Welcome, one and all, to another author interview! Today, I’m welcoming Allan Hunter aboard.
Before we get going with the bookish stuff, can you do a quick introduction for any readers that may not be familiar with you?
Sure! My name is Allan Hunter. I’m a theorist and gender activist. I realized I was gender variant, in some as-of-yet unnamed and unlabeled sense, back in 1980. I came out to myself and then began trying to come out to people on campus and in my community. I mostly managed to confuse people: folks knew about gay and lesbian people, and there was a fuzzy and faint sort of awareness of transsexual people (that was the word in use at the time), but it wasn’t in the news all the time the way it is now. And I was trying to explain about something that wasn’t quite that, either, but something else entirely, a male person saying “I have always been one of the girls inside” but not wanting to transition my body or present as female.
You are currently working on finding a home for The Story of Q, a book that deals with a particular topic: what it’s like to be genderqueer. My understanding of genderqueer as a term is that it relates to people who don’t identify within the common binary, but instead feel that they are neither male nor female, both male and female, or a combination of the two. Is that correct? If not, please do correct me.
Well, “genderqueer” simply means “not of the expected gender”, in the same way that “queer” by itself originally meant “not of the expected sexual orientation”. Genderqueer is a bit of a catchall term for folks other than transgender people, whose gender identity still isn’t mainstream.
It includes people who identify as genderFLUID — whose gender identity is not a single static value but instead varies over time or in different situations; and people who identify as AGENDER or NEUTROIS — to whom gender as we know it simply doesn’t apply.
“Genderqueer” also overlaps with NONBINARY, which is a term that means “cannot be described in a two-available-choices-only either/or system”. The either/or binary is the choice of either being male (and hence a man) or female (and hence a woman), so a person identifying as nonbinary is saying “those aren’t enough choices, it’s something you didn’t mention yet”.
Genderqueer also includes me: I identify as a GENDER INVERT — specifically as a male girl, or a male woman. I consider myself to have a physical sex (“male”) and also, distinct from that, a gender identity (“girl” or “woman” or “femme”). I don’t consider either of those aspects of myself to be wrong or in need of “fixing”. I present visually as a male-bodied person so people expect me to be a man, and therefore I am “not of the expected gender”. And since you can’t express “male woman” or “male girl” within a two-options binary, that also qualifies me as nonbinary.
I know that you’ve stated before that you identify as genderqueer yourself. I know myself that discovering some of the more well-known terms for everything from gender identity to sexual orientation can be a bumpy road at times. So, my question is, how did you first happen upon the term? Was a relief at all to find a term that fit for you too?
I first encountered the term on a message board; I had written there, describing myself as a “sissy” (as in the opposite of “tomboy”, not as in kinksters who get off on being humiliated by being feminized); there was a gay male who was sick and tired of macho gay guys expressing contempt for nelly femme gay guys like him, who posted there also and we recognized that we were femme males, that we had that in common, me technically straight and him gay, but both girlish male folks.
A couple years later, in another such conversation on that same message board, he suggested the term “genderqueer”. A transgender woman on the same board chimed in: “yeah, welcome to the poorly-defined land of the genderqueer”. Gradually I came to embrace the term. It wasn’t specific to my exact situation but it fit and it made sense.
And yes, it was wonderful to finally have a word, a term that was in actual use, that applied to me, that at least a handful of people would recognize, even if it wasn’t widely understood yet.
Is The Story of Q entirely fictional, or does it draw on your own experiences growing up?
It’s actually 99 % true-to-life autobiograpical. I changed all the names, and for the sake of narrative flow I condensed a few individual people into one composite character rather than having to do character development for all of them, and in a similar fashion there are a few places where I combined two or three events or occurrences into a single scene. But if you went through the book and said “So, did this really happen? And this scene, did this really take place like you described it?”, in the overwhelming majority of cases I could say “Yes, that actually happened, exactly like that”.
You’ve had some unfortunate luck with placing The Story of Q. The first publisher that accepted the book went out of business before it could be published, and you left the second after reaching an impasse on the editorial side of things. While it’s true that two acceptances is in itself a good thing, it must be frustrating to have things end up the way they have too. What inspires you to keep pushing on and seeking publication?
It’s not easy; it’s extremely frustrating. I tell myself occasionally “I do not have to do this. If this stops being something I want to do, I do have the right to stop trying!” But being silenced, not having a social presence, a chance to speak, is even more frustrating. Frankly, I lost my temper many years ago about the whole situation of being a girlish feminine person who happened to be male and happened to be attracted to female people — there was no narrative about that, anywhere! …and it was my anger that drove me to the clear realization of it as a gender difference, a fundamental factor that made my experience vastly different from mainstream people in the same general kind of way that gay people were different. And that anger and frustration still drives me. I have a story to tell and dammit I get to tell my story.
I know from speaking with you that the concept of a book that specifically deals with coming out as genderqueer is quite unique, as the representation out there tends to cross-over with other parts of the LGBTQ umbrella. How important do you think it is to have something focused solely on the genderqueer side of things?
The problem is that we live in a world where the “expected”, the normative, is cisgender heterosexual, and any departure from the expected tends to be explained in terms of how it diverges from the normative.
