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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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Women's Studies Coordinator Ann Peiffer and I were chatting after the evening of my final presentation at Mars Hill. We were talking, in part, about one male student who wants to be an ally and the limits of a person's role in someone else's struggle. I started talking about a critical turning point in my career as a women's studies student:

"When I became a grad student, it was in sociology. I was having some friction for trying to use a feminist perspective in my papers and for wanting to do a feminist project for my dissertation. But right around that time, a women's studies certificate program was being pulled together, they didn't have their own department yet but they crosslisted courses from English and History and Art and Anthropology and so on. Anyway, I was encouraged to take their feminist theory course.

"Unfortunately, the people who had pulled that together were mostly from the English department. And they had used poststructuralist theory to justify teaching authors like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker even though they weren't dead white European guys, you know, questioning the social construction of 'excellence' and all that. So that's what they were teaching as feminist theory. And it was... well you know, you've read that stuff, ...

"So after a few weeks I said, 'This is what you're teaching grad students as feminist theory? Your own students will theoretically someday be teaching undergraduate students--is THIS the material you want them to put out there to introduce new students to feminist thinking? It's opaque and really difficult to understand, and then when you understand it, it strips all the meaning out of things. You can't say women have a justifiable anger or a moral right to equality after you've just explained that everyone's sense of what is right is caused by their location in culture and time and that no viewpoint is privileged.' And I went on for a bit about how poststructuralist feminist theory is a problem for feminists."

Ann Peiffer nodded. I continued, "Well, the professor got annoyed and said 'Why don't you try being silent for awhile and experience what it is like to be marginalized. Do you realize you are a male student telling feminist women that we aren't doing feminism right?' And... of course she was correct. Highly embarrassing. But it was more than just that moment's conversation. It really rocked me back in my tracks. It made me question whether I could say the things I wanted to say, about my experience and identity and all that, from within women's studies. And eventually I decided it just wasn't going to work".



On March 29 and March 30, though -- 25 years after I abandoned my PhD attempts and left academia behind -- I made a successful reappearance in the women's studies classroom. Things are different now. Women's studies has embraced the wider subject matter of gender and, on many campuses, has relabeled and repositioned itself as Gender Studies, or as Women's and Gender Studies, or as Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies. And since last fall (dating back to when I thought my book was about to come out in print), I've been pitching the idea, via my publicist John Sherman, that those departments should consider having me as a guest speaker, to present my perspectives. Mars Hill said yes, so I rented a car and took off early Wednesday morning, driving for 11 hours to get there in time for my first presentation, to the evening-class session of Women and Society. Ann Peiffer met me and took me out to dinner for a first chance to talk a bit, and then took me to the classroom and introduced me, and I was on.


I have a generic presentation structure that I've been using, sort of a baseline skeleton, and then I vary it depending on the type of audience. I described "the binary"-the traditional simplified notion that there are two and only two categories, the man over here with his male body and masculine characteristics, and, distinctly different and other from that, the woman over here with her female body and feminine characteristics. Then I put up my main diagram, the scatter chart.



"This is STILL an oversimplification. It assumes all people are biologically either male or female, so it ignores intersex people. And it treats the other characteristics, all the behavior and personality and nuances and priorities and tastes, all that stuff that is typically associated with the two biological sexes, as if masculinity and femininity were polar opposites like left and right, when actually it might make more sense to think of them more akin to sweet and salty, where someone could be one, the other, both, or neither. And it pretends that people occupy one point on the graph, but people change constantly, during the day or according to their mood and so on. But it is LESS of an oversimplification than the original binary because it shows that you have a lot of variation within each sex, and that you have a lot of overlap, with some of the female-bodied people being way over here on the masculine side and some of the male-bodied people being way over there on the feminine side, even though the same general rule still applies, that men in general are more masculine and women in general are more feminine".

Talked about how generalizing isn't evil and this generalization isn't wrong, AS a generalization. Talked about moving from descriptive to prescriptive.

Then I introduced my cast of characters, individual people that I use in my presentation as a way of explaining the different experience of the same social world that conventionally masculine males and feminine females have when contrasted with the experiences of those expectations and predictions and assumptions by the folks who are outliers, masculine females and feminine males.

My characters have a mixture of sexual orientations, and I used that to illustrate the ways in which gender characteristics interact with sexual orientation. After awhile I identified myself on my diagram, my own location and my own experiences as a male femininine person sexually oriented towards female folks. I compared how my own experiences juxtaposed with those of the other characters I had described. This lets me contextualize my own situation, to show how it fits in against the backdrop of other folks' experiences.

We discussed the process of figuring out one's identity when the default mainstream expected identity isn't a good fit, and how a person comes to arrive at a divergent understanding of themselves from among the ones that are out there, socially available as alternative identities.


The next morning, after breakfast, I made the presentation a second time, to the daytime session of Women and Society, and then a final time (with some modifications for the shift in audience composition) to Safe Haven, the campus group for LGBT students and allies. I felt like all three went well and I had attentive people at all three of them and definitely felt like I was reaching them and that they were following what I was saying.

I had several good questions during the post-presentation discussion periods:

I find it interesting that you choose to have a beard. Does it interfere with your ability to get people to perceive you as a girl? (I reiterated that I accepted both my biological sex -- male -- and my gender -- girl, or feminine person. And we made some guesses about what girlish people would do with various male physical characteristics if they were the ones who had them instead of guys. I kept going back to the limitations of expressing as a male girl in a culture that has no notion of what a male girl would typically look like)

I have a female friend who has only recently realized she is genderqueer. She is always wanting to talk to me about it, she isn't finding this easy, and I don't know what to say to her to help her get through what she's going through (None of us had any easy pat answers to this, but several of us encouraged the male student who had posed the question to realize that by making himself available as a sounding board, someone she feels she CAN talk to, that that is being supportive. I asked if she likes to read, and suggested some memoirs and narratives, adding that it is helpful to read about how someone else who is like you came to terms with it)

I see on your handout you say you are polyamorous. Can you talk some about that? (I hadn't brought it up in the presentation. I talked about how a combo of 1970s vintage "hippie" ideals of free love and feminist critiques of sexual possessiveness had always appealed to my sense of how I thought things should be. And I talked aobut how multiple partners kept me from becoming so immersed in a relationship that I was a boring mirror that just reflected my partner's interests and didn't bring much to the relationship, and also how getting different feedback from different partners makes it easy to get a more 'objective' sense of how my behavior is coming across, instead of wondering if it is me or if it is just her).

There was a follow-up question, essentially What about jealousy? (I mentioned that as an atypical male, I was never going to be fully at ease with the idea that my partner would not miss the interactions with more conventionally masculine males if she'd had such relationships in the past, and that polyamory was a way of not asking her to give that up; and that, reciprocally, when I find a woman who does find me sexually appealing, I don't tend to think of other males as direct competition -- "Go have other boyfriends, sure! It may be easier for me to say that and not be worried about being replaced, because there's a low likelihood of her connecting with guys who are a lot like me". Went on to say that no one wants to be abandoned but that polyamory means not needing to discard one person in order to be with someone else. And I described the relationship summit, a periodic formal opportunity to air grievances and concerns and do a "state of the relationship" assessment, and said that poly people talk about jealousy all the time, that it is openly discussed.)

Can you describe a time when you had an effect on someone where you saw them go 'Whoa' and really change their perspective? (I described a gay rights activist I had appeared with long ago; he had told the audience he was sick and tired of gay guys being stereotyped as less manly or sissy, and he told them it wasn't manly to gang up on one guy and beat him up as a group. He challenged them: 'If you have a problem with me being gay, come up here and say it to my face.' It got a lot of appreciative applause in a 1980 classroom of Human Sexuality students; they appeciated the guts it took for him to take them on like that. He was less impressed with me when I spoke to the same classroom immediately after him. He said "So, your whole thing is that you don't want people to think you're gay, is that it?" I tried to explain about being a feminine guy and the assumptions that people make. "So? People think I'm straight lots of times, you don't think that gets awkward? Look, straight is the default. You shouldn't go around saying you're not gay, that just says you think being gay would be horrible. It's not necessary for you to go around saying you're the default". So I said back to him, "Well, YOU just spent several minutes explaining to this classroom that you aren't a sissy, that you're all masculine. Isn't masculine the default for males?" And he started to answer fast and then looked at me and it was like I could see that light bulb going on for him)

Do you experience dysphoria? (I think I gave a bad answer on this one. Or partly bad. I said "no". I said I had never felt like my body was wrong. I had come to believe that if people perceived me as female, I would be treated more as who I actually am, but the body ITSELF, physically, wasn't the problem, it was what people assumed because of it. I think I should have created a distinction between "physical dysphoria" and "social dysphoria" and said that most of the emotional content of dysphoria, as conventionally described, was very much what I have experienced, but that we do not tend to distinguish between "dysphoria because they think I am a guy or man" versus "dysphoria because my body is a male body"--the first one is social and the second one is physical. I should do that in the future: along with distinguishing between sex and gender, and between transsexuality and being genderqueer, I should create this distinction about forms of dysphoria.

What would you say to a cisgender heterosexual male who wants to be supportive of lesbian gay and transgender people and their rights? (This is where we came in. Before Ann Peiffer gave her own reply, I said that I would say to such a person 'Try to be aware of how YOU have been oppressed by homophobia and transphobia and sissyphobia and so on. Even as a cis male hetero person, there have to have been moments and situations where something you did drew some attention or comments. And all your life you have seen what happens to gay and sissy and gender-atypical people and, at least in the back of your head even if you were not conscious of it, some part of you was thinking I DO NOT WANT THAT TO HAPPEN TO ME. So you learned to tuck your odd corners under where they will not be seen, even if you had to do far less of that than gay and genderqueer and transgender people. That means things got taken away from you. Reclaim that. Avoid any self-censoring that is designed to keep observers from perhaps categorizing you as gay or whatever. And then you are participating in part for your own reasons, which is a good thing'.)


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Status Update

1) I'm off to Mars Hill University on Wednesday. I'll be presenting to two classrooms and then in the evening to a public / campus audience. I'm very excited about it!

Women's studies in academia was the target of my first serious attempt to engage my world on these topics. I was a Women's Studies major from 1985 to 1988 and then attempted to bring feminist theory into the Sociology department as a grad student. Feminist theory had given me validation about being an atypically feminine male even back before I was out to myself, and it gave me a framework and a vocabulary to express my issues.

I entered grad school at what was perhaps an unfortunate time, just a few years prior to the point that gender studies became a new force in academia, but after the heyday of feminism as a rising social force, so perhaps feminist professors at SUNY / Stony Brook were defensive and territorial. I felt unwelcome trying to participate and engage with the grad school's Women's Studies Certificate Program. Nor was the mainstream Sociology department interested in either my topic or my radical feminist perspectives.

If I'd come along a few years earlier OR later, perhaps I'd be Dr. Hunter and lecturing on Tuesdays and Thursdays to a Gender and Society course or something.

At any rate, this feels like a triumphant return. I'll blog again about how it went (watch this space next week!).


Meanwhile, still trying to get my book published. I continue to query literary agents although I don't expect any real results from that, and with more optimism and enthusiasm I also continue to query small publishers.

Current stats:

Total queries to Lit Agents: 975
Rejections: 904
Outstanding: 71

Total queries to Publishers: 22
Rejections: 12
Outstanding: 6
No Reply 3+ Months: 3
Contract Signed / Publisher Subsequently Went out of Business: 1

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On October 18, Janet Rosen, assistant to Sheree Bykofsky, wrote back to me to say that she had completed her reading of my manuscript and that although it was not without merit, this was not a project that Sheree Bykofsky Associates could pursue.

This wasn't entirely surprising (the longer it became since Ellora's Cave folded and informed me that they would not be publishing my book, the less likely it seemed to me that Sheree Bykofsky Associates would continue to act as my literary agency and find me a new publisher). To review, I obtained their services to help me negotiate a favorable contract with the publisher AFTER the publisher had made their offer; they never took me on as a conventional client. Yes, I was hoping that some intellectual proximity, a bit of sympathetic loyalty, and a pleasant experience of me as a person to work with would make them more likely to represent me than if they had merely received my query letter in the large daily slush-pile stack that lit agents get every day. And maybe it did, just not sufficiently to cause them to embrace THE STORY OF Q, who knows?

So I am situationally back to that mythical drawing board, with neither publisher nor lit agent, and again taking up the querying process.

The experience has changed my attitude and approach somewhat, though, as well as having at least netted me a good solid editing job from EC's Susan Edwards as part of the process. Firstly, I now stand at nearly 800 queries to literary agents, culminating in my query to Sheree Bykofsky Associates post-EC, all of which have failed to land me a lit agent. In contrast, I've queried 12 small publishers and received one publication offer. It may be a mildly tainted offer insofar as it came from a publisher on its last legs and in its dying throes, but any way you cut it, the math speaks for itself. I will continue to query lit agents, mainly because publishers tend to want exclusive consideration while they look at one's manuscript, so I can query lit agents as a way of twiddling my thumbs. But my main effort will go towards querying publishers.

Meanwhile, since I have a publicist — John Sherman & Co, hired to promote my book — I'm diverting his focus towards getting me exposure, speaking gigs, media coverage. I've given some well-received presentations to the kink community, which has been wonderfully supportive of me so far, and I do not wish to denigrate that in any way, but it's a somewhat self-limiting audience: people are relatively unlikely to talk to folks outside the BDSM world about this interesting presentation they heard in a BDSM venue. It is still a world in which privacy is highly valued by most, where people know each other by their FetLife nicknames and may not know a participant's real name or, if they do, would by default assume it is NOT ok to mention it elsewhere. In short, although I apologize for the ingratitude that may attach to expressing it this way, I need to do some of my presentations outside of the BDSM ghetto in order to get more traction. Kinky folks have been extremely welcoming, not only to me but to other identity-marginalized people whose peculiarities are not really a form of erotic fetish — google up "pony play", "puppy play", and "littles" in conjunction with BDSM for instance — but yeah, genderqueerness isn't really a fetish and the people I really need to reach are only sprinkles in moderate levels at BDSM events.

Speaking of making presentations etc, I read a 10 minute segment adapted for outloud reading and venue purposes, at WORD: THE STORY TELLING SHOW on October 19. It was fun, was well-received and well-applauded, and came at a very good time for my frame of mind. I need to do more of this, and more of the drier more abstract material presentations such as I did at EPIC and Baltimore Playhouse and LIFE in Nassau, and perhaps more personal-anecdote of the non-humourous variety sharing, and so on, in order to build my platform and widen my exposure, and because doing so is communication, which is the end in itself, the entire reason for writing the book in the first place.

I am currently working with John Sherman to blanket the world of academic women's studies and gender studies programs, letting them know of my availability to do presentations. We will soon be expanding that to campus and non-campus LGBTetc organizations including student associations on campuses and non-university-affiliated groups.

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I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.


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

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

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



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

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


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


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

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

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