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re: The Myth of Gender Neutral Parenting (Letter to the Editor) [Feb. 20th, 2017|07:06 am]
ahunter3
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The following is a letter sent to Newsday in response to their printing of op ed article "The Myth of Gender-Neutral Parenting", available here. Newsday declined to print this letter.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

Allan Hunter, author of THE STORY OF Q: A GENDERQUEER TALE, is a gender invert, a genderqueer activist; he presents gender theory and leads discussion groups in university women's and gender studies courses and addresses LGBTQ groups.
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Gender Inversion as a Sexual Kink [Feb. 13th, 2017|12:56 am]
ahunter3
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"So", says a friend of mine who has a FetLife account, "I gather that there are specific different sexual activities that are part of what you call being a gender invert. Yeah, I know there's probably more to your gender identity thing than how you like to get it on, but essentially you're saying you want to be the girl and your female partner be the boy, right? So how is that different from female dominant and male submissive play in the kink world? Because that's out there. You can find that for sure."

Good question. I have in fact approached it from that angle. Be kind of silly not to.

I don't consider my gender identity to be a sexual perversion, and like many other people in the LGBTQ world I have resented any inclination to treat my difference as a sickness, deviance, depravity, a twisted distortion of natural sexual and gender expression, you know?

But the kink world is inhabited by people whose attitude is generally "Oh, they call you a pervert? Well, welcome, we're all perverts in here, you can't freak us out and we're tolerant about everything as long as it's consensual. And we like to talk about it and learn stuff from each other". So, again like many other people in the LGBTQ categories, I have found the kink world to be a warmer and better listening social space than society at large tends to be.

So, yes. Fetlife has Groups, much like Facebook does, and in the group titled GenderQueer I created a thread titled "YOU be the boy and let ME be the girl..." and wrote up a description and asked who else considered their genderqueerness to include or consist of that. Didn't get many responses but it may have been a victim of bad timing (I posted it during the holidays). FetLife also has lists of Fetishes which are more like interests you can associate your profile with rather than groups you join, and I may try listing this as a Fetish.

I am surprised that it isn't more openly and commonly embraced as a specific kink, sure enough. That, specifically that: female people who want to be the boy and male people who want to be the girl, connecting for that purpose.

But oh yes there are indeed fem doms available for liaisons with subby males and whoo boy is there ever a market for them! I have a partner I've been involved with for seven years who identifies as a switch (meaning she can relate to people as either a dominant or as a submissive), as do I. She also has a FetLife account. The correspondence she tends to get the most of is a never-ending series of males asking if she will top them for a play session or two, or would be open to taking them on as a submissive. Even guys who list themselves as dominants have written to say that they want to experience subbing to a dominant woman!




Eventually one wonders if we mean the same things when we throw terms and phrases out there. We don't always. I've found that people misconstrue me both within and outside the various specialized communities of kink and LGBTQ people, and I've enthusiastically jumped into groups and conversations only to find out that I've misconstrued what others meant, as well.

A straight (non-LGBTQ / non-kink) message board I'm a regular on is popular enough to have a shadow board or two where people post to make fun of some of the more pretentious posters and sillier posts on the main board. Being a pretentiously self-important type myself, I sometimes get targeted. When I once posted that my partner tops me, and that her topping me is a specific characteristic of our relationship, some folks on a shadow board said they needed brain bleach and said it was more information than they wanted to know. Reading on, and reading between the lines a bit, I finally realized they probably thought she was donning a strap-on and having anal sex with me. In other words, that that's what topping meant to them, being the penetrator.

People in the audience of a discussion I was leading asked questions about posture and back problems that eventually led me to realize they assumed that in any such relationship the woman was always on top, straddling him. That does make a certain amount of sense, topping meaning to be on top, I suppose. And implicit within that, that to be on top is to dominate and control the sexual experience.

