Some are public or scholastic libraries. Some are independent bookstores. Some are independent community-based LGBTQIA centers. A few are reviewers, including the new phenomenon, "booktubers", people who post YouTube videos in which they review interesting books.

• My publicist -- same guy who got me bookings to address women's studies classes and LGBT groups last spring -- will continue to get me speaking engagements and is going to focus on getting me hooked up with established reviewers. Our first focus will be reviewers who review books that have not been released yet. (But until the editor and I reach a finalized manuscript, there's no advance reader copy, i.e., ARC, available, so even this is stuck in a holding pattern at the moment). He is also working with me to craft emails to the receipients in my database.

• We're discussing where to place ads. Is a more expensive higher-profile ad likely to attract the attention of a reviewer? Would a barrage of lower-priced electronic ads that accompany people's Facebook or Twitter viewing experiences give me more bang for the buck? The ads themselves have to be designed. I don't feel like I have the gift for formulating ad copy, for recognizing the ideal catchy descriptive phrases that will make someone think "Hey, that sounds like something I should read" or "Hmm, that's different and provocative, I wonder what that's about?" Here, too, we're still waiting on a chosen book cover and the prospects for quotable reviewer's statement excerpts. To an extent, ads can be designed with an "insert cover art here" placeholder.

Eventually, there comes a time for saying "I did what I could and it's out of my hands now".


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ahunter3: (Default)
In 1980 in my first attempts to come out, I tried "straightbackwards person" and placed an ad seeking other people who matched expectations for the opposite sex and/or for gay people of their sex a lot more than they lived up to expectations for heterosexual people of their own sex, but whose attraction was nevertheless towards the opposite sex. It wasn't the clearest description or the best label to use for it, I suppose, but I was new at this.


Decades later, one of my detractors dismissed my description of myself as genderqueer: "He just wants to get on the bandwagon", he said, describing me. "He's just a straight male with some non-stereotypical characteristics -- like nearly every other straight male out there -- but he really wants to be a sexual minority so he can be edgy and trendy".

It's a pattern: gay people can be genderqueer as well as gay, bisexual and pansexual people are welcome to identify as genderqueer as well as bi or pan, and transgender people may identify as genderqueer if they don't feel that a binary identity as male or female properly describes them; but if there isnt some other meaningful and recognizable sense in which you're queer, being genderqueer by itself apparently isn't enough to count.

If you can't be genderqueer without being gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or transgender, no wonder some people don't include it in the alphabet-soup acronym!

Well, I wasn't at all sure that gay and lesbian activists would think I belonged among them, wasn't at all sure that I'd be welcome there. If you think transgender and intersex people are marginalized within LGBTQIA now, you should consider how it was back in the 80s. Trans people were hypothetical people -- the movement, as manifested in the form of people who come to meetings at Identity House and other "out" organizations, was made up of gay and lesbian folks. I nosed around and tried to get into conversations but it wasn't obvious to me or them that we had enough in common for me to belong there.

I continued to use "straight" or "heterosexual" to describe myself while trying on other terms for the gender difference -- for instance, the self-chosen label "heterosexual sissy" -- and that didn't exactly emphasize an identity-in-common with the gay rights folks. I was trying to do my own identity politics and the main bandwagon that seemed to be headed where I wanted to go was feminism, not the politics of sexual orientation.

I joined the Straight Dope Message Board, my primary online social home, in the late 1990s. In 2001, someone started a thread titled "Opposite of Tomboy?" asking what you call a male person with feminine characteristics, and I answered,


I use "sissy". Yeah, it's pejorative, but that's because folks tend to think the concept itself is pejorative. The word itself means "sister-like", so it doesn't really have negative denotation unless you hold a low opinion of females.

I needed a term to refer to myself in this regard, so I figured I'd follow the lead of gay folks who proudly refer to themselves as "queer" or "faggot", so I call myself "sissy".


Roughly around the same time, a gay male (I'll call him "Matt") posted that he was sick and tired of butch macho gay guys saying derogatory things about nelly femme guys like him. "I did not decide to be femme to obey a stereotype, OK?", he wrote. "If there is such a stereotype, it is conforming to me".

Three years later, Matt started a thread decrying the lack of a term that would be the male equivalent of "tomboy". (As you can see, this is clearly a recurrent theme). This time I replied,


I used "sissy" for a long time, it was a good word, even despite the negative-connotation baggage.

I don't use it much any more because it is increasingly used in a specific narrow sense to mean males who get a sexual thrill out of being "feminized", i.e., forced (or at least "forced" within the context of having a safe word and within the constraints of a defined "scene") to dress in frilly underpants and dresses and skirts and high heels and stuff. It's a humiliation-based kink. See in particular "sissy maid".

(not my kink)

With the greater social awareness of transgender people these days, I just say I'm a "male girl".
It's actually closer to how I perceived myself when I first came out.


It was Matt who first stumbled across the term "genderqueer" and recognized it as a good one, and he suggested it to me in 2004. I had started a thread of my own, titled "In which AHunter3 pits/debates/seeks opinion on his maleness", in which I thrashed around in one of my dysphorically frustrated moods. Matt, in his reply, suggested "genderqueer" might be a concept of interest to me. A trans board member, Kelly, agreed: "Welcome to the poorly-defined land of the genderqueer".

