Fifty Shades of Gender podcast graphic with Allan D. Hunter

Episode 14

A conversation with Allan D. Hunter


39 min. Recorded on 2 October 2020.

As for pronouns, Allan says “they are all wrong and I’m not picky”. He now identifies as genderqueer and gender invert. Find out what that means to Allan in this episode.

We also talk about sexual orientation versus gender identity, feminism, double standards, gender expectations, trying to find people like yourself, and listening better to stories that are not like our own.
“Yes, I am like one of the girls…and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m proud of it. What’s wrong with the rest of you?”

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TRANSCRIPT [expand to read]

Esther: Hello and welcome! What’s your name?

Allan: Hi, I am Allan.

Esther: How do you identify Allan?

Allan: I identify as genderqueer, which I kind of regard as one of the umbrella terms. I have often joked to people that it is a sort of an ‘etc’ category for people who aren’t gay/lesbian/bi/pan/transgender will often stick themselves in. It doesn’t really have a specific meaning to most people so much as it means it is something else. So then I also identify as gender invert, which is a way of specifying what I mean when I say I am genderqueer. A guy named Havelock Ellis back over 100 years ago, or so, started using the notion of ‘invert’ in the discussions of what caused people to be gay or lesbian.

Esther: Right!

Allan: His notion was that it was bound up in male people being feminine, and female people being masculine, and that their sexual orientation was just one of a basket of traits and behavioural characteristics and so forth, were more typically associated with the opposite sex. Then people looked more closely and said, ‘yes, but that is not the way it actually is’, so it kind of got discarded and fell into disuse. Now my situation was that I looked around at the world and we do culturally have a notion of a person who is ‘them’, a feminine person, who is also somebody who we think of as male but in our culture the space that we have for such people, it is an identity that is specifically associated with gay males, and we don’t have a corresponding identity of that nature for males whose sexual orientation is not towards same sex. So I thought: here is this term that was invented and is actually sort of a useful term, a useful notion, inversion, and no one is using it at the moment and meanwhile I am in a situation for which I have no good label, I am stealing it!

Esther: Yeah, why not? make it your own! So you were talking about, as well, or you mentioned, about sexual orientation vs gender identity that was, as you were growing up, was that a confusing thing for you, was there not really any differentiation?

Allan: There was definitely the expectation that if your gender expression made you seem to be different from what is expected of other people of your sex, then it probably meant that it was because you had a different sexual orientation. People tended to see things rather simplistically. It wasn’t only male people who got that, but it was a stronger push towards the male people, going all the way back into my earliest elementary school days where there was hostility from some boys to any individual boy who didn’t seem to act sufficiently boyish and they would say, ‘you act like a girl, why do you do that? That’s what a girl would do?’ Or even just out-and-out saying ‘you are a girl!’.

Esther: Yeah.

Allan: So those are the terms that were questioning, the child gets gender identity, but woven into was, pretty quickly, the notion that this meant you were gay. As we got older that became the main sort of epithet and hint that people would throw. It wasn’t so often that people would say, ‘you act like a girl’, but they would say ‘you are a sissy’, ‘you are a fruit’, or more offensive terms which specially meant, ‘we think you are gay’. This is especially something that people are widely familiar with, a great many people of that age go through that and it is sort of well-known terrain, but it is usually explored from the perspective of young males resenting this and trying to find some kind of grounds on which to stress their selves, their masculinity, and so forth. Without lured into turning it into a reason to get into fights, but just to survive that and to survive whatever self-doubts that evokes, but less often has there been stuff written from the perspective of somebody who quickly realised, ‘yes I am like one of the girls, I make the same observation about myself, and I am not ashamed of that, I am proud of it, what’s wrong with the rest of you?’.

Esther: Right, absolutely. So how did you feel about your body? Did you not feel wrong-bodied or anything? Was it more like a societal thing? How was that for you?