I mean, imagine if the only experience most people had ever had of lesbians, in real life or in fiction or as described in periodicals or on TV or whatever, was of transgender lesbians, lesbians who had been considered male when they were born and then transitioned to female later in life. And that aside from that, people had seen no depiction of lesbians, never heard of any who weren’t also transgender. Can you see how indistinct their sense would be of what it means to be a lesbian? It would be all wound up with the notion that maybe these people were attracted to other women because they had originally been born male, or perhaps that they had wanted to transition but then came to wish they had remained male and expressed that by pursuing relationships with women the way that men do. And in a world where that was the only mainstream understanding of what it means to be a lesbian, someone who was a cisgender female lesbian could find it very difficult to get people to understand her.
Well, it’s a similar problem for genderqueer. We have some descriptions and magazine articles and bio profiles of people who identify as genderqueer, but they are overwhelmingly people who are also bisexual or lesbian or gay, or in some cases, such as Audrey MC, author of Life Songs: A GenderQueer Memoir, someone who was first a transgender lesbian and then felt too constrained by the binary and now identifies as genderqueer.
So what would genderqueer look like if the person was not a transitioner (male to female or female to male), was not gay or lesbian, or bisexual or pansexual or had any other already-well-defined departure from the hetero cisgender mainstream, and was just genderqueer by itself?
I think “genderqueer” is perceived by many folks as a boutique or dilettante identity, a superficial and trendy identity that some people claim for themselves in order to appear edgy, and that it isn’t anything that people would come up with on their own to explain their own experience, if it wasn’t already out there as a bandwagon to jump onto. People have no sense of “this is what people who are genderqueer have to go through, this is what their experiences are like as a direct consequence of being genderqueer”.
I am of the view that there’s always more to learn, especially when it comes to creative ventures. That being the case, is there any advice that you’d give to upcoming authors trying to get a footing in the industry?
I’m actually feeling pretty clueless and ignorant on that front. I’m a newbie myself. Maybe some of those upcoming authors could advise me instead!
Moving away from writing for a moment, you blog quite regularly, covering news on your book, to book reviews, and postings about life in general. What made you want to start blogging originally and have your motivations changed at all over the years?
Thanks for taking time to read some of my blog entries! My original motivation was that several literary agents told me that, as a nonfiction author, I needed to have more of a “platform” — an audience of people who were already reading me and tuning in to what I had to say, because they’d be a built-in ready market for the book.
But before I began blogging I was a theorist, back in my college days, writing analytical papers. (That was my favorite part of college, writing term papers. I could take practically any assignment and use it as an excuse to theorize about things I wanted to expound upon) (Yes, I’m a theory nerd). So once I got into the blogging habit, many of my blog entries became theory essays — anything from the politics of tone policing to a consideration of what the goal of my gender activism is, to the role of the male gaze and visual aspects of sexuality and what that has to do with how we think of gender.
Your posts tend to be quite thought provoking. The internet being as it is though, that comes with the risk of misinterpretation and backlash. Have you ever found yourself subject to any negativity for your posts, or do you find that people are generally quite positive?
On occasion, yes, there have been hostile responses. I am challenging people to think of things differently, and I’m pushy and opinionated. Some find me arrogant and spectacularly self-immersed and they tell me so! My loudest critics have been liberal-minded progressives who are not part of the LGBTQIA community of identities — saying they accept gay and lesbian and bi and transgender people who are male-to-female or female-to-male but that they don’t see any reason they should acknowledge the identity I claim for myself, calling me “special snowflake” and stuff like that.
In contrast I’ve had supportive responses as well, from a wide variety of readers, but particularly, I think, from intersex activists! Intersex people have also often found their identity subsumed and buried to the point of invisibility within the framework of gender variance that’s currently dominated by the social understanding of male-to-female and female-to-male transgender people. Like me, intersex people acknowledge the common cause and shared experiences that make them kin to transgender people but find it critically important to have their differences understood.
I’m not intersex but my situation has some elements in common with theirs: we consider gender to be one thing and our physiological body to be an integral part of our identity that is categorically different from gender, and not in need of adjustment to fit the gender. This is a notion that many transgender activists do not emphasize or even tend to want to erase as a negation of their identities because transphobic people so often insist on the body instead of the internal gender identity as “what’s real” — so some transgender people invert that and insist that only the internal identity is real and that any attention to the body’s morphology as an identity factor is politically incorrect to speak of and no one’s business.
While things aren’t perfect, I do think that it’s important to acknowledge the positive steps that we’ve taken as a species. That being the case, when thinking specifically about the things you’ve experienced in relation to being genderqueer, what would you say is the biggest improvement the world has made?
There has been so much progress just during my own lifetime. It’s hard to cite a single item as the biggest improvement, but I’d have to say radical feminism, the view that the meaning of the sex difference is not merely biology but is instead social / political and that how it is isn’t how it inevitably has to be, that it could be set up differently, with vast social consequences — I think the dawning and spread of that one fundamental awareness is the biggest improvement — and so much else, changes for women, for gay people, for transgender people, and for other gender-variant people and even for other out-groups as well… those things stem from the original seed that was feminism and feminist thought.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for stopping by the site, and to wish you luck with finding a publisher that will give The Story of Q the release it deserves. Whereabouts on the web can everyone find you if they want to contact you or know more? Feel free to link to anything you want.
This is the index page (table of contents, essentially) of my blog:
I promise to keep blogging about my attempts to get the book published as well as pontificating about gender and identity and gender politics and stuff; there will be permalinks to the book itself once it finally comes out!
… and I’m on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/allan.hunter.524
…and I’m a fairly prolific regular on the Straight Dope Message Board: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb