10 March 2010

Lesbians In My Future?

Today Doreen, an advocacy coordinator for SAGE, asked me whether I could spend a day or two in Washington, DC. I would be meeting with other people from SAGE, as well as lobbyists and possibly officials. The only problem is that most of the events in which I'd want to participate are on Monday. I really can't take the day off: I've already taken a sick day and the atmosphere at the college, and in my department, is becoming more and more like what I imagine the CIA to be. Everybody--at least the non-tenured people--are overworked and tense, and nobody seems to trust anybody. I find that I'm becoming more and more like them, at least when I'm not in a classroom or otherwise working with my students.

I realize now that's one of the reasons I enjoyed last weekend so much. The people were great; I would have enjoyed them under just about any circumstance. I felt like I was on a little vacation: There was nothing to do but learn and meet people. At one time, being an educator was like that, and for a time, that's how it was at the college in which I'm teaching now.

Maybe it will be like that again some day. I guess I should be thankful I have a job. I also guess that the powers-that-be realize that we all are thinking that way, and they're exploiting that, if in covert ways.

It seems that since the year began, I've spent every waking hour at the college. What do I have to show for it? What have I accomplished? I might get the opportunity to help more students, but what am I really doing for them if I never have enough time to focus on anything enough to do it well? I sometimes feel like I'm in a crowd and everybody's trying to talk to me at the same time. That means, of course, that I can't really hear anybody, and some of those whom I don't hear will grow angry and hostile. And the authorities will penalize me if any of those angry, hostile people act out of those emotions.

OK. You're going to tell me I'm paranoid. If that's so, I've absorbed what's around me. It may be the reason why I've gained weight and why my sinuses have been acting up.

Plus, I'm noticing that some female colleagues with whom I'd once been friendly--or at least who had been civil toward me--have become disdainful, and have even tinged their interactions with me--to the extent that we have any-- with an undertone of hostility. I'm not saying that all, or even most, most female faculty and staff members have been treating me that way. But a few have been acting like sorority girls faced with a particularly unattractive pledge. They are straight and consider themselves progressive and open-minded. And they all use the rhetoric and vocabulary of gender studies and related fields.

I guess I should have been paying more attention when Elizabeth decided to end her friendship with me: That experience parallells, in so many ways, what's happening now. The funny thing is that she admitted--without any input from me--that the problem is not one of my transition itself, but of her unwillingness to understand. (Ironically, one of my brothers said exactly the same thing when I talked to him for the first time since I "came out.") She expressed resentment that I was unfairly claiming my status as a woman even though I do not share some of the experiences, such as menstruation, that she and other women have in common. She even said that I was "changing gender" to achieve favored status under affirmative-action laws. That, she said, was completely unfair to women like her, who have chosen to pursue degrees in fields like Gender Studies but can't get jobs in them. As if I took a job away from her, or any of her classmates!

It may also be that until people like her and the colleagues I've mentioned met me, they had only read about transgenders in their gender studies books and talked about whatever they read in those books. That, of course, makes transgenders the objects of study. But when you know someone in person, she cannot be an object; she becomes a subject--like a strong, articulate black person, whom liberal academics also cannot stand unless they're dead and in history books.

Now, as I said, not all female academics are as I've described. And almost no woman I've met who isn't an academician is like that. However, I've had my worst individual experiences, so far, with straight women with PhDs in liberal arts subjects.

Maybe I'll be spending more time--or even working with--older lesbians in the not-too-distant future. Right now, that sounds really good.


Jeanne Genet said...

Welcome to the sisterhood!
What you are describing is "normal".

Justine Valinotti said...

Membership has its privileges, I guess.

At least the women I've described aren't the majority. But I see them at work every day.