A GenderQueer Narrative: Queer of Gender, Cis of Sex
Today’s guest post comes from Allan Hunter, whose memoir GENDERQUEER: A Story From a Different Closet was published by Sunstone Press in March 2020. It’s a coming-of-age coming-out story from the genderqueer vantage point, an identity only recently on the social radar.
Allan was one of the first male Women’s Studies majors at the State University of New York at Old Westbury in 1985, graduating with a BA in 1988. He pursued graduate studies at SUNY / Stony Brook, obtaining an MA in Sociology and MSW in Social Work, creating a rich collection of feminist theory papers in the process.
A prolific writer and social activist, Allan is active in various gender identity groups and has maintained web sites hosting a blog with theory papers, participatory discussion, the ideas and experiences of being genderqueer, and this book itself and the process of trying to get it published.
He is also working with publicists to increase his stature in the gender-issues community at large, and is active in local and regional organizations where he speaks to small groups about gender issues. He has addressed college women’s studies groups, alternative-lifestyle social groups, and given talks at LGBT centers.
“What’s wrong with you?” the boys in my second grade class would ask me. “C’mon, why are you staying in your desk? Why don’t you tell dirty jokes with us? How come you don’t like to fight? C’mon, I’ll fight you. Put ’em up! Why are you always carrying a book around with you?”
And of course, “Are you a girl or something? What’s wrong with you, you act like a girl!”
It seems to me I started out showing I was mature and could be trusted by the adults to monitor my own behavior. It was part children’s lib: I was out to measure up against the adults themselves and show that I wasn’t the immature misbehaving brat they expected. I was a citizen, I could play by the rules and therefore I deserved respect. It was also partly sucking up to the adults, wanting their approval.
This rapidly became about me not being like the other boys. Being like one of the girls instead. Because, you see, the girls were doing what I was doing, or most of them were. Getting brownie points for being self-controlled little angels and also being good students and taking our tasks seriously. Earning adult trust. “Marcia”, the teacher would say, “I have to go down to the principal’s office, would you take names of anyone who misbehaves?”
The boys accused me of acting like a girl. They accused me of actually being a girl. My attitude was “Yeah, so? The girls are doing it right! What’s wrong with you and the other boys? You’re an embarrassment! You’re the reason they say children are irresponsible and need discipline!” I did not want to be seen as one of the boys. I was like the girls, they were so right about that. I wanted the girls to notice that, I wanted their respect. I was competing with them and showing them that a boy could be as good as they were at these things. I wanted to belong. The girls were the kids I most liked to play with at recess.
Over a decade later, when I read my first transgender memoir, it was the first time I encountered someone else who had been regarded as male but considered themselves to be one of the girls growing up.
But I was still different. The transgender author wanted to be viewed as female. The author transitioned and changed her pronoun and her name and switched to female apparel and lived her public life from then on as a woman, a female person.
That wasn’t me. I didn’t consider myself female. I had been one of the girls when I was a child, and I had not been ashamed of it or tried to hide it. But I was definitely a male person doing this. I considered myself femme, a person whose attributes were feminine, a person whose personality and behavior and priorities and values and disposition fit in with the female people, not with the male people. I was the mirror image of a tomboy. I was a male person with those feminine attributes.
GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet is about the “Q” in LGBTQ—an identity that isn’t cisgender or heterosexual, but also isn’t gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. It’s something else.
I wrote myself as the main character of a narrative story, the story of a young person born in a body with the contours and organs that caused my mom’s obstetrician to designate me as “male”, an assignment that I never questioned or rejected. What I rejected was the notion that being in such a body meant I had to be one of the boys.
To complicate matters, I was not only inclined to gravitate socially towards the girls, I also found myself attracted to them. We actually do have a notion of a male femme in our society, a girlish or feminine person who we nevertheless regard as male, but it only exists as a gay male identity. So in GenderQueer I focus a lot on sexual orientation even though it’s first and foremost about gender identity.
Heterosexuality, as it turns out, isn’t merely about somebody with outie parts being attracted to people with innie parts, or when somebody who identifies as a boy-person is attracted to people who identify as girl-persons, for that matter. Similarly, homophobia is more of an equal-opportunity experience than many people realize: you don’t even have to be attracted to people of the same sex in order to be on the receiving end of it. Being femme will let you qualify if you’re presenting as male-bodied. Heterosexuality is an institution, not a preference or orientation, and patriarchally rigid sex-specific expectations are woven into its definition.
My story is one that dives between the notions of sex and gender and makes the case for a queer identity that distinguishes between them, and, in doing so, adds a new dimension to the conventional understandings of what it means to be heterosexual or lesbian or gay.
Allan’s second book, THAT GUY IN OUR WOMEN’S STUDIES CLASS, is now under contract for publication from Sunstone Books. It will continue the storyline started in GENDERQUEER, and is expected to be published in 2021 or 2022.