I gay wrote this post

Jun 10 2011 Published by under academia, queer

As you all know, I am a lesbian-I've written before about it here and here. Perhaps you didn't know that June isΒ  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: ...
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?
me: yep
person: she's adorable!
me: that is true
person: she looks just like you
me: that is a coincidence. We share no genetic material.
person: ??
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.

40 responses so far

  • modscientist says:

    I gay-love this post. Not because it is so true, and so important for the "well, everyone knows I'm straight" folks to hear this from you, but because it made me uncomfortable to read this. I was 100% out at my last job and my decision to be more private about my personal life in general has resulted in me accidentally closeting myself at my new job. This has been bothering me of late but I keep pushing it aside thinking I will deal with it later because you are right, it is EXHAUSTING! It's draining to constantly have to correct people's unfair assumptions, but it is necessary. I owe it to them and to myself. Thanks for reminding me that I need to tackle this now.

  • Dr 27 says:

    Wonderfully written. Thank you for posting this. I like to (stupidly) take pride in my "openess" and acceptance of all people, all marriages, all everything, but I'm guilty of some of the confused looks, and silly questions. Partly it's because I'm just curious (I'm a researcher after all) ... but we have to fight, and fight hard to make sure everyone gets the message and we get to a point where (like the poster says) simply talks about marriage, and there's no more stigma or looks or judgement. There has to be a time when there's no segregation, no more "white-only waiting room" ... no more gay-marriage, just simply loving, caring, wonderful marriage of two people who love, respect and want to be with each other.

  • Dr. O says:

    I had a conversation recently with a lesbian couple in our church choir. We were talking about Monkey, starting families, etc, and I asked them if they were thinking about kids yet. One of the women looked at me surprised and said "well, how exactly do you think THAT would work for us?" I wasn't sure what to say, and I fumbled around for a minute about adoption, sperm donors, etc, not quite sure where she was coming from. It quickly became clear that she was giving me a hard time, though (yeah, she has that kind of an awkward sense of humor), and she started laughing about how red in the face I got for a moment...

    Not sure how/if that relates, but your post reminded me and I felt the need to share. I guess I don't understand why topics of marriage and kids should be any different for a same sex versus heterosexual couple, but it's apparent that they are. I can imagine it's exhausting to keep explaining, and I applaud you for putting in the effort to be out. Understanding that sexuality is not a lifestyle choice begins with people learning about who you are. We all have the same desires to live our lives, which includes finding a life-long partner and watching our families grow. Why that is so hard for some people to understand, I'll never get.

    • gerty-z says:

      sometimes it is too easy to be snarky, especially with someone that you actually LIKE πŸ™‚ I have been known to tease my friends this way, too. Thanks for being a good sport

  • Zee says:

    I grew up in a super-gay friendly progressive west coast city and as such I tend to ask people about their significant others and called my then boyfriend 'partner'. Mainly because I felt like after four years he was a little bit more to me then just a 'boyfriend', this coupled with the fact that I liked to keep my personal life separate from my scientific life lead to a number of people assuming I was a lesbian. So I found myself on occasion having to 'come out' as straight, which is weird. It was super uncomfortable and awkward and I only had to do it a few times. I can't even fathom what it must be like for you, exhausting I am sure.

    On a side note, while I was pregnant people did constantly ask me "was it planned?" Which seems like an extremely invasive question to me.

    • CoR says:

      What?! People really asked if it was an accident?

      Jeebus, that's just invasive as all shit.

    • gerty-z says:

      I have noticed that people really feel like getting pregnant erases all normal social boundaries. So, I can unfortunately believe that someone asked you if it was planned. I almost cross-checked someone one when they started rubbing my wife's pregnant belly. What is wrong with people??

  • CoR says:

    Keep on keepin on. Until you can't, and then we'll listen about how annoying it is....*most* people mean well, but are clueless. That operative might help.

  • sciencegeeka says:

    I keep deleting my comments because I wholeheartedly agree with marriage for everyone, and everything I keep typing just seems silly. So I'll just say this: Love, as we've seen from poetry and music, is a complicated thing, and regardless of where you find it, you should keep it and care for it and cherish it. Fuck all, you have what most of us want and can't find, you shouldn't be explaining anything.

  • brian says:

    In reference to:

    "I assume you aren't asking about human embryonic development?"