Back in 1991-1992, when my academic journal article "Same Door Different Closet" was being peer-reviewed prior to publication, one of the reviewers asked me to be more explicit within the article about whether I was suggesting that such relationships would never involve penis-in-vagina sex, apparently under the Dworkinesque assumption that PIV sex is incompatible with anything but male dominance.

The kink community has Groups and Fetish interests with "sissy" in the title, and since one of my many forays into self-labeling was to call myself a sissy and to speak of sissyhood, I dove in and got into conversations with the sissy males of the fetish community. What I found was that most of the participants get an emotional and erotic charge from being feminized by their fem dom mistresses. "She made me wear panties to the office and when I got home she made me wear a frilly French maid apron and skirt, it was SO hotttt!" For most of them there is a distinct erotic element of humiliation. Some of the humiliation comes from being feminized as a startling violation of their normative male persona, being made to wear feminine apparel. Some comes from the power difference associated with the gender difference: she humiliates him by making him her bitch, underlining his demotion in power and her dominance of him by placing him in a girl position.

The kink community also has the generic D/s relationship in which the dominant happens to be female, and the submissive, male; and as I said before, there's sort of a waiting list for males who wish to sub, a lot of demand for female doms. What is eroticized here, as with the more common male dom / female sub relationship, is the power imbalance, of controlling or being controlled, and also of serving or of being served. The BDSM community has an intensified version of that as well, the master-slave relationship. Although all of this takes place in the larger context of consensual arrangements and consensual play between competent adult people, what is being played WITH is the erotic possibilities of power inequality, of one person taking license to do unto another and the other person being done unto.

All of these varying interpretations of gender inversion have left me repeating my usual refrain: "that's not it; that's still not it".

What I seek from "YOU be the boy and let ME be the girl" isn't humiliation or the shock of sudden power-relationship inversion, and it isn't the eroticization of atypical power imbalance either. I have always been, and am always, a girlish person and I don't find it in any shape way fashion or form LESS THAN. I'm proud of it. I respect girls and women and don't consider THEM lesser, quite the contrary. I am mostly a very egalitarian person, and ponderously serious about it for the most part. Power between the sexes is complicated and multifaceted, but when I contemplate being with female people and I wish for equality, the form that that wish takes is most centrally the wish that I not be deprived of the powers and privileges that female people have, both within sexual liaisons and within relationships, and during initial courting and flirting and negotiations for any and all of that to occur. There are other powers that the male person generally tends to have in all of these contexts, so don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the female role is the one in which all power is secretly vested despite all myths to the contrary. What I will say is that the specific set that DO generally get vested in and as part of the female role are the ones most appealing to me, and which fit my personality.

As I said in passing, I identify in the kink world as a switch. Similarly, in the universe of courting and dating and flirting and coupling and conducting an ongoing relationship, I do not require that I get to be "the girl", I'm willing to do egalitarian arrangements in which we take turns, or conduct ourselves as "two girls involved with each other". What I don't want to be is "the boy" in any of those scenarios.


"You can't seduce the willing; that's why women with the inclination to do what you're talking about don't pursue men to do it with", say some. "I understand what you want, but I don't see how you're going to find people to chase you by running away from them", say others.

The kink-world appears to be an exceptional preserve, a land of explicit negotiations where atypical is, by definition, normative, and where anything (at least anything ultimately consensual) goes. But while there is a plentitude of male people identifying as submissives (many of them adorned with collars and others aspiring to being collared), there is a dearth of sightings of male submissives being pounced upon by sexually aggressive female dominants.

When males in the kink world indicate that they are feminines or embrace a girl role, they seldom mean that they view themselves as more invested in the desire to form an ongoing relationship than in immediate eroticism. They seldom mean that their interaction with interested women (and/or female people otherwise gendered) is primarily reactive and responsive to expressions of interest by the other party — hence the constant mating calls of "do me" submissive males offering themselves hopefully to female dominants. They do not typically consider themselves in any way less the origin of carnality and explicit sexual desires than those they expect to become involved with, hence their often extremely specific requests for what activities they hope to experience ("you use a whip on me and make me beg... you sit on a chair and make me lick you until you come...you step on me with high heels and grind the heel points into me and call me pathetic", etc etc).

As my beforementioned partner has often written back or said to subby guys at parties, "I'm the dom. It's not about what YOU want if I'm the dom. I get to decide what I want to do to you."


In the long run, too much of what I'm about and what I'm after in life as a gender invert doesn't easily detach, as an isolated erotic activity, from my desire to be understood as this sort of person who is like this 24 x 7 and not just in the dungeon or between the bedroom sheets. That still doesn't rule out the kink community or its events as opportunities to meet relevant people, but the kinky world is still pretty gender-typical and its definition of what is sex and what is erotic is drawn mostly from conventional male-sexuality notions of sex, and it's not quite a refuge for the gender inverted.
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The Limits of Radical Androgyny, Part II: The Dismissive Minority [Feb. 6th, 2017|12:05 am]
ahunter3
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In my Jan 16 blog-entry ("The Limits of Radical Androgyny") I promised to cycle back to an interesting subset of people in society, the folks who dissent from what we gender activists say — but not for the usual reasons. Instead, these are the ones who say that of course gender variance should be socially acceptable, but they claim that they don't see any sign that it isn't now or hasn't been so, and that we make mountains out of molehills, that there's just no social problem there to speak of.

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

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

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


PATTERN ONE: Defensive Denial

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

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

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

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

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


PATTERN TWO: Signal Lost Amidst the Noise

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

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

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

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

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


PATTERN THREE: Obsequious Denial

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

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

When it comes to gender variance, the people I've seen evincing this behavior are most often folks who aren't very far-flung from the official gender norm for their sex, just variant enough that they may have to conform a bit more than they wish to in order to be spared the remarks and glances and other reactions that gender-variant behavior tends to elicit.
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Regarding Matters Psychiatric... [Jan. 30th, 2017|01:55 am]
ahunter3
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So I was examining all my previous blog posts the other day, to see how often and in what detail I had blogged about the psychiatric system and being a psychiatric survivor, and found to my surprise that I haven't really covered any of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

To the extent that they've promoted this kind of thinking within the LGBTQ+ community itself, they've contributed to an environment where young people, in particular, think in terms of there being a specific and limited number of possible legitimate genders, and that it is their task to worry about which one they really are.
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The Transformative Realization Moment [Jan. 23rd, 2017|03:42 am]
ahunter3
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"Dear Mr. Hunter", read the email message.

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


And in the attached agreement, these terms:

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


It's finally official!

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


* "Transsexual" was the word in use at the time; some people find it offensive now, but it is not my intention to offend anyone.
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The Limits of Radical Androgyny [Jan. 16th, 2017|05:03 am]
ahunter3
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an-droj-uh-ni
ændrɑdʒǝni

— having both masculine and feminine characteristics


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

• Overall, I see the ideal path as one in which the gender atypical are socially treated and accepted much as gay people are understood and accepted. Not that the latter is a perfect example of a completed transformation in attitudes — there are still homophobic people and gay-bashing incidents and discriminatory institutional policies as well as informal bigoted attitudes and biased practices — but the trajectory of change in attitude and behavior towards gay people points a finger, and where that finger points is the pathway to acceptance of the sort that I hope for for the gender-variant.
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Visual Sexual Attractiveness, Power, Sexual Confidence, and Gender [Jan. 9th, 2017|04:28 am]
ahunter3
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This post had its origin in my replies to a couple of Facebook posts about "Eww, did you see how that female performer was barely dressed? Way to be a role model for our teenage daughters!" and "I took my daughter shopping. Everything available looked like it came from Sluts R Us and I wouldn't let her have any of it and we got into a big argument".

While I agree that girls should be free to be energetic young people whose worth is not derived from how sexually attractive they are, I don't think it's a single-faceted issue.

