Back to Work!

After a glorious two-week break, I’m back at home and sharpening up the pencils (figuratively of course, who does that?), to get back to work on the dissertation.  We had a wonderful time in Florida, and we also got to spend a little time with T.’s family on our trip down.  She’s back across the pond, but will be back in a couple of months on her next rotation.

In the mean time, I’ve got work to do, and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m almost there y’all, almost there!  It’s been difficult to get back on my writing schedule, but I’m finally starting to feel like myself again and able to focus on my work.

For your viewing pleasure, here a couple of photos from the trip. 🙂

IMG_1118

Oh, did I tell y’all I am a space geek? We stopped by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on the way back home!

IMG_1149

Notes on a Holiday Break

So much has happened over the past few weeks, that I barely know where to start.  I’ll just jump right in and if this point seems disjointed and random, that’s probably because that is what my life feels like right now.

First, the good news: The semester ended well and I’ll be teaching Intro to LGBT Studies in the spring and LGBTQ Identities in Popular Culture this summer. I’m excited about both courses and I’m itching to put my Black lesbian feminist spin on both of these topics.

My daughter graduated from college on December 9th, and the whole family celebrated the occasion for at least a week. She was also offered a job (albeit part-time), where she completed her internship, so she’s now an assistant editor at a pretty posh little magazine in the South. I had her sign her first issue ’cause I know she’s going to be famous someday!

IMG_0773

After spending three weeks with the fam, I met up with T. in Chattanooga to meet my new “in-laws” for the first time. I was a bit nervous at first, but I had the best time with them and they welcomed me with open arms. Literally. EVERYBODY I met hugged me. I got to tell you, that’s one of the things I love about being in the South with Black people, we aren’t afraid to show you that we love you.

On to the bad news: My mom fell ill while I was home, and after she was admitted to the hospital with possible pneumonia, we found out that she had had a minor heart attack. How the heck did she have a heart attack and no one knew??? She said she probably passed it off as indigestion and I believe her, but she also had a stroke last year with hardly any symptoms.  We’ve got to keep a better eye on her, and she’s got to tell us when something hurts! I won’t theorize here about Black women being “strong” and keeping our pain to ourselves (you can look it up for yourself), but I do believe this is part and parcel why she kept so quiet about not feeling good.

My mini-vacation to Edmonton with T. was cancelled due to the weather (I missed my flight) and her flight was delayed for two days.  This wasn’t such a bad thing, but I probably won’t get back out there until mid-March.

IMG_0843

Finally, I’m in a love/hate relationship with my dissertation right now. This probably deserves its own post, but I’ll just say that I’ve struggled this past semester in ways that I had not thought imaginable. I’m nearly done with the chapter I’m currently working on, but just couldn’t seem to break through my writing fog until today. I don’t know if it’s the dismal job market, current ennui with my topic, or the current state of academia writ large, but I’ve been rethinking this whole Ph.D. thing for a few months now.  I came into this thing fully aware of the risks, but since I’ve been in academia I’ve seen what seems to be a full-scale assault on academic freedom/dissent, the adjunctification of academic labor, as well as come to realize that not everybody working in Women’s/LGBT Studies is as feminist as they claim. Still, I absolutely adore my home discipline of American Studies, even as it comes under fire for its correct decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

I’m no baby (no offense to the babies out there), but I started this thing at 40, having enjoyed a decent career in corporate America. However, academic in-fighting and posturing, arm-chair activism, and the never-ending hierarchies sometimes leave me wondering if I made the right choice.  In other words, if another person tells me I’m “just a grad student” one more time, I’m going to punch them in the throat. I’m 44 years old, I’m not “just” anything. Only in academia are you expected to give up life and limb for paltry pay and the privilege of being at the bottom of the academic heap. The undergraduates are treated with more respect. I have not experienced this in my home discipline, but I most certainly have in other areas of the institution with which I am currently affiliated.

But on the other hand, I have the extreme privilege of watching my students “come to consciousness” and knowing that when they leave my classroom, they are better equipped to deal with the issues they will most certainly face in the real world, and that I’ve helped them to think more critically about their role in maintaining or disrupting the race, class, gender, and sexual systems of oppression that impact all of us. On more than one occasion I’ve been blessed with a hug or a kind note of appreciation from a student.

