This post is dedicated to Melissa, the thesis writer.
Jennifer said in a comments thread here some time ago that “reality” is made up of stereotypes to a greater degree than we commonly think, and I found this quite perceptive. The degree to which stereotypes determine our perception and our experience it is our theme for Hallowe’en, the year’s best day.
This post was originally a long text in which I unraveled for myself the fact that a great deal of the poor advice which has been pressed upon me in my life was actually projection based on a stereotype: I was a young woman, for which reason I must be lost somehow or doing wrong. It took me decades to comprehend that the great amount of earnest advice I was offered did not correspond at all to the person I actually was.
Having written all of that out and understood it, I do not feel like publishing the plodding text. I do have some observations, however, on other ways in which I have been perceived. As blog author, for example, I was originally taken for a Latino man. Then when I revealed I was a woman, many readers thought I was Black. At that point I said I was white, but I discovered later on that at least one group of readers thought I was Latina.
It still fascinates me that when I did not identify in a category I was male and nonwhite; when I identified a gender category I was still considered nonwhite; all of this was on the basis of the content of the blog. But if I remind anyone that I am Anglo I then sometimes get lectures about how I have probably never considered that as such I am complicit in the system of white supremacy. I also got a long lecture from some bloggers at one point about how, since I am a professor, I must be committed to certain forms of elitism and alienation. If I disagreed, I was in denial. My intellectual orientation and education were forms of coldness.
And in real life I was for almost seven years, unbeknownst to myself, the official lesbian in one of my departments because:
1. I have strong opinions
2. I spend a lot of time in New Orleans
3. I wear a lot of black
4. I do not wear spike heels, only chunky ones
5. I do not discuss husbands, boyfriends, or lovers in class.
I had thought the reason I was on all of the queer studies dissertations was that I was open to them, and there were at that time no actual gay people or queer studies experts in that department. I discovered that I was considered gay when a student mentioned it to me directly and I said I was not. I had not been faking a lesbian identity but she felt that because of the five characteristics listed above, I had been. She was very angry and put a more “honest” straight woman on her committee in my place.