By 2006, I was starting to utilize the term myself. In my first use of the term on the Straight Dope, I wrote


3) Are you gay or straight? I'm tempted to answer "no". Straight I guess, but different. I'm not into masculinity (as conventionally defined at any rate) and don't play heterosexuality along sex-polarized lines if I can avoid it, for gut-deep personal reasons not as politicized protest etc , and so I think I'm as genderqueer as anyone.


... and shortly after that, in a thread asking about gender identity disorder,


Well, I wouldn't embrace a label that says I have a disorder, but I'll go with genderqueer, which is sort of the same thing minus the intrinsic medicalization and value judgment.

And in my case, I have no problem with the body I was born in. My problems with "being a man" don't seem to center on the architecture of the male body per se.


Finally, in January of 2011, I was invited to speak to a book club at Boston College about my 1991 paper "Same Door Different Closet: A Heterosexual Sissy's Coming-Out Story". As I roamed around the room setting up audio equipment and trying to calm the tummy-butterflies, I spotted a bookmark. LGBTQ, it said. That's the moment in which it clicked into place for me. That Q, that means people like me. They're including me. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and people who are queer in other ways too, like genderqueer.

So at that point I ended up on the rainbow bandwagon. It kind of stopped by and picked me up. It was going my way after all.


I reject the thesis that I'm doing something cynically opportunistic. I was doing what I do before gender politics erupted onto the national landscape in a big way, and before being genderqueer became a trendy edgy thing. I do acknowledge that I engage in positioning, of figuring out how to present and explain a concept, what words to use and how to juxtapose what I'm saying against the backdrop of stuff that people are already somewhat familiar with.


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Waldell, aka Pricess WaWa, is a bitter black gay femme, or so he would like to have us believe. Queen Called Bitch is his story.

It is a story told to us by a most erudite and expansively loquacious narrator, delivered in elegant but not particularly linear style. Waldell often begins in the middle with an excursion into his attitudes and feelings about a character before looping back to describe his history with that person. This is not a narrative of consecutive events arranged along a plot line, but more akin to what you might hear if you found Waldell at the bar and plied him with a couple shots (no more, please, he's a lightweight) and bribed the bartender to cue up Reba on the sound system for atmosphere and encouraged him to unload his tale.

An identity that includes being both gay and femme tends to be complicated: our society prefers to subsume them into each other, equivocating between gender factors and sexual orientation. Waldell doesn't specifically write as a feminine person without reference to being gay -- indeed, I'm not sure any gay male who is feminine can easily untangle that knot -- but he snarks a bit about meeting people on Grindr, "guys who think I'm a woman or beg me to be more masculine. Guys who are interested in a part time 'tranny' for play. I am neither of those things" -- writing from a feminine but not trans vantage point. "I pee standing up", he confirms.

He was a pariah in school, surviving the typical harassment doled out to sissy gay guys, but found some supportive teachers and eventually a road to connection and acceptance via the theatrical department at nearby Longwood University. He'd long since gotten in the habit of finding validation and voltage in music, television soap operas, dramatic movies, and God.

An easy and confident spirituality without shame was his to hold onto. As soon as he became old enough to notice church-based condemnation of gay people, he relegated that, along with its moldy misogynistic ideas about women, to the discard pile. The God stuff was about the inner feeling, and he had no significant doubts about that.

Queen Called Bitch is billed on the frontispiece of the manuscript as a work of fiction, complete with disclaimers about the coincidental nature of any resemblance to real people -- a time-honored confabulation used by many writers who choose to write about themselves and their own lives. But of course my own source of information about the author /character is this book, so I can't really know that, can I? And yet, I can't help thinking I do, and because of that I also find myself projecting and psychologically assessing him, making of his story something other than what he asserts of it. I don't find the cynical darkness to which he aspires, but instead see bitterness embraced as a protection, an attempt to avoid setting himself up for disappointment and heartbreak.

He's not so alone in this world: a good portion of the story revolves around the foursome of friends, the beforementioned Carol (Cann), Karen, Waldell himself, and Derek Island, and the everyday soap operas of their lives and their connections with each other.

The centerpiece is the delicately vulnerable romance between Waldell and Derek. Waldell the author shares this tale of romantic misery and thwarted love and would have us believe it was unrequited, this being the core of his broken-hearted bitterness. But as reader, I kept perceiving Waldell the character as wanting but being unwilling to believe it could be had, and second-guessing his opportunities in favor of reconciling himself in sporadic bursts of self-protective hesitation. Hence, this kind of exchange on the cellphone screen:

Me: You know I have feelings for you

Derek: I have some for you, was that not clear?

Me: I can't believe you have feelings for me. I never would have guessed. Honestly.

Derek: I've told you


Derek Island is leaving town and Waldell plots and schemes about how he is going to take the risk -- now or never -- of collecting on his first and most-wanted kiss, but he gets cold feet and a non-kiss ensues.

He's more inclined to air his grievances to Derek about how Derek does not reciprocate his feelings, building the narrative between the two of them to the effect that Derek mistreats Waldell, that Waldell is the person with the feelings. But he finds the feelings easiest to express in a forlorn mode:

Derek: I miss you my friend

Me: I can't talk to you


It is one of the minor passing characters in the story, Latesha, who gets to voice what seems apparent to me about these star-crossed novice lovers: she, who, Waldell notes, had witnessed the Derek saga firsthand, predicts to him that "one day the stars will align for you and Derek".

