Allan D. Hunter
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
GenderQueer: A Story from a Different Closet is the memoir of growing up in the space between two things. In the case of Allan D. Hunter (Derek in the book), it’s the chasm that separates the girls from the boys.
Derek’s struggle to define himself resonates with people who are not genderqueer because so many of us have felt like outsiders and struggled against the pressure of others to define ourselves in our own terms. It’s an unflinching look at what it’s like to be different, but also a memoir full of hope and purpose.
GenderQueer will resonate in a special way with people in Los Alamos because it’s the setting for Derek’s story. The story takes off from eighth grade, the year his family moved to a certain quirky town in New Mexico. Echoes of the story, which takes place in the 1970s, are everywhere in 2020 Los Alamos. Derek walks the same streets and high school halls Los Alamos kids walk today, and odds are, some of them are struggling to find their place, as Derek was in the 70s.
“All the way back in elementary school, I realized I had more in common with the girls,” Hunter said. “I didn’t agree there was something wrong with that. Other people pushed me, but I didn’t want to be shoehorned into something I wasn’t.”
When Derek came to Los Alamos, he was on the cusp of puberty and the discovery that he was attracted to girls. Derek discovered he was not gay; he was a different kind of heterosexual. Inside, he felt like a girl, but his body was telling him that his sexuality was directed toward other girls (the female kind). The struggle was on to find a place for himself and an identity that truly represented him.
As Derek matures, what perhaps strikes the reader most is his strength and courage. He absolutely refuses to be someone he is not in the face of all kinds of pressure, from hostility to misunderstanding of him by those who are close. A few good friends and his loving family see Derek through, but it’s a very rocky road.
“My family was supportive of me personally being who I was,” Hunter said. “They didn’t try to change me into a more typical boy. I came to the realization that other people thought there was something wrong with me, but the people closest to me just dismissed that. It gave me the confidence and courage to get through what I had to go through.”
Dating is a mixed bag. He got close to a few girls, but they expected him to behave like one of the boys, when he’s really more like a girl. Like many outsiders before and after him, Derek found a home in choir.
“We were incredibly good,” Hunter said. “That makes for a warm group.”
Derek next went off to Albuquerque to attend UNM.
“I tried out the identity of ‘counterculture guy’ but that didn’t work for me,” Hunter said. “I was still made to feel I was different, and my sexual life wasn’t flowering. I had to make an identity for myself that was not rooted in masculinity. I had to find what worked for me. I went looking for people who were like me.”
Sick of being misunderstood, even by those who tried to get close to him, Derek decided to come out as who he truly was. In the 70s, gay culture was beginning to bloom, and feminism was developing into a second wave, but there was no defined place for someone like Derek.
Coming out produced unexpected fallout as well as what Derek had known would occur. He ended up being involuntarily committed to a mental institution for a short period. He was scorned by some, hurt physically and mentally by others and misunderstood by nearly everyone. Derek needed a bigger canvas to build his life. He made the move to New York City.
“To find others like me, it made sense to be in a densely populated city with a big cluster of people,” Hunter said. “After growing up in a small town where people talk about you and get a preconceived impression, there are real thrills to the anonymity living in a big city. I came to New York looking for my people. Eventually, I met people I resonated with.”
The book ends with Derek finding a place for himself in New York, but Hunter’s story continues. Like Derek in the book, Hunter is much more than his sexuality. He’s a gender activist, a speaker, a musician, a scholar and a caring shoulder for those in need of comfort, whatever their sexuality and identity.
In New York, Hunter has developed into an advocate for other people whose sexuality doesn’t fit neatly in the boxes of LBGT. He got a degree in women’s studies and explored what it means to be “feminine” in a world that undervalues it and overvalues masculinity. He holds graduate degrees in sociology and social work and has worked with psychiatric patients’ rights groups and gender identity support groups.
“I see myself as a heterosexual sissy,” Hunter said. “The courtship rules of heterosexuality don’t work for me. I get some hostility for using girl rather than woman to describe myself, but I get my identity from childhood as ‘one of the girls’.
In 2017, Hunter returned to Los Alamos for his 40th Los Alamos High School Reunion.
“People have been very supportive,” he said. “I changed all the names in the book. I didn’t want to call people out or settle scores.”
Los Alamos can be proud of this hometown hero who overcame the odds to build a life on his terms and wrote a moving, compelling memoir to chronicle it and build understanding for those coming out of a different closet.
GenderQueer is published by Sunstone Press. It is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as from the publisher and in bookstores. Visit Hunter online at his website genderkitten.com. Hunter is available as a speaker. Contact him through his website.