Role: Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, School of English
Your coming out story…
I was 16 and in a relationship with a boy. And the first time I met my boyfriend’s gay uncles, I felt like I had finally met my people. I remember that I much rather wanted to spend the rest of the evening in their company than alone with my boyfriend. It wasn’t his fault. He was a good guy. He just wasn’t a woman. And the first time I actually read femme slash fanfiction, which in the early 2000s was the only source I knew of where I could read about female same-sex desire, it felt so right. Seeing the lesbian relationship in Emergency Room play out (tragically, of course) on prime-time TV resonated with me in ways that I did not dare to quite understand or embrace – yet. Because the first coming out is always to yourself. And I remember being rather terrified of myself and of being gay. I did not want to be different, I just wanted to fit in. It took me a couple of years to understand that I did not have to be straight to be happy – on my own, or in a relationship.
Have you suffered prejudice in your job or personal life and, if so, can you describe what effects it had on you?
My partner and I, years ago when we were still living in Berlin, once had a man on the streets spit at us when he saw that we were holding hands and call us lesbians (which, in this case, was clearly an insult rather than an accurate assessment of the nature of our relationship). And although it was a comparatively minor act of assault and although years have passed since then, I am still not entirely comfortable when we hold hands in public.
What would you say to those who may be facing difficulties regarding their LGBT+ status at work?
Specifically here at Kent: get in touch with the Staff Network. We are here to provide a community that is supportive, inclusive, and accepting. Also, we will most likely be able to offer concrete advice or direct colleagues to other people and places that can offer support.
What can we all do to make University of Kent a better place for being an LGBT+ member of staff?
Be accepting and non-judgemental about colleagues and their lives, and, if you want to, get involved in the Network.
How do you think your work is affected by being LGBT+?
One of my research projects is on the colonial legacies of anti-LGBT legislation in former British colonies, and my interest in this topic is definitely personal. Many former colonies, including India, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, to name but a few, still have legislation in place that criminalises or otherwise discriminates against LGBT+ people, and in many cases these laws were implemented by the colonial government. Most of these countries did not have specific anti-gay legislation before colonisation. The popular narrative that homosexuality is a western sin that is being exported to non-western countries is thus false. The legacy of colonialism is not homosexuality, as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Kenya’s Daniel Arap Moi or the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs have previously stated. The legacy of colonialism is homophobia – and vicious anti-gay legislation to enact it.
Why do you want to be an LGBT+ role model? Why is it important?
Visibility is key to achieving tolerance and acceptance. But more importantly, people who are openly queer can be lifelines for people who are not. There is a dedication in the book Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters that puts it beautifully: “And to those who are living out and proud. You are a beacon for others to find their way home.”