Queen Called Bitch, a coming-of-age and coming-of-want tale from NineStar Press. Waldell Abraham Goode

(cc: GoodReads)

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The second and third major chunks of my book are set partially in Los Alamos and partially in Albuquerque. I wrote about Los Alamos in my July 2 blogentry, so I figured I'd describe Albuquerque a bit in this one.

Physically, Albuquerque is a mostly-flat city but surrounded by mountains to the east and the Rio Grande to the west. The land on the other side of the Rio rises up to a mesa so that from certain angles Albuquerque looks like a city in a bowl with the mountains making the rim. Satellite view The really impressive mountains to the east is the Sandia ridge and the smaller echoing ridge on the other side of the river is West Mesa.

In a pattern that people familiar with Manhattan would recognize, the majority of the city is laid out in a grid of streets making rectangular blocks. Three hundred some-odd thousand people were living in Albuquerque in 1978-1980 when the action in my story takes place. The population is up over five hundred thousand now. It's the big city in New Mexico.

It's at a lower elevation than Los Alamos, although still considered a high-elevation city, and the lower elevation means it is hotter and dryer. The surrounding countryside is a barren landscape of scrub and rock. Once shortly after I moved there, I went out for a long walk after getting stoned courtesy of my neighbor's bong pipe, and got it into my head to walk out beyond the bounds of civilization to be in "nature". The suburban streets featured trees, locusts and cottonwoods and oaks and whatnot, and I think I unconsciously visualized myself coming out into some kind of primitive forest. Instead, I found myself leaving a green oasis of lawns and trees and ending up in the desert.

In the book, I end up living in Albuquerque twice, both times for the purpose of attending a school: First, I was a student at Albuquerque Vo-Tech, a trade school that seems to have disappeared into obscurity (it wasn't the institution called TVI, but rather a different one); I think it was somewhere around Eubank, north of Central. I lived on Grove Street SE in a rented house with another Vo-Tech student in 1978 and 1979. I was 18 and I had bailed out on the college trajectory my folks expected for me because I wanted financial independence early and thought that I'd enjoy being an auto mechanic.

I was regarded by some who knew me at the time as having insufficient aspirations for myself, but my attitude towards money wasn't all that peculiar for the region. In much of the west, in fact, there's sort of an attitude that self-sufficiency is very important, but once you get beyond that you're supposed to be low-key about wealth. It's OK to have it, to be well-off or downright rich, but it's in poor taste to be ostentatious about it. In Albuquerque the millionaires are likely to be wearing denim and to spend very little effort trying to impress other folks or being snobby about how rich they are. And I had met my share of people who simply wanted to earn enough to be adequately comfortable and to put a higher priority on independence and respect, to do something well enough that you could get paid for your skills and call your own shots, move on if you don't like your job because your abilities are in demand everywhere, be your own person who didn't have to take shit from anyone else. Yeah, that looked good to me.

Albuquerque is roughly half Hispanic (or Chicano, as folks say in New Mexico) and half non-hispanic white, with a sprinkling of other races and ethnicities. This is a part of the country where folks of Spanish ancestry were here first, with the oldest families being in the region before Mexico had separated from Spain and other families having come north to settle here between Mexico's independence and Mexico's loss of this land in the war with the US in the middle 1800's. There is some ethnic friction, some of which is apparent as a social backdrop in the Albuquerque sections of my book, but it's not a high tension adversarial hostility so much as an occasional clash of cultures and different ways of looking at things.

I had a bigger problem with being in a virtually all-male environment. There were very few women at the Vo-Tech school, and my experiences during that year brought an increased awareness that I still didn't integrate particularly well with male company. It wasn't so much that I was the target of violence and hostility (although yes, there was some of that) as I was left lonely without people to be friends with and talk to. These were also my first years out of the parental home, getting used to living my own life and learning about myself and becoming an adult.

A contributing factor to my loneliness was the format of partying and socializing in Albuquerque. I had come from Los Alamos where the teenagers and young adults would congregate in a single specific parking lot and obtain beer and learn where the outdoor bonfire party was at this evening; and then the party was public and no invitation was required. The equivalent social action in Albuquerque took place either in people's private homes or in bars or, especially for younger people who couldn't legally drink in bars yet (like me at the time), driving around, cruising certain blocks and showing off your car and chatting with people through the car windows and so on. The indoor scene required social connections and invitations and doing the car cruising thing successfully required having enough money to spiff up your car and keep the gas tank filled. As a student on a tight budget with no income of my own, I could afford some weed and some beer but not much else.

I did, however, scheme and plan about pimping out my ride. I was training as an auto mechanic, after all. Someday, when I could afford it, it was going to have this additional equipment and that color paint job all deep lustrous laquer, and more chromium and seats like so... oh yes, despite whatever difficulties I was having mixing with the guys, I still conceptualized myself as a guy and I embraced some images and notions about how to be a guy, notions I expected to work for me. Countercultural cool, longhaired intellectual blue-collar neo-hippie, you know?

