Too Gay, or Not Too Gay? That is the Question.

08/02/2013 § 25 Comments

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sarah Alexander.

I like to think that most librarians are open-minded. We’re the protectors of the First Amendment! We believe in information for all! We help the patron in front of us no matter who they are. Like doctors, but with books instead of medicine. But then I think about all the awkward looks I got when I wore a rainbow tie at a library conference. I think about a long argument I had with a co-worker about the “appropriateness” of providing information on trans* issues in a small, public library where she claimed, “there were no gay people,” and I just get angry.

Did I mention I’m a big ol’ lesbian?

sarahalexander

I’ve spent a lot of time lately being anxious about applying for jobs, or more specifically, the information I would provide when doing so. I wondered if I should put those personal essays I’ve had published on my resume, because they’re all about being a homo. I wondered whether I should grow my hair out so I don’t scream “dyke” when I walk in for an interview. I wondered if I should change my twitter handle from @lez_brarian to something safer and scrub my tweets of anything not strictly library related. Not only was I anxious about all these things, I was also angry about being anxious because the very reason for my anxiety – the concept that there are still people who are made very uncomfortable by my identity as gay—really pisses me off. I’m tired of policing my language because the word dyke makes some people uncomfortable. I’m tired of having to deal with ignorant idiots around me. I’m tired of constantly defending myself, of constantly being on the defense.

The other element of my anxiety was the realization that the more I come out in a public and professional way the less control I have over the decision to come out on an individual basis. I used to think of coming out as something you did once. I thought that there was a short period of time when you told your family and friends and then it was done and you could just exist in the world as who you were. Six years into being out, I’ve realized that coming out isn’t a one time or short-term thing. Coming out is something I do on an almost daily basis. Every new situation, every new person I meet means I have to decide where, when and if I want to disclose this aspect of my identity. Sometimes it’s an easy decision, but sometimes it’s not. We live in a world that is still not entirely safe for LGBTQ people.

When discussing my concern about all this with friends I’ve often been asked if I would want to work in a place that was actively homophobic. The answer: of course not. I have personally been forced out of a job because I’m gay. Trust me, that kind of discrimination still happens and it’s not pleasant. But there is a difference between homophobia and heterocentrism (the mindset that heterosexual and cis-gender is the norm and the default assumption of identity until otherwise stated). To be fair, I don’t think that most people, potential employers or otherwise, really care much about who I date, and I do think that most librarians embrace diversity in all its forms. But I also think that a resume waving rainbow flags is going to scare some people off. I think that creating a personal brand that says “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it” is going to give an incomplete impression of who I am.

Yes, I’m politically active. Yes I have a lot of interest in queer issues. I also have a lot of interest in music libraries and the challenges they are facing. I’m interested in the changes to K-12 education policy in this country. I’m interested in the outcome of the Stanley cup. I’m interested in the plans for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. I’m interested in what my nephew learned in pre-school yesterday. I’m interested in a lot of things- its one of the reasons I became a librarian.

At this point I’ve pretty much settled into the Lezbrarian as my primary online persona. I’ve decided that trying to make my resume less gay would strip it of too many accomplishments to be worth the effort and learned that I’m not willing to actively hide my identity for employment. I’ve made peace with the fact that some potential employers will be scared off by me, that most won’t care and that perhaps a few will find me a more attractive choice because of it. I’ve decided that it’s worth the risk to have the opportunity to talk about queer issues publicly and professionally, which I suppose is a good thing since I can’t seem to stop doing it.

I realize, of course that I’m not the only one who has murky waters to navigate in the quest for a job. We’re all trying to find some balance of who we are in private and what we present to the world. We’re all trying to find a way to be what an employer wants while still being true to ourselves. It’s difficult to manage all the hats we wear, all the versions of ourselves that exist. With all the professional emphasis on personal branding and creating a clear professional persona, I worry that we are being asked to succinctly sum up our complex and constantly shifting identity in a catchphrase and a photo and this makes me uncomfortable, anxious and tired.