Allan: I never had any sense that my body was wrong, I actually liked my body, I thought it was well-designed, and had a good shape, and was potentially cute, and so forth. When the other kids would say something like, ‘why do act like a girl?’, or ‘you are a girl’, and so on, I didn’t understand them to be, ‘your body shapes look like you have girl parts’. I knew they were talking about my behaviour, or my priorities, the things that I chose to do with my time, or the things that I acted like were important to me, that I wasn’t acting like other boys. This is what I was seeing myself, it matched my own observations, but it was also on a behavioural level. We often talk about roles, but a lot of times when people talk about sex roles, I am afraid that they tend to think in a rather rigid sense, like a role within a company, like ‘you are the bus driver’, and I like to think of roles more like roles in a theatrical presentation, or a movie, where it is a much more three-dimensional rendition of an entire person’s way of being in the world, including their manifestations, their nuances, specific sets of facial expressions, or body language, all of these things all woven together make a role. And what they were saying is, ‘you are doing the wrong role’.

Esther: Yeah… so how did that sort of manifest as you moved forward in life, as you found more language to describe it?

Allan: I was very happy about the ways in which I was different from other boys: I sailed into puberty having somehow cherry-picked only the things that I was willing to hear and ignored as irrelevant the things that might have made me more nervous, that I heard from other people my age, and for that matter older and younger people. There was already feminism out there saying that it is not fair to have different standards, based on whether you are male or female; not just: you have to hire the guy for the position, if you are looking for the school newspaper editor, because girls can’t do that kind of thing; but just things like, if it is okay for a boy to make loud shouts in the playground it has to be okay for the girl to make loud shouts in the playground, it is sexist and unfair to have different standards and different assumptions. Since that voice was out there I sort of took it as if that understanding was established and everyone who counted was on board with that. And that made it easy to reject all of the feedback that I was getting, the ‘you are not doing this boy thing right at all, you have to do this’, and I went into puberty with the optimistic notion that, ‘I am going to be favoured’, I would be a much better companion to my female classmates if they are interested in getting romantically involved, because I am more like them and I am easier to get along with and I am not one of the hostile, belligerent, stupid-acting, knuckle-dragging, that the boys don’t seem to be ashamed to be appearing as. Who would want to be close to one of those?

Esther: Yeah.

Allan: And then it didn’t play out that way and that was rather unsettling, I had several years during which I was seeing other people connect up and form relationships and time ticked on and I started feeling like there were things that I need to be doing that I am not doing, I am not taking advantage of opportunities, perhaps, I am not learning how to be a post-pubescent person. I did, of course, recognise that I had things in common with the other males, that we were all sort of dealing with this whole sexuality thing, navigating how to express it and make it work. So my sense of identity…it wasn’t as if I picked up any of the older ones and flung it away from me, but it became a lost more nuanced and complicated, trying to negotiate being a sexual person now that that was an active part of people’s lives and not just secret thoughts.

Esther: Mmm yes. So at what stage did you come across a term like trans, or transgender?

Allan: No one said transgender back then, I don’t think I encountered that until I was already out attending college many years later. Transsexual was floating around. I had heard it a few times without paying a whole lot of attention to it, it wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar term. When I was twenty, and in college, I was really starting to wonder who and what am I. My early phase of being somewhat optimistic, but also having a lot of frustration and a lot of disappointments, had kind of worsened by then. I went in one day at the university bookstore and they had one of these self-analysis ‘get to know the real you’ kind of workbooks, they had several exercises on them and they had things like ‘pick which colour appeals to you and then turn to the next page and read about what it might mean about you, that you picked the orange swath, instead of the green swath’ and so on…some of it was more interesting than others. But then they had one about gender characteristics and just taking it, even before I got to the answers, and the analysis section, just really hit me: oh my, I have always known this about myself, but I guess that I haven’t thought about it analytically in years. I just took all of that feminist permission to not worry about it as gospel, and therefore didn’t worry about it, but wait, what does it make me if I am basically like one of the girls and not like one of the boys, and that it has been that way since as far back as I can remember, is there a word for such a person?.