The attempt to kick off a career as an auto mechanic did not pan out for me for a variety of reasons. I passed the course but came out the other side without the years of experience that some guys had. I returned to Los Alamos but ultimately I was unable to land and hold on to a job that would give me the self-sufficiency I'd sought. A year later my folks succeeded in talking me into trying college after all, and I came back to Albuquerque to attend UNM in 1979.

The University of New Mexico is a commuter campus for the large number of students already living in Albuquerque, but this time around I lived in the dorms. I was in Coronado Hall. The campus is mostly compact instead of being sprinkled in pieces all over the city as some urban college campuses do; most of UNM's campus sits between Central and Lomas Boulevard with a somewhat looser sprawl of buildings north of Lomas. There are a lot of business catering to the student experience and campus life in the blocks south of Central Ave, trendy shops and eateries. Back in 1979 there was a head shop selling marijuana paraphernalia and Freak Brothers comic books and across from it a vegetarian restaurant called The Purple Cow, a used record store, and so on. Some scenes in the book take place in the Frontier Restaurant, home of the best huevos rancheros you'll ever eat, and in the Siren Coffeehouse, a feminist hangout that used to host poetry readings and women's music.

The front lawns of the campus were a congregating spot for people to sit and party and socialize. In addition to students, there were travelers hitching or driving through and local people who didn't attend the university but liked the scene. Here at last I found the informal socializing environment that most closely resembled the party scene I missed from Los Alamos. (It was also where one went to purchase weed and other psychoactive substances).

The music department buildings were nearby. I was majoring in music with the intention of becoming an orchestral composer and a performing / composing pianist, and I would get high and chat with folks on the lawn and then dive into the practice room, notebook and portable cassette player in hand, to practice and write my music.

It was during my time as a university student that I came out. It was an environment that theoretically should have made that easier--instead of the all-male and macho-inflected world of VoTech or the small-town cautions of Los Alamos, I was now for the first time in a place where other students were sending me signals left and right that they thought they knew my secret and that it was OK, that I should accept myself and that when I did I would find that others accepted me too. But I didn't know who--or what or how, if you will--I was yet. It wasn't what they thought I was, the identity that they were so ready and kindly willing to accept. They were onto something though. It was that kind of difference. The winks and gentle hints were as discomfiting to me as the violent hostility had been, a never-ending poking and nudging at me to deal with these questions for which I had no answer.

And that's the setting for the book's climax and reconciliation.


My book, The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, is scheduled to be published by NineStar Press on November 27 of this year.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi, E. M. Hamill!


YOUR BOOK

* What factors led you to feature a genderqueer main character?  Do
you draw on personal experience (whether your own or other folks in
your life), or were you more intrigued by the concept of being
genderqueer?


I’ve been bisexual all my life, though I’m not genderfluid like Dalí is. It’s something I never had the courage to express when I was younger for a variety of reasons, and then it felt like it was too late. Now that I’m older, wiser, and one of my children has also come out as non-binary, I am finally comfortable expressing this part of myself. Especially after the last election, I felt compelled to speak out at last and be counted with all my brothers and sisters. It’s never too late.


Even though my main character, Dalí, has been shattered by loss, I wanted them to be a person who revels in the fact they are attracted to all genders, and doesn’t hide who they are. They accept this part of themselves without shame, as they should. It was kind of cathartic.



* Are there other gender-bending science fiction novels or
gender-variant characters in science fiction that inspire you or that
you're particularly fond of?



The show “Earth: Final Conflict” fascinated me. The aliens in the show, especially Da’an, were genderless, and I loved that.  Of course, Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, that most omnisexual of beings in the universe! Who doesn’t love him? One that doesn’t get a lot of notice is Inara from Firefly, who was decidedly bisexual. Lastly, most recently, “Sense8” and it’s diverse array of queer relationships and actors spoke to me on a huge level.


* Some science fiction operates as a sort of "intellectual
laboratory" to play out "what if" scenarios, and some is more of a
vacation fantasy, creating a fascinating different world to put
characters into, and so on.  Is there a 'tradition' or sub-genre of
science fiction that your book is a part of?



I would call it a space opera in the vein of Star Trek or Star Wars, with deliberate allegories to modern day social and human rights issues. Aliens and humans work alongside each other, and deep friendships or relationships develop as a result. 


* Is this a stand-alone book or are you working on a series?


This can be read as a stand-alone, but I definitely left the door open for more books featuring this character. I’ve already started writing their next mission.


* What sort of audience do you anticipate for DALI?  When you were
writing it, did you have an audience in your mind that you were
writing for?



I hope it appeals to all readers of science fiction, but especially to fellow queer readers. I also hope it resonates with mainstream sci-fi fans, because fiction opens doors to new ways of thinking.


* If you could inhabit the world in which your story takes place,
would you do so for a weekend, a year or two, or the rest of your
life, or would you pass on that option entirely?


Oh, a year or two, because you can’t get from our solar system to Zereid quickly!

* Did you have the idea for DALI floating around in your mind for a
long time before you wrote it, or did you write it more or less as it
first came to you?


Once Dalí started talking, they didn’t stop. I finished the first draft in six months, which is really fast for me!

* Aside from the science fiction element of it, you describe the book
as an "adventure"; is it a suspenseful action-thriller, or a big
drama with large social forces squaring off, a personal odyssey with
a central heroic figure... how would you characterize the plot?



