Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Queer on the Job

I've talked before about how I'm open with my students about my queer identity. I mentioned that this is a dangerous position to a certain extent, and that the idea of whether to be open on the job is contested amongst queer people. I think it is an entirely personal decision, and I would never, ever fault anyone for not being out at work or anywhere else. We all have to navigate our own lives the way we see fit. But the person I am is not someone who's good at hiding stuff, or playing the game, or pretending to mainstream-ness, or whatever. It's not about me hitting peoples' gaydar as much as it is just not being good at keeping my mouth closed or my identity secret. And there is certainly an element of choice, too. As I said in my previous post, it's about creating space for people to be comfortable in my classroom with being queer. And I teach in a college of education, so I feel these issues are especially pressing, considering how hard it is to be out in a K-12 setting.

A new report by the Williams Institute (that's a PDF) shows that 38% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults have experienced harassment at work because of their sexual orientation, and around 1/3 of LGB adults are not out at work. This number is surely significantly higher for trans people.

As Queerty points out, there are plenty (plentyyyyyyyy) of people out there who would say "Just tone it down and stop being so... you know, GAY in PUBLIC and then you won't have any moar problemz!" Well, that isn't going to work. Asking people to tone it down to fit in is asking for assimilation, and that's not cool. I mean, if you're a mainstream type of person or assimilation is fun for you, rock on with your bad self. But it isn't for me, and it isn't for most of my friends (next time we have coffee I'll tell you about my 4th of July fireworks adventure with the Gender Mafia and you'll laugh and laugh and be jealous of the delicious kettle corn and of my awesome queer family).

For me, trying to pretend that I'm part of the white middle class straight protestant mainstream capitalist America stuff is just not going to happen. My friend Dierdre said once that if she were going to just go along to get along, she'd have to take out part of her humanity and shoot it, which is exactly it (D: I apologize if I'm misquoting you, please correct me in the comments if I am). You don't have to like who I am and the way I express myself, that's cool. But we should, at a minimum, be able to avoid persecuting each other for things that don't affect anyone else, really, right? I mean, laydee-types who like b00bz are not ruining your family or your ability to do your job or anything like that. So I'm not going to tone it down for you, that deliciously flamboyant gay dude isn't going to tone it down for you, the hottie gender outlaw who you just can't figure out isn't going to pick a gender and stick with it to make you more comfortable. Learn to live with being uncomfy, you know?

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everyone more accepting of - and excited by! - nontraditional gender expression or out-and-proud queers or whatever. I can't. In the meantime, though, for me, the answer is not to try to hide anything. This might mean no academic job for me, but I'd rather shred my PhD by hand than pretend to be someone I'm not to get a job at Straight Doodz U. I can figure something else out. That's a privileged position I'm in, and I get that not everyone is. So what are we going to do to make workplaces safer for those of us who don't fit in and who can't just go find a job working at a place where it's Okay To Be Takei?


  1. I think we are doing that in my own classroom. Our students go out into the workplace...and regardless of whether they felt they learned a damn thing in my women's studies or sociology class, they exist in the world with some level of greater awareness. I feel like that change is slow, but it's a significant part of why I feel teaching is important--because it can change the world.

    I am not necessarily "out" in the classroom, though I do sit on some sexualities panels for friends, but I think I do a good job of creating an environment that communicates to students that our classroom is a queer-friendly space. At the present time I like to keep my students guessing about me--not to hide anything, but as a sort of experiment in getting them to think, putting them in that uneasy space where they might think I'm straight (since I'm femme) but then I cover topics and say things that they wouldn't expect your average straight person to say. I'm not necessarily sure what the pedagogical outcome of that ambiguity is, but I am comfortable with it primarily because I know I am communicating understanding and acceptance to the queer students in my classroom even if I don't explicitly state that I am queer.

  2. I really appreciate your comment! I've been out of town and just got a chance to read it. I think making a classroom queer-friendly is the most important thing you can do in this regard, and students can live with - and learn a lot from - ambiguity. I'm fairly femme in my appearance, though I have a visible tattoo that I think most people would (correctly) assume is Pride-related.

    If you ever want to chat more about these issues, or write a guest post about them, let me know. :)