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My Agent, and My Publicist [Sep. 14th, 2016|07:38 pm]
ahunter3
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Hi! Sorry I haven't blogged lately. 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.

I will, however, take this opportunity to introduce my team. Yay, I have a team!!! I do!!!


First off, meet my literary agent, Sheree Bykofsky, of Sheree Bykofsky Associates. She now lists The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, by Allan Hunter, as one of the books her agency represents.

I first interacted with Sheree Bykofsky and her agency in October of 2013. Hers was the first agency to indicate a serious interest in the book, and they asked me to submit a formal book proposal. I did not have one. I was given some examples and general instructions on how to assemble a formal nonfiction book proposal, and that proposal, with occasional minor modifications, was the proposal I sent out a total of 163 times.

Sheree Bykofsky Associates ultimately decided not to represent my book in 2013, probably for legitimate reasons (it was still pretty rough around the edges—something that's easier for me to see in hindsight after it's been revamped and polished a few times).

I did not, in fact, ever succeed in luring any literary agent into representing my book until after I had secured a publishing offer from EC Books through a direct query. That, also, is probably for legitimate reasons. My book is a narrowly tailored book, a niche book for the most part, although there could not be a better time to be coming out with a book about an additional and different gender identity. It's at least momentarily a trendy social topic. Even so, it's not a mainstream book of the sort you'd pick up at the Penn Station bookstore while waiting for your train.

The reason I wanted a literary agent ANYWAY was that I'm a total newbie and I wanted someone who could tell me when I was being reasonable and when I was not, and when my publisher was establishing normal industry-standard contract terms and when they were going pretty far afield of that. And how to express my wishes and concerns in such a way that I'd be most likely to get the concessions I wanted without making the publisher regret having decided to have anything to do with such a prima donna.

Sheree Bykofsky has been wonderfully supportive, available to me as someone I can write back and forth to informally and openly, and who will then don her professional persona and craft business letters, negotiating on my behalf, protecting my interests.



Then I sought out and found a publicist. I'd been warned away from doing so by many authors, including the opinionated crew at Absolute Write Water Cooler as well as several bloggers, warning me that they often don't do much that an author could not do on their own to publicize a book, and that some of them aren't very ethical and just run off with the author's money. Yeah yeah, I appreciated the warnings, but I know where my talents lie and where they do not. The publicizing of my book could not possibly be in worse hands than my own. I could go up to a randomly chosen homeless person on the sidewalks of New York and hire them and the project would be better off than with me relying on my own skills.

What I did was research the matter and found a web site of biographers (close enough to memoirists for my purposes) that maintained a list (Boswell's List) of professionals that several of them had had good experiences with.

I went with John Sherman, who was praised for the excellent work he did for the author of a biography about an industrialist that no one had heard of. The author was similarly an unknown person. So I contacted him and we had a good conversation on the phone. He was quick to embrace the project, to see the book as an important book that SHOULD be out there, that SHOULD be read, and he will be helping me to market it, firstly to academics—to women's studies and gender studies professors teaching courses for which it would be relevant text.

I'm already making him a busy person. He has a good sense for what info and other preparations we need for marketing endeavors down the road in ways that I am ignorant of. For example he says we need to target book reviewers who have a policy of not reviewing a book once it is already out, but who will only feature books in their reviews that are forthcoming.

This is all very exciting. I think I've been dreaming about this since, oh, 1980 or thereabouts. It's gonna happen. I get to tell my story at last.
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The Editing Process [Aug. 4th, 2016|12:21 pm]
ahunter3
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On July 29, I received my manuscript back from my editor at Ellora's Cave, Susan Edwards, containing her modifications and comments. As I indicated previously, I had a good feeling from a phone conversation and a handful of email exchanges with her, so I wasn't anticipating anything really horrible. Still, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would she want me to get rid of entire subplots she thought were superfluous, or insert a half-dozen scenes to develop some character more fully?

But no, she has a light but thorough touch, diving in to every single paragraph with superficial edits that make it easier to read, but without leaving me feeling like my "voice" has been altered and definitely not like even the smallest thread of the story-line has been affected.