• Starting at the mid-teen years, girls rapidly begin taking on the appearance that society around them says is the epitome of sexual attractiveness, desirability. To have that is to have POWER, not just to be found pleasing to others. The power aspect of it is well-represented in our cultural portrayals.

• Feminism in the late 70s and early 80s made us rethink a lot of that. It's all about the male gaze, the male appetite; there are limits to how much power can really come from being a commodity, no matter how fervently sought after. But it's not like feminists (let alone the rest of society) reached a clear consensus on the whole matter. Being REDUCED to being a sex object is obviously always bad, and any kind of double standard causing women to be assessed on the basis of their appearance while men are assessed for their skills and accomplishments is also obviously bad, but are there female-positive components to this sense of power stemming from being desired that aren't just patriarchal illusion?

• The movement against slut shaming begins with the perspective that blaming girls and women for provoking unwanted sexual attention is blaming the wrong party. But it has become also a recognition that a girl or woman has the right to be sexually forward without that constituting a blanket permission for any and all sexual attention.

Liberation means not only that it should be OK to be in public and not get sexually harassed regardless of what you're wearing. It also means that it should be OK to, yes, actually be seeking sexual attention. Not only does no mean no; "hey cute boy" means "hey cute boy".

What needs reexamining is NOT just the expectation & pattern that boys will be sexually aggressive to the point of invasiveness (and that that's ok because "boys will be boys", barf smiley here). What ALSO needs reexamining is the the expectation that girls will be, or should be, sexual gatekeepers, the sayers of "yes" and "no", the reactive party, reacting with "yes" or "no" in response to the boys' sexualized attentions. But unless we're going to tell girls that the only acceptable model for being sexually forward is to grab a cute guy and make an overt pass at him, many girls who wish to be sexually forward will sometimes do so by dressing provocatively.

I don't think teenage girls should be pushed into, or pushed away from, sexuality. Girls should not be pushed period. Girls should get to experiment to whatever extent they want to (respecting the boundaries of the boys or, for that matter, other girls) and also should get to refrain from doing so to whatever extent they don't wanna.

I'm leery of the way that positioning one's self as visually sexually desirable is such a specifically gendered thing — asymmetry is always worrisome when we're concerned with sexual equality. On the other hand, if 13 and 14 year old girls are being told that it is sexual power, that their deployment of their own appearance is a way of being sexually aggressive, telling them not to is telling them "you don't get to use that", and that's just as gendered a message, yes?



The whole consideration of visual sexual attraction and attractiveness is definitely gendered. Even people who don't ascribe to many other beliefs about built-in differences between the sexes are often inclined to agree that male people are more wired to have sexual feelings in response to the appearance of someone of the sex they're attracted to. I would tentatively put myself in that category, by the way. It's not something I'm going to claim certainty about, but I fit the pattern myself despite the many ways in which I'm gender-atypical.

I jump off the consensus boat quickly, though, when people start reaching additional conclusions based on that.

• I've heard people say that because of men's strong sexual response to seeing women, it is inevitable that men will approach women and be the ones to try to make sex happen. As I've said several times here, that's not the case for me and people like me. I explained it on my OKCupid profile like so: there are zillions of attractive women and I see them all the time as part of my daily life; if these attractive strangers were intermittently approaching me to make a pass at me, I would be doing the same to them, but they don't; and I long ago learned that most women find it annoying and threatening to have complete strangers approach them and express that they feel sexual attraction. They are rumored to be interested in sex mostly in the context of an ongoing relationship, which I can relate to, I have always wanted a girlfriend. The accusation of only being after sex combines with the expressions of anger and annoyance and the lack of successful outcome and quickly teaches that just because these attractive women are attractive doesn't identify them as sexual opportunities. Hmm, well, if the endeavor is to find a girlfriend, being visually sexually attractive isn't a good signifier of being a good prospect for that; zillions of women are visually attractive so that's nothing special or unusual, whereas I only connect well to a tiny minority. And in addition that means there's no reason I should be the one doing the approaching if the goal is to connect with someone for an ongoing relationship, since the visual sexual appeal and the differences in our susceptibility to it is largely irrelevant.

