Monday, April 02, 2007

Gotta Make a Move to a Town That's Right for Me . . .

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.


Anonymous said...

Well, I hope that this move works out for you - and that one day you'll have enough leeway to live exactly where you want to live.

It's funny, though, because not too long ago a good friend of mine found out he got accepted into a Big Midwestern University's History PhD program. Everyone's moving West except me. *sniff*

Population One said...

I only had one bully growing up. Recently, I found out that after high school he moved to - yep - Texas.

(Good riddance.)

Yeah, there's good people everywhere.

Also, misery loves company.

(Congrats on the new gig.)

jeremy said...

Congrats on the new job (and getting away from that cursed land). I hope you like your midwestern town as much as you enjoy Boston.
(And if your midwestern town is Chicago, you'll def. get a visit from yours truly)
(If its somewhere in Ohio, god help you.)

tornwordo said...

When do you have to leave Boston? And aren't you going to visit Montreal before you go?

The capitalized very glad made me laugh.

Artistic Soul said...

Congrats on your new job!! I've been reading for a while, so I can completely understand why you'd want to stay out of Texas. Plus, your department sounds dreadful here!! I hope Big Midwestern State is better.

Kate said...

Congrats on the position at big midwestern university, that's great! I haven't been to Texas so I don't have the right to knock it, but I have to say, I trust your judgment :).

vuboq said...

Congratulations and *big hugs* on the new job!!!

Doug said...

Congrats on finding a place at BMU! May your experience there be more congenial.

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

The policy of accomodation often shows up in mainstream queer organizations.

I read in the Lesbian Avengers handbook about an anti-gay measure someplace, maybe Oregon. the mainstream group took a phone poll to figure out where voters were most sympathetic and how voters thought about gay people. They tried to de-gay their message (because if there's one thing that people respond well to it's shame and intellectual dishonesty) and only to concentrate on districts where they thought people could be swayed.

By contrast, the Lesbian Avengers took up a district that the mainstream gays had written off as too homophobic. the avengers went door to door, saying "I'm a lesbian and I oppose this measure because it's going to hurt me in the following ways."

They had a few scary moments (Oregon isn't Texas, though, if you know what I mean), but in the end, the district targetted by the Avengers came out more strongly against the anti-gay measure than did the disctricts targetted by the mainstream gays. They started with a disadvantage, but came out ahead.

The moral of this story is that direct action groups are totally cooler than the HRC and other privileged, boring groups.

Also, congrats on your new job!

jaclyn said...

Congrats! May you be happy and prosperous and enjoy good "fit" with your new university.

Margo, darling said...

Oh baby, I'm so glad to hear this. I've been waiting for you to tell us where you landed--because I knew you weren't going back to Texas unless there was absolutely nowhere else to go, and I couldn't imagine someone wouldn't snatch you up. So if you ever gravitate over to Chicago, now that you'll be in the midwest, let me know and I'll meet you in boystown where we'll toast (not being in) Texas.

K said...

Congrats, gayprof! May your new location bring your personal and professional happiness.

StinkyLulu said...

Congrats, GayProf.

Looks like I might be moving to BMU as well... (Hard to say if it's the same BMU, but, hey.)

Dorian said...

In the end, I decided to start at Big Midwestern University in the fall. I am very happy with my decision.

Whoo-hoo! That's fantastic news!

pacalaga said...

Congratulations on your new job! I hope you find the faculty and students are all open and willing to learn a thing or two.
It has been my experience that, with Texas, you either love it or hate it. I fall into your camp.

GayProf said...

Chad: I am not sure academics ever have enough leeway to live exactly where they want to live. I imagine, however, that it will be easy to be content in my new locale.

B.: I often felt that Texas was a populace of bullies.

Jeremy: It's not Ohio, but it's also not Chicago. The latter, however, will be somewhat close. I could easily meet you there.

Torn: I will likely leave Boston in July. I would love, love, love to go to Montreál before I leave. If not, there is also a Latin American Studies conference in Montreál in the fall that I might attend.

Wicca: Big Midwestern University would have to go to extremes to even compete with my former institution. To be honest, I am amazed my former department has not faced a major lawsuit.

Kate, Jaclyn, V.U.B.O.Q., K., and Dorian: Thanks, My Amazon Sisters!

Alan: One could say that it will be exactly like the U of M.

Doug: I already feel I have much more in common with the new department.

Les: You bring up an important story that I think proves a critical point. Time and time again, civil rights groups are tempted by the accommodation model. On the surface, it seems more reasonable. Yet, historically it almost never works.

What has worked in the past, though, is pointing out that real people are suffering from discrimination. Even in Texas, I don't think that people want to be unfair. To many of them, though, GLBTQ folk are abstractions. The existing rights groups are not helping that situation.

