By Kenneth Oldfield, Richard Gregory Johnson III

First choice of essays through queer students with working-class backgrounds.

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Extra info for Resilience: Queer Professors from the Working Class

Sample text

I decided to let my bi-level haircut grow out, to have it long for a few years before it went completely gray. Hair makes a remarkable difference in the perception of one’s gender identity and sexual orientation. When I had my butch haircut, people generally assumed on first meeting me that I was a dyke. When I grew it out long, people generally assumed I was straight. The long hair and less-butch clothing I adopted had a profound effect on me, and on those perceiving me. I was transforming myself from a working-class man into a professional middle-class woman.

But when my mother was pregnant with me she was so sure that she was having a boy that she and my dad picked out a boy’s name—Renny—and didn’t bother to pick out a girl’s name. They wanted me to have the same initials as my dad, whose name is Richard, so they looked for a name that started with R. The story my mom told me when I was a kid was that they didn’t like any of the R names for girls they could think of—Rachel, Roberta, Rebecca—and they sort of liked Rene, but it sounded too foreign so they turned it into Renny.

It was May 4, 1970, the day the National Guard shot protesting students at Kent State University. ” That was the moment I knew I was going to college, although I didn’t know how, or what college really was. MIDDLE-CLASS DRAG X 27 That indirect manner of talking was all my family ever did. I was shocked when I visited a middle-class friend’s family while I was in college and they talked to each other as though they were psychologists or something. “What’s your plan? ” I’d never heard people talk to each other like that around a dinner table.

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