In December of 2011, I posted a review of the book Backdrop: The politics and personalities behind sexual orientation research by Gayle Pitman, Ph.D. for this blog. Dr. Pitman is a professor of psychology and a researcher. She’s done much research on and studies about the LGBT community and the things that affect those in the community.
Since profiling Dr. Pitman’s first book here, I’ve tried to keep up with her blog, The Active Voice: Bringing LGBTQ Science to Life. Her posts are always interesting and insightful. She spurs me to comment often! Now she’s writing a new book, Fringe, and she graciously agreed to do an interview with me about it.
Shelly: Welcome Dr. Pitman! I was very pleased to hear that you have a new book in the works. Can you give us a general overview of what Fringe is about?
Gayle: Thank you so much. I think the subtitle of the book, “On the Edges of the Mainstream Gay Community,” says it all in a nutshell. Fringe focuses on the experiences of people who are technically part of the LGBTQ community, but who aren’t embraced by them – and, as a result, they exist on the margins of the community. The argument that’s often made in the push to secure LGBTQ civil rights is that “We’re just like everyone else” – we form relationships, we have kids, we hold down regular jobs, etc. However, the reality is that many of us in the community aren’t just like everyone else, because we can’t or won’t conform to a standard that makes heterosexual people comfortable. This reality is what I’d like to delve into more deeply.
Shelly: You write a blog called The Active Voice, which brings a psychological perspective to current events and contemporary issues in the LGBTQ community. Has writing this blog had any influence on your book writing process?
Gayle: Absolutely! Many of my posts in The Active Voice focus on reframing the problem – instead of viewing homosexuality as the problem, personal, institutional, and cultural homophobia are the true underlying problems. Instead of seeing gender nonconformity as the problem and trying to get people to conform to mainstream gender standards, we can reframe the issue and see that our discomfort with gender nonconformity is the real problem. Since I started writing my blog, which was just over a year ago, I’ve been seeing how even the gay community labels various forms of nonconformity as a problem, and in the process perpetuates various forms of marginalization and oppression. By making statements like, “We’re just as normal as everyone else,” or ”Most of us in the gay community aren’t like that,” peope in the gay community distance themselves from what makes them uncomfortable as a way of gaining acceptance. That realization has led me to use my blog to explore the experiences of people who are marginalized within the LGBTQ community.
Shelly: It’s slightly off topic, but I did want to mention that you had a very interesting blog post about the LGBT community and labels a few weeks ago certainly provoked me to do some thinking about labels and to comment. Readers; if your interested in that discussion, please click the link and give the post a read – when you’re done here, of course. Meanwhile, I’ll get back on topic.
So, what communities, specifically, will you be exploring in Fringe?
Gayle: Anyone who is not young, white, middle-class, thin, able-bodied, monogamous, bio-gendered, or vanilla is part of the fringe, in my opinion. Some examples of groups I’ll be looking at include trans or genderqueer people, elder LGTBQs, LGBTQs of color, intersex people, poor and working-class LGBTQs, LGBTQs with disabilities, non-monogamous/poly people, and people in the altsex/BDSM communities. I’ve already conducted almost a dozen interviews, with several more to go, and all of them have been fascinating.
Shelly: Of the people you’ve interviewed so far, who has had the most powerful impact on you?
Gayle: It’s hard to narrow it down, because all of them have had an impact in some way. Hida Viloria, an intersex activist who’s been profiled on Oprah and The Tyra Banks Show, was amazing to talk to. She embraces her gender fluidity, and she doesn’t apologize for it or try to conform to make other people comfortable. On the other side, I’ve heard so many horrific stories of oppression and marginalization. People have told me about how they became homeless, how they lost their children, how their career went down the tubes, how they were assaulted and became permanently disabled as a result - all because they didn’t conform. I think that’s why Hida’s story is so inspiring to me – she’s such an upbeat and energetic person, and she accepts herself completely.
Shelly: What’s the status of your project at this point? Will we be reading Fringe soon?
Gayle: My hope is to complete Fringe by the beginning of 2014. Right now, as I’m doing interviews and completing the research in preparation for writing, I’m also actively doing some fundraising to cover some of the research and interviewing costs. I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise these funds, and so far we’ve raised over 60% of our goal. If we reach our goal, then I’ll easily be able to complete the project on schedule. On the other hand, if the goal isn’t reached, then my timeline will have to be extended, and the project will temporarily be put on hold. I feel strongly