I would characterize it as a suspenseful action-thriller, or spy drama. There are elements of a personal odyssey as well.


* How long did it take you?  If you've written and published
previously, how did this one compare to the others in terms of the
ease and speed with which you wrote it?


My first book took me five years from start to finish, but only two after I got serious about it. The second book in that series was easier. Dalí took six months to write, six months to edit, and I signed a contract with Nine Star Press in early 2017. 


WRITING


* What's your favorite environment to write in?  Do you have a studio
or do you just work in any convenient place?


I have a big recliner in front of my picture window. I get up before everybody else does, because it takes silence and solitude to get me in the zone. I have a small writing space carved out in our utility room, but it’s less comfortable! It’s the place I go when everybody else is awake.

* Do you do a lot of formal planning, with notes and databases or
spreadsheets and research, or do you work more spontaneously and
impose any additional needed order later on?


Nope. Total pantser. I love that improvisational writing mode. I start with an idea or a single scene that’s been in my head, and run. I break a cardinal rule by doing some heavy editing as I write, and also afterwards. 

* What's your main writing tool?  Do you write using a standard word
processor, a dedicated book-authoring software package, a fountain
pen and a ream of parchment, dictate your tale into Siri, or
something else?  What do you like about your preferred tool?



My trusty MacBook Air. It goes with me when I’m waiting to pick up kids from extracurricular stuff, in doctor’s waiting rooms, on long car trips…it’s an extension of my consciousness by now! Tool wise, I love AutoCrit software. Best investment I ever made. 


* Do you keep the contents of your book private until you like the
form it has taken, or do you like to solicit early feedback from beta
readers and friends?



As soon as I have the first draft out of my head, I run it by my alphas to see if it sucks or not! My betas don’t get to see it until the later drafts. I have the best critique partners ever.  You can’t have them; they’re mine.


* Do you write in 3rd person past tense omniscient, 1st person
present tense, or some other combo of perspective and grammatical
tense?  How does this affect the ways in which you include the
thinking of your main character and, if relevant, the internal
thinking of other characters in your stories?  Is this something
you're consistent about or have you (for example) written some
stories as an omniscient narrator and some from a 1st person
narrator's vantage point?



I write in both. My first three novels are third person past/omniscient, but Dalí was my first person/past tense debut, other than a few short stories. I’m not a huge fan of present tense as a writer or a reader, with one notable exception: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.


* Who were and are your favorite authors?  Have they generally been
writers who write in the same genres that you write in?


Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula LeGuin, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Madeleine L’Engle, David Brin, Piers Anthony, Gregory McGuire, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Robert McCammon, JRR Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…I could go on way too long!  I write sci-fi and fantasy of all flavors, so they’ve all influenced me in different ways. I am a lifelong, voracious reader. I make occasional forays into paranormal and historical romance, with a few well-loved literary fiction books.

* What has been the most useful feedback you've ever received about
your writing?


Every bit of feedback I receive is useful. This is why I value my editors and CP’s above all. Most recently, it was to pay attention to body parts, especially eyes, wandering off to do their own thing…LOL

* Have you ever tried cowriting or being part of a collaborative
writing experience?  Is that something you would recommend, or
recommend against?



I haven’t yet. I’ve only heard horror stories, but there’s proof out there that it can work with the right partnership.


E. M. Hamill: NineStar Press hosted author page, primary website

DALÍ will be available in print and in e-book format from Amazon.



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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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My book, The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, is scheduled to be published by NineStar Press on November 27 of this year. This year is, coincidentally, also 40 years since I graduated from high school, and therefore the 40th reunion is imminent, scheduled for September 23. I haven't been to a reunion since the 10th in 1987 but it's too irresistibly tempting to attend this one under the circumstances. With any luck, between me and my publicist John Sherman, we'll manage to get me booked into a space where I can speak to an audience and read some from the book and combine that into the same trip.

The first major chunk of my memoir is set in Los Alamos. (The second and third sections are divided between Los Alamos and Albuquerque NM. I may describe Albuquerque as the second story setting in a later post).

A handful of the specific events described in my book as well as the general social environment portrayed there may be recognizable to other people in my Los Alamos graduating class from their own recollections.



Los Alamos was neither an especially safe venue nor a nightmarishly horrible hellhole in which to grow up as a sissified feminine male person. It is most famously known for being the community where nuclear physicists developed the atomic bomb during World War II, and it is still very much an intellectual science-centric community with the scientific laboratory dominating much of the culture. The population is less than 15,000 people and, as is typical of towns of that size, folks tend to know each other or to know of each other, and that is especially true of students in school. Physically, it's at high elevation (over 7000 feet) and is spread out along the top of several mesas interspersed with deep canyons, and there is a lot of undeveloped land immediately near the schools and houses.

It was (and is) a somewhat old-fashioned town in many ways. The highly educated scientists were disproportionately recruited from small colleges in small communities, so there's an interesting tension between the tendency towards sophistication that comes with being an intellectual with an advanced degree and the conservative outlook that reflects those small-town origins.

It wasn't the conventional central-casting junior high and high school environment reflected in so many books and movies. First of all, it wasn't anywhere near as athlete-centric, although yes we had athletic students and, true to stereotype, I did have a lot of conflict with the male sports-centric boys. But whereas in some towns (at least as described by other authors in their own books) the entire school's social life seems to revolve around male athletic boys and their cheerleader girlfriends, in Los Alamos they were just one clique and not an overwhelmingly dominant one, and there was a lot of overlap with other social clusters that mainstream America doesn't tend to associate with athletes, such as Yearbook Committee or the drama club and so forth.