    As a gay man, I can tell you that snarky responses to awkward surprise is not charming, necessary, or even very polite. I get looks of surprise all the time when people ask about my girlfriend only to discover that I'm gay - but alienating them with deadpan answers like that is no way to win the hearts of those that frustrate you.

    Other than that, nice post.

    • gerty-z says:

      Brian, I might *sometimes* agree with you. But fuck it, I'm a kinda snarky person. And when a DEVELOPMENTAL biologist comes at you with that I feel like it is fair game. We all have our own ways.

  • Glfadkt says:

    I can totally relate to Zee, and the fact that stereotypes also impact perceptions of us heterosexual folks. As a single, never married, woman in my 50s who happens to be an avid golfer, colleagues in the scientific community have deemed it necessary to ask my friends if I am lesbian... My questions: 1) why is it their business, and 2) what does it matter?

  • GMP says:

    Assumptions are the grease of small talk, there's not way around it.
    I fear that if one is in any way out of the mainstream, the annoying questions never end. I try to think most people are genuinely curious and don't mean anything bad...

    For instance, I have to forever explain where I am from when people hear a slight accent (they always make a wrong assumption about where I am from). I also often have to correct them I am not an administrative assistant (people who run into me in the building) and not a postdoc (people whom I first meet at a big conference).
    My friend who had fraternal twins conceived naturally constantly has to answer questions that no, she did not have IVF. I am sure 30 years ago nobody would have asked her that, but now the common perception of what having twins means has changed...

    After I moved to my TT position, I had a couple of pictures of my older son in my office. Lots of people asked if I was a single mom. Then I put in some pics of husband, and then they stopped. When I had baby No 2 I added pictures of hub + 2 kids, so now nobody makes mistakes about my marital status or number of kids. My husband had gained a lot of weight and couldn't wear his wedding ring for a while; after he got fed up about people assuming he's single, he went and got himself a new one.

    I am not trying to trivialize your experiences. I can imagine it's annoying as hell having to constantly correct people about your marital status/sexual orientation, but hopefully most people don't mean anything bad and are just curious...
    You could probably preemptively fend off some of the annoying comments by boldly displaying pics of you and your wife at the wedding and with your kid in the office, and start from there...

  • When people ask how you had a child, you should be all like, "Parthenogenesis! How the fucke did you thinke?"

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    You're gay and you're married???? WTF??? I was just about to begin the courting process, lying on the beach drinking fine scotch and throwing rocks at other heterosexuals. This is no fair. Think of all the great times we could have had together.

    Its okay though, if you love something set it free and I release you GertyZ!

    I heart me some Dirt McGirt! You, your wife, and miniG serve as a shining example of how it doesn't fucking matter what your sexual orientation is to have a loving family and raise a human being. I applaud you lady!

  • gerty-z says:

    For the record, like many of you, I suspect that most people mean well and are just curious. I get it, really I do. Sometimes, though, I have to wonder what is going through people's heads when shit like this falls out. Especially when it is someone I just met. You can be curious, but that shouldn't erase all normal boundaries. This is true whether someone is LGBT or pregnant. IMO.

    • CoR says:

      Yeah, I agree. I alternate in life between 'Oh, that person is just clueless and I need to gently inform them' and 'what the fucking fuck are you fucking kidding.' The former, when suggesting others consider that mindset, feels matronizing and fights with the latter, which is generally my angry place.....

  • fcs says:

    Great post, Gerty. I, too, gay-love it. πŸ™‚

  • Dr Becca says:

    Amazing post, Gerty! Can we get this thing to go viral?

  • Ann says:

    An excellent post! It must be very hard having to explain it all the time. I am fortunate in that I guess I'm too weird and quiet for anyone to ever ask me anything personal at all. It blows my mind that people ask such things.

    I have a coworker who's pregnant, and I never once referenced it, to her or anyone else, even after it had become quite clear. It's only now that we've had the baby shower that I feel I could say something. As some people have said, "Never assume a woman is pregnant unless you can actually see the baby crowning."

    It wouldn't occur to me to ask if someone were going to have children. I am totally aware that many women don't because heck, I don't. Maybe it's harder for those who've had them.

    The issue in assuming a "husband" isn't just about assuming heterosexuality. It's also about assuming marriage (unless there's a visible ring). To assume it's a husband and not a wife is based partly on percentages (gays are a minority of the population) and partly on the presence of a ring as a symbol of marriage, which is still not legal for many people (even though you can obviously wear one without the legalism).

