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Queer At HSU

Queer Women's Lives at HSU


This exhibit features three different perspectives from queer identifying members of Humboldt State University’s community. It will give readers an idea of what it's like to be a queer woman on campus. Interviewees talk about their experiences as members of both the student body and faculty. Queer students discuss the reactions and responses from their peers throughout their time at HSU. Learn how queerness is defined and what it means to queer women at Humboldt. HSU’s queer community is deconstructed and examined through the words of a student, professor, and a queer couple.  Feminism is Queer, defines queerness as “a word commonly associated with sex and sexuality… while avoiding the binary and hierarchical reasoning usually associated with these concepts” (Marinucci). With my exhibit, I want to give people a few different perspectives on what it's like to be queer at Humboldt State University. I hope that readers can relate to the experiences on this page and that it can be a valuable resource to future and current queer HSU students. This exhibit is by no means comprehensive or completely intersectional*. As far as positionality, I am a white, lesbian-identitying, cis-gendered woman and, for the most part, so are the people interviewed for this page. The words and ideas that are on this site are subjective and are not fully representative or a reflection of the entirety of Humboldt State. 


How do you personally identify?

I: An earthling. But sexually, bisexual.

How do you define “queer”?

I: I think queer can be taken in many ways. It can be derogatory and offensive. Or it can be queer because I don’t know what I am, but it allows me to be a bunch of different things. I would say queer is someone who doesn’t know what the fuck they are, or maybe they don’t want to be categorized and it gives them a group to belong to.

What does “queer” mean to you?

I: I think a lot of it has to do with your sexuality and yeah.

What do you think of the queer community at Humboldt?

I: There are a lot of queer-identifying people here. Everyone is super open so it’s like a free for all of queers.

What has your experience as a queer student at HSU been like?

I: It’s really easy going and accepting, so it’s been a really refreshing experience.

Has HSU’s student body been accepting?

I: Yes. It has been quite lovely with my professors and the general student body.

Did you come out at HSU? How was that?

I: Yeah, there are a lot more people who are confident with who they are so it’s easy to be myself here than anywhere else.

Have you ever had a negative experience at HSU relating to your queerness?

I: I think there is a level of fetishization of queer women. I’ve felt like I have been oversexualized in some situations because of my identity.

Have you ever felt singled out because of your queerness?

I: No, because sometimes it feels like straight people are the minority at Humboldt so if anything, I’ve felt the opposite of singled out.

What is a positive experience you’ve had on campus relating to your queerness?

I: I guess it’s a positive experience because no one really thinks anything of it. I’m just bi and it’s a regular thing here.

If you could sum up what it’s like to be queer at HSU in one sentence, what would it be?

I: We’re all strong, independent people here and it’s a great place to be yourself.



How do you personally identify?

K: A lesbean.

S: I identify as sexually fluid.

How do you define “queer”?

K: Queer is anything that is not heterosexual.

S: It means strange, but it’s really a blanket term. People used to use it as a lot of different things. And then it became a term used to shame, but now it’s being reclaimed and it’s turning into a positive thing.

What does “queer” mean to you?

K: I don’t feel too personally about it. It’s just a word that exists. I understand why people can identify with it though.

S: It doesn’t really mean anything to me. I don’t like labels or the stigma that they create, so I don’t identify with it at all.

What do you think of the queer community at Humboldt State?

S: I know a fair amount of them, and I like all of them. It would be nice to be more involved, but from what I know it’s a really great accepting place.

K: I think they’re all beautiful people and it’s a beautiful community.

What has it been like to be a queer couple at HSU?

S: I don’t have an answer, it’s not even something that I think about. We’re just walking around and being ourselves.

K:  I feel like any other couple at school, it’s just a normal thing. I honestly don’t even take note of it.

Has the response from the HSU community been different than anywhere else?

K: I can probably count all the queer people I know from back home that are out. Here it’s an accepted thing.

S: From where we’re from it’s different. It’s a completely different experience. Where we grew up is really conservative. If people ask me I’ll answer, but here it’s a non-issue.

Do you feel comfortable expressing your queerness on campus?

K: Yes. We don’t usually have any reservations about being open when we’re at school. Sometimes, but not very often, I feel judged. I just don’t know what anyone is thinking, but overall yes I feel comfortable.

S: Yeah, I’ve never felt uncomfortable.

Have you ever had any negative experiences as a queer couple at HSU?

S: No, not really.

K: No, I’ve never felt negative on Humboldt’s campus.

What is a positive experience you’ve had on campus relating to your queerness?

K: When we hold hands, people smile and it feels good. I can tell when someone notices and it’s nice to get a good response.  

S: I’ve honestly gained a lot of friends because of it. Everyone is always really positive. When I was first visiting, and we rolled into town to go to the tour super early. The first thing we saw was two girls holding hands, and I couldn’t really be out at home so it was very cool and exciting to see.

If you could sum up what it’s like to be queer at HSU in one sentence, what would it be?

K: I guess, I would say don’t categorize yourself because variety is the spice of life.

S: It’s a cool place but we need more gender neutral bathrooms.



How do you personally identify?

J: I identify as queer, but that’s evolved over the years. Sometimes I also refer to myself as a lesbian, and with my friends I’m a “bad lesbian” (as in my desire does not neatly fit typical notions of who a lesbian is supposed to be). I first came out as “bisexual,” but I have since rejected the label of bisexuality for myself, mainly because of the way the term tends to be depoliticized in mainstream society. “Queer” works for me because it is non-binary, suggests fluidity, and resists heteronormativity. 

