I should be cleaning up the house in anticipation of PJ’s arrival back home tomorrow, but I just came from a department meeting that’s left me really depressed. While writing about it on my blog is probably not the best idea, I need an outlet for what I’m feeling and thinking; otherwise, I’m just going to sit here and stew until I make myself a martini.

Here’s the thing: I actually don’t think my colleagues are homophobic in any sort of intentional or active way, but I think they might very well be intellectually homophobic, by which I mean prejudiced against queer work and teaching.

English departments are supposed to be so progressive and liberal. At least that’s what we’re told all the time. Right? We’re a bunch of lefties. In my experience here this is only true in the sense that my department and university doesn’t actively discriminate against GLBT people. But they don’t acknowledge our importance or value our presence either. Too often “liberal” just means ignoring difference, whether it be sexual, gender, racial, religious, etc. And ignoring difference causes problems.

First off, this meeting convinces me that my colleagues are simply blind to the relatively large number of GLBT students we have in our undergraduate major and graduate programs. It really makes me wonder how our students experience our classes. No wonder they’re so hungry for my Lesbian & Gay Lit course — it might very well be the only time they have a class that acknowledges sexual difference in any meaningful way. I often hear that it’s definitely one of the very few classes that actually values sexual difference (which is why I feel so guilty about taking a break from teaching it next year).

Second, while my department at least pays real lip service to racial difference, we’re terrible when it comes to GLBT issues. For example, as we discussed hiring priorities today, it seemed perfectly acceptable to everyone that we could combine a position in 20th-Century British Literature with Post-Colonial Theory, since, and I’m almost quoting here, almost anyone working the 20thC could be assumed to also work in Post-Colonial Theory and Literatures. My colleagues can’t image a good candidate in 20thC British Lit who didn’t also work, to some degree, in P-C Theory.

But when I suggested we add GLBT Lit/Theory as an alternate specialization, you’d think I was suggesting we look for someone who does 20thC Brit Lit and Beowulf. My colleagues do not assume that any good candidate in 20thC Brit Lit would also work, at least to some degree, in LGBT Lit/Theory. To the contrary, some actually worry that adding GLBT as an alternative (i.e. 20thC Brit Lit with preference going to someone who works in Post-Colonial and/or GLBT Theory and Lit) would narrow the field too much. That didn’t seem to be a problem when it was just P-C T&L. But add queerness to it and we’re apparently going too far.

I’m seriously tempted to start asking each search committee when they present their slate of candidates for a final vote whether they interviewed any candidates who work in GLBT issues and to justify not bringing such candidates to campus.

I really want us to hire someone who’s gay, lesbian, bi, or transsexual, regardless of their research field. I think our department would benefit from having more GLBT voices. But even if they brought GLBT candidates to campus, it probably wouldn’t help.

In my opinion, we tend to treat our GLBT candidates rather poorly. Since I was hired here 9 years ago, my colleagues have only brought three openly gay candidates to campus for an interview. One was for a job in 20thC British Lit; she refused our offer when we made it because she thought we were too homophobic. (As an early career candidate, she was already an extremely promising scholar; that promise has since been fulfilled. We really missed out on an opportunity to have a relatively important lesbian scholar on our faculty.) The second was my partner. While I have to give my colleagues some credit for ultimately hiring him, it wasn’t without its attendant homophobia either, and if the department that he was then a part of had been in a position to offer me a tenure-track job, we would have taken it over staying here. (This was certainly true after some of the treatment we experienced during the hiring process here.) And finally, when I chaired a search committee, we brought an openly gay candidate to campus, mostly — but not solely — because I insisted on it. Again, I think my department treated him poorly. (I don’t think this poor treatment was reflected in our rankings for the job, but I think my department’s overall response to his work and teaching was anything but accepting and welcoming, and one could make a good case that it was homophobic.)

Again, I don’t think my colleagues are trying to be homophobic. And they certainly don’t think they are. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground — we don’t bring GLBT candidates to campus and, in the few instances when one gets here, we treat them badly and do our best not to hire them. (I should also point out that I was not out in my interview here. I also de-emphasized any queerness in my work or teaching interests. In some ways, I think that made me a “safe gay” to hire — non-threatening. PJ’s work is even less gay than mine.)

This university is in the middle of nowhere, southeast Ohio. It’s true that we have a difficult time attracting minorities of any sort. Whenever PJ and I return from a trip to anywhere — NYC, SF, London, Spain, Paris, Worcester, or even San Antonio, we’re always struck by the fact that this is seemingly a desolate wasteland. But other departments seem to be able to hire GLBT candidates on a regular basis. My department has one of the best records in hiring women and we’re among the most diverse departments on campus, but departments smaller than us have hired more GLBT faculty, some of whom work on GLBT issues, some who don’t.

I know that America in general is homophobic and many departments are worse than mine when it comes to GLBT issues. But at least if PJ and I lived in New England or any major city along the west coast, just to name two examples, we could leave these kinds of meetings and have a more gay-friendly lifestyle outside of our department. Here, you can’t go to Kroger without running into a colleague or two. And even on the best of days, there ain’t much here outside of the university. If you want to see a play, you have to go to the School of Theater productions or wait for the random traveling show that’s coming through this year. (And does anyone really want to see the traveling show of Phantom of the Opera?!) Want a gay bar or bookstore (any decent bookstore, not just gay ones)? Go to Columbus — an hour and a half away.

The only way to change this situation is for me to get to work, publish some articles, and write my next book. Regardless of whether I ever become an administrator or just want to do my research, the only way we’re out of here is by working hard and getting more published.

I guess I’d better get to work ….

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