People have always told me ‘well, you are not doing it right if you want to get a girlfriend, you have to be a real man’, etc and I have just been ignoring all that as irrelevant all my life, but, at the same time, here I am sitting on the cusp of becoming 21 and things haven’t worked for me and I am feeling very lonely, and very left out, and not understood, and people are always taunting me and dropping little teasing hints and stuff that they know more about me than I know about myself in this regard.

So I think that the first time I began thinking of myself, first and foremost, as a person who is inverted in that sense of physiologically being male but that all of my characteristics were as if I was one of the women, what did that make me? As I said before, we have a notion of such people but it is so tightly tied to sexual orientation that that wasn’t giving me any particular answers. And then I remembered hearing about transsexuality, so I took out… the title I remember most specifically was From James to Jan, by Jan Morris, but I think there were some others I found, also. It wasn’t the Rene Richards story, I think that came out later, so that would not have been available at that time. But anyway, I read through them and at first there was a lot of excitement, ‘oh yeah someone else saying I was always this way and here is describing somebody’s life at the age of 10 or 11, and their thoughts and feelings at that time’. Those portions of their narratives really resonated with me, but then their solution at the same time I realised that I was supposed to be the other sex and now that I know that that frees me, and I feel so much better now. And then they went and began to present to the world in such a way that they would be perceived as female people and, for most of them, they went on further and sought medical intervention to actually modify their bodies also so that for all intents and purposes would be female.

I didn’t see that…that had no compelling lure to me as a solution, ‘are they telling me that is what I should do? That this is what people like me always do?’, because I never felt that my body was wrong, I did sit and contemplate that, but it didn’t resonate for me as relevant to my issues. No, I need to find: where did people who were like me who were basically male of body, but girl of self, where is our part of town where we have our social bars and businesses and what do we call ourselves? Where do I find my people? And hey, by the way, accidentally, how about the people born female who are effectively the boys. Are they in the same part of town? I wanted to go find where I fit in in the world, and I am tired of skulking around like I am nervous about who and what I am and constantly being teased and ribbed and people constantly dropping insinuations and innuendos into the conversation or, in more anger, actual epithets and hostility – it is as if I am trying to keep something secret about myself and everyone is on to me and trying to humiliate me.

And, you know so something? I have never been ashamed of this and now I am feeling like I want to tell the world, ‘hey you have got to listen to something, this is who I am, and I am proud of it. I like being this way! How come no one who is like me never gets to say that we are proud of this? You try to make it sound like it is something shameful and it is not!’ And I decided: no one is ever going to make me feel ashamed or humiliated about being this way, because I am out now! It was really a coming out experience, I really felt: I am absolutely absolved of their being anything wrong with me, whatever the answer to all of this is, it isn’t that I am not the way that I supposed to me, because who I am just feels so right to me and I am angry about this now, I want some settling up, I am going to push the issue.

Esther: {laughing} I love that, yeah!

Allan: I went looking around and I did not find ‘our part of town’, or the publications of people who were inverted like me and I played with a lot of different ways to put it into words because I could invent a term, but if there were already people doing this, presumably they would have invented a term and it wouldn’t be the same one, except by accident, but I never did run into any kind of an organised coalition of people saying this kind of thing. In a more generic way, I did so only many years later when I first began hearing of genderqueer, and seeing the acronym expand from LGBT to include include the letter Q, and getting a sense of: I think they are saying that there are people maybe like me and that they are including us in that rainbow and I am going to start calling myself that. Even though when people say, ‘what does genderqueer actually mean?’ I would say, ‘well, yeah, it kind of means anyone who is this sort of possible set of experiences, or perceptions about themselves, that don’t feel adequately described by these four letters, is sometimes using this, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be this, or it doesn’t mean it is only for people who are that’. ‘Oh it means etc. Gotcha.’

