A few years ago, I attended a professional graduate school at a good university. Recently, an acquaintance asked me how diverse my 200-person class was.
“Hmmm… I think I was literally the only lesbian,” I said.
“But there were lots of LGBT people, right?” my acquaintance asked. And then she named seven or eight gay men who had, indeed, been in my class.
In the moment, I murmured something like, “Oh, yeah that’s right.” But internally, I raised an eyebrow. Not only were these all men, but they were gender-conforming men, men who went to fancy prep schools, men who use “summer” as a verb and net annual salaries I could live off for a decade.
But in my acquaintance’s mind, we were all people who slept with people of the same sex; we all checked the LGBT box. We were all undeniably, certifiably, and irrevocably queer. So why did I blanch being lumped in with these gentlemen? (BTW, I know a few of them personally, and they truly are great guys.)
I think it’s because the things that made me feel alienated in graduate school did not have much to do with my attraction to women. In the upper echelons of this particular profession, no one cares who I carouse with or wake up beside. The things that made me feel alienated were, in order of their significance:
(1) social class
(2) gender nonconformity
(3) persistent lack of interest in making lots of money
The Nice Gay Men (NGM) of whom my acquaintance spoke shared none of these traits. Yet these are the traits that made me different from my peers, that let me bring a distinct perspective to the classroom, and that will continue to shape my voice in the future. But to the admissions committee, we all looked similar: white homosexuals with good grades from well-regarded undergraduate institutions.
(Obviously, lots of other kinds of diversity are important: race, disability, religion, ethnicity, and others. I’m just focusing on one kind here, which isn’t intended to negate the importance of these other kinds, nor of the intersections of these other kinds of diversity with queerness.)
I’m not suggesting that the NGM’s experience of LGBT life is somehow less “valid” than my own, nor that I embody “diversity” in a way that the NGM do not. But there was something ironic about being categorized with them, since they embodied precisely the traits that seemed so apparently lacking in me: wealth, gender conformity, a lucrative career path.
I bring all of this up mostly to ask the following: when we say that we are striving for diversity, what is it we’re really striving for? People whose experiences somehow bring different “perspectives?” Maybe. But how do we measure that on a form? Do we want people who were statistically unlikely to end up in the application pool? Do we prize phenotypical diversity? Do we simply want the folks with the highest grades and test scores? And in achieving any of these types of diversity, what role should (and does) queerness play?
12/30/2013 12:16:36 pm
let's face it we need people from all walks of life ,because as people we bring different diversity to work family , and social life ,and let's face it some people thinking can not be changed sadly some people have ideas that are still back in the dark ages, for instance where i live gay people can not marry and funding are being pulled out of place that support gay's because they say we are a normal part of life yet my government do not seem to realize that more young gay people commit suicide and have mental health problems so we need all people from diff walks of life to be educated and go to uni or college or any for of education , but for my time I found out many women said they did not act gay as they did not want to out them self which I found this sad as people who are educated are suppose to be more open when sadly that was not so and even found many guys who were ashamed to be who they are
12/30/2013 01:07:54 pm
I think when we say we want diversity, at least in my queer studies class, we are saying that we want everybody to feel free to be who they are. Diversity is simply allowing people to be themselves without boxing them. In my opinion, if we have equality, that doesn't mean everybody is the same, it just means that everybody has the same respect for each other. The same acceptance of each other. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to put things that "diversify" us on applications. But alas, this is certainly not a perfect world.
12/30/2013 01:23:39 pm
Well... does that mean you'd be against affirmative action? I like what you said, but just having "respect" for each other doesn't give much direction for, say, how to select an entering business school class...
12/30/2013 01:33:00 pm
I am all for affirmative action. In my opinion, it is necessary in our culture. I was just talking hypothetically. In a queer world, maybe we wouldn't need affirmative action. Of course, the problem is that we do have racism, sexism, and homophobia still rampant in our society. We couldn't just cut those programs just because everyone respected each other. Systematic and institutionalized racism still keeps many people from achieving what they would have been able to otherwise. I'm certainly no expert on all of this, but I am trying to learn more. These are just some things that I have finally became aware of through my Queer Studies and Ethnic Studies classes. I love that you touch on intersectionality in this post.
12/30/2013 10:26:02 pm
Embracing diversity makes our lives richer by stretching our minds to comprehend experiences that differ greatly from our own. Diversity can be hard to find, even when intentionally sought. Affirmative action may force an institution to include people of color and homosexuals, but does not guarantee a blending of ideas. People still tend to gravitate to others who are like them. I constantly try to expose myself to a variety of people by attending events or joining groups outside my normal realm of experience. I am often disappointed to find myself surrounded by more of the same. What will it take for our society to intermingle, rather than existing in numerous isolated bubbles?
12/31/2013 02:59:02 am
Loved this post! I work in a large corporate environment. I'm a white male, English is my only language and I'm a fairly conservative dresser. That I am gay is a non-issue. The people I work with are truly diverse. One good friend is an HIV+ straight latino who comes from the "bad side of town" so to speak, and yet wanted this career and made himself. Every now and then, you see the gaps in his "refinement", I'll call it, and you remember he is not from the same place most of my co-workers are from. But I love that. I also have many Chinese, Taiwanese, Indian and Pakistani co-workers and team members. One girl is Chinese-American with a personality of a spoiled Siamese cat and I love her dearly. Point is, we are very diverse in every sense I've ever thought the word meant. And yet we bring our hearts and minds together every day to work together for a common goal. I know there are a lot of companies where this goes on every day, but I cherish MY office and MY team knowing they are a unique blend. Wish everyone had the opportunity to recognize how diversity works toward everyone's betterment.
I think it's an incredibly complex issue.
Leave a Reply.