|Title:||Genderqueer: A Story from a Different Closet|
|Author:||Allan D. Hunter|
|Disclaimer:||Allan D. Hunter kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.|
Hunter’s Genderqueer is more than simply a ‘coming-out’ story. It is also a ‘coming-of-age’ tale in the age of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and a whole lot of ‘free love. It is more than just an autobiographical account of someone struggling with an identity – it is the beginning of a whole new identity.
Derek’s family moved from Georgia to New Mexico in 1972 when he was in the eighth grade. Being the new kid in school was not the first (and certainly not the last ) time he would feel like an outsider; a misfit. Ever since Derek could remember, he was a boy, but he wanted to be a girl. He liked being around the girls. Later on he would spend years desperately hoping to lose his virginity to a girl. Derek was not sure quite what that meant, but he did know that he was not what everyone thought he was: gay.
In the beginning, before sex was all he could think about, Derek first needed to figure out what he loved. He knew he loved music, and was not in the least bit sporty. He knew he was drawn to the hippie lifestyle, and dreamed of living out his days in a commune surrounded by like-minded people. After high school, with years of questioning why the only relationships he seemed to have with girls was of the platonic kind, he spent some time at college and experimented with hallucinogenic drugs – which was something everyone else seemed to be doing too. During one particular incident with a Pink Floyd album, Derek has a sort of epiphany. Soon enough he drops out of college and pursues a life as an auto-mechanic allowing him the freedom he’d always craved. Years later he will return to college to study music, and despite the course’s lack of fluidity, Derek finally begins to feel a sense of belonging, which in turn leads him to his final act of rebellion – declaring himself ‘queer’.
Throughout Derek’s journey of discovery his parents are surprisingly supportive in a seemingly unattached sort of way. His relationships with women over the years creates a sort of map leading to his eventual realization that his crisis was not something that could be necessarily defined. For one thing Derek had never met anyone like he was. No one else seemed to feel the same way he did. When he asked for help no one seemed to have any to give because no one was questioning anything remotely like this – out loud.
Hunter’s memoir of sorts is at first a delicately written account of growing up in the seventies, and discovering the brutal world of sex and sexual acceptance. It also becomes a story of learning to accept yourself rather than being concerned by the acceptance from others. It is a mighty step on the path of sexual discovery, sexual etiquette and sexual inclusion. What the book lacks in sufficient LGBTQ history, it makes up for with its constant reminder that not everything can be neatly defined and boxed up in a category. Derek’s journey was not about the popping light-bulbs in his head or the fireworks display after he ‘came out’ but rather all the moments in between.
As I read Genderqueer I kept trying to relate, and of course I was unable to because I have not had to define my sexual orientation or my sexual identity, as it were. What I did do was imagine myself screaming out into a deep void and not hearing a single echo back. Perhaps this is a way to describe the intense feelings of loneliness Derek felt as he failed to see ‘himself’ in anyone else around him. This is not to say that those people were not there, but in the 1970s if you favored patterned shirts and couldn’t get a girlfriend you were probably gay, and there were pills for that.
This is a very brave and very important story. Hunter tackles a sensitive topic with grace and honesty, and in the end he is telling his own story and that is the bravest part of all. Hunter brings the reader into the politics of sex calmly and gently, and eases one into the story of one human, and a million humans. It is the story of the letter ‘Q’, the story of the all-encompassing Queer and a piece of the story of how the LGBTQ acronym added that last letter. It may be a story about Derek and his desire to find someone to love, but its also very much a story about everyone’s need to be accepted and categorized…and loved. Just as we are.