How do you balance your personal and professional identities?

Sarah Alexander is a second year graduate student at the School of Library and Information Science at University of Iowa. She currently works at the Rita Benton Music Library, and on a School of Music project to digitize the student and faculty performance recordings. Prior to her return to school for her MLIS she worked as a middle school music teacher in the Washington D.C. area. She blogs about queer things, music and libraries (not necessarily in that order) at www.lezbrarian.com, tweets @lez_brarian, and maintains an eportfolio at www.sarahbalexander.com. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she enjoys running, coffee and all things nerdy.

About these ads

§ 25 Responses to Too Gay, or Not Too Gay? That is the Question.

  • Joanna June says:

    Thank you for this! Your courage and spirit are traits that any good employer should value. We are all varied, layered and diverse individuals and I agree that ought be celebrated instead of hidden. I’ve actually had similar thoughts about trying to scrub “beer” from my e-persona but like you said, it just isn’t worth it and is part of who I am and what I love. Thank you for saying words and thoughts I’ve been struggling to find the voice for. Here’s to our depths of interests…

  • bflolibrarian says:

    Oh yes, it’s such a challenge trying to manage identities and interests that may not be in line with potential (or current) employers’ agendas. I am constantly struggling with how much I should reveal about my passion for actively pursuing social justice (could include LBBTQ?) goals in public librarianship. But, like you, I am compelled to keep making a case for its necessity. Sadly, many of my colleagues seem indifferent. Perhaps those of us focused on “controversial” issues need to find more ways to solidarity. Here’s my piece on the Social Justice Librarian Blog on the topic :

    http://sjlibrarian.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/new-contributor-to-the-blog/

    • lezbrarian says:

      Thanks for sharing the Social Justice Librarian Blog! I didn’t know about it– clearly I have lots of reading to do now :)

  • Evie says:

    Embrace your identity Sarah– people who judge other people by their sexuality are the ones who are missing out. You wouldnt be you without your passion, activism, and empathy. Too many people are homophobic because they “don’t know any,” even though they probably have friends who are hiding their identity. The more people meet smart, funny, talented, principled people like you, the more they will realize that people who are gay (or queer, or trans, or any other label) are just like everyone else; based on personality there are some who become your best friends, many you like, some you tolerate, and a few you hate. As Elenore Roosevelt said, “do what in your heart you feel to be right for you will be criticized anyway.” Be that orange bell pepper in the tossed salad (not the melting pot) of America!

  • Sam says:

    Like you, I scream Dyke when I walk into a room. But my CV and online profiles are carefully scrubbed of most aspects of my identity, including my sexuality. I don’t like/follow anything that could be considered controversial including political causes, GLBT, etc. I don’t include the volunteer work I do for the local GLBT center, the walks, the parties, etc. Instead I include the Habitat for Humanity volunteer work – because who can get upset at me for helping that cause?

    I’ve read so many articles about how it takes just one thing for the hiring manager to decide they don’t like you and you’re out. It can be because your gay, or because you wrote a guide to help women involved in prostitution (*true in my case, and it has gotten me some interesting comments!) or because you don’t add periods to the ends of your bullet points under your job on your application (or because you do add periods).

    It sucks to hide so much of who I am personally – but it’s worth it to me to try to put my best foot forward professionally. Once they have my qualifications in front of them and they have already decided they want to bring me in for an interview, my sexuality that is so apparent in person * hopefully* takes a back seat to the things that intrigued them in my application.

    • lezbrarian says:

      Sam, I’m so glad to read your perspective and thanks for sharing! I completely understand and respect your choice. I think the decision of how much of our identity to share, especially for us queer type people, is a very personal one. No one should judge another for their decisions about professional/personal identity. Have you read this article on Autostraddle? http://www.autostraddle.com/butch-please-butch-works-it-151510/ I thought it was a very good perspective on the subject.