Have you ever worked with an editor using Microsoft Word? Like many word processors, it has a built-in "track changes" feature. In Word, this takes the form of colored balloons in the margin identifying who made what changes where, and if anything is deleted it diplays the deleted text.


I detest working in Word, generally speaking; I've rarely hated a piece of software as thoroughly as I hate Word, and it's at its worst in a huge document such as my book, roughly 97,000 words and 175 single-spaced pages. You click in a paragraph to place your cursor and nothing happens for anywhere between 20 seconds and 2 minutes, then it puts the damn blinking bar in the wrong place; you type to add two words and nothing happens for 40 seconds, then when it does it omitted the first two characters that you typed, or you find that you made typos which you could not see at the time because it wasn't keeping up with your typing. You'd think a word processor running on an 8-core CPU with 16 gigs of RAM would do better than that, and you'd be right if it were any other word processor, but Word is just awful. (I'm not even going to describe its tendency to think it knows better than you do what you want to do; the performance issue is just the tip of the iceberg)

I composed the original 900,000-word autobiography in a plain text editor (all in one document, with no resultant sluggishness) and only moved it to Word when I had excised the part of my story that I wanted to turn into this book, and even then I often did my edits outside of Word and then pasted them back in after changes.

Anyway, be all that as it may, the change-tracking feature works pretty nicely.
In addition to breaking up my run-on sentences and catching my typos, Susan Edwards inserts comments asking me to clarify and reword, or points out reasons that a passage may be confusing to my readers, and so I have homework. The change-tracking highlights my own changes in blue so she can see what I've modified when I sent it back to her.

The final authority on the changes belongs to me; she emphasized that I am free to accept or reject her changes, and in some cases I look at what she modified and decide to go at it in a different way.

In her email containing the manuscript with her edits, this is what she wrote:

I really enjoyed working on your book. You’ve had a fascinating journey and you capture the pain, pathos, pride, confusion, and triumph of that journey with intelligence, thoughtfulness, an open heart and mind, and a wonderful wry sense of humor. Well done!

You write well and have a distinctive, intelligent and wry voice, but your sentences tend to be overly long and difficult to navigate with lots of run-ons and too many clauses. This makes them hard to read and frustrating for the reader. I’ve broken up a lot of them to show you the best and simplest way to do it. I’ve also indicated other sentences that you need to break up, but I suggest you go through and identify still more and smooth them out.

I’ve also broken up your paragraphs, which also tend to be too long. Large blocks of text are disinviting to the reader. You need to give your reader plenty of spots to rest, jump in and out of the narrative. Also, dialog always needs to start on a new paragraph when the speaker changes.

Speaking of dialog, your dialog is mostly good, if occasionally a bit stiff and formal (for lack of contractions), and it is consistently mispunctuated. I’m attaching a tutorial on how to punctuate dialog. I think I’ve found and fixed most of the errors, and our final line editor will also check, but it’s good for you to know how to do it and to check for errors too.

Other than those niggling details, I think the book needs very little work. So what we’re looking at is really more of a nice polish to make it shine. I like the way you’ve broken it up into sections and chapters, and I like the titles. I added chapter numbers. I also like the flow and the way you tell your story, foreshadowing certain things to come when appropriate. I’ve noted in the manuscript just a couple of times you need to set the scene a bit better and clarify things.



I have a few more passes to make on my end before I sent the document with MY edits back to her, and then we move on to having it scheduled internally for production!
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IT'S OFFICIAL — MY BOOK'S GOING TO BE PUBLISHED!! [Jul. 13th, 2016|01:57 pm]
ahunter3
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[Current Mood |guess!!]

It's been a nerve-wracking 7 weeks since the offer letter but the proverbial ink (mostly digital ink) is now on the contract. The Story of Q: A GenderQueer Tale, a 97,000 word genderqueer coming-out and coming-of-age memoir, shall be published by Ellora's Cave.



It will be available in digital format first, on Ellora's Cave's own website, on Amazon, theoretically on ARe*, and on Kobo Books, and Barnes & Noble, and Apple.

http://www.arebooks.com/
http://www.amazon.com
https://store.kobobooks.com/
http://www.barnesandnoble.com
https://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/books

* ARe is a web site devoted to erotica titles, which makes sense for Ellora's Cave's traditional oeuvre, but less so for THE STORY OF Q. But if they want to carry it who am I to quarrel?