Margo: While I won't be living in Chicago, I will be there quite often. Let's have that drink!

SinkyLuLu: I wonder if it is the same BMU. That would be neat.

Pacalaga: I think that you are right. It's hard for me to figure out the love for the state, though, because I am so firmly in the other camp. The exception in my mind, though, is the lower Rio Grande Valley. I found that a really dynamic (the most dynamic) place in the state.

Anonymous said...

Your move to the great big midwestern university you've alluded to can only mean you're closer to me. Welcome to my part of the world--I can give you the big old gay tour of the state sometime.

Red Seven said...

As reported on my blog just this mornin', I'm having feelings about DC similar to your feelings about Texas, i.e. "fit" and somesuch.

The difference is, you live in Boston and aren't moving back to Texas, and I've been in DC for thirteen years. But that might be coming to an end soon.

By the way, thanks to the title of this post, I'll be humming "Funkytown" for the rest of the funky day.

Mike said...

I was hoping you'd be able to stay in Massachusetts and work at a local university, such as one that I had attended but did not graduate from, U. Mass. Lowell. But alas, you're off to BMU (Hopefully it won't be Bowel Movement University.) I'm glad you had a good experience in the Bay State, and hope you get to visit some of its best tourist attractions, and lovely Provincetown. Best wishes on your new endeavor.

tomvancouver said...

I'm curious to know which state you'll be moving to. Texas scares the shit out of me, though in general, America doesn't seem like a very safe place to live if your not white, Christian and heterosexual, and I know that's not fair, it's just my perception.

Anonymous said...

If you wanna looooove Texas, try Oklahoma.

Frank said...

Congratulations, GayProf! Very happy news. I know how much you wanted out of Texas and I'm glad it's finally happened. I'm sure you'll be much happier wherever you're going. Onward and upward, Amazon Sister!

ChristopherM said...

Well snaps for GayProf! I'm so glad for you. Not as glad as I would be if BMU were the UofL, but happy nonetheless!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the new job, new position, and new state. May it all go well

r said...


I'm sure Boston will miss you though.

Everytime I see "BMU" it sounds like you're going to be teaching at Bowel Movement University.

Just my scatalogical (is that spelled correctly?) sense of humor.


dykewife said...

i've been to calgary. with the number of texans there and the very, very, very conservative right wing people there, i don't have to go to texas to experience that texan feeling.

i hope you find something resembling happiness and/or contentment in your new placement. many good wishes to you.

Earl Cootie said...

Congratulations! And re: anonymous's Oklahoma comment, HAHAHAHAHA!

Da Nator said...

I've been to Texas once. It was enough.

I am still absolutely appalled, after ten years, that my brother lives there.

Congratulations on the new job! Here's hoping life in the midwest is good for you.

GayProf said...

Marlan: I look forward to the tour.

Red7Eric: Won't you take me to Funky Town? Keep me groovin with some energy?

Mike: I really like living in Boston. Alas, though, even with all the local universities, not a single one had an opening in my field.

LotusLander: Texas is a scary place for those who are not white, straight, Christian, married with children. As for the larger U.S., I think it really depends on the location.

Anon: I have no knowledge of Oklahoma. I take it you work for the tourist board there?

Frank, Earl, and Nico: Thanks! I hope this year brings great things to you as well.

Christopher: Well, you could always relocate to Big Midwestern U.

Rebekah: Yeah, I think that I will change the moniker for my future institution. I didn't think about the unfortunate acronym. Future posts will probably just refer to it as the University of the Midwest.

DykeWife: You know, I always felt that Alberta was the Texas of Canada. Every person that I ever met from Alberta was just as self-centered as the worst Texan. They tend to lie often as well. I am not sayin', I am just sayin'.

DaNator: Why does your brother live there? Hopefully it is so he can find job satisfaction and not because he joined some sort of cult.

Unknown said...

Poop on Texas.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I have been to texas, I was present during an illegal search targeting latinos on a greyhound bus by a sherrif who (because I was a white) assumped I was american as he boarded the bus with "Ya'll prove to me you are american or face the consequences" - he however made it clear as I tried to tell some latinos near me that if you do not run or make "probable cause" it doesn't matter if you are illegal or not - you can't be deported or searched or required to provide documentation (this might have changed, in Bush america), that even White americans can get bad things happen to them if they interfer.

So my comment for texas is "Burn baby burn!" Burn it all. My brother went to a Christian school there and came back and told me I was going to hell for all time for being lesbian. I visited him at the school and he rushed me from place to place (though did not actually throw a blanket over my head to "hide the lesbo") - so Burn that part of Texas.