The most popular kids often belonged to several factions, such as student government and school sports and Olions (the theatrical drama and performing-arts kids) and choir and band and orchestra, and to know and interact with people from more than one social cluster.

I started off as a new kid in town in 8th grade and did not integrate into the society of the junior high school very effectively. I wasn't particularly nice or pleasant to the other kids and held myself aloof, and also had a rather thin skin about being teased and mocked, which wasn't a good recipe for speedy acceptance. Almost overnight I acquired a reputation. In a small town, all new kids get a fair amount of curious attention; in my case I became a source of widespread amusement. Eighth and ninth graders aren't widely known for their tolerant attitudes or their easy acceptance of people who are different, and these small-town dynamics made it worse for me, but I think it is important to point out that I didn't start off being very tolerant of their differences from me either. I was often a hostile and judgmental sissy, glaring at masculine boys and disapproving of their way of being in the world. It's just that I was just severely outnumbered!

The social clusters where I eventually put down roots were the Boy Scouts (which tended to have a high concentration of geeky boys who liked to read science fiction), band and choir, and, finally, the loosely affiliated cluster of kids who attended pot parties. The latter group is a counterintuitive group for a kid like me to have found welcome, but that, too, is heavily shaped by factors that were specific to Los Alamos. Unlike larger communities, or the suburbs of built-up metropolitan areas of the country, the kids in Los Alamos did their partying mostly outdoors on that undeveloped land I was talking about. And one thing that meant was that you did not need an invitation to be at a party, nor was the party taking place at some host's home, a host who might declare some unpopular kid unwelcome.

The general attitude of adults — parents, teachers, policemen, etc — towards teenagers was an interesting combination of permissive and dismissive. Our behaviors were tolerated with very little effort to shut us down; we were not generically regarded as troublemakers nor our inclination to gather as a worrisome precursor to vandalism and other crime. That hands-off attitude also manifested as a disinclination to insert themselves into our affairs and change how we treated each other, and as a consequence of that I was pretty much on my own, interacting with a contingent of kids my own age who had very few constraints on their behavior towards me.

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Yes, I'm officially being published by NineStar Press, with a release date of November 27 of this year. The final editing has yet to occur (I'm waiting to receive the first set of change requests from the editor assigned to me) but they're already ramping up in various ways, including creating an author's page for me on their site.


I'm doing some of my own ramping up, preparing a centralized mailing list for LGBTQetc centers, women's studies / gender studies programs at colleges, and independent and/or LGBT-centric book stores. My publicist will be back from vacation late this week and will help me craft a set of emails to pitch to them the idea of having me come speak and/or consider my book (to sell, in the case of bookstores; to have a copy or two on shelf in the case of LGBTQIA centers; to use as assigned reading in the case of gender studies / women's studies classes).

Meanwhile, I thought I'd celebrate the end of querying by posting some of my favorite rejection letters from lit agents and publishing house editors!


Most rejection letters are, of course, boring and have little to offer in the way of entertainment value. There are the genuine non-form-letter variety, which tend to be succinct and blunt little things:

Not for me-thanks anyway.

Paul S. Levine

-------

This is not for me, but thank you for the look.

Caitlin Blasdell

--------



... then there are the impersonal form letters which tend to have some generic reassurances (it's all subjective, keep querying other agents, etc) to all those authors like me who fill up the agents' slush piles:



Thank you for your query. Having considered it carefully, we have decided that LMQ is not the right fit for your project, and so we are going to pass at this time.

Tastes and specializations vary widely from agent to agent, and another agency may well feel differently. Thank you for thinking of our agency, and we wish you the best of luck in your search for representation.

Sincerely,

Lippincott Massie McQuilkin


-------

Dear Author,

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to consider your query—thanks for sending it.

Unfortunately, the query didn't appeal quite enough to my own tastes to inspire me to offer representation or further consideration of your project. I wish I had the time to respond to everyone with constructive criticism, but it would be overwhelming, hence this form response. 

This business is highly subjective; many people whose work I haven't connected with have gone on to critical and commercial success. So, keep after it.


I am grateful that you have afforded me this opportunity to find out about you and your project, and wish you the best of success with your current and future creative work.

All best wishes,
Eddie Schneider



One variety of more personal rejection letter that would come in from time to time was where the agent said they couldn't take on my book because it was too much like one they already had in their lineup. That was always encouraging to read after getting so many generic rejections that I started to worry that the concept or topic just wasn't regarded as worthy of publication:



Dear Allan,

Strange as this may seem, I currently represent a project that is directly competitive with yours. In good conscience, I can't take on a project that competes with the property I am now pitching. I wish you well, but have to pass on this. Best, Maryann Karinch

=======

Hi Allan,

Thanks for thinking of us!  I'm afraid, however, it is a little too close to something we have forthcoming and potentially forthcoming on our list, so I have to decline. I wish you the very best of luck.

Best,

Lauren MacLeod


=======

Allan: Thanks but I already did a similar book, BOTH SIDES NOW with Dylan
Khosla and my list is too small for another....Best of luck.