The book will also be available in physical form as a paperback book, something fundamentally important and viscerally appealing to my 20th-century experiences.

Ellora's Cave is a publisher focused until recently on steamy erotic romances. However, as their front page explicitly states, they are "now accepting new genres". I'm not 100% certain but I *think* my book will be printed under their new imprint "EC For Real", insofar as that is the one designated for memoirs, although it might also come out under "EC for LGBTQ", depending I suppose on whether that imprint is intended to incorporate LGBTQ nonfiction or will be focused on LGBTQ erotica and romance.

So they're doing new things, and I, as a newbie author, am definitely going to be doing new things, and I'm quite looking forward to the experience.

I have already had a leisurely chatty conversation with the editor, Susan Edwards, who will be working hands-on with me to refine and polish the manuscript; she began our conversation by asking what my preferred pronouns are, and expressed warmth and enthusiasm for the project, stating that this is a wonderful time for a genderqueer memoir to be hitting the market.


Due to the economic challenges of the publishing market, Ellora's Cave isn't directly able to engage the services of a publicity engine to promote their authors' books, so that will be up to me. I have no skills but I have my own personal publicity budget and an inclination to hire a professional publicist with it -- perhaps more than one. (If you have experience with a publicist you think would be a good match for this project, please get in touch with me!).


What I do have is a talk, which I have already been taking on the road, and I will be attempting to get myself booked more often now that I have a book coming out.


At home I have a bottle of 2007 Clovis Point Archeology awaiting decanting :)
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Book Review— LIFE SONGS: A GENDERQUEER MEMOIR by Audrey MC [Jul. 1st, 2016|12:57 pm]
ahunter3
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Well, here's a genuine rarity— a genderqueer memoir and coming-out story! Audrey MC, which appears to be the nom de plume of Audrey Michelle Culver, has written about what it means to be genderqueer, what it is like, and how she came to that understanding of herself. And, in doing so, has beaten me to the punch.

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

I realized I was paying far more attention to reception and reviews and whatnot for this book than I've tended to do when I've reviewed transgender and other LGBTQ books and plays and movies — another byproduct of identifying with Audrey and her book. And what I carry away with me is a somewhat ominous self-warning: I must do whatever I need to do to fend off the possibility that my book will be published but quickly sink out of sight, largely unread and unreviewed and unnoticed.
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Orlando was about Gay People Being Massacred [Jun. 14th, 2016|11:41 pm]
ahunter3
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I'm a little uncertain about the propriety of saying "we".

I mean, I identify as part of the LGBTIQ rainbow, and it would not be horribly unreasonable or unlikely that I would be giving talks or participating in panel discussions hosted at venues like the club in Orlando. And I've been on the receiving end of the hostility and violence a few times over the years.

But whether you or the survivors from the club or the activists organizing vigils and marches would regard me as part of the population directly targeted by this act of violence or not is not really the point anyway.

An incredibly ugly act of mass murder took place and it was directed at gay people.

It was an act of violence directed BY a person who was inspired by ISIS, yes, and it was an act of violence deployed WITH a lethal firearm, yes indeed. And if what affronts you about the event is that ISIS-style fundamentalist extremists are bringing violence to us in our communities and homes, you aren't wrong, nor are you wrong if what offends you is the easy access to assault weapons designed to kill large numbers of people in a short period of time.

But hey: if ISIS style fundamentalist violence bothers you, kindly note that what this guy targeted with this reactionary and hateful violence was a roomful of gay guys, and that it's in keeping with the hateful homophobic ideology that he apparently embraces. And if issues of gun control are your primary political interests that are evoked by this event, be aware that spates of murderous violence are not random but tend quite often to be reactionary acts of hate against previously disempowered outgroups who have dared to start behaving as if they were people.

It could have happened to some other group of people. It might have been women. It might have been black people. It might have been American suburbanites gathering for a picnic. I think it's important to see and understand that it could have been. And therefore that it could have been any of us.

