Writing the Book I Wanted to Read and Other Clichés
The following is a guest post by Ephraim Das Janssen, author of Phenomenal Gender: What Transgender Experience Discloses.
Moving to New York City changed my life.
Yep, I lived that cliché and perform another in the telling of it.
As with all the best-hackneyed protagonists of myth and pulp, it was necessary that I pass from one world into another before becoming what came next: in this case, a gay, transgender philosopher queering the notorious, brilliant, obscure, fascist  phenomenologist Martin Heidegger. That involved moving to a city I’d theretofore avoided to attend a conservative, rigorous graduate program, and find a queer community.
A world is a context of meaningfulness, as Heidegger famously points out in “Origin of the Work of Art." Think of the way we use phrases like the “business world” and the “sports world.” We are all always operating in multiple overlapping worlds. The various New Yorks I know are certainly worlds apart from Hampton Roads, Virginia! Almost all the gay folks “back home”  had about the same body type, about the same haircut, and wore the same eyeglass frames and clothing. This is probably because they all were or had been in the military. Just seeing gay men with long hair was a delight and a revelation. And in that world of Hampton Roads, where the military weds the evangelical, narrowly shaping expectations of human nature and behavior, there simply was not room for me. I could not make sense to myself or anyone else, and thus could not thrive. There was more room in New York, with its sheer exuberance of intermingling humanity, to grow into a life that literally could not be in Hampton Roads.
While in grad school, stealing time to read books about gender, what I really wanted was a book that was not based in the medical model to grasp what gender is to begin with. Physicians and psychologists do not hesitate to make declarations regarding gender non-conformity, seemingly without ever talking about what gender conformity is. Or what gender is.
Nearly all the non-medical books I could find were personal accounts of people coming out as trans or gender non-conforming, telling their stories. These stories are indispensable to understanding human experience, but they also don’t tell what gender is. So, not finding the book I needed to read, I started working on the puzzle while also beginning a dissertation on onto-theology.  Soon enough, I officially changed my topic.
I still needed to write about Heidegger, but of all the philosophers to queer, he seemed like the least-likely candidate. And yet… most of my theoretical thinking happened through a lens of Heidegger’s understanding of the world, of human Being  as discernable by means of experience, and challenges to the traps of traditional philosophical presuppositions. Books on gender settled right down into my philosophical milieu, particularly their emphasis on gender as it is experienced, which is precisely what phenomenology is all about: treating the experience as worthy of philosophical investigation.
And it took shape startlingly quickly.
The structure of “the question of gender,” asked as a question of human experience, taking into account the ways gender has been thought throughout history, coalesced. Thinkers who are most commonly viewed as being at-odds contributed perspectives and theories in cooperation with one another when applied to this ubiquitous phenomenon, gender. Since when do Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler play well together? Most would expect this to look like trying to paint a touchdown on a chessboard. And yet, when approached to describe how we talk about our experience of a phenomenon, instead of describing the theory, they each contribute indispensable elements to what shaped up to be a kind of stone soup consideration of gender in the worlds where people dwell.
I could not write a book on gender to explain it to myself without also writing a book about you and everyone else too. No doubt, some will howl “No!” at what I have to say. Gender, it seems, maybe a tad controversial. The shooters will have to write their own account; I only ever had my own to tell.
Ephraim Das Janssen
Author of: Phenomenal Gender: What Transgender Experience Discloses
To learn more about Indiana University Press author, Ephraim Das Jansse, as he shares his gender journey enjoy his published book Phenomenal Gender: What Transgender Experience Discloses available now.
 I can make no excuses and have no explanations to offer. Heidegger was brilliant. Heidegger was a Nazi. Both statements are true. Were I to get my hands on Bill and Ted’s time machine, I might attend one of his lectures, but he doesn’t get an invitation to dinner.
 Though it never was my home.
 (Don’t ask. I’m still not sure what’s going on with onto-theology.)
 As opposed to being, which is something else. In some translations. Did I mention that Heidegger can be obscure?