As I have been following this thread, it seems to me that there are many
aspects of ourselves that we are forced to hide. For example, when I
started graduate school, my daughter was two and a half. She is now
nine, and I am still in graduate school (although, finally, nearing
defense). I have found it necessary, in general, to pretend that having
a child does not affect my work, does not interfere with my time. . . in
short, does not make me an undesirable graduate student. For part of the
time I have been in graduate school (more than two years! worth), I had
the additional responsibility of caring for a mother with Alzheimer!s
disease (she lived in my home). I had to pretend that that, too, had no
effect. In fact, when I was told that I may have to apply to the
graduate school for an extension of time to defend, I was told that it
needed to be for scientific reasons - experimental problems, etc.
Personal lives don!t count. One day recently I was supposed to proctor
an exam and my daughter had 104oF temperature. I was almost ready to
send her to work with my husband rather than admit that I couldn!t get to
school because I had a sick child (fortunately, common sense prevailed -
I will not be guilty of child abuse to satisfy some stupid, unwritten,
unacknowledged policy). Needless to say, there were no overt
ramifications of my calling in on that day. I have a friend, however,
who will under no circumstances admit that she has a sick child - she
will claim her car broke down, she is sick, etc., rather than admit that
her children interfere with her graduate work.
On the subject of homophobia specifically, I have to say that I know few
gay people, male or female, in academia who are open about it. I know
several who are discreet.
The point I want to make, however, is that unless you fit into the
pattern of the traditional student/postdoc, etc., it is very hard to
openly discuss your personal life in an academic/professional setting.
There is always the fear of reprisals of some sort. I want to be taken
seriously as a scientist - not in spite of the fact that I have a child
nor because of the fact that I have a child, not in spite of the fact nor
because of the fact that I am a woman - only because I have demonstrated
my abilities as a scientist. And perhaps therein lies the answer - it is
not necessary to be open and forthcoming to the world in general about
what goes on in your private life. It is only necessary to remain
focused on what is important at that time and in that place. People who
are truly your friends will not be swayed by your sexual orientation,
marital/parental status, etc.
So my advice is to make your decision about openness carefully and
deliberately, weighing the advantages against the possible ramifications.
Once you take a stance for openness, you can!t turn back. Good luck.
Department of Microbiology
SUNY at Stony Brook
Stony Brook, NY 11794-5222
email: asavitt at sunysb.edu