Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sarah Alexander.
I like to think that most librarians are open-minded. We’re the protectors of the First Amendment! We believe in information for all! We help the patron in front of us no matter who they are. Like doctors, but with books instead of medicine. But then I think about all the awkward looks I got when I wore a rainbow tie at a library conference. I think about a long argument I had with a co-worker about the “appropriateness” of providing information on trans* issues in a small, public library where she claimed, “there were no gay people,” and I just get angry.
Did I mention I’m a big ol’ lesbian?
I’ve spent a lot of time lately being anxious about applying for jobs, or more specifically, the information I would provide when doing so. I wondered if I should put those personal essays I’ve had published on my resume, because they’re all about being a homo. I wondered whether I should grow my hair out so I don’t scream “dyke” when I walk in for an interview. I wondered if I should change my twitter handle from @lez_brarian to something safer and scrub my tweets of anything not strictly library related. Not only was I anxious about all these things, I was also angry about being anxious because the very reason for my anxiety – the concept that there are still people who are made very uncomfortable by my identity as gay—really pisses me off. I’m tired of policing my language because the word dyke makes some people uncomfortable. I’m tired of having to deal with ignorant idiots around me. I’m tired of constantly defending myself, of constantly being on the defense.
The other element of my anxiety was the realization that the more I come out in a public and professional way the less control I have over the decision to come out on an individual basis. I used to think of coming out as something you did once. I thought that there was a short period of time when you told your family and friends and then it was done and you could just exist in the world as who you were. Six years into being out, I’ve realized that coming out isn’t a one time or short-term thing. Coming out is something I do on an almost daily basis. Every new situation, every new person I meet means I have to decide where, when and if I want to disclose this aspect of my identity. Sometimes it’s an easy decision, but sometimes it’s not. We live in a world that is still not entirely safe for LGBTQ people.
When discussing my concern about all this with friends I’ve often been asked if I would want to work in a place that was actively homophobic. The answer: of course not. I have personally been forced out of a job because I’m gay. Trust me, that kind of discrimination still happens and it’s not pleasant. But there is a difference between homophobia and heterocentrism (the mindset that heterosexual and cis-gender is the norm and the default assumption of identity until otherwise stated). To be fair, I don’t think that most people, potential employers or otherwise, really care much about who I date, and I do think that most librarians embrace diversity in all its forms. But I also think that a resume waving rainbow flags is going to scare some people off. I think that creating a personal brand that says “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it” is going to give an incomplete impression of who I am.
Yes, I’m politically active. Yes I have a lot of interest in queer issues. I also have a lot of interest in music libraries and the challenges they are facing. I’m interested in the changes to K-12 education policy in this country. I’m interested in the outcome of the Stanley cup. I’m interested in the plans for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. I’m interested in what my nephew learned in pre-school yesterday. I’m interested in a lot of things- its one of the reasons I became a librarian.
At this point I’ve pretty much settled into the Lezbrarian as my primary online persona. I’ve decided that trying to make my resume less gay would strip it of too many accomplishments to be worth the effort and learned that I’m not willing to actively hide my identity for employment. I’ve made peace with the fact that some potential employers will be scared off by me, that most won’t care and that perhaps a few will find me a more attractive choice because of it. I’ve decided that it’s worth the risk to have the opportunity to talk about queer issues publicly and professionally, which I suppose is a good thing since I can’t seem to stop doing it.
I realize, of course that I’m not the only one who has murky waters to navigate in the quest for a job. We’re all trying to find some balance of who we are in private and what we present to the world. We’re all trying to find a way to be what an employer wants while still being true to ourselves. It’s difficult to manage all the hats we wear, all the versions of ourselves that exist. With all the professional emphasis on personal branding and creating a clear professional persona, I worry that we are being asked to succinctly sum up our complex and constantly shifting identity in a catchphrase and a photo and this makes me uncomfortable, anxious and tired.
How do you balance your personal and professional identities?
Sarah Alexander is a second year graduate student at the School of Library and Information Science at University of Iowa. She currently works at the Rita Benton Music Library, and on a School of Music project to digitize the student and faculty performance recordings. Prior to her return to school for her MLIS she worked as a middle school music teacher in the Washington D.C. area. She blogs about queer things, music and libraries (not necessarily in that order) at www.lezbrarian.com, tweets @lez_brarian, and maintains an eportfolio at www.sarahbalexander.com. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she enjoys running, coffee and all things nerdy.