Sharlene Martin

=======



Then there were the "platform" rejection letters — the ones that basically said my writing was good and it sounded like a good story but that they'd have a hard time hooking me up with a mainstream commercial publisher because I wasn't a household name, a writer with a following, a celebrity, etc.

Incidentally, I ultimately ended up doing as Alice Speilburg suggests below — putting my energy into querying small independent publishers instead of querying literary agents — but it made sense to try the lit agents first, since many of them don't want to take on a manuscript that's already been seen by a bunch of publishers.



Dear Allan,

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

Christopher Schelling

=======

Dear Allan,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to consider The Story of Q. I do like the subject here, but I'm not convinced that you have the platform for this to reach a mainstream audience in the current market. Your background lends itself better to a university press, and if you want to go a more consumer/trade route, it would have to be through a niche publisher like Seal Press. I'm afraid it's not right for me, but please keep in mind that mine is a subjective opinion and others will feel differently. I wish you the best in finding a good home for your work.

Sincerely,

Alice Speilburg




Finally —— and these are my real favorites —— there were the rejections where the lit agent or publisher didn't feel that they could place it with a publisher but fundamentally liked my idea for the book and mostly liked my writing. Many of them made observations about my story arc or my character development that reassured me that readers will probably "get it"; and several told me that they wanted me to know that I had something fundamentally good here, which would serve a purpose, that the world needed more such books:


Dear Mr. Hunter,

Thank you for your query. It sounds like you have quite a story to tell. I'm afraid I will not be able to take you on as I work predominantly with our agency's existing clients taking care of all their subsidiary rights matters. I wish you luck with your publishing endeavors and thank you for taking the time to write me.

Sincerely,

Joan Rosen

=======

Hi Allan
Thank you for your submission. As a gay man myself (who grew up in the
70s/80s!!) I read it with a great deal of interest. Unfortunately I didn’t
love it enough to take it on. I don’t have any constructive criticism
because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your writing. I think
it’s just a matter of finding the right agent who will work with you to
present to the best editorial team. Given your theme and writing skills I
don’t doubt that you’ll find him or her. Thank you for thinking of me and
giving me a shot at it.
Best,

Kevin O'Connor

=======

Dear Mr. Hunter,

I wanted to commend you for your story and personal fortitude. It takes great strength for an individual to dare to be different. Unfortunately, we are not sure that Ross Yoon is the right match for you. As a four-person operation, we must limit ourselves to a very small client list, accepting a fraction of 1% of the manuscripts we review every year. In this ever-tightening market, the list of publishers we work with increasingly demands authors with broad, national media outreach and international bestselling potential, and I'm we afraid we don't see any of them biting on this.

This is by no means a final judgment on your work. The Supreme Court decision two weeks ago indicates that we are experiencing a different social climate in which LGBTQ issues no longer fall on deaf ears. Your memoir may find traction as we progress towards greater social change. I encourage you to look through recent deal listings on www.publishersmarketplace.com to find the agent that’s perfect for you.



Thank you again, and best of luck to you.


Elizabeth Smith

=======

Dear Allan,

Thank you for sending me your memoir "The Story of Q," and my apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I found much to admire, particularly the depth of character you convey and your clear and engaging writing. This memoir shines a unique light on how sexuality and gender develop and evolve, and the narrative you've crafted uses a more subtle approach that doesn't hit you in the face with the narrator's sexuality, just as a person's sexuality doesn't necessarily hit them in the face at any one moment.

Ultimately, however, while the story has the potential for exposing a truly unique perspective, the memoir is overloaded with extraneous development that makes it difficult to pick out what bits are going to be the most important when piecing together the whole. Given these reservations, I'm afraid I must decline offering representation.

Thank you for the opportunity to read your work and we wish you all the best in your writing endeavors.

Yours,

Serene Hakim

=======


Hi Allen

Thanks for the submission. While I totally get what you're doing, I just don't think I'm the right agent for it, so for that reason I'll be stepping aside.

I wish you much luck with the book and in your search for representation.

Best,

Renée C. Fountain

=======

Thank you for querying. I do very much believe you have the kind of story that should be heard, but I'm going to have to pass on this. Publishing is a subjective business, though, and I'm sure you'll hear many different opinions during the querying process.

Best of luck in your agent search,




Rachel Kory


=======

Dear Allan Hunter,

Thank you so much for sending us the query for your memoir The Story of Q, which we have read with interest. The narrative is compelling but we are taking very few new clients on at this time and therefore we must pass.

One of the challenges with writing memoir is keeping the story in scenes so that it flows narratively rather than as a series of told incidents (and then this, and then this). I wonder if you might find ways to write more scenes, like in the opening with the boys who are violent. I really connected with you (the character) in that scene.

I hope this is not too discouraging, as the writing is strong and we wish you all the best with your submissions and in securing representation for this project.

Thank you so much for sending this our way.

I hesitate to use the word "brave" when describing your story, because I know that word can be offensive to some in the LGBTQ(xyz) community, but please know you have all the love and support in the world and that the publishing industry is starting to open its eyes to the need for these kinds of stories.

I'm personally a huge fan of Caitlin Kiernan (though she writes sci-fi/fantasy) and I can't wait to see more diversity in literature.

All my very best, and please make sure you keep submitting, as I know this agent stuff can be slow and disheartening!


brandie coonis

=======



Oh, and here's how my statistics finally play out:


The Story of Q -- total queries to Lit Agents = 974
Rejections: 966
Outstanding: 8

As NonFiction— total queries = 748
Rejections: 741
Outstanding: 7

As Fiction— total queries = 226
Rejections: 225
Outstanding: 1

The Story of Q -- total queries to Publishers = 24
Rejections: 16
Outstanding: 7
Publisher Went out of Business after Making Offer: 1
Accepted for Publication (current): 1


(presumably those remaining 8 "outstanding" queries to lit agents and 7 to publishers will eventually be added to "rejections". I age them out as rejections at 3 months without a response if I don't get an explicit rejection letter)

I didn't quite make it to 1000 queries, but damn I came close!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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June is Pride Month!

So, in one of the LGBTQIA-centric Facebook groups I participate in, someone posted a link to a pride month calendar -- similar to this one -- and because it was June 2 at the time, said "Happy Lesbian Pride Day".

It wasn't terribly long before someone said in reply, "Why do we have to have all these separate days for specific categories of people? That's silly! Pride Month should be about us coming together as a community and it should focus on our solidarity and diversity and how coming together empowers us. It shouldn't be about dividing up the calendar so each little unique identity gets its own separate day!"

That, of course, is practically an echo of what mainstream straight folks often say about us, our activism, and Pride Marches and Pride Month altogether: "Can't you just be a person, can't we all just be people together, can't you rejoice in your own unique individual identity instead of needing to label yourself and making a big deal about your labeled difference? Why does everyone have to be doing identity politics, anyway, it's so divisive!"

And of course, the moment I point out that this kind of comment IS, in fact, reminiscent of what mainstream straight people say about Pride and etc in general, there's going to be some people, like those white well-dressed gay guys over there, see them? They're wincing because they're expecting me to say "Check your privilege" and start comparing them to cisgender white males or something. And to say that the less socially visible parts of the LGBTQIA spectrum, like intersex people and genderqueer people (and definitely nontransitioning gender inverts like me), benefit from a little special attention if our identity is prominently noted on one of those calendar days (my specific one isn't, by the way). Which I am (or, rather, I just did).

But relax, be at ease. I'm not winding up to blast anyone for not being sufficiently oppressed and marginalized enough to get off the blame-hook as being part of the problem, or to accuse anyone of keeping us more-marginalized types from escaping our silence and darkness.

I'm not choosing sides between those two positions so much as I'm putting them both out there so we can look at the sensible good points that exist in each of them.

Let's start with Gay Rights. Think about this: the people seeking gay rights basically wanted to be mainstreamed. They were tired of gay people being targeted for different treatment. They wanted to be accepted as the nice guys next door, get married if they wanted to just like anyone else can, teach in your schools and sing in your church choir and go on dates to the local movie theatre and NOT stand out as different.

But because it wasn't already like that, they had to draw attention to what they were being put through. "Look, this is how it is for us", they said. And they challenged negative perceptions of gay people, things that folks said and believed about gay people that were used as justifications for not treating them as people like any other people. "Hey, over here, look at me, I am one of the people you described that way and it isn't true. Don't be hating on me, I'm not so different from you!"

Thus, in order to make progress towards the goal of being mainstreamed and being accepted and treated as people like any other people, it was necessary to talk about the categorical difference and make a social issue of how people in that category were subjected to different treatment.

Lesbians, at some point, became vocal about not feeling very recognized or included in gay rights. "Everyone pretends like on the one hand it doesn't matter what women do with each other anyway, and on the other hand to whatever extent women-identified women are subjected to discrimination and hostility and unfair treatment, hey, getting gay rights for all gay people will fix stuff up for us too. But we have our own experiences, our own specific concerns that aren't a carbon copy of the concerns of gay males, and we're tired of being erased and ignored. We need to be included in making policy and setting goals and having our experiences described and respected too!".

So after awhile, this sunk in enough that the specifically inclusive phrase "gay and lesbian" became common.

Fast-foward by a couple decades, and we've got this ever-expanding acronym and a Pride Month calendar that's soon going to need more than one months' worth of days. The specifics aren't uninteresting or unimportant, but at the moment I want to stress the recurrent common pattern: some marginalized people came together to speak collectively about the barriers to being accepted and understood as ordinary people, and then, within that community, a subset of the participants felt that they needed to point out who they were and what they were being put through before they could really feel like this was THEIR movement and that it was giving THEM a voice, because otherwise the movement wasn't all that much about them and people like them. And then another subset followed their lead and did likewise.

If you were a bird, and you wanted to fly, you would need to beat your wings. And beating your wings means some of the time you are lowering your wings, while at other moments you are raising them upwards. It takes both motions to accomplish the beat.

We need a sense of connection, community, solidarity. We want shared identity, the sense of having an identity-in-common that bridges differences, the rejoicing of coming together in peace and joy. That's the upbeat.

We need the separate experience of our unique situations to be understood and validated. We want to be heard, to have any collective understanding include us and our individual viewpoints. We need to challenge any uniform aggregate sense of "us" that leaves our individuality excluded and our specific vantage point unseen and unheard. That's the downbeat.


Let's fly.


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