Queer Women in the Humanities: The Job Market, Part 1

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Queer Women in the Humanities: The Job Market, Part 1

carry more weight as a decision making factor than whether you’ll see anything beautiful (whatever that means for you) on your way to work every day. But that’s not me. And we’re not brains in vats. Fight for your happiness; put it first, not last.

Queer Scholar 2

I consider myself a queer theorist and was looking to get a job in a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department. I got my PhD in 2009 and had a series of postdocs and was on the market for 4 years before landing a tenure track job. Obviously, the academic job market is difficult. I’m not sure that my sexuality produced any particular difficulties in that I was looking to go into WGS, which is a place that is pretty friendly towards LGBTQ folks, but there are several things that I should note.

Bracketing the horrendous timing of entering the job market during the precise years that many jobs were being taken away, I also work on theory, which occupies a somewhat precarious place in the academy. Most people want social scientists to speak to LGBTQ issues, not theorists who are looking to complicate things through readings of theory, literature, or culture. I felt like this bias against theory was also echoed by the fact that I present as a feminine woman. I often wondered if people especially in places with smaller departments where representing sexuality seems to be as important as teaching about it were put off by my seeming “invisibility.” If they couldn’t tell that I was queer, how could students, many of whom look to these faculty members for all different types of advising?

I think this also made them worry about my commitment to sexuality studies and what I would be teaching. On the other hand, this invisibility meant that they were also worried about what I would be looking for at these places on a personal level. So, there was a lot of energy at campus visits articulating the ways in which X or Y campus was friendly for people with a wide array of personal life situations. That was both nice and awkward in that I didn’t want to shut down certain avenues of conversation—the schools here are really great—because I didn’t want to get into the details about my personal live. It also, however, made it difficult to see how I would actually fit in—would people assume I was straight and what would I do about that?

The other thing that I would add is that I’m a woman of color and as such I found being interpellated in that frame much more intense than that of sexuality. People expected my work on race to follow particular identity formations and I felt as though I was expected to behave and perform in certain ways. As a result, I felt caught between not feeling like people thought I was “authentic” enough and feeling torn between disavowing that role and also desperately wanting a job. It made me defensive of my work and I wanted to push for a wider understanding of what constitutes work in these types of categories. I wanted to see more people put theory (queer studies) into practice in terms of their hiring decisions.