Out in the Library

Nov 1, 2011 | 2011 Fall - Out in the Workplace, Articles

By Tracy Nectoux

I find it necessary to come out as bisexual at least once every few months. Granted, I’m married to a man and I have a big mouth. Eliminate at least one of those things, and I’d not have all of these “necessary” coming out moments. But, alas, my mouth and my determination to not let my “opposite marriage” misrepresent me are stronger than my sense of decorum.

I remember a day when I was working in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Library’s cataloging department. I’d recently graduated from library school (I received my Masters in Library and Information Sciences in 2006), and they’d kindly kept me on as an academic hourly employee until I could find something permanent. We (current and former) graduate students worked closely together in a kind of cubicle cluster, and one of them asked me if I was attending the upcoming graduation ceremony.

Me: No, but I’m attending the Lavender Graduation.
She: Lavender Graduation?! But you’re not gay.
Me: I most certainly am.
She: But you’re married.
Me: Madame, I am bisexual.
She: Oh! I have lots of bisexual friends!
Me: And now you have another one.
She: Score!

Since coming out completely in 2001, I have engaged in many variants of this conversation. They never offend me; they never hurt me; and they never tire me. I know that no matter my activism, no matter my research, no matter my stated ideologies, most straight people—because I’ve partnered with a man—will assume that I’m straight. And it makes complete sense that they would.

What’s also true is that very few gay people assume that I’m straight. And that also makes sense.

So when I come out to people, I do it in a fun, joking manner, and—out of respect for my spouse—I try not to divulge too much about my personal sex life. And surprisingly enough, coming out at work has been just as easy, though with fewer jokes, and no sex talk. Absolutely none (for the most part).

My first library job was a part-time shelver/processor position at Urbana Free Library. At that time I was a volunteer distributor for Illinois’ downstate free LGBT newspaper, the Prairie Flame, and when I applied for the job, I included this in my resume under “Service and Other Activities.” It didn’t stop me from getting the job. (In fact, Urbana Free was one of my drop spots for the newspaper.)

When I later began library school at UIUC, while applying for graduate assistantships, I again listed my volunteer work for the Prairie Flame – this time as an interviewer and columnist writing about bisexuality. The original purpose of my column (absurdly titled “Living Bi with a Straight Guy”) was to write about my experiences as a bisexual woman. I had fully come out the previous year and I was ready to talk, rant, talk, consider my navel, talk, contemplate the gloriousness of my own existence, and talk some more. I was desperately fascinated with myself. And I did write about myself for a while (and – to his abject horror – occasionally about Straight Guy). But within six months I was sick of myself, and moved on to more interesting topics of culture, politics, and homophobia.

But I digress. Back to the job hunt! Just as with my city’s public library, the university from which I needed a job did not bat an eye at anything on my vitae. I was granted an assistantship, and after graduating, I was eventually hired full-time.

Since beginning library school, my activism and involvement in social justice and gay rights issues have only increased. Even before I graduated, I’d already joined both the Social Responsibilities Round Table and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association. It was enormously meaningful to me to find both of these organizations within ALA, and I didn’t hesitate to include my memberships in them on my vitae. I didn’t hesitate because back in 2001 when I came out, I decided that I’d not work for anyone who had issue with what I am. I am out and determined to fight for full civil rights for all, and I simply will not work for an organization that might be offended by this. It’s who I am, and to try to hide it would not only be impossible, but would be detrimental to me. Yes, this has limited my choices, but there is simply no other option for me. I would rather work two, lower-paying parttime labor jobs and be out, than one, high-paying full-time cushy job and be closeted. At the same time, I absolutely understand that my decision is my own, and I neither expect, nor do I suggest that others agree with or emulate either me or my choices.

Tracy is the editor of Out Behind the Desk: Workplace Issues for LGBTQ Librarians (Library Juice Press, 2011), a new anthology of personal accounts by librarians and library workers relating experiences of being LGBT or Q at work. This piece is an excerpt from this book’s introduction.

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