• On a second tier, the same type of conclusions get bandied around when discussing who does what once there have been cues and clues and signals that yes, there's mutual interest in having sexual activities take place. The woman is portrayed as the object of desire, which positions the man as the one with the appetite, the hunger, and from this it is often concluded that he will be doing things to her, that he will be the active party who is in control of sexualizing their interaction, with her control deriving from being the brake pedal, the reactive party. That hasn't been my experience. The person whose appearance provokes sexual interest on the other person's part is not required to be passive or to have participation limited to being reactive. Nor, incidentally, does the experience of being visually sexually attracted directly translate into having an inclination to do anything in particular, and in fact it can be a somewhat paralyzing experience. The most forwardly seductive people I've known conveyed a sense of awareness of their desirability and used it as an aggression: "You want; I can MAKE you want; I can make this happen".

In fact, the confidence and the projected sense of enjoyment and delight at doing so, of conveying "I have selected you and I'm going to have you", is a strong enough component that it outweighs the importance of the appearance itself. It's not what she has so much as how she uses it, in other words. The usual procedure that involves leveraging her own visual attractiveness goes something like this: she draws a specific guy's attention to her body and then to her eyes so as to express "yeah, I made you look, and we both know you want it".

• That behavior, in which the woman uses her appearance in a sexually aggressive manner, is not the only or even the most typical sexually aggressive behavior that I've seen women use. She may instead make a physical or verbal declaration of sexual interest that is focused on how the object of her attentions is attractive to her, making it all about her own appetite. Those expressions do not tend to focus on her own visual sexual appeal, so her own visual desirability isn't really a factor.

One thing the two modes have in common is confidence. Whether she's expressing "I know I'm hot and I can focus that on you and make you want me" or "I find you hot and I want you and therefore I will have you", her self-assurance makes it sexy and makes it work.

• And that brings me back to focusing on myself and my own situation. We all find confidence attractive, don't we? So where is a genderqueer girlish male-bodied person like me going to acquire sexual confidence from? This is no passing tangential subject, it's right at the dead-central core of things: how does a male-bodied person who identifies as girl exude sexual confidence and therefore a decent shot at being found sexually attractive by those he finds appealing?

Let's unpack that quickly. Yes, it has totally been a lifelong concern for me that girls and women to whom I was attracted would not be reciprocally attracted to me in the same way. I think precisely because I always thought of myself as essentially identical to them, it mattered a great deal to me that it be reciprocal. Meanwhile, as you'll recall, we started off saying that it's widely believed that female folks are less sexually driven by visual appearances. So that right there is going to make it difficult to believe that mirror-image parity is possible, so how *do* I find my way towards a sexual confidence?

I think we can posit the existence of some degree of female visual-based sexual interest. When I was in grad school in the early 90s there was a 4-day discussion on the women's studies discussion list about an event in which three women students on bicycles pedaled past a male student and one of them catcalled "Bow wow wow puppy chow!". And there was a Diet Coke ad on TV a few years ago in which several office women stare appreciatively out the window at a cute guy on a construction crew down below. When we say women are less sexually driven by visual appearance, perhaps we mean they feel it the same way that guys do but with fewer exclamation marks, or perhaps we mean they are interested and find it appealing but that it's less specifically sexual for them. And by now, having written this, I find myself backpedaling: I myself am suspicious whenever there's a formulation that says that the female version of anything observed first in males is "lesser". Well, I did say I wasn't certain.

Women often say that they dress for themselves. I think most of the time they do not mean that they have no consideration or concern for how they will be viewed by others (especially the sort of others that they may hope will find them sexually attractive), but rather that the important thing is that they themselves feel well put together, sexy and confidently at ease with their chosen appearance and presentation. For me it started in the same space. I didn't really know if there was an ideal visual presentation available for me that would provoke sexual interest in the type of women I'd like to be sexually interested in me. I could hope that there was, and I could choose the choosable aspects of my appearance (such as grooming and the way that I dress). Having done so, I stirred that in with my confidence that I was good company, a caring person, a fascinating person with a fascinating mind, someone fun to be with.

