For the past month I have agonized over a decision about where to go next year. We all knew that the Boston gig would be temporary, but I had little desire to return to my current job in Texas. I, however, enjoy living indoors. Therefore, I needed a new job.
Because fortune favors the foolish, I was lucky enough to have a choice between two excellent universities. Both had great departments. Both had great resources. Both had livable towns. In the end, I decided to start at Big Midwestern University in the fall. I am very happy with my decision. My former institution in Texas recently received my resignation.
I know that I have kept it a pretty well-hidden secret on this blog, but I didn’t particularly enjoy living in Texas. No, seriously – It might be news, but I didn’t like it.
A commentator on a previous post took me to task for my pathological disdain for the Lone Star State. While this commentator inadvertently confirmed (again) my own assumptions about most Texans who claim to be “liberal,” he still made a point.
I can appreciate that many good people consider Texas their home. Nobody wants their home shit upon over and over again. Most of the things that I said about Texas are true (worst in the nation for providing children health insurance, fattest cities, environmentally disastrous policies, depraved indifference to the death penalty, unchecked racism, institutional homophobia, and flying cockroaches). Yet, even I bristle at people from Massachusetts who slam and despise Texas without every having visited or lived there. My feeling is that you need to experience it first-hand to really understand Texas. After that, slamming Texas will just come naturally.
I acknowledge also that an equally disgruntled individual could critique New Mexico for many similar failures. New Mexico is the only state where I feel vested in this nation. Yet, it often falls at the bottom of many lists: such as prenatal care, access to education, or drunk driving. Of course, I would argue that New Mexico falls low in these lists because of U.S. imperialism rather than the mean-spirited greed of its inhabitants. Perhaps that is splitting hairs, though.
The truth is that even though I am very glad to not be returning to Texas (VERY GLAD), I also recognize there were some good things there. I will also always be grateful for the Texas university that provided my first job. The administration, in particular, were often generous with me. I also had many good colleagues. Moreover, some close members of my family still live in Texas (the more interesting Rio Grande Valley, which I don’t really consider to be like the rest of Texas).
For me, though, Texas just didn’t work out. The polite way of saying it is that I didn’t have a good “fit” with my Texas university or the state in general. Sometimes, though, that sounds too weak. Shelly Hack was not a good “fit” on Charlie’s Angels. My time in Texas provided some of the worst personal and professional experiences of my relatively short life.
Obviously not all the blame goes to Texas. I made some mistakes to be sure. It’s also hard for me to untangle the location from the crushing heartbreak that I suffered at the end of an eight-year relationship. In truth, of course, Liar Ex (Who Left No Promise Unbroken) would have been the same asshole anywhere. We just happened to be in Texas at the time and the state suffers a guilt by association.
That aside, my other experiences in Texas often left me frustrated. At times, I simply wasn’t savvy enough to understand what was at stake for those who invested in the status quo.
Being a historian, especially one who focuses on Latino history and also the history of sexuality, Texas did not bring a lot of warmth to my heart. When I first decided to go to Texas, it seemed like both the state and the institution had started to acknowledge that bleak history. In recognition of the reality of the state’s population, the university decided to invest in hiring a more diverse faculty with more diverse research interests.
What the administration (and I) did not consider, however, was how resentful many of the existing faculty would be to that change. From the day that I arrived, certain colleagues dismissed my courses on Latino History and the history of sexuality as everything from “too regional” to “too trendy.” During my time at the university, I had senior colleagues make homophobic jokes outside of my office door. Other colleagues explicitly stated that the courses offered by me and some of my other junior colleagues were “boutique” classes that only catered to “narrow interests.” In other words, the history they taught (on white straight men) was the real story.
Sometimes they dropped the pretense and little code words altogether. In department meetings they could be shockingly candid. They stated explicitly that they felt most of the women and all of the minorities hired into the department were intellectually inferior to them (though most of the those same individuals were developing stronger records than their own). In one incident, certain colleagues attempted to eliminate the department’s non-discrimination clause as a statement of “protest.”
At first I considered this atmosphere a challenge. A language of change circulated widely and a promise of a better tomorrow always appeared. Many of my good friends wanted change in the institution and were tirelessly working to do so.
Perhaps the greatest engagement came from students in my upper level classes (my freshman-level classes were always a bit more tricky). I was always happiest when I was working with my students. Indeed, I often tried to be as available as possible to student groups that formed.
Other interactions in Texas left me cold. My last year in Texas, I tried to become involved with an Austin-based gay rights group. Of particular importance at that moment was the passage of [another] measure to ban same-sex marriage. This group’s strategy focused mostly on accommodation. Rather than acknowledging that queer people were being deprived of their basic rights, they argued that our strategy should be to show how these measures hurt good straight people. Being too “gay,” they suggested, would just alienate the majority of the state. To date, their strategy of accommodation has accomplished nothing.
In a different context, some brought up a point that the leaders of this group were unaware of the experiences of gays and lesbians who were living throughout the state, many of whom were literally in danger for their lives. The leaders shrugged and suggested that all the gay people in the state should just move to the oasis of Austin. (On a related note, Austin, btw, is a white-majority city in a non-white majority state; however, 80 percent of the city’s poor are racial minorities. I have a hard time considering that an oasis.)
After a certain point, I began to feel complicit in an institution and state that were not really changing at all. Nor did it seem that my research trajectory matched the department’s interests or priorities.
I will miss many good people in Texas. Maybe it is about “fit” or maybe there is something pathological about my dislike for the state. After my personal experiences in Texas, however, I am glad and grateful to have opportunities elsewhere.