Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Fenced In/Out in West Texas: Notes on Defending My Queer Body

Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Fenced In/Out in West Texas: Notes on Defending My Queer Body

Article excerpt


I am apprehensive about writing an article that is so personal about my professional life. Like autoethnographer Carolyn Ellis (2009), I write to better "understand [my life], become more aware of what [I] think and feel, and live for a more ethical and caring existence" (p. 17). I write to preserve my sanity. This writing is partial and incomplete, a mixture of memories growing up white, queer, and working class. This essay is also fractured, memories pieced together, messy at times.

I came to Lubbock, TX over fifteen years ago in 1996, full of courage, vision, and hope. And, I arrived queer.1 My mom died in late July of '96 and as I helped my five siblings prepare to sell the house I had called home since 1956, I packed my belongings for a new chapter. The death of my last parent, moving to West Texas, leaving everybody I knew for a new home and a new life were at times overwhelming. I leftMadison, WI, a city known for its friendliness towards gays and lesbians, for Lubbock, a city marked by homophobia. Upon arriving in Lubbock, I slowly made new friends and allies. However, I felt fenced in, scrutinized, and demonized by many local and state art educators, some who characterized me as a predator.

It is important for me to tell some of my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (LGBTQ) fenced in/out stories. It is precisely these kinds of stories I search for from students, educators, and artists as I record my own and make art and writing about them. My stories reveal parts of my journey toward my own continued self-acceptance. My internalized homophobia, fear of job loss, and demonization of my character are just three of the many reasons why I have chosen to remain silent at times and I assume why others follow a similar course of action. (For example, white-collar professionals in Lubbock are overwhelmingly closeted, including university professors and instructors.) When co-editing From Our Voices: Art Educators and Artists Speak Out About Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Voices (2003) with Laurel Lampela, I found it nearly impossible to locate LGBTQ art teachers who were willing to not only talk about their professional lives but write about them for the book.


When I accepted a tenure-track position in art education at Texas Tech University (TTU) in Lubbock, Texas, in 1996, many of my friends literally feared for my physical safety due to West Texas's reputation as a hard-shelled, intolerant area. H. G. Bissinger's (1995) The Killing Trail described Texas male high school teens killing gay men on violent weekend sprees from Houston to Lubbock. Having spent seven years in Madison, WI rethinking my teaching, making art about autobiographic gay moments, and experiencing the benefit of participating in multiple LGBTQ community activisms, my decision to move to West Texas was for the job-my only job offer.2 Initially, I feared for my physical safety because my friends did, but in retrospect I believe I have suffered much more emotionally and intellectually.

The purpose of my essay is three-fold. First, I will describe my historic complexities of living and practicing as an openly gay art education academic. Second, I will reflect upon ways I have felt fenced in/out professionally and personally, and third I describe how I have strategically created my own emotional and intellectual safety. Very few autobiographical testimonies exist in art education that witness the professional and personal realties of being LGBTQ in art and education. I believe that art teachers and students can benefit from such testimonies that describe how LGBTQ academics/artists/teachers/activists attempt to work and live and practice.

Much of my past and current art is partially inspired by experiences in my dad's carpenter workshop and in studying queer working class artists and writers such as Rae Atira-Soncea (, bell hooks, Joanna Kadi, Helen Klebesadel, Audrey Lorde, David Wojnarowicz, and Janet Zandy. …

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