    I know a couple who aren't just two women; they also have several adopted children--mostly special needs and some of a different ethnicity, and two of them are gay themselves (and one of them considered a sex change). They also have two who are biological children of one woman from her previous marriage. Just imagine the fun they have explaining their family.

  • Kausik Datta says:

    Brilliant post, and I loved it. But I have a question. Your opening line -

    What I wanted to write about today is what it is like to be out as a new TT academic in the bio-sciences.

    - confused me slightly. The conversations you have recorded - including those awkward questions - those were conducted in a personal capacity, right? Those people were asking you personal questions, which - because of their personal biases, prejudices and/or ignorance - often bordered on intrusive or invasive. But you possibly meet similar people - and get the same questions - in a non-academic setting, say, a social function or a gathering, right? This, then, wasn't directly related to your being an academic or being in the academia, no?

    Please tell me if I am reading this wrong. As far as academic matters are concerned, sexual orientation should NOT matter, at all. From what you wrote about your department, it seems it doesn't. Where I work, it doesn't either. When I read your opening line, I thought you were going to write about subtle and overt discriminations against gay folks in the academia. Having read the post, I note - with a certain degree of relief - that it's about human ignorance that is universal. πŸ™‚

    • gerty-z says:

      Kausik, you are correct-I didn't actually write about anything that is academia-specific, I guess. I often think of this as part of my academic life, maybe because it seems to happen more often in that realm of my life. For some reason, it seems that in normal social settings this rarely happens. This may be a side-effect of the fact that as a newbie on the tenure track I spend most of my time in the academic sphere, so a lot of my social interactions are with academics.

      You raise an important point, though, about the biases against gay folks in academia. I have been lucky (or oblivious) enough not to have run into discrimination much...yet. But I have heard of situations where a person's sexual orientation DID come up during hiring or promotion decisions. These decisions can be somewhat subjective, so it is entirely possible that there are extra hurdles for the LGBT academic that are just not very well documented. I am constantly aware that my colleague's perception of me plays a large role in whether or not I will be able to get tenure. That is part of the reason that I made sure to be "out" when I was interviewing for jobs. It may be that I didn't get some job offers because of this, but at least when I come up for tenure it will not be something that was a surprise that gets discussed at the faculty meeting (I hope).

  • Anastasia says:

    I sometimes worry that I ask inappropriate questions because I am extremely curious and as a scientist I genuinely want more information. For example, I just spent an evening with a colleague, his partner, and their newborn and I had to actively stop myself from asking a million questions, although I'm sure a few awkward things slipped out. And this is with a heterosexual couple. I'm sure I'd have just as many questions if they were a same sex couple. I just wanted to say that I'm sure at least some other people besides me well-meaning and definitely don't intend to make others uncomfortable.

    Thanks for writing this excellent post. I appreciate your snark, although I'm sure I'd blush fire-truck red if confronted with it in person. πŸ™‚

  • a says:

    people wanting to know about how babies of gay parents are conceived made me laugh. I think you only need to hear any details once.
    During my master's, there was a student who was trying to conceive with her lesbian partner it was a DIY job with a close friend as the sperm donor. We heard all the details, partly because the sperm donor lived a few hours away. TMI by far... so when my supervisor's lesbian partner became pregnant, I think I was the only one who didn't try to find out how (she's a difficult person to ask though so I don't think anyone was successful)

  • Tideliar says:

    I bi-love this post totes πŸ™‚

  • As a femme bi partnered with a male, I keep trying to figure out how to be an out role model/safe person in spite of all my het appearances. It's exhausting, but less exhausting than when I didn't have a het appearance. I'm so glad you are doing what you are doing. Awesome post. I'm going to steal some of the lines from it and pass it on to friends in need.

    • gerty-z says:

      I'm glad that you stopped by! I imagine it would be difficult to be "out" in your situation, but I'm glad that you are trying. And, you are more than welcome to steal any lines that you think are useful (or entertaining)

  • Anonymous says:

    Please credit people when you steal their graphics.


  • [...] many of the things I struggle with are not unique to the science world, like the exhaustion of constantly outing myself, the assumptions and invisibility that come with the femme territory, [...]

  • […] It gets better in the sciences for a lot of us, but it also gets complicated. EcoPhysioMichelle finds she must “write her own history” as a bisexual and a scientist. Gerty-z explains how coming out at work doesn’t happen just onceβ€”it happens over and over again. […]

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