Arts & Culture Editor
Allan D. Hunter’s sprawling new book, GenderQueer: A Story from A Different Closet charts the story of the author, Derek. The book begins through his tumultuous adolescence growing up in Boy Scouts. He then finds his social place at school and experiences in his college years. From there on, the remainder of the book focuses on his formative memories as a young adult as the author comes out to themselves as Genderqueer in a time where the resources were not necessarily available. This is a novel that is bracingly raw and personal, yet always feels authentic in its sense of place and voice. Its visibility gives an insight into a point of view that doesn’t live in the “traditional” gender boxes.
The book begins at a party in 1979 where Derek gets beat up by some tough guests. The story then flashes back to his childhood in 1966, and follows for the first part of the book his journey as he comes of age. It is a journey that crosses many states and providences as even in the start of the book, Derek mentions moving from Georgia to New Mexico. For Derek, every new home meant a new start. It meant another opportunity to make new friends and to find more self-development. Although his story is told from a specific lens, his struggle with not fitting in and feeling alone is something that is ultimately universal. Some lines such as when the author says, “For the first time I began to worry that something was wrong with me. I would sometimes see a cluster of girls and overhear them talking and it made me feel lonely and left out” (p. 14) were especially resonant as the author shares his thoughts of just wanting to fit in and feel accepted. Sections like this bring a relatability to this story. This theme of acceptance and finding a connection are ideas that reappear throughout the piece.
The book later shifts to Derek’s junior high years where he breaks more from following the rules, and instead finds the voice within himself. This part of the novel was especially powerful as it is when the reader really got to see Derek start to come into his own. As he experimented with the drug and hippie movement of the 1960s he transforms into a more socially conscious individual in the wave of self-discovery. This journey takes him from many positions from a college student to an auto mechanic. Yet even when Derek tries on various positions and personalities, he is still longing for that sense of belonging and a sense of family. He finds some solace in his friend and crush, Linda. She is the one person growing up he felt he could be honest and pour his soul out to. These sections of the book as he writes about her as on page 71, “Linda Sorrens was beautiful and wonderful, and no matter what else happened, other boyfriends and other girlfriends and miles and years, I would always know she was out there.” is a moment of great beauty where he feels he has someone in Linda who he can cherish and confide in.
Yet, it is in the last half of the book, when Derek starts to realize the whole person he is inside where the book reaches its peak. It is the time when he starts to put together that the is not quite a girl or boy, but rather somewhere in between. While sharing more details on that journey would spoil a great joy of the book, it is incredibly satisfying to see Derek hit his stride and finally find his sense of place and belonging in the world. It is a moment of clarity that shines as bright as a star. It is also interesting to see someone come out to themselves in a time where the internet did not exist. Seeing the challenges he had to go through in his own coming out journey creates greater appreciation for the resources we have today.
This book is one that is of great importance. Learning of this person’s story of self-acceptance can create visibility for those in the LGBTQ+ community. It can also help those who have ever felt misunderstood know that they are not alone, and are completely valid in their own feelings and emotions. In a world where queer stories are typically silenced or censored, it is refreshing to see a book filled with hope for the community, as Derek’s story, although with bumps and adversity along the way, is ultimately an uplifting one. It is one of an underdog who finally finds themself after being put through various trials and tribulations. It is about someone who finally reached a sense of feeling happy, complete, and present in their true and most authentic version of themself. Seeing his story in an ultimately happy ending gives hope for the future of queer youth and the authentic representation in LGBTQ+ works and stories.