As you all know, I am a lesbian-I've written before about it here and here. Perhaps you didn't know that June is LGBT pride month, by Presidential proclamation. Jeremy Yoder at Denim and Tweed is putting together a Pride Carnival, which is a great idea. I will (try to remember to) link to when it is up. In the mean time, I thought I would write a little about being out.
Recent polls suggest that the majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, and support is especially strong in younger folks. This is great news, but there is still work to do. The upcoming Republic primary has brought a lot of anti-gay rhetoric back to the forefront. I do not know why the Republican field feels like gay-bashing is the way to win elections. There is not much that I can do to counteract this behavior, other than make sure my Congress Critters know where I stand on the issue. But I digress.
What I wanted to write about today is what it is like to be out as a new TT academic in the bio-sciences. EcoPhysioMichelle over at C6-H12-O6 has a post up about feeling invisible as a non-heterosexual academic. As she points out, it can be relatively easy to not mention the fact that you are LGBT. I have made it a point in my life to NOT be invisible. In other words, I am fully out. Everyone in my department knows that I am gay: colleagues, administrators, the janitor. All of the students know. My wife comes with me to departmental events and we have the lab peeps over for the occasional BBQ. If you are straight, you may be thinking "well, everyone knows that I am straight". No big deal, right. Wrong.
It is actually pretty exhausting to be out. I have to come out OVER AND OVER again. Pretty much every time that I meet someone new. You may not realize how often people make assumptions about heterosexuality. It would be easy for me not to correct people when they assume that I had a husband, and be invisible. But instead I instigate a short moment of awkwardness and correct the record. I will also inevitably have to answer questions about Mini-G. People are very interested in the details about how two women have a child. I suspect that straight couples are not asked so many questions about how their children are conceived.
For your enjoyment, here is a representative conversation:
person: So, what does your husband do?
me: there is no husband. But, my wife is a [redacted]
person: OH. *looks awkward*
person: how did you get married? it's not legal, right?
me: actually, we had a private ceremony. You are right, same-sex marriage is not legal in this state.
person: OH. *looks awkward*
me: so...[restarts conversation, generally going back to what we talking about before]
generally at this point, the other person gets past the awkwardness and we can go back to just talking like normal humans. Not always, but that is OK. It can be even more painful if they notice a photo of Mini-G. Here is an example (an aggregate from my real life):
person: is that your daughter?
person: she's adorable!
me: that is true
person: she looks just like you
me: that is a coincidence. We share no genetic material.
me: my wife carried her
person: how does that work?
me: I assume you aren't asking about human embryonic development?
person: uh...no...I just...
me: It basically works the same as it would for straight couples, except for the sperm delivery method.
These conversations can happen any time, any day. At scientific meetings, in the hall, in my lab. I'm used to it now, but it is still exhausting. But still I do it. Every time. I hope that by being so open that I can be an example/mentor for others that may not feel so safe that they can be out. I also believe that the more people that know someone who is gay (and KNOW that they know someone who is gay), the faster that some of the ass-backward laws out there will get changed. Since I can be out, I am I just hope that by being visible, I am making it better for others that still must be invisible.
If you would like some information about coming out, the HRC has a resource page here.