  • Lezbrarian is exactly the kind of blog I want to read. :)

    I’ve had similar concerns ever since my very first resume (in high school, where my leadership experience included being co-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance). What do I do when I’m legitimately and relevantly involved in organizations that announce their non-interview-legal categories? Is there a difference between saying that I sang with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus (keyword!) and mentioning my committee work with Metropolitan Community Church (historically LGBT, but ya might not know that unless you’re family — OMG can I say “church”?)?

    In my fairly homocentric community, it’s assumed that librarians around here are queer-friendly, if not queer themselves. I wouldn’t have a problem mentioning my wife in casual conversation (and to your point about coming out being an ongoing process – our engagement and recent marriage have been excellent opportunities to clue in people who weren’t paying attention). I do so at work (a non-library job), at school, and on my blog. That part of my identity (either the married status or the married to a woman aspect) shouldn’t be cause for a potential employer to back away, but it also shouldn’t be the focus of their background check/my resume/an interview unless it’s relevant to my work history.

    Social justice work is a plus! Isn’t that what librarians do by championing free access to information?

    • Social justice work is a big plus, a necessity to much of librarianship in my opinion. It relates directly to this piece on LGBTQ identity, though it encompasses equity in general, for all marginalized groups, especially those that may be underserved. It is ironic and sad that many public libraries shy away from real community work with disenfranchised populations. I would love to hear about examples of libraries and librarians actively engaging marginalized groups.

  • A says:

    I became a librarian and a Unitarian Universalist because both are so committed to freely and responsibly accessing information and to lifelong learning. Unfortunately, I can’t uncouple the two identities without erasing the last three years of my employment history. I don’t doubt that being part of a liberal religion in a conservative state hurts my chances at employment.

    • Jennifer Stubbs says:

      I would not sell yourself too short. I turned to UUs because of the questioning and openness to variety and understanding. I wonder how many conservatives would understand the “unitarian” or the “universalist” doctrine. Every religion has a range of conservatives and liberals; the key is more than tolerance, but welcoming.

  • I really enjoyed reading this, Sarah. I shouldn’t have to say how brave you are in coming forward and laying out your personal life on a blog like this – it shouldn’t be something that raises eyebrows or elicits a round of applause – but it is brave, and you will have helped others with personal lives they’ve kept under wraps. Hopefully, the more people who do what you have done, the less necessary it will be.

  • [...] I wrote a thing! I wrote a guest post for Hack Library School called “Too Gay or Not Too Gay? That is the Question” It’s about my struggle to balance my personal queer-dentity and my professional persona. Everyone [...]

  • [...] Sarah Alexander on Hack Library School: Too Gay, or Not Too Gay? That is the Question. [...]

  • Jeff Kirby says:

    I was dismissed for being ‘too gay’ at a public library system. There were a couple of higher-ups who didn’t like seeing just how much freedom and permission I grant myself, simply to enjoy who I am effectively at my job in the workplace (and they seemed to fear what others might think). The public and staff LOVED me (of course, a few detractors) and I was very public facilitating book clubs, volunteering for local/town family events, promoting programs, and on the floor as an Information Assistant.

    When my contract ended, they kept me ‘occasional on-call.’ But, in re-applying for numerous available positions I was highly qualified for, I only received one interview, and not rehired. Finally, after failing to receive an interview yet again, I pulled out from doing all the extra programming they had clearly kept me on for. The next week, a newly appointed HR person contacted me telling me I had been dismissed, effective immediately. No reason for dismissal was given. Since I wasn’t under any contract with them, and they’re non-union, they could do as they pleased.

    All the while, I decided, this was no time for me to be ‘less Kirby’ (less myself), but even MORE Kirby, because that’s where my strengths lie, and and that is what the public continues to appreciate and respond most positively to.

    I have found other [contract] work in libraries and other cultural institutions, and continue to seek gainful employment where my strengths are fully utilized and appreciated.

