Queer history as a part of queer identity
Since 2010, Nathalie Haurberg ‘06 has been a guitarist in the queercore band Closet Burner.
Once a Knox student, Haurberg is now an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy. Haurberg identifies as queer and does not hide away. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not typically topics Haurberg discusses with her colleagues.
“Most of my queer colleagues know,” Haurberg said. “I think to most of my colleagues, I’m married to a man so they look at me as a woman… They see me as cis and hetero. I do wear a button that says ‘fuck you, I’m queer’ a lot. There are little ways I’m out.”
As someone who struggles with mental health, Haurberg knows the negative impacts of day-to-day erasure. One of the ways in which Haurberg thinks assumptions of straightness and erasure of queerness manifest is in how marriage is treated as the most serious form of union, especially when spousal or familial benefits are in question. Although non-heterosexual couples can get married, “that’s a sort of assimilation that is not only a legal assimilation, it’s a psychological assimilation,” Haurberg said. Having to constantly verify the validity of their identities can be “a real burden” for queer faculty and staff. These micro-aggressions then shed light onto a local side of the problem.
“Sure, yes, your therapist can forget their religion but it’s really hard to sit in a room where there’s a religion that you feel entirely invalidates your identity,” she said. “It’s very difficult to speak to someone whose practice is based on something that you feel entirely invalidates you.”
Haurberg does not live within a binary. “You don’t have to go look androgynous and do this certain thing to have an identity that’s a bit more complicated than just a binary identity,” Haurberg said. She especially sympathizes with non-binary students who use they/them pronouns.
“It’s remarkable to watch people academically argue old language rules… because we’re trying to turn academics into someone’s identity. It doesn’t matter!”
This especially frustrates Haurberg when conflated with arguments that queerness is something new.
“I hope that faculty can see that other faculty are also in similar positions even though they may not use they/them pronouns… Students aren’t, like, inventing this. This is something that lots of people feel.”
In her opinion, socialization is changing and people are simply more comfortable being themselves.
“If I’d been born ten years later, I’d maybe use they/them pronouns.”
Burning closets from the stage to the classroom
Although she is comfortable in her identities nowadays, Catherine Denial only started questioning her sexuality in her mid-thirties.
Denial is the Bright-distinguished Professor of American History, chair of the history department and the co-director of the Social Justice Dialogues program.
“I define myself as both pansexual and somewhere on the asexual spectrum,” Denial said. “I’m out with all my students. I have no idea if my colleagues know or not.”
Denial’s office, decorated in different queer flags and posters, is a testament to how she does not hide who she is.
“If people have assumed before this that I am not the identity that I am, that probably speaks more to their assumptions about how people work than it does about me,” she said.
For Denial, being queer and working at Knox has been “fabulous.”
“The people with whom I spend the most time talking about queerness are students – in and out of class,” she said. “There are so many queer students on campus and it is precious and fantastic to see people claiming their identity at such a young age because I couldn’t when I was in college,” Denial says.
As a professor, Denial tries to make space academically for queer students.
“So much of queer history has been repressed, suppressed and I don’t think that we can talk honestly about where we are as a queer community whether it’s on campus or whether it’s in the whole United States if we don’t have a good idea of how we got here,” Denial said.
Denial’s classes always start with a social identity wheel or chart. The social identity wheel is an activity through which students are asked to label their various social identities. Then, they share whatever they are comfortable sharing with a partner. Denial, however, shares all of her identities to model trust and vulnerability. She does not ask of her students what she is not willing to give.
“If you’re a historian, you have to know what you’re bringing to the table that is going to shift, open up or cloud your perceptions of the things you’re reading,” she said. This is why she is constantly thinking about her identities and places them at the front and center of how she teaches.
Raging within the machine
Professor of Sociology Gabrielle Raley came out to her family when she was 18 but she is just now coming out to Knox.
“In terms of sexuality, I think of myself as just queer,” Raley says. More specifically, Raley is androsexual, which she personally defines as someone who is attracted to masculinity despite gender. After college and before entering grad school, Raley lived in an all-lesbian radical communal household and was a part of a variety of queer coalitions.
Raley thinks that there could be multiple reasons as to why she has not been very open about her sexuality in the past.
“I don’t know if that’s more than the culture of academia, though. Academia, in general, is not very welcoming of people having personal lives or identities,” Raley said. “I think that a lot of that has to do with, I’m sure, some internalized homophobia.”
She also believes that her appearance leads to assumptions of heterosexuality, which she does not correct. Being a feminine woman, Raley is wary of the fact that her queerness may subject her to sexualization and fetishization. However, Raley has decided that representation for queer students is more important than her personal feelings of privacy.
“The idea that students could see examples of their own identities in the faculty is super important.”
For Raley, being queer and working at Knox has presented no challenges so far. She says that this fact, however, does not diminish any struggles that her other colleagues may have, noting that the absence of gay bars in Galesburg may have an affect on queer faculty members’ ability to date.
“I feel like just the fact that we probably have many faculty who are not out to their colleagues suggests that there’s some sort of gap,” she said. “There is something going on or else we would all be out before now.”