“GenderQueer: A Story from a Different Closet” explores the complexity of gender

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

When author and lecturer Allan D. Hunter set out to write out a personal history to better understand ideas about identity, the author realized that the story did not have to remain private. Hunter realized that his words could impact a wider range of people

“This book is the coming out and coming-of-age story of a gender-nonconforming male. Set in the late 1970s, it’s a work of nonfiction and highlights the realness of an identity that is not gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender, but isn’t cisgender and heterosexual either. It’s something else. It’s my story.”

So begins the preface of Hunter’s new book “GenderQueer: A Story from a Different Closet.” The book is an autobiographical coming out story that, at first glance, may seem unconventional as the author comes to terms with an identity with which many people might not be familiar. 

The story follows Derek, an intelligent and creative young adult, through junior high to the age of 21. From a very young age, Derek feels like “one of the girls” but is not uncomfortable in a male body. As the book progresses, Derek comes to terms with an identity that does not fall under the typical umbrella of “LGBT.”

“I’m one of the girls. That’s my gender. I’m male. That’s my sex. I’m attracted to females. That’s my orientation. My experience was different from anything else I’d ever heard of. I wanted to write it down so there would be a book showing what it is like to grow up like this,” writes Hunter.

Hunter describes this identity in the book as falling under the general umbrella of “genderqueer,” but more specifically as “gender invert,” adding that, “A gender invert is not someone halfway in between a person who is cisgender and a person who is transgender and getting hormones and surgeries,” but it is a different identity entirely. The book describes Hunter’s journey to discover a personal identity not defined by other people’s descriptions of identity.

Although the book is described as a memoir, it reads like fiction. This makes the book compelling and enjoyable to read, and it is far more effective than if the author had approached the topic as a textbook might. While the story seems choppy at times, with paragraphs that jump from topic to topic, it is never confusing. Its characters are distinct, and every event is defined clearly, making the plot clear and fairly easy to follow. The story-like quality of the book makes it accessible to readers, and the protagonist has a clear voice that shines through the prose.

“I was free. I had a head full of concepts and thoughts and no clear idea of what my next step was going to be. But I was ready for the next adventure. I would find a way to communicate what was in my head. I would live my life and have love and find happiness. I was sure of it. I knew who I was. The world was going to find out who I was too. I’d see to that,” writes Hunter.

“GenderQueer” is honest, intimate and at times, uncomfortable. The protagonist is extremely vulnerable, bringing the audience into private moments and personal thoughts. This can be a little overwhelming, and this book is definitely aimed at an older audience, but the author had a reason for not softening or toning down the story.

“I wanted it to seem so viscerally real to people that it would just explain itself,” Hunter said. “Just say this is how it was and make it so compellingly … accessible that … I’m not going to have many people saying ‘nah, that’s not how it really was.’”

For the most part, this approach is effective. While sometimes the book may feel like it gives too much information, it would be difficult to claim that the author is not being legitimate about personal experience. Hunter hopes that the honesty relates to people in a way that a fluffier story would not.

“I hope that the majority of people are hit by it,” Hunter said, “that it feels vulnerable and that it really moves people.”

The end of the book is certainly moving. Hunter explains the desire to use the story to help others who may feel lost, confused or unaccepted.

“I had to figure out everything for myself and when I did, I swore that other people who were like me should not have to do that entirely on their own. And maybe now they won’t have to,” writes Hunter. 

This book, while uncomfortably honest at times, is an important story. It is the story of someone who came out, just not in the way that anyone expected. It is a story that will, hopefully, make people feel less alone.