“Jamais deux sans trois.”
The above French idiom, which translates to “never twice without a third [time],” means that what happens twice will usually happen again. In other words, one may use the idiom to point toward the development of a pattern of events or behavior based on previous similar happenings.
It is here that I want to start this blogpost, because I am starting to notice a pattern of events that can be summed up thusly: You wouldn’t like me if you worked here.
Okay, so at this point, you may be wondering how I got from a French idiom to people not liking me, but bear with me…it will all make sense by the end of the post. Moreover, I hope I can help elucidate something worth the time and effort it will take you, Dear Reader, to get through the post.
The first step, it would seem, is to discuss the two events from which the “third” would come, à la the French idiom…
Event #1: A friend and I are texting, and he asks me if my Gender & Higher Education class has filled up yet. I say no, and that it likely will not fill. That it didn’t last summer, and I don’t expect it to fill this summer. He seems surprised and says, “If I was a student of someone who wrote the book you did, I would jump to take your class.” I thank him, and remind him of an old adage I was told when I was working as a student affairs educator: The nearest expert is always 10 miles away.
Event #2: I run for a leadership position in a presidential commission for gender and sexuality on campus. I am quite ambivalent about this position, mainly due to the trans* antagonism I have experienced by other members during the year, but decide to give it a go in the hopes of reclaiming the organization as a queer space. However, I know I will likely not get the position, largely because I have called out the violence I have experienced in the organization, and I know that cisgender and/or heterosexual people—who make up the majority of the membership of the organization—don’t like that. They don’t like being called out on their investments in transphobia…especially cishet folks who like to consider themselves “good liberals.” I lose the election, as does my other queer colleague who ran for a leadership position. Instead, two cisgender and heterosexual people are voted into the two positions for which my colleague and I ran.
Juxtaposed with these two events is the reality that I am being invited to speak at various different institutions and conferences this coming fall. While I am incredibly humbled by these invitations, especially given my relative youth in my profession, I have been a bit confused as to what seems to be contradictory experiences. In one sense, I am being welcomed to various other campuses and events to share my expertise, whilst in another sense, my expertise is being disregarded and/or actively dismissed.
And then, as usually happens for me, I come home to the writing of Sara Ahmed. Specifically, I am reminded of her blogpost where she wrote, “When you expose a problem you pose a problem” (para. 1).
I expose problems, and therefore, I pose problems.
“But I do this everywhere,” I think. “Why, then, would I be welcomed off-campus, and disavowed on-campus?”
And then it hits me: people off-campus don’t need to deal with me on a regular basis. They get to choose when, where, and how to engage with me. They set the terms by which I visit, and those who come hear me speak get to opt into listening, whereas the people at NIU do not have that same choice.
At NIU, my host institution, people have to deal with me. In fact, this past year, I have been putting myself in people’s ways more and more. I have embraced what it means to be a trans* killjoy even more than I had previously, and I have been calling out instances, ideologies, and enactments of trans* oppression with confident regularity.
Cisgender people don’t like this.
Heterosexual people don’t like this.
Cishet people don’t like this.
And when it comes to cishet folks at NIU, they cannot opt out of my killjoying (yeah, that’s right, I just wrote that. Let’s make it a thing, yeah?). For example, for the folks on the presidential commission I mentioned in my second story, I have a captive audience of perhaps unwilling participants. Sure, they could make choices on whether to open the email I wrote to the entire membership about the trans* antagonism I experienced, and my reticence to be involved in the organization until said antagonism was confronted, addressed, and corrected. However, they didn’t get a say in if I emailed them…and if they had, my guess is many would have asked me to not write and send it…
…because #CisHetFragility is so, so real.
And this is why you probably wouldn’t like me if you worked here. Because not only do I have no chill, but I think chill is entirely overrated. Because I will not slow down, but will only speed up, get louder, and call out more the trans* oppressive illogics that show up on my campus (and beyond). And for folks at my host institution, who don’t have a choice of if, when, where, or how to engage with me, this means that I pose a problem. It means that I am posed as a troublemaker, and am made into an unruly subject, one who is never satisfied, a complainer, a person with whom to be dealt, irrespective of my expertise.
I will likely continue to experience a cool (and sometimes hot) disregard for my work and expertise at my host institution. And this disregard will always be unsteadily situated alongside my being invited and welcomed to other campuses, conferences, and events to share my killjoying (again, I am trying to make this a thing).
But so what? Why does this matter? How does this apply to the work we do in higher education?
Whilst this all is a bit strange, and I don’t really like it much, I think there are some things we can all learn from these personal, individual happenings. The most important takeaway for me is that killjoys will always be a bit of a stranger at their own institutions…and this is okay. This doesn’t mean we as killjoys need to stop killjoying (third time’s the charm!). However, it does mean that we need to cultivate communities of support that extend beyond our host institutions. In my book, Trans* In College, participants and I discuss the importance of cultivating and maintaining virtual kinship networks as a strategy to navigate the often trans* oppressive illogics on campus. Similarly, I am finding that I need to create virtual kinship networks as a way to be resilient in the face of not being welcomed in some (but certainly not all) spaces at my own institution.
Moreover, I think it is important to remember that if we have too many friends, we may not be doing our jobs as killjoys as best we can. In other words, if everyone is cheering, clapping, and screaming “YASSSSS!!!,” maybe we need to take a note from This Is Spinal Tap! and turn the volume up to 11. Killjoying doesn’t always win people over…as Ahmed pointed out, those who call out problems are often posed as problems. I have learned this happens especially for those people at our own institutions who do not get a choice of when, if, how, or why they will experiencing our killjoying. So that being said, we can gauge our efforts partially on how we are being received.
Finally, I find it incredibly important to remind my fellow killjoys that we were never meant to be loved and embraced at our host institutions. Yes, there will be people who will love us – indeed, this is why we have our jobs. However, we will never experience the broad-based appeal, support, and welcoming that non-killjoys do…and this is literally by design. Rather than feel like crap, or internalize this reality, it is dreadfully important to remember that this is what privileged resistance looks, sounds, and feels like. In fact, I had to remind myself of much of this after my colleague and I were not elected into leadership positions to the presidential commission on gender and sexuality on campus. I have taken screenshots of some of these reminders and copied them below, so if you, my Fellow Killjoys, ever need a reminder of this important lesson, bookmark this page and return to it as frequently as you need.
The resistance we face is wholly predictable, a signal we are doing our jobs, and not worth capitulating to. Instead, let’s (re)unite virtually, big each other up, and remember that while others may not like us if they worked with us daily, the work we daily do is not for them, but in the service of justice, equity, and realizing education as a “practice of freedom” (hooks, 1994).
Keep on killjoying, friends…our worth need not be measured in likes, but in the trans*formation of our campuses, conferences, and worlds that we—and those alongside whom we work—desire and deserve.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.