Love will tear us apart

I can’t believe I’m having to write this, a matter of days after I finished editing and publishing something I felt proud about – my first public anthropology writing. But, no I absolutely do not believe it’s ok to fuck your students.

Voices stronger and more grounded than I have expressed the issues with queer and trans scholars closing ranks about the Ronnell scandal, of power, of privilege, of the right to people’s time and energy. There is a whole discussion I can’t have about citation politics right now.

In trying to write about love, engaging with a scholar whose work I’d appreciated I focused on activism, and community. Things I strongly believe in. I can’t let myself be silent when a chapter I skipped over has the position I can’t sit with. I’m heart broken.

Any relationship where there is an imbalance of power will be problematic; it need not be a context for exploitation or abuse (hooks 2003)

The place of vigilance is not in forbidding such encounters but in having a system that effectively prevents harassment and abuse. (hooks 2003)

Then a piece about her own relationship with a previous student. Upset I messaged a friend about this.

I get recognizing the potential for erotic desire in the classroom as part of dismantling abuse but just have a wank.

This handling of relationships comes as a surprise to me. Having spent most of my career in a corporate world, where generally policy says in many workplaces the HR rule around dating is disclose to HR if there is a power/reporting relation. I’ve not had recent experience of dating and can’t speak to that, but the idea of using the erotic to transgress in this way doesn’t sit with me. Queers crush on friends all the time – discourse from the asexual community talks about models of platonic, romantic, sexual attraction.

Consent and boundaries, and not expecting every desire to be fulfillable are a key part to queer love for me. As a trans woman I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting both on masculinity in general and internalized forms of toxic masculinity. As a queer woman spent time talking with one of my friends for hours about expectations on our bodies. This includes the default assumption of sexually available of friends, or students. Yes a relationship is possible, and can be mutually consensual, but the idea you can’t have friends, or students, they are just always pre/post fuck is so weird to me it reminds me of very heteronormative desire. Inverting the traditional gender roles in this situation where there is power but perhaps you just ignore it doesn’t feel subverting or transgressing to me.

Feelings, including the erotic will happen, within friendships you can talk about feelings without it impacting relationship as long as you can work with boundaries. Friendship, and mentorship are their own equally important relationships. Sometimes those boundaries are set by the system you are in – such as a job. And being a student and being a professor are both jobs. I have professor friends, as I’m closer in age or older than various junior faculty. For me that would mean that if I enter into a different dynamic that requires negotiation – such as to explicitly ask if they are comfortable with me doing an independent study with them. The recent case around Ronnell, along with my own discomfort with hooks position is just the final nail in what has been a very emotional decision making process about if I can find a place in academia.

I’m sorry academia it’s not you, it’s me. We’re going to have to break up. Not immediately we’ll be together for this last year of my BA, I’ve invested too much of my self to drop out again. However there is no future I can hope for together. But could I work in a system that it feels the queer and trans liberation I wish to fight for, alongside other causes, gets caught up in cycles of abuse. The precarity, the inbuilt oppression I can probably stomach – but I need to respect myself and my own boundaries here.

As someone working on queer and trans issues striving to a feminism that includes (not limited to) incorporates confronting anti-blackness, dismantling white supremacy and settler colonialism I need to hold myself accountable. I’ve heard and uttered the phrase “disappointed but not surprised” and awful lot this year in the context of academia. As someone who has worked on her own unlearning – we fuck up, sure. But then our actions after that inform who we are. Repeatedly the actions I see in academia don’t reflect the world I want to be in. I can’t even see anyone like me who is a senior anthropologist scholar. As Dr Natalia Cecire re-emphasized to me these actions and beliefs of senior feminist scholars are

all the more disappointing, perhaps, in light of a different place where we could have used a few voices of authority using their powers for good, namely the attack on trans people in the UK (Cecire 2018)

Others might have the strength to try. But simply put I can not. I respect those who stay with you and work for liberator futures that they dream of and hold their hopes in my heart.

I won’t delete my previous words. I still believe love has a place in teaching. But academia, I bid you adieu. Thank you for making it so easy for me to decide.

Cited Works

Cecire, Natalia. “New at This | Works Cited,” August 21, 2018.

hooks, bell. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Macharia, Keguro. “Kburd: Caliban Responds.” The New Inquiry (blog), August 22, 2018.

Robin, Corey. “The Unsexy Truth About the Avital Ronell Scandal.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 20, 2018.


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