As an undergraduate, my major was history. One of the most important things I learned from my study of history is that history is not only relevant to the present, but extremely also value-laden and described in a different way by almost every narrator. Part of the ongoing struggle for social justice in the present is the fight to define the past.
Part of this fight is simply including topics like sexuality, gender, queerness, race, disability, imperialism, etc. etc. in our teaching of history. When history curricula fail to include these elements, students are never given an opportunity to question the values passed down by their parents, and you get the clincher, what I call the way it’s always been argument.
I got a taste of that argument on the train yesterday, when a man next to me was talking on his cell phone about his gay son. He expressed feelings of disgust to the woman on the other end of the line, but what he kept coming back to was the “men having sex with men isn’t natural” argument. The specifics were a mix of bad history, bad theology, and bad biology–men in relationships is a recent perversion, the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is wrong, and we are the only species where males have sex with other males.
This is a case where mere exposure to alternative facts could make a difference in a child’s life.
I’m not saying that people aren’t stubborn, or that they won’t argue back. I know that for every sex-positive or queer-positive curriculum, there’s a conservative argument that espouses the opposite with facts to back it up. But some things are kind of hard to disprove. Biology isn’t my field, but I bet I could find you a couple of male animals of some species that like to get it on. Just like I can provide countless examples of queerness throughout history.
The man on the train may never change, and his son may never know what it’s like to have a father who loves him for who he is. But we can educate ourselves about our history and share it with others, and we can support the introduction of wider history curricula in our schools, and those of us who are interested in history can ask some direct questions in our research about who’s writing the articles, and who’s being left out.
I had hoped that in this transition period between school and employment, I could be fabulously productive, academically speaking, and apply to all sorts of conferences and submit lots of things for publication. In reality, lying flat on my back after moving is a lot of fun. I’m bummed that I can’t submit an essay to the New Directions in Feminism and Human Rights issue of the International Journal of Feminist Politics (I think that’s the journal name, don’t quote me) but it’s due Saturday and I’m going to be in NC. I thought I could manage 8000 words on human rights approaches to homosexuality in the developing world but alas, no cigar. If you have an idea you can crank out by this weekend, or something 8000 words or less already written, you should submit! They’re looking for a really broad range of perspectives and I think it’ll be an amazing issue. Also coming up, deadline for Emory’s gender violence conference (proposals due, not full papers).
I didn’t want to say anything until it was official because I’m superstitious about some things, but I’ve booked my ticket and hotel room so I think I can announce it. I’ll be presenting a paper in March at the Global Arc of Justice: Sexual Orientation Law Around the World conference, hosted by the Williams Institute of UCLA law school and the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association, in Los Angeles! I’ve known that I was probably going for a month, but now that funding for 3/4 of the trip came through and I was able to book the flight, I have an ear-splitting grin on my face. It will be amazing academically, with several of my favorite scholars, and professionally, with several people from the NGOs at which I’d most like to work in attendance, and also I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to be in West Hollywood for three nights. I’ve never been a big LA person, though I went to San Francisco once when I was 14 and loved it, but I keep thinking about the L-Word and laughing to myself. It’s like a fantasy trip. If anyone reading has academic experience, I would love some advice. I know nothing about presenting a paper: for example, do you tend to stick with laying out the paper’s argument or do you extrapolate and give interesting facts with just your core argument as a teaser for people to read the paper? I don’t know if/when this will be published, so a teaser seems a bit silly, though maybe this will be a jumping-off point to publication. Also, PowerPoint or index cards? Any other tips? I’d love to hear them.
Like many recent and upcoming graduates, I’m starting to panic just a little at the economy. I assumed that when I finished law school in summer ’09, I would be able to just slip quietly into an entry-level position at an NGO and work my way through the ranks, but with the economy like it is, there are no entry-level NGO jobs. No entry-level anything, really. I’ve been considering diving back into academia and hiding for a little while, but there’s a bit of a Catch 22. The fellowships I’m looking at have January-March due dates on the applications, and they start July-September. I wouldn’t really be able to start looking for jobs till April or so, I’d assume. I mean, I think if you’re listing a job, you’re looking for someone to start within the next few months at least. So I kind of have to make a decision. Honestly, I love academia but I have no money. I’d rather be able to work a few years and make some, but if I end up having to waitress, I’m not going to make much of that. Here are the academic possibilities:
Columbia Law/Center for Reproductive Rights Fellowship: Money-wise, this one is ideal. It’s a two year research fellowship with a $55K/year stipend, which is actually enough to live in New York. It’s geared towards reproductive rights/human rights, and it’s designed for those planning to go into legal academia, which I’ve been considering. The problem is that I can’t necessarily commit to it, because if later something opened up in an activist direction, I might want to take it. I do plan to research all my life, but that may not be as a professor. Also, it starts in July, which is a problem with a lot of these – I’ll be prepared to start when they say, but I don’t know if they’ll accept me because I won’t have the J.D. in hand until August.
Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences: This is a PhD fellowship in Bremen, Germany. The program looks interesting, but not necessarily practically useful if I don’t go into academics. However, if I wanted to teach in European universities, I might be able to do so with a European PhD. The theme of the PhD is “The Future of Social and Political Integration,” and they have five topic areas you can pursue, all very interdisciplinary. Fellows all get a 1200 euro/month stipend for three years and no tuition. I would probably have to get a part-time job if I did this, depending on cost of living in Bremen. The good news is I have until March 15, so time to think about a dissertation topic.
New York University: I could get a JSD, which is basically a PhD in law. The deadline is January 1, so I’ve decided that I’m not applying for this one this year. It’s just not enough time to come up with a dissertation topic or commit to something as major as a doctoral degree. However, this is a definitely possibility (for that matter, as is a Fullbright) if I can’t find a job and end up waitressing or temping this time next year. It is a funded program, but $20,000 stipend for three years isn’t close to enough to live on in New York, so I’d need to find a job where I could make that again in salary.
European University Institute: This is one of the most interesting programs to me. The program is English/French, and I could do history or law. Both are doctoral level, and it’s in Florence, where I’ve always wanted to go. The catch is that funding is only available to European citizens, so this isn’t an immediate option. Still, it’s in the back of my mind as something I might do in 5-10 years after saving up some money if my career isn’t really blossoming.
Book club reminder: Poll closes Sunday. If no one votes, then I may just start selecting books myself from the suggestions given, so please vote if you’re interested in doing so. If not, then I don’t mind picking and we’ll all read along!