Esther: Yeah, so basically you feel like that term just fits you, it just feels like, ‘yeah!’?

Allan: I think an ‘etc’ term is very useful because it lets us say we are including identities around gender variation that we haven’t necessarily thought of, because there is no way that anyone is ever going to be in a position where they can say, ‘I have thought of all of the possibilities and we are cool with all of them and I will list them for you’. Instead, there has to be room for the people who are saying, ‘I am still trying to figure myself out and nothing I have heard matches me’. The kind of people that go into the various Facebook groups that I am in, I see so many people posting, ‘I have been calling myself gender fluid but here is how it is for me and I am have been wondering, do you think that I am more of a Demi-boy, and that is a better term?, because maybe I don’t qualify as genderqueer, because it is not that I don’t want to be considered either male or female, it is more like I am okay with being considered female, but not all the time, but definitely not male. I feel like I am halfway between….’

You know? And it feels so many times, especially with the younger people, it is as if they think that the community has been steadying these things to the point that we have an understanding of them like the chemistry teacher understands all of the elements and that they are asking the question that is the equivalent of ‘is this an iron compound, or is there some copper in here? What is the imperially correct answer here? What do you think?’

When it would probably be more useful to say, ‘these kind of terms are like putting on clothes, you find the ones that fit you and if they express you well when you wear them you might decide to keep on wearing them, but they are tools of communication and so much of it is all tied back into loops of perception, and self-perception, and how you wish others to perceive you, and how you wish to receive those signs of perception in a way that makes you feel validated, rather than invalidated. So much of that is internal that you are dealing with stuff that has more of the content of advertising, and packaging, and how you promote a notion, rather than an empirically correct or worse like a medical diagnosis or something’.

To get away from that kind of clinical precision and realise that it is not about that.

Esther: Yeah, I love that, because it does, like you say, all the terms can mean something different to everyone, so it is important to, I like the analogy of the clothes actually, I think that works quite well. Just use what fits and if it doesn’t take it off, right?

Allan: I could definitely identify as transgender, I have been told so many times by transgender activists, ‘oh if you have a gender identity that is any different than what you were assigned at birth then you qualify as transgender and no one can say that you need to modify your body in order to qualify’.

So it is like a garment that I could put in my wardrobe, I have permission to wear it, but I don’t feel like it expresses me well, I think there are still many interpretations floating around there for what the average person thinks transgender means, even though it is gotten much looser from the notion that you realise that although you were born this sex, you were actually that non-corresponding gender, and that is all it has to mean. That most people will expect that nevertheless what you are going to do is start changing your visual presentation so that more and more people will reach the conclusion that you are of the sex that would have gone with that gender and to kind of…it kind of re-collapses sex and gender, it is the expectation that if you identify as transgender that you see gender and sex as one and the same and that one consists of how you identify and that to bring up a morphological sex is to dig into territory that is misgendering and insulting and, ‘what is your prurient interest in what someone else has got inside their underwear anyway?’ all of that kind of stuff, sort of very anti-physiology. And since that doesn’t fit me, since I never went through the whole physical dysphoria experience of feeling like my body was the problem, that identity does not feel like a good fit to me.

Esther: Yeah, that makes sense.

Allan: I go with genderqueer, genderqueer is a term that most people have heard, even if it is mostly in ‘etc’ it avoids having a lot of content that I then have to negate because it is not correct in my case. And gender invert, although it is mostly of my own adoption and is not floating around in the general vernacular is the term that I am hoping could eventually catch on so that we would have a word… It would also kind of apply to the kind of women who as girls were called tomboys and who retain a lot of characteristics that might be called butch or masculine but whose sexual orientation is not lesbian, that they could have a name for themselves and not to be made to feel like ‘and therefore you should identify as a transman and start using male pronouns and so forth’. There should be, out there, some notion of: what do people do if they are fine with the bodies with which they were born and don’t wish to present as if they had been born in a different body? But they do wish to be accepted for the ways in which their personalities and nuances and behavioural patterns and so forth fit the major expectations that are associated with the other sex.