How do you define “queer”?

J: I think queer is a term that is doing theoretical work of questioning binaries of sexuality, sex, and gender. 

What does “queer” mean to you?

J: It means that I am highly critical of society’s norms and practices of policing desire and gender expression. Queer offers a critique of heteronormativity. My embrace of the term “queer” means that I don’t see identity as something fixed, innate, apart from social and historical realities. I think sexual identity is much more complex than current binaries allow for. The notion of fixed identities is part of how our society polices our bodies and desires. 

What do you think of the queer community at Humboldt State?

J: I don’t think I really know it. I don’t feel like I know it at all, frankly. I think I more identify with people that are doing social justice work in an intersectional way. I don’t affiliate with other gay people just because we’re gay. I do know that there is not just one queer community at Humboldt. I feel uncomfortable in queer settings that only focus on gay identity (which in practice means white and middle-class gay identity) and not the complex intersectionality of identities. 

Did you feel you had to come out at HSU?

J: I came to Humboldt from Richmond, Virginia in the height of state-sanctioned homophobia, and I was involved in queer activism there. Coming here in 2006, I felt a sense of relief because there was much less blatant homophobia, particularly written into California state law, than there was in Virginia at the time. At least it felt that way because the homophobia was so blatant in Virginia. I don’t typically come out to my classes, as in announce that I am queer at the beginning of the semester, which I had done when I taught LGBTQ studies in Iowa and Virginia. Here, I don’t consider myself closeted, especially considering what I teach and how I teach. I don’t hide the fact that I am queer, but I don’t announce it either. If students pick up on it, then that has to do with how I talk about material we are studying. For example, when I am talking about the gay community, I will say “we” rather than “they.” 

Did you have any reservations?

J: Sometimes I do in the classroom. I like to be strategic about “coming out” in terms of how it will affect my students’ learning. Will my coming out help students in their learning process? Will information about me, their professor, help them navigate their relationship to a specific reading or writing assignment? Will it lesson or increase their resistance to and/or understanding of a subject? It’s hard to put in words, and it is different for different students at different points in their lives, but I want to be the most effective teacher I can be. I’m careful with how I divulge information about myself, and I’m not very forthcoming about personal information in class in general. I have a professional persona that is separate from my personal life. In the classroom, I’m focused on ideas rather than on students getting to know who I am as a human being. So yes, I guess I am concerned about being effective, and I want to maintain a sense of privacy. It’s not that I don’t want my students to know I’m queer, I just don’t want to talk about my personal life in the classroom unless it pertains to learning. I do think that homophobia is always a concern, that’s always part of one’s consciousness. 

What was the response from students and other faculty?

J: I don’t know what students know or don’t know, but my colleagues are aware that I am queer and have known since they hired me. I can’t say that there’s ever really been a reaction. They are fine with it.

Are you comfortable being open with your sexuality as a Humboldt State professor?

J: Oh yes, in my mind it’s definitely part of my professional identity. Even though I don’t “come out” in my classes per se, it’s part of who I am, and it affects how I teach. It would be odd to me if people didn’t know I was queer, and I just assume they do. It was a bigger thing in Iowa and Virginia because of the level of homophobia that existed during the time I lived there, but being queer is more accepted here. What I’m not comfortable with is making a “coming out” announcement the way I used to do when I taught LGBTQ courses in Iowa and Virginia. Part of my no longer feeling the necessity to “come out” to my students at the beginning of the semester by declaring my sexuality comes from the fact that such declarations don’t have the same political effect that they used to. Also, queer theory has affected how I think about the act of “coming out” more generally. Queer is an important way I identify as a person; queer does not make me or even my sexuality knowable or understandable to others. I don’t consider myself to be closeted, and I think that students who identify as queer can pretty easily pick that up. 

Have you ever had any negative experiences as a queer identifying person at HSU?

J: I was at a Seder the other night (2016), and someone said something really homophobic. It was pretty shocking because I don’t hear comments like that on a regular basis. I was angry and upset. In the past, at other universities, I’ve had homophobic comments written on my teaching evaluations. I always have a consciousness of the potential for something homophobic to be said or done. On HSU’s campus, I remember finding a defaced flier with a homophobic slur scrawled on it a few years ago. I understand that things like that happen on a regular basis at HSU, and students are often the targets.

What is a positive experience you’ve had on campus relating to your queerness?

J: Being part of the Critical Race, Gender, and Sexualities Department, which offers a Queer Studies minor and major and uses an intersectional feminist lens, has been a wonderful experience. I’m really happy to be part of the department and to teach “Queer Women’s Lives.” 

If you could sum up what it’s like to be queer at HSU in one sentence, what would it be?

J: We need to work in coalition with each other across our different identities, constituencies, and units on campus.



* I had never heard of intersectionality before reading Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around. Through Barbara Smith’s interviews, I learned that it is the idea that “oppressions and liberations must be addressed in the same way they are experienced- simultaneously” (Smith 173). She explained how intersectionality is essential to equality. Although the idea of intersectionality is almost completely new to me, it makes a lot of sense, especially after taking this class and reading about all of these women from such different backgrounds working towards a common goal of equality. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a completely intersectional view on what it's like to be queer at Humboldt State. All of the women I interviewed are white, cis-gendered, and middle class. Hopefully this exhibit can still provide some insight into at least one part of Humboldt's queer community. 

Queer Women's Lives at HSU