LGBTQ+ professors at UC Berkeley share their experiences in academia

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Across many departments, UC Berkeley is home to queer faculty from diverse walks of life.

Professor of Spanish Emilie Bergmann said in an email that her academic callings incorporate her identity as a queer woman. Bergmann specializes in early modern Spanish literature and “moonlight(s)” in 20th-century women’s writing, focusing on themes of gender and sexuality within the two fields. Bergmann said she has been working at UC Berkeley for 40 years and has seen her field change with increased representation of queer narratives. Bergmann said that during her early years at UC Berkeley, a gay colleague cautioned her from coming out before she was up for tenure, but that when the time came, she no longer felt it was an issue.

Bergmann expressed that it was difficult to find female contributors for the first compilation of essays on queer topics in Hispanic literature, which was published in 1995 under her guidance as a co-editor. Although academic publications are more accepting of queer literature now, according to Bergmann, this shift is relatively recent.

“Students from other parts of the country remind me that growing up gay is still difficult,” Bergmann said in an email. “I’m encouraged by the activism of new generations.”

According to Bergman, she also served on the campus’s Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the LGBTQ Communities at Cal, which includes advising the chancellor on the campus climate, queer representation in research and teaching, and responding to incidents that harm the queer community.

Associate professor in the department of bioengineering Chris Anderson has worked as a professor on campus since 2007. After growing up in North Carolina, where he faced homophobia and threats of violence as a gay teen, Anderson said in an email that he moved to the Bay Area because of its “large, vibrant, edgy and active gay community.” He said he was inspired by gay role models in STEM such as Jay Keasling and Carolyn Bertozzi, who showed him “it is possible to be gay and successful,” he said in an email.

Despite the liberal environment of the Bay Area, Anderson said he observes a lack of gay male professors and, more generally, LGBTQ+ professors in the College of Engineering. As a result, Anderson said he hasn’t found the camaraderie of a queer community in his department. Although his professional work doesn’t directly coincide with queer issues, Anderson said he interacts with LGBTQ+ students for mentorship and advising.

“My gay experience shapes my thoughts on issues of diversity more than any other aspect of my life, and this frequently intersects my work duties,” Anderson said in an email. “But on the whole, my gay life is decoupled from my professional life.”

Judith Butler, the Maxine Elliot professor of comparative literature, described her journey as a queer faculty member at UC Berkeley — aside from receiving judgments from some faculty about her personal life in her early years on campus, Butler characterized her experience at UC Berkeley as positive.

“I have found this to be a great campus for queer and gender nonconforming people, and it was one reason I came to UC Berkeley,” Butler said in an email.

Butler has been teaching on campus for 26 years, during which she became a part of the LGBTQ+ movement. Butler has played a role in transforming the movement over time and how its traction has affected spaces on campus. When she came out at 14, Butler said in an email that there was no community to turn to, “only books and some images, and Sappho’s poetry!”

Over time, Butler has been an important part of the expansion of queer theory and the feminist movement. She stated that she has published works in gender and sexuality and has witnessed the field’s growth to embrace voices from the trans community and the issues it faces. Butler added that her work analyzes queer and gender theory in the context of other social categories, such as race and economic inequality.

“I have seen how important these expanding alliances are for both scholarship and political solidarity,” Butler said in an email.

Butler’s influential publication “Gender Trouble” was revolutionary to the fields of philosophy and feminist theory, according to the European Graduate School’s website. Butler’s book contradicted the notion of binary gender and is often associated with the theory of gender performativity.

Butler stated that her career would not exist without her engagement with LGBTQ+ issues. She explained that questioning the relationship between gender and sexuality and how these categorizations relate to other identities has affected her works across the various fields she engages in.

According to Butler, many of her students identify as queer, trans and/or feminist.

“Some of them live between the categories,” Butler said in an email, which “expands the sense of community on campus.”

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected].

A previous version of this article referred to the term “transgender.” In fact, the term should have been “trans.”