Esther: Yes. You mentioned genderqueer again, which is also, if I am not mistaken, the title of the book you wrote, is that right?

Allan: Yes.

Esther: So when did you write the book?

Allan: It was originally written as past of an immense tome of trying to get a handle on my own history of between 2010 and 2013 that I distilled this individual book out of it by 2015 and began querying literary agents and publishers. It was picked up for publication and just came out this last Spring from Sunstone press. The full title is, Genderqueer. A story from a different closet.

Esther: Ooh I like that! You say it is based on basically your own processing of your own feelings around gender, is it classed as a fiction book would you say? Is it a story or a novel or is it like an autobiography?

Allan: It is autobiographical, but it is written to have character development and conversations and scenes that take place with colours and sounds and smells and all that. As much as possible, I wanted to get away from a dry academic-sounding theory paper about it and more… among literary teachers they will often tell you: the main principle is ‘show don’t tell’, if you are telling the reader what they should read, what they are getting out of this paragraph, it is always inferior to showing them so that they walk out of there with the understanding, and you didn’t have to pound them over the head with it.

So I wanted to show people this little kid growing up, connecting with the girls and not the boys and then puberty hits and this coping with junior high school and wishing to become somebody in a romantic relationship, and finding the girls in the classroom cute and hot, but not knowing what to do about that and gradually finding that there is this social incompatibility with being the person he had grown up being, this sissy, ‘femish’, person and being a functioning heterosexual partner, a person who could have a romantic relationship with one of the girls. And finally, becoming sufficiently frustrated by it all that things all click into place and he comes out.

Esther: How are you reflecting on things now? It sounds like it took a while, you know, for the book to really come into existence… would you make any changes to the book now, or are you quite happy as it is?

Allan: I am quite happy with it. I have known people that once they create something, whether it is their book, or their musical recording, that they wince if they ever go back to it and listen to it because all they see is their mistakes, all they hear is the errors, even if no one else knows them. I have actually found myself enjoying when I did go back and read it, especially if I have waited long enough, that I am actually interacting with the book and not just sort of doing it on autopilot. It does seem like a good story, like ‘I did that!’, I am very proud of it, I am very happy with it.

Esther: That’s great. And what do you foresee for your future? Do you think that you will write more books or…?

Allan: I have a second book that has been accepting for publication, it sort of picks up where this one left off, as I have sort of explained, I didn’t find a community of people who were just like me, or labelled within the 1980s social world, identified people who were like me. And although I saw a definite sense of connection with what the trans (the word back then was transsexual), with what transsexual authors had said they had gone through, it didn’t leave me feeling at the conclusion feeling like, ‘I am one of them’. ‘I should go find them and connect with them.’ I certainly felt like I had been beaten up by homophobic people, and called gay, and more hateful terms referring to the same thing by people when they were expressing their contempt and outrage and hostilities towards me, that I definitely had stuff in common with gay males, especially with the sense of being fem or sissified, but again I was clearly not the same people that they were. And they had a movement, a community, and I didn’t feel like that was where I should gravitate towards to find people who were more like me.

Meanwhile I felt validated all along by this voice from feminism that said: it is unfair to have different expectations and use a different measuring stick, to have different standards for male people and female people, we call that a double-standard and it is wrong, it is evil. So I had started reading a lot of feminist theory and the more I read, the more I felt like ‘these are people that I should be speaking to. I am learning the vocabulary terms that they are using for ideas I have always sort of understood but now I can put a name on it’. And I decided to go be in women’s studies in a college and so the second book is called, That Guy in our Woman’s Studies Class.

Esther: Yes.

