Pride in Academia- the labels that don’t stick…

I am a 40 year old cis gendered woman. I am an academic and a researcher in Social Sciences. I hold a permanent contract with my University and yet I am not sure how to celebrate Pride… 

I quietly ticked ‘Bi’ in the sexual orientation box when I applied for my post a year ago and this was the only time the subject sexual orientation or sexual identity was raised. 

In my work and private life, I am not ‘loud, out and proud’ but I also don’t make a secret of my sexual orientation. The issue is more that no one asks and people around me make assumptions: She is a white woman with a husband a kids- so she must be straight.  

In my experience, when the issue of sexual orientation comes up, it is usually said in a derogatory way. I recently challenged a young man who referred to something looking as gay. When I questioned what he meant by this, he said ‘you know, stupid’. He continued to explain that this is how he was brought up in the local community, it is just something that people in their 20s and 30s would say. I played along and stated that my wife was definitely not stupid which led to his great confusion as he was sure he had met my husband. 

These little confrontations may look harmless or even funny to those who don’t experience ‘otherness’ but this encounter deeply upset me- we clearly have a long way to go in society, including younger generations to accept people how they are and for who they are. 

If I ever feel safe enough in a conversation in personal or work life to share my sexual orientation, the point is usually made that my husband is a very lucky man. I leave it to your imagination what kind of assumptions are made… My reply usually is that it did not matter to me what kind of genitalia my partner has, it is more about what is in their heart and mind that attracts me to people. 

In academia, otherness is difficult as a topic and in experience. In the UK most academics are of a White British background and in my faculty, I don’t know of anyone who is out as LGBTQ. Although I don’t believe that there would be open discrimination, we have to face the fact that there is currently a 15% gender pay gap between men and women (never mind anyone in between) in academia. So how can we claim that we are addressing inequality when we have such significant evidence that we are indeed not. And if we are not addressing the obvious discrimination, how can we expect anyone from either an ‘other’ background or non straight sexual orientation to feel included, respected and valued in the truest sense. 

Greetings from a white, cis gendered, middle aged, middle class, highly educated woman… 

PS. Don’t make assumptions! 

-by

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