What have you done with your life? The LGBT department

It began a little while back with a request from the Daily Beast for an interview in a series about “unsung (or, at least undersung) LGBT heroes” — people of significance in both a professional field and the LGBT world. A daunting request, to which I’ve responded in three postings on this blog:

on 5/9, “The way I write now”: about my eccentric genre of flânerie

on 5/10,  “What have you done with your life?”: about my contributions to linguistics, via a huge list of things I’ve worked on in my academic career, plus two lists of characteristic terminology I’ve used, some of which has become associated with me personally

and now this one, about my contributions to the lgbt community. There’s some straightforward institutional stuff, and then it runs off into the weeds about my speaking out in a way that makes me highly visible and so a possible model for others.

The idea that others would take me as a model has always been alarming to me. But it comes with being a teacher, so I just have to accept it

In lgbt matters, however, I’ve felt, since 1971, that serving as a model is, for me, a moral responsibility. (Others might feel differently. I’m not exhorting here, just saying that my personal beliefs about what I should do to be a good and decent person, a Mensch, triggered my engagement as a publicly gay man.)

Back in the 1950s and 60s, I came slowly and painfully to some understanding of the nature of my sexual desires. Very much in the closet and full of shame. I gradually began working my way out of this pit, when in the summer of 1971 I embarked on an affair with a male graduate student in linguistics at Ohio State. My first male lover (not just a sexual connection, and far from just sexual), Danny (the name I gave him in my fictobiographical writing).

Danny and I decided that the relationship had to be open and public, and that I had to disengage from any academic connection to him. In any case I went from being out to a small collection of friends and colleagues to being out, out, out to anyone who chose to see what was in front of them.

And then the fact that, as a tenured professor, I had the protections of academic freedom kicked in, and I realized that I was now free to act and speak openly as a gay man, without fear of institutional sanctions. My sense of moral duty then said that if I could, I should — if not me, who?

So began my career as a public queer, first at Ohio State and in Columbus, then at Stanford and on the net. And in linguistics all the time.

Institutional highlights. Some things I did.

1.  Counseling and support for LGBT students (undergraduates and graduate students) at both universities, starting in the 1980s. The OSU College of Humanities Exemplary Faculty Award I received in 1994 highlighted my work with LGB students.

2. Stonewall Columbus and other local organizations. In the 1980s and 1990s I was a visible member and financial supporter of  Stonewall Columbus, the 50+ organization (for older LGB people) in Columbus, and Digital Queers and other organizations in Silicon Valley.

3. OUTiL. I began the Out in Linguistics (OUTiL) organization at the 1991 LSA Linguistic Institute at UC Santa Cruz. At first a loose association of LGBT etc. linguists and their friends for social gatherings, community formation, and networking. Then a closed mailing list serving these purposes (especially the gatherings at linguistics conferences; I hosted a lot of parties) and also encouraging discussion about LGBT linguistics (or lavender linguistics, in Bill Leap’s terms). The mailing list has now been replaced by the OUT in Linguistics (also closed) Facebook group (which I manage, with a very light hand).

4. Presidency of the LSA. Being president of the Linguistic Society of America was a great honor, but even better, I was the first openly LGBT president, and so very much a queer model in the field. From my 2/7/11 posting “Winter quarter 1992”:

Winter Quarter 1992 started out on a very high note indeed — my presidency of the Linguistic Society of America, celebrated at the annual meeting at the Biltmore Hotel (now the Millennium Biltmore) in downtown L.A. The hotel provided its top suite; from the website:

Presidential Suite: (4,600 sq. feet); stay in the same room as 9 U.S. Presidents and the Beatles! Occupying 2 floors, this 3-bedroom, 5-bathroom apartment has an antique elevator, spiral staircase, grand piano, formal dining room, full kitchen, library/office, living room with flat-panel plasma television and DVD player, extensive closet space and Pershing Square views

A very big wow. [My husband-equivalent] Jacques and I took the really really big bedroom; Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky and Brent Chapman took another; and Geoff Pullum and Barbara Scholz took the third.

Of course we had a gigantic party (after my presidential address), billed as an Out in Linguistics event, friends welcome. Over a hundred people came, and we had a great time.

During the party, we gave tours of the place. People kept asking to see Jacques’s and my bedroom. At first we found this odd — though it was huge and well appointed, it was just a bedroom — until we realized that they wanted to see the bed in which Jack Kennedy shtupped Marilyn Monroe. We tried in vain to explain that well, yes, this was the bedroom, but, no, it wasn’t the actual bed; hotels replace their beds regularly, especially in the top-line suites. But still they came.

5. I was active in the OSU LGB faculty-staff group, which met with OSU’s president on a regular basis in the 1990s. I worked with this group on the (successful) campaign to provide domestic partner benefits at Ohio State. And did similar domestic-partner work (also successful) with the Stanford LGB faculty-staff group.

6. NOGLSTP. The National Organization of  Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. I was a board member in 2001-03 and in 2008 was given the NOGLSTP Scientist award.

7. It Gets Better. I was taped for one section of the Stanford It Gets Better video in January 2011. Story in my 1/30/2011 posting “It Gets Better / Wonderful dad”.