Allan: And it is about my career – positive and negative – of trying to use that as a platform from which to talk about this identity, the identity that I now call being a gender invert and along the way it kind of explores a lot of the issues of membership and marginalisation; intersectionality, oppression; the sense that we often get in these sorts of discussions of: do we approach the matter of power first and foremost by identifying who has been deprived of power and opportunity and gets to tell their story and who, on the other hand, is the privileged, the ones who enact or perpetuate oppressions? What happens when you dig a little deeper and find that those are oversimplifications, and it is a much more complicated, much more intersectional ball of string?

Esther: So when is the book out, the new book?

Allan: I don’t have a publication date for it yet, but probably 2021, or 2022. It will also be published by Sunstone Press; they have signed a contract with me. But the next stages will probably be me receiving from me the manuscript after they have gone through it and made suggestive edits for me to respond to. We sometimes go a few rounds with that before having a manuscript that has sort of been capped off as ‘yes this is the book’s content as we will go with it, including fixing typos and what-not’.

Esther: Yeah, it is quite a long process isn’t it?

Allan: It can be. The first one went more rapidly I think because that poor book had been accepted for publication twice previously and had been through the editing process with other editors, so it had been combed through several times over. I had it in process between 2013 and 2020 doing my own edits, I would sort of replay it in my head when I was out for a long walk and decide ‘you know, that would be better if I had a paragraph-and-a-half making this point more clearly’ and then I would come home and stick it in there. That one, I think by the time I had a contract for Genderqueer it was all pretty much well baked in the oven and just ready to put out into the world. I don’t know if the second book is going to go quite as quickly to reach that point, because it has not had the same kind of shake-down cruise.

Esther: Yeah, that makes sense. Well, thank you for talking to me about all this. Is there anything that you would like to say, or to leave everyone with as we wrap up?

Allan: I had a couple of reviews, many comments within various dedicated facebook groups indicating, on the one hand, that people, portions of the LBTQ environment, would occasionally find my book upsetting because it is promoting things from a vantage point that is a little different from what they had been hearing, and in some cases feeling that they personally were invalidated by my very process of explaining what validates my identity and, also, at the same time, within feminist contexts, where feminists wanted to have some space to discuss gender issues, that I was bringing in ideas that they were already hostile to and that they found much of the rhetoric of transgender activism to be problematic for feminism and feeling like I was yet another person in there to discredit their view point. Between the two, I am left with the sense that I have a foot in each camp and at the same time I am not quite a typical member of either camp, I am sometimes seen as an invader.

Overall, it has left me with a sense that, too often in communities, we tend to create echo chambers where people go in order to have a safe space so that they won’t hear things that are invalidating or insulting and they want to get away from that, because the world at large has been a cold, cruel, place for them. But in the process of trying to create spaces that are sufficiently safe and nurturing for the people that are going to come to them, we have sometimes created spaces that are intolerant of people who haven’t learned exactly which vocabulary, and exactly which sentiments are the ones they should be using and should be saying. And I have seen a lot of people who come with no particular prior baggage, like having a political agenda, being made to feel very unwelcome there because they would start off asking a question and someone didn’t like the way that the question was raised. If you say that you are implying that the people who aren’t in that subcategory can’t be what you are asking about.

I think we need to listen better to stories that are not like our own story and aren’t expressed from the perspectives that we have found most useful to our own understanding, and not to wall ourselves off from other ways of seeing things.

Esther: I like that sentiment. That’s a great way to wrap up our conversation, brilliant. Thank you so much for talking to me about all this, Allan.

Allan: Thank you.

About Allan

‘I came out in 1980, as an identity I distilled on my own, as nothing of the sort was being discussed anywhere that I could find. I knew there was a social notion of a person who was a femme, yet was considered male: the gay male femme. But as I wasn’t a person with same-sex attraction, I was going to have to modify that, and uncouple the notion of being a femme from the notion that it was about sexual orientation. The term I chose was “heterosexual sissy”. Today I identify as genderqueer, and as a gender invert, a male girl or male femme.”

You can find out more about Allan and about his book Genderqueer – a Story From a Different Closet on his website or on his blog.

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