I used to frequent queer women of color spaces when I first moved to Boston.
I was thrilled about being in a real city (okay fine, it’s no New York or London, but I have decided to abandon that bar to save myself disappointment and despair about all other places in the world). To my delight, Boston came with enough nerdy, international and progressive pockets for me to feel optimistic about finding a space for someone like me — a tech-loving, econ-nerdy, third culture queer kid. The possibilities were endless: academic geekiness meeting progressive queerness in a hipster spaces like Cambridge, Bollywood-loving management consultants pontificating the origins of chai with gender-bending chutney-loving artists.
Well, you get the idea. I’m the queer Indian that moved to Boston with lofty expectations; that queer folks of all marginalized people would be open to the diversity we demand from the world; that LGBTQ people of color would be supportive of different experiences, including that I’m an economist — who likes girls, dancing, and excel spreadsheets.
But as I discovered and spent more time in queer women (primarily, POC) spaces, I realized that my expectations were perhaps a little too overzealous. I learned that in the rightfully upside-down queer universe, mainstream and typical career choices for queer women seemed to include any and all sorts of social organizing, political rallying, non-profit work, and anything ‘alternative.’ Meanwhile, less typical choices included jobs like mine — in the corporate and private sector. God forbid you were in banking.
So imagine my surprise and (more than a twinge of) disappointment when I realized how ubiquitous queer women who worked in the social justice industry were. All of a sudden, I found myself in the warped and slightly hilarious position of choosing an ‘alternative’ career choice as a consultant in the financial industry. Revealing my job at cocktail parties almost always provoked judgment and looks of sympathy from said social justice queers. At a recent social event, when I mentioned what I did for a living, I received a sly knowing look, accompanied by remarks such as “So, you are part of the 1%” and “Oh, you work for the man?” What on earth is going on?
Wasn’t it part of the plan to reclaim (all kinds of) mainstream spaces so queers could fill them and make them our own?
Huffington Post reports that about 3% of CEOs and corporate board rooms are run by women. If queer folks account for about 6% of the labor force in the U.S, one can do the Math to realize that there really aren’t that many queer women (let alone queer women of color) at the top of the private and corporate sector. We all have many faces and identities, I understand that part. For some of us, our identities dictate our career choices and for others, a job is a means to pay bills, and we find other ways of self-expression and identification. I continue to wrestle with the symbiotic relation between one’s politics and one’s career choices.
That said, why is there such a strong sense of judgment if a queer woman chooses a mainstream, for profit, capitalist enterprise for a career? I generally find coming out as ‘queer’ in corporate and tech spaces much less intimidating than coming out as an ‘economic consultant’ in queer spaces. I believe the corporations have figured out that having the gays on their side is an efficient market choice, but apparently the queers are yet to realize that it is also in their benefit to have their people in positions of power.
Didn’t we want the dykes to run the country anyway? I am quite sure if I had a Rachel Maddow for my manager, my work product would be infinitely better that it is now; or imagine having a Sheryl Sanderberg – esque queer woman nudging all the queers to consider tech careers. Wasn’t some part of the women’s movement also about fighting for the front row corporate board seat for the women? Can we not do the same for queer women of color? But it seems like the fight has to begin in queer spaces before we reach the corporate boards.
Until queer-spaces become more corporate-friendly, I’ll be spending my weekends in my office cranking out numbers for the man, trying to figure out how to replicate my life’s problems in an Excel spreadsheet (for fun, really, just for fun). and attempting to explain VLOOKUPS to my date, who at the moment, seems uninterested.