Nowadays I have the added advantage of knowing from experience that, yeah, it works, it can happen at any time, and sometimes it does.
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Reevaluation and Rededication [Jan. 2nd, 2017|11:48 am]
ahunter3
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Traditionally, the approach of a new year is a time to make resolutions. In a similar vein, I tend to do self-assessments and self-reevaluations this time of year, not only because of the change of calendar year but also because my birthday rolls around quite close to it.

I do a lot of my best self-assessment and sortings of feelings during the course of long walks. In December I set out early on a particularly long one, from the Herricks / Williston Park edge of New Hyde Park where I live to the MetroNorth station in Greenwich CT, 45 miles. Plenty long enough for contrary or hidden thoughts and feelings to come forth from the back of my head.

People on Facebook and LiveJournal were already talking about how their year has been or what they were anticipating would go on during family-centric holiday visits, and I was going to be visiting my family down in Georgia with A1, one of my partners. While a person's identity within their nuclear family is not the only important cradle of Self, it's obviously a central one for most of us. My parents are still alive and cognizant in their early 80s and there are still conversations I imagine having with them, and the timeframe in which those conversations is still possible is shrinking.

Mostly those are specific subsets of conversations I want to have with the world at large, and I still haven't had those conversations to my satisfaction.

36 years ago I figured out that who I was, "how" I was, was like one of the girls or women, not like other guys; that being sexually ATTRACTED to female people didn't change that (despite giving me that one distinct reference-point in common with the majority of male-bodied people); that there was nothing wrong with my body, either, I was a male girl or a male woman, and that goddammit that wasn't going to be MY problem any more, I was totally cool with that, and if the rest of the world wanted to take issue with it I was prepared to have that conversation.

The rest of the world was not prepared for it.

Here I am 36 years later and although there is a word "genderqueer" that is helpful and appropriate, it isn't specific to my situation and identity and there still isn't a term that is. Or not one that the world at large recognizes and understands.

36 years is a long time. Long enough to wonder and worry that I may have squandered the resource known as "my lifespan", trying to do something social-political, trying to start this conversation, trying to put my gender identity on the map.

So I was out doing one of those periodic self-exams to assess how I'm doing with all this, how I feel about it. It was a complicated year, with presentations to Baltimore Playhouse and to EPIC and then a publisher indicating that they wanted to publish my book, but then the publisher went out of business which was a major emotional setback for me. I had been thinking I was on the cusp of a success in a venture I'd started pursuing in 1980 and then had to adjust to having this rug yanked out from under me. I seemed to be coping and I appeared to be continuing on the same course, but it had left me shocked and numb, where I was unusually unsure how I FELT.

In fact, for that matter, I hadn't really come to terms with how I felt about finally getting published, THAT was still not a fully processed set of feelings, so I had a backlog of self-awareness and passion to which I was still somewhat closed off.

Verdict, 45 miles and 19 hours later? I'm reasonably satisfied. Still pissed off. I still have it all to do and have accomplished damn little of it, but setting out to grab the world by its collective lapels and have this discussion was a rational and admirable response to my situation in 1980, and it is a rational and admirable response today, too, and because I am the stubbornest sissy male girlish person to ever walk the surface of this planet I am going to continue with what I started.

I wrote a damn book. It's a GOOD book if I don't mind saying so myself. It's not the only possible mechanism for communication but it's an excellent tool and a good centerpiece to continue to organize my overall efforts around. And I will be speaking again to groups and audiences in 2017, including a rebroadcast on Off the Cuffs in February and a presentation to the Women and Gender Studies program at Castleton University in Vermont in April.

