Monday, 22 July 2013

Difficulties in Conference Socialising

I recently went to a conference in Chicago. I had an excellent time and met lots of great people, but as at every conference I had a bit of a dilemma every time I met someone new - do I come out, when do I come out, how do I come out?

As anyone who knows me personally, and some people who only know me online will know, I'm very out. In every aspect of life, home, work, the hairdressers etc.  I just can't be bothered with the whole hiding who I am thing.  Plus I've got a wife, I spend a lot of time socialising with her, and I'm not going to play the pronoun game every time someone asks me what I did at the weekend.

However, I know lots of people who like to keep their private lives out of work.  They might be out in a general way, but they tend to keep quite about it.  But when you go to a conference the world of work merges with your social world. You're often meeting people in a social way, but it's still work.  The people you're talking to after a number of drinks in the bar might be a possible future colleague or collaborator or boss.  So there's always that split second of decisions, which camp does this new interaction fall into.  Future friend, future colleague, both, neither?

Then there's the heteronormitivity of conferences (maybe of science in general?) which I find a bit overwhelming.  I tend to think that people go away from conferences remembering me as the lesbian who talks about transposons (possibly without remembering the bit about transposons).  This is probably not even true, but the fact that I find myself having to come out over and over (particularly if my wife has come along to take advantage of a tagged on holiday) to people who assume everyone, including me, is straight (and I don't look straight), makes me hyper aware of it.

Although I've talked about conferences here, I think it extends quite a bit into more general areas of academic life.  We're expected to spend so much of our time and energy trying to make it in this career that there is often little room for friends outside of work, forcing people to mix social and work yet again.

I'm thinking of putting a project together to see how other LGBT people find this work socialising issue.  It's only in a concept stage, but stay tuned for more info.

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