My partner's sister moved there and within a few years she is saying stuff like, "the BBC is just liberal media trying to bring the US down" and "Abortion is murder" and "immigrants should be shipped back to their countries and a wall erected" (she is Canadian married to an American - we asked, you mean "illegal immigrants?") A friend who moved there said she knew she was a Texas the first day someone pulled a gun on her for stealing their Walmart parking space.

Burn it, salt the earth. Sorry, not as "lets see all sides" today as you.

I know there are good people there - but would they be BETTER people in New Mexico?

Steven Pierce said...

That's wonderful! I did my PhD at UM, and I still think it's the most exciting (and sanest) university I know. Many of those other BMUs seem pretty great, too. Still, I was miserable in Ann Arbor. I rather think that if I taught at UM, MSU, IU, or UIUC I'd try to live in Chicago. At least after tenure...

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kitten. Glad you found a way out. Still, we'll miss you at poker night. Jim

Oso Raro said...

"There's a new girl in town and she's looking good.
There's a fresh freckled face, in the neighborhoood!"

There are two skools of thought here: one is staying put, and fighting the good fight, risking early death from stress and emotional damage. The other is to put on your Easy Spirits and run for the hills! Having a bad fit can, in some way, give life to the saying "Pearls before swine..." But you know what? FUCK THEM!

The show must go on, and we all have our miserable openings in New Haven. Just gotta keep on workin'! Congrats Sis on the new gig!

Oso Raro said...

PS Now you'll be in somewhat spitting distance to Cold City, so don't neglect your girls in the artic north. Come on by and we'll go to the Mall for ice cream cones and moisturiser!

Joey P said...

Hey, be nice to Shelly Hack!

Seriously, the academic world supposedly has a lot of "smart people." The unfortunate truth is that some of the smallest minds I know have Ph.Ds. History Ph.D's particularly so.

Good luck in the next gig.

Anonymous said...

There's irony for you. I'd do just about anything to get a job back in TX and leave MA. It's not the right fit for me. Of curse, I grew up in TX, and may be queer, but a fat African-American one, so my experience is different from yours. And TX has the best bathhouses (not Austin so much as San Antonio and Houston)! Too bad history is not my field since there will apparently be a good opening next year at your (old ) place.

GayProf said...

Helen: Poop indeed.

Elizabeth: I think that many people, even some who live in Texas, don't quite feel the different layers of discrimination that exist there. Some also are just so used to it, they consider it "normal" and don't know that other options exist.

Steven: Thanks for your comment. What made you miserable? Where do you live now?

Jim: I know not of which you speak. (*wink*)

Oso: There is an appeal of fighting the good fight. One has to balance whether a) one can actually come close to making a difference in that fight (I concluded no, I was not making much of a difference (though others there were)) and b) The value of one's personal life (I am not into being a martyr). So, let's hit that mall!

Joey: Poor Shelly Hack did get unfairly punished for terrible scripts (but she didn't "fit" either).

Anon: Everybody has a different set of experiences. Texas didn't work for me, but I hope that you can get back there.

gwoertendyke said...

i've been hibernating but alas i find my way to you, gay prof, and laugh out loud for the first time in weeks (the middle section). it is, on the other hand, repulsive that the institution (and i mean broadly speaking, in many places, though thankfully not all) remains conservative (some depts more than others) and comfortable in their racism, sexism, homophobia. yuck. i'm sorry you had to endure such idiocy for so long. the midwest is, without a doubt, better than the south, even texas. happy travels!

gwoertendyke said...

ps: i like your new stalked object--cute!

Anonymous said...

Have to chime in with anonymous African American. I left a job in Texas last year (Houston) and wish I could get back there. Never been to Houston before I got that job and my pre-move research said everybody hates Houston. But I loved it right from the start(even though the traffic was scary). Leaving my job there wasn't about the city and if I could get another job there I'd jump at the chance.

Anonymous said...


i'm a prospie for the umich grad program in american studies. are you possibly going to umich?? :)

GayProf said...

Maria: Only my hairdresser knows for sure... E-mail me if you want to chat.

Anonymous said...

Very fascinating.

I'm going through the same thing right now. A little over four years ago I moved from Seattle to Phoenix to take a career changing position at a college. Very quickly I was put in charge of one of the main academic depts. Very challenging, very exciting.


I grew up in Arizona. I left it to go to college in california. I knew what I was returning too, but hoped that somehow it was more than it had been. But It's just not a good fit for me, not the way Seattle had been. I might have done better if it had been Tucson, where I grew up, and a city that plays Austin to Phoenix's Dallas.

I could harp on all the things that are wrong here, but really that's not it-- there's a lot right here too, and no shortage of people working to make it better. I find it's really more about me. Like you, I just didn't fit. It was an interesting experiment, and good for my academic career, but we just don't mesh. It's not you, Phoenix-- It's me.