My parents have mostly avoided and tuned out my attempts to explain my gender identity and why it's important and why I want to talk about such personal things to strangers and risk driving away friends and acquaintances and associates. I don't really feel a need to force that door open with them; I do understand that they grew up in an era where much of the subject matter itself was rude lewd and inappropriate, and I've outgrown the urge to shock them.

But I wish I could find a path to discuss just enough of what I'm doing these days to be able to say to them that home was safe for me growing up, a refuge. That I knew people (relatives, school teachers, neighborhood adults, others) signalled to them that they should worry that I wasn't exactly normal, but they dismissed that and never made me feel that who I was was of questionable nature in their eyes. Instead, they stressed that one cannot excel without departing from the typical-normal, and that life was not about being like everyone else.


I'm going to find another publisher. My book will be in print. People will read it. I will tell my story to the world.

I'm only 58 and I ain't packing it in anytime soon. I'm going to live to 110 if only to spite all the people who queer-bashed me in junior high school.

Continue on course.
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Pink Floyd Lyric-user permissions, Being Interviewed by Podcasters, and a Butch Lesbian's Show [Dec. 9th, 2016|04:55 pm]
ahunter3
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In my Sept 14 blogentry, I posted this teaser:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeesh, that was bloody exhausting.


* * *




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

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

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

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

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


* * *


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

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

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

They asked me to come join them February 11th for a LIVE podcast along with other guests, so stay tuned for further details as February approaches.
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Gender Fluidity and the Nature of Identity [Nov. 17th, 2016|02:14 pm]
ahunter3
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"What do you people mean when you say you're 'really women inside', anyway?", she posted, challenging us. "You folks apparently want us to believe that your minds, or hearts or whatever, are like those of us who were born female. But you've never been female, so how do you know whether who you are on the inside is like who we are on the inside? Frankly, it's pretentious and arrogant! You're appropriating women's experiences and women's identity!"

Well, she's got a point. None of us who were not born female know from first-hand experience what it is like, "inside", to be one of the people who were born female, and yet it is to them that we are comparing ourselves, and with whom we are identifying ourselves, when we say our gender is woman despite having been born male.

But although it's not as obvious at first glance, she's in the same situation.

She identifies as a woman. She considers herself to have elements and aspects of herself that are things she has in common with other women. But she's never been any other women, she's only been herself. Her only firsthand experience is of herself, and therefore if she limits herself to firsthand experience, she can't know how much of who she is represents what she has in common with other women, and how much is specific to herself as an individual. The only way she can extrapolate a sense of a shared identity as "woman" is by external observation and recognizing, from the outside, patterns and commonalities.

Which is what we're doing, too.

Notice that, like most everything else involving gender, it is a process of generalization. We observe women and generalize about our observations. We observe our own selves and generalize there, too, in identifying traits and tendencies, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously.

For quite some time now, I have described myself as a male-bodied person who is a girl or woman. That's an identity, it's a conclusion, and it's a political statement. But it's also a generalization when you get right down to it.

Not too long ago on Facebook, in response to a post about whether other genderqueer folks in the group have moments of self-doubt and a sense of being an imposter who doesn't really (always) feel the way they've described themself, I posted that I've been all over the map between "I'm sure all males experience themselves as inaccurately & inadequately described by the sexist reductionistic descriptions, I'm just more vocal about it" through "I am definitely more like a girl than I am like the other boys, so that's one more difference in addition to being left-handed and having eyes of two different colors" all the way to "I am a girl; this is a really fundamental part of my identity and explains my life far better than any other thing, I am Different with a capital D and this is the Difference".

Ever since I posted that, it's been sort of echoing in my head. Hmm, why don't I have a stronger tendency to think of myself as one of the guys who feels very badly defined by the sexist ideas of what it means to be a man?

I certainly have gone through periods in my life when I thought of myself in those terms. In the timeframe from about a year after I came out at UNM in 1980 — let's say 1981 or 1982 — until I finally withdrew as a graduate student from SUNY / Stony Brook in 1996, I put aside my sense of myself as fundamentally different from (other) guys. I wrote about that somewhat in 2015 in a post about repositioning
.