I also love my research project, even though there are days when I want to toss it across the ocean and never look back.  I’ve finally finished transcribing an important interview, and I feel ready to move forward. I received good feedback on this chapter draft from a trusted colleague, and I feel like I’m headed back toward the land of productivity.

IMG_0292

I’m still mad at academia right now, but not because I feel cheated or because I might not get the job I think l I’m entitled to. It’s because I think we can and must do better, and I’m not sure that we will. In this digital age, why are we still holding on to peer review processes that take upwards of 18 months to complete? Why are we still admitting students into graduate programs for which we know there will be no jobs? Why have we allowed contingent labor to become the primary means by which we educate our students? Have we decided that the only way to hold on to whatever semblance of privilege we have is at the cost of educating our students? I know that as a 44-year old Black lesbian, I am not supposed to be here. That I am is in itself an act of resistance and an affront to all those who wish to silence me, and evidence that the work that I am doing is valuable and necessary.

So I must press on. Weary but determined to get what I came for.

On Black LGBT “History”: More Substance, Less Celebrity Please

Ok, so I’m a little hot right now so bear with me. And this is probably going to make some of y’all mad.  Huff Post Gay published LGBT History Month 2013: 21 Influential Black LGBT Icons which I saw on my Facebook feed. The National Black Justice Coalition shared it with the missive to “know your history” as in your Black LGBT history. I clicked the link and was pleased to see the likes of Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Bruce Nugent, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Alvin Ailey, Alice Walker and E. Lynn Harris, who I absolutely consider to be a part of Black LGBT history. However, I was bit dismayed to see the likes of Frank Ocean and Snoop, or even Don Lemon, who are not “historical figures.” They may be popular, and even talented. But “historical icons?” Come on y’all. Did you just  put Don Lemon in a category with Bayard Rustin and Jimmy Baldwin? Coming out publicly as gay does not make you an historical icon. It is certainly brave and admirable, and for those of us who are always searching for community among those that share our skin tone, it’s almost like meeting a new family member.

However, I’m also bothered by the fact that they claimed Snoop from The Wire as an historical figure, but left out Barbara Smith, founding member of The Combahee River Collective and the Black lesbian credited with the first ever theoretical statement on the creation of a Black feminist criticism. In 1977 no less. Or what about Ann Allen Shockley, credited with publishing the first Black lesbian novel in 1974? Or Doris Davenport, Pat Parker, or Stephanie Byrd, Black lesbian poets from the 1970s and 1980s? Or Black lesbian filmmakers Cheryl Dunye and Yvonne Welborn, both who have been making and producing films for decades?

It seems to be that our claim to LGBT history seems to be invested in the young and sexy, or the spectacle of celebrity, much like the rest of the world. Or maybe the author of the piece was stretching the limits of his knowledge to come up with 21 Black LGBT folks. I don’t know. Regardless, no shade whatsoever to the current group of Black LGBT gamechangers, but I think categorizing them as “historical icons” is a bit disingenuous, since in my book you have to do more than put out one or two hit records, star in one show, or make a lot of money and look good to be an historical figure. It would also seem to me that you would need to be around for a while, since you know, history is about the PAST, not the present.

The struggles of Rustin, Lorde, Nugent, and Baldwin in particular are substantive and have been tested over time.  They truly paved the way for this current batch of folks to do what they’re doing right now. Maybe it would be better to look back on the work of folks like Snoop, Polk, and Ocean, and take note of the ways in which they use their celebrity OVER TIME, to expand our notion of Black LGBT history. Or maybe we need to understand that pop icon and historical icon don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Until then, if you need the names of people who have actually changed history for the good of Black LGBT folks over the past forty years, let me know.

Mini rant over.

marriage-equality

 

It’s not about the “big gay white” movement to assimilate, but about the notion that I should have the same rights as any other couple who wants to legalize their union. Let’s keep working to eradicate homophobia, but also to eradicate LGBT youth of color homelessness, violence against women, racism within and outside of LBGT organizations, misogyny and sexism within and outside of LGBT organizations, transphobia, class inequality, the list goes on.

Marriage equality is a step, yet a small one.

The struggle continues.