Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Response to the Post "Gay in the Academy" on the Blog 'Center of Gravitas'

Gravitas raises some very deft, useful, invaluable advice on his blog abut how gay men should interview for university teaching jobs:

Through questioning some of his points, I would like to contribute to this important dialogue. Quick background information: I currently have a tenure-track job at SUNY Brockport. I was hired to teach Creative Non-Fiction, but the majority of my classes have been poetry workshops, undergraduate and graduate. Five years ago, I went on the job market and interviewed at the MLA. I was offered four campus interviews and received an offer from all of those schools: Idaho State University, Adelphi University, Elon University, and, of course, SUNY Brockport. In my initial application, I gave all of these schools writing samples which contained explicit queer content.

I would like to add here that I am not writing this to be self-aggrandizing but to offer a context for my own observations and disagreements with Gravitas.

1.) When you are interviewing at a small university or one far from a major city, DO NOT ask faculty about the gay hot spots or what it's like there for a gay man. That would be an alert to them that you're looking for something "more urban" than they can offer. Also: you should have done that research yourself before the interview. Instead strategically emphasize why you would like to live in their location. I told the truth, partly because I don't lie: I lived in Alabama and Utah, two of the most conservative places in the nations, and love that small-town feel. They are aware that you're gay and that you might have additional concerns. Show them that you've already thought through them through as any interviewee should have.

Also, Gravitas, why should straight people know about gay spaces? They are straight after all.

2.) Smaller colleges are aware of how they might be perceived, that they may be seen as backwards or judgmental. Idaho University's faculty contained some of my favorite people. A lot of them were white, straight men and they offered unequivocal kindness. They reached out to me. In fact, after they threw me a little party, I went out drinking with three of the males and we got drunk.

Personally, I don't care if anyone is gay on the faculty. I just want some fun people to drink a bottle of wine with.

If you're uncomfortable, they'll be uncomfortable. They want you to see them as cool. So do. Most people are pretty nice if you don't make them nervous, self-conscious.

3.) Be out from the beginning. No interviewer likes surprises.

4.) Where are these schools you went for campus visits? I have a hard time believing that at every school you had told them you were gay, and then they still asked you about having been married at one point. Or am I misreading this claim? Is this meant as comedy?

5.) At the same, I did have "bizarre" occurrences. At one dinner with my interviewers, I was told that they needed a "breath of fresh air" and then they moved the conversation into S&M and bareback sex. I didn't mind sharing my opinions on them, but still.

6.) The meanest interviewers will inevitably be other openly gay men. They will feel you're going to be competition, and might not want to feel their queerness isn't as special as it was when you weren't around. Or that you'll steal their potential boyfriends. Or even worse: their tricks.

Even with these disagreements, I think your post was of great relevance, and hope to see more like this.

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