Essentially, I spent those years not only trying to "join up" with the feminist movement but also expecting to be in the vanguard of males with a serious personal grudge against the whole "being a man" thing in our society, expecting to meet other such people and then I would connect, feel far less alien among male-bodied people. My alienation would be towards the patriarchal sexist idea of what it means to be male, and I would not be alone in that.

And I wrote, and I spoke, and I went to the library and sought out books and magazine articles, and I went online and joined email-based groups. But I didn't find them.

Here's what I found instead:

• Warren Farrel's The Liberated Man, and sensitive new age guys, and articles about how bad it is that we male folks aren't allowed to cry or wear pink ties. Gimme a break.

• Men's rights groups of angry divorced men who want custody of their children or freedom from sexist alimony considerations, but who weren't considering themselves to be at all on the same team as feminist women, just using "sexual equality" as a tool towards making their argument

• "Profeminist" men's groups in which the tone was mostly abject self-abasement, shame and apology for how our male jackboots have been on the throats of women and how our positions of privilege benefit us unfairly. All of which is true but there was a severe lack of any profound emotional connection to wanting things to be different for any personal reason, any personal benefit to things changing. A mild consideration for the situation of gay guys but no sense of having found others like me.

• John Bly and Sam Keen and their drums and male-bonding, reinventing or rediscovering what it might and could mean to be a man. No strong sentiment of being angry about the whole "being a man" thing being imposed on us, or of feeling "that ain't me", though. Kind of reminded me of Boy Scouts.

... and as time went on, I had reason to question my standoffish disinclination to identify with any of these movements or groups of guys: What, do I have a need to be the most radical of anti-patriarchal males and therefore a need to see any and all other males as less so, or something like that?

What I realized, especially after I'd been drummed out of academia, was that I'd suppressed the sense of being personally different in order to emphasize this as a social movement against a social system. But in my original burst of self-understanding, I had specifically seen myself as a person who was like one of the girls instead of being like one of the boys, despite being male.


In other Facebook post, I made an off-the-cuff comment in passing about genderfluid people being the ones who have "girl days" and "boy days", and some genderfluid people replied to correct me: "Hey, I am never a 'boy'... I am fluid between being agender and being on the feminine spectrum"; "I float somewhere between being a demiboy and being a man, I hate it when I get misgendered and people say 'she' or 'maam'.."

"GENDERFLUID", in other words, refers to a wider and more general notion of a gender identity that shifts from time to time or context to context. Not the limited "oscillates between the two conventional genders" model I tend to associate with it.

So as it turns out, I guess I do fall into the description. My description of myself as a "male girl" (et al) is a generalization. And a choice in how to present, how to describe.


So far, I have sent out inquiry letters to women's studies / gender studies / sexuality studies departments and programs at universities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. (Or, more specifically, my publicist sent them out — the emails went out from him and replies to the emails go back to him).

Two programs have made replies asking when I'm available and how much I charge including travel and room and board charges. Nothing definite but it's exciting. One is in Vermont and one is in Virginia.

Meanwhile I've gone back to querying lit agents (even if it's mostly a waste of time), and I have a query in front of a publisher. Today I sent a follow-up letter to a publisher to whom I sent a query back in April, because they'd indicated that I would hear from them within a few weeks. If their policy was "we will only contact you if we're interested", which isn't uncommon, that would be a different thing, but in this situation I decided to nudge them.


Current Stats:


Total queries to lit agents: 822
Rejections: 805
Outstanding: 17

As Nonfiction: 601
Rejections: 584
Outstanding: 17

As Fiction: 221
Rejections: 221
Outstanding: 0

Total queries to publishers: 14
Rejections: 9
Outstanding: 1
No Reply 3+ Months: 3
Pub Contract Signed, Then Publisher Went out of Business: 1
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