Thursday, March 12, 2015

How I Came Out of the Liberal Arts Closet

Two years ago, I accidentally outed myself when I quietly applied for a teaching job at a small liberal-arts college. I thought my secret was safe, since the search committee hadn’t yet asked for recommendation letters. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a glitch in the system, my references were automatically alerted when I submitted my application online. One of my mentors emailed me about it almost immediately.

It was time to come clean. No, not about being queer -- I'd gone public with that 10 years earlier -- but about my ambivalence toward the R1 track and my openness toward “going liberal arts.” You'd think my previous experience in coming out as gay would have made this new revelation easier. But I was surprised by how hard it was, and by the odd parallels between outing myself as queer and coming out as a liberal-arts professor-to-be.

Let me explain.

In both situations, I knew that hiding my true identity and desires meant safety and inclusion, but at the cost of authenticity and happiness. Just as society presumes that most of its members are heterosexual, and socializes and educates its youth accordingly, most graduate programs still presume that their students will land jobs at Research I’s and train Ph.D.’s primarily for those jobs.

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