But it wasn't. Don't erase the victims and the identity in common for which they were targeted.
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Julia Serano's WHIPPING GIRL ...and Not so Obviously the Lesser Sex [Jun. 5th, 2016|03:06 pm]
ahunter3
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I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.


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

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

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



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

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


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


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

By the time I was realizing that many (maybe most) adult men believed themselves superior to adult women, I was also hearing the voices of the women's liberation movement; it was the era I grew up in. And I was older yet when it began to dawn on me that so many adult men considered BOYS superior to GIRLS. Seriously??! Are you fucking KIDDING me?!? At first when I encountered this I interpreted it as meaning "the boys are more important in the long run because they will grow up to be men" (and by then I'd realized they thought men were superior to women), but I still assumed it was like someone putting a higher value on a sack of seeds than they would put on a bag of ripe yummy blueberries because the seeds would eventually yield a whole crop that would be worth more, but you still don't want a mouthful of seeds instead of a mouthful of blueberries if you see what I mean. I was already nearly an adult before I fully realized that many adult men viewed the actual characteristics exhibited by boys in general as superior to the characteristics exhibited by girls in general. Meaning that they were proud of exhibiting those same characteristics even as adult men and had never changed course and started trying to emulate girls and women in order to be socially interactive and cooperative humans and stuff.
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It Looks LIke I May Have a Publisher [May. 11th, 2016|08:16 pm]
ahunter3
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I see another email in my inbox with subject "re: QUERY--From a Differently Gendered Closet: The Story of Q".

I double-click it to see who the rejection is from so I can dutifully record it in my database of queries.

It starts off:


I really like what I've read so far of your manuscript and would like to offer you a publishing contract if it's still available. We are a digital-first publisher, so first publication would be in ebook form. Our terms are quite generous.

Let me know if you're interested.

Pretty much everything in our contract is negotiable...



I blink a lot.




I have a weary and wary and cynical outlook at this point. I was querying publishers back in 1982 and got an offer to publish and only after reading the fine print realized it was what is called a "vanity press".

This publisher is not a vanity press, I know that much at least. But that doesn't mean this is a done deal and that there aren't any dealbreaker-type "gotchas". But I'm sipping tequila at the moment, oh yes I am.



If it should turn out that this really and truly is IT and I'm going to be published (in a way that counts, etc) then for the record I just crossed the 800-query mark:


Current Stats:


The Story of Q--Total Queries = 800
Rejections: 735
Outstanding: 65

As NonFiction--total queries = 579
Rejections: 516
Outstanding: 63

As Fiction--total queries = 221
Rejections: 219
Outstanding: 2



The query that landed this response was sent directly to publisher and billed it as fiction (LGBTQ-Feminist), specifically as a coming-out story, "a 97,000-word coming-of-age (and coming-out) story - set in the 1970s but aimed at today's gender-questioning world."

Further info will be forthcoming. I'll keep you informed.


In other news, I will be presenting my talk again at the EPIC lifestyle conference this weekend! I'll post about that too.
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Always Love Lucy Theatre Presents PYGMALION [May. 6th, 2016|07:15 am]
ahunter3
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Always Love Lucy Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also in small roles in the play were Vincent Bivona multicast as Neppomuck and Bystander and Kristi Cini doing Mrs Pearce, the Parlormaid, and the Hostess.
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Speaking Engagement; and Intellectual Dishonesty in Our Politics [May. 1st, 2016|10:09 am]
ahunter3
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On April 29, I presented my talk about gender inversion and being genderqueer to an audience at Baltimore Playhouse. This was fundamentally the same talk I presented at LIFE in Nassau in March of last year.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to you, transgender activists. Let us try to support each other and be allies. We aren't entirely in the same situation and we'll sometimes have the opportunity to forward our own cause at the expense of each other because of our different situations. Let's avoid doing that whenever and wherever we can.
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Updates and Revisions! [Apr. 7th, 2016|06:55 pm]
ahunter3
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I had a very good time with the editor Barbara Rogan's author's colloquium, which ended last Thursday. Unlike some of these courses, which often focus on teaching a technique and then leave you to the task of applying what you learned to your actual work on your own time afterwards, this was one that encouraged us to use our work-in-progress as the source of material that we would submit to be examined and critiqued by the editor teaching the class and by the other participating students.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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