Speaking out publicly

1. LGBT net visibility. I posted often to the USENET newsgroup soc.motss (members of the same sex), from 1985 on.  That group is now incarnated as the Facebook closed group soc-motss, and I’m still active there.

2. I’ve published several things on LGB themes in linguistics, and one piece in OUT magazine.

3. Linguistics net visibility, with LGBT interests woven into much of my writing and quite prominent there, a fair amount specifically on matters of LGBT interest: on the ADS-L mailing list, the blog Language Log (2003-17), and now on my personal blog arnoldzwicky.org on WordPress (beginning in 2010), with X-rated material on my LiveJournal blog arnold-x-zwicky.livejournal.com

4. I’ve done a long series of postings on the analysis of gay porn (mostly porn flicks).

5. I’ve created a large set of XXX-rated homoerotic comic collages (with considerable social commentary content), available on my blogs, and displayed in two exhibitions (in 2003 and 2005), along with some accompanying text about the elements of the collages.

(#1) Cover poster for the exhibitions

(#2) A collage on gaze

(#3) Another collage on gaze

6. Fiction and poetry on gay themes, available on my blog: notably a Sundance and Butch series of magic realist writing.

7. Fictionalized autobiography, available on my blog: notably a long series on the gay baths, approaching  participant-observer ethnography.

8. A very long series of postings on the social and sexual lives of gay men: analytical, fearless (I will go almost anywhere), and personal, but also artful and  playful (and almost always with some linguistics mixed in). A very long list of topics treated in these postings, in nearly random order:

coming out, being (publicly) out, concealment (passing as straight, also covering, i.e., not flaunting), presentation as a couple, differentiation of roles in male pairings (sexual bottom vs. top, more generally b vs. t, psychological submissive vs. dominant, presentation as flamboyant / femme vs. butch, the age-roles boy / boi vs. daddy), dating, gay male subcutures and identities (bears, twinks, leathermen, circuit boys, drag queens, sissy boys, etc.), MSMs, bisexuality, public and semi-public arenas of gay sexual life (gay bars, the gay baths and other sex clubs, cruising, male hustling and other gay sex work, tricking, tearoom sex, glory holes), gay sex toys, gay fetishes and paraphilias, gay behavior (the gay voice, gesture, facial expressions, gait and stance, etc.), gay peniphilia (also gay focus on semen and on buttocks), the AIDs crisis, gay health and medicine, gay male relationships with women, reationships between lgb and trans people, non-sexual affiliations among gay men (gay sports teams, bands, folk dance groups, motorcycle clubs, gardening groups, etc.; gay male “girlfriends”; on-line gay communities; gay pride events), gay holidays, gay politics, gay occupations, gay personas and presentations of self, gay icons (celebrities, singers, actors, etc.), gay entertainment and arts (fandom in movies, tv, opera, ballet, graphic art, photography, design), gay poetry and fiction, gay cartoons and comics, relationships between gay and straight men, gay parenting, social stigmatization of lgbt people, coping with homo-hatred (gay bashing, anti-gay religious organizations, street hostility, rejection by family, schools, and communities, conversion schemes), gay body focus (on body size, musculature, penis size), gay male style (dress, hair style, grooming, accessories, underwear, shirtlessness), camp, gay pornography, gay magazines and other media outlets, gay neighborhoods, gay resorts, same-sex marriage, legal statuses of lgbt people, public displays of same-sex affection, gay group sex (gangbangs, orgies), relations between gay men and lesbians, gay men and masculinity, gay men’s relationships with their fathers, larger social categories among gay men (of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, region, class, etc.), gay symbols, gay language (the gay lexicon, syntactic choices, segmental phonetics, prosody, conversational routines, speech styles, writing styles), language about gay people (including slurs), barebacking, gay for pay, straight stereotypes of gay people, assimilations to or rejections of the trappings of heteronormativity, fag hags and fag stags, gay humor, gay men and their pets, gay men’s ideals of male beauty, age-differentiated relationships

Two comments from friends

After the Daily Beast reporter approached me, I wrote on several social media about my anxiety over trumpeting my significance in linguistics and in the gay world, and in response got a number of thoughtful and useful comments from friends, two of which especially touched me. The first from a bisexual woman, the second from a gay man, both American and both a generation younger than me. Here they are, with names removed:

I don’t feel qualified to advise, but your ability to share a clearly broad and deep understanding of aspects of linguistics with those interested but unversed, like me, is a beacon. Your seriousness and humor about lgbtq issues, and your concerted honesty in connecting your personal and political and professional is inspiring. You bring your whole self to your whole life. I know I try to look at things with a spirit of inquiry and try not to let assumptions get in my way, partly from your example.

Your unabashed honesty in detailing the queer experience thru humor and language are uniquely you. The fearless frankness with which you talk about such eyebrow raising topics as tea room sex, barebacking, and living/dying with AIDS have been trailblazing in my view. And you do it all with a connection to a cartoon clip or obscure turn of phrase or wordplay. Then there are the underwear chronicles!!



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