    All the best,
    Jeff Kirby, Library & Information Technician

  • Lucille says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I am at the beginning stages of getting an application together for an MS in LIS (for the Spring 2014 semester) here in Boston where I am currently finishing my undergraduate degree.

    One of my biggest concerns is whether this degree (if I get accepted, of course!) would allow me to work in an open and accepting environment. I take lgbt issues seriously, but my current university, unfortunately, does not, and recently marginalized the already under-represented trans* population at my school. I cannot enter into a graduate program or professional setting that operates this way. Isolated incidents are unpreventable sometimes, but an intolerant environment overall would be miserable for me.

    To offer some perspective on a special brand of heterocentrism in the workplace, I am often selected as the person that people come to in order to voice their hurtful comments (of varying degrees) regarding others’ “gayness,” and I find it insufferably rude and want no part of it. I think I am targeted because I am generally not outspoken at my part-time job and get along with virtually everyone (which tips the scales in terms of what people _think_ we have in common) and because I appear to be your typical college-age female with a steady boyfriend. And to many, being straight and caring about queer issues are mutually exclusive, even if you’re not necessarily cis, because most people I come across wouldn’t think twice about my gender identity after finding out my orientation.

    After experiences like these–and especially after my university narrowed its scope regarding the importance of representing trans* indinviduals in our community, as stated above–I’ve become fearul that being misidentified as an “anti-gay co-conspirator” might be more common than I had previously thought.

    None of my stories compare with being directly disenfranchised or discriminated against, and I don’t want to sound like I am whining.

    I hope this reply isn’t ridiculously long. As said, this has been–and still is–a concern for me for career considerations; however, thanks to these comments here, I feel a little relieved.

  • Thanks for sharing, Sarah. I’ve been at this job about five years, and it has been since that time that I’ve gradually inserted more and more “gayness” into my online persona. I’m out at work, but mostly to my colleagues and not to patrons. However, I’m not really sure what I would do if I needed to present myself as a candidate for a new job. I like to think that here (in Western MA), other libraries would hire me as I am.

  • Anya B says:

    Ha, I skimmed the beginning (hadn’t read the byline yet) and saw “Did I mention I’m a big ol’ lesbian?” and KNEW it was you! Kudos, Alex! I am wary of having a lot of personal information available online, but it’s 2013: employers, friends, acquaintances, etc. expect you to have something out there….so, you do. Succinctly summing up our identities into a neat little package, as you so aptly put it, is nigh impossible. Don’t think there is a simple solution; I think you have to just be comfortable with whatever you do, with whoever you are (ha!). Anyways, looking forward to our MLA reunion :D

  • Tracy says:

    I really love this post…as a fellow lezbrarian I had some of the same anxieties about my personal and professional lives intersecting. I did end up growing out my hair to a Buffy season 4 Willow-length when I was anxious my J Biebs hair might distract potential employers. Hard to tell in hindsight if it would have actually made a difference.

  • IWantAJob says:

    I am really glad you wrote this, because I am facing a similar situation. I am looking for work right now and wondering how I fit into to different workplaces in the US.

    I dress butch and do wonder if it has impacted my not getting jobs once they meet me.

    I also have worked for a lesbian organization and keep that on my resume, but many have interviewed me anyway. Although, I never look like the people in these workplaces, or my competition. I have been told there are a lot of dykes in libraries, but I have only personally met one open woman in the places I interviewed. The rest talked about male husband, etc.

    I was thinking just today of whether I should femme it up, but I just can’t do it-it isn’t me. I hate the fact that I am even thinking about doing this and being anxious about it, it is wrong on every level.

  • […] a professional representation of you and your work. Respect copyright, be choice and proud of the image you are representing, and be incredibly diligent in double and triple proofreading your work. This goes for both your […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Too Gay, or Not Too Gay? That is the Question. at Hack Library School.

meta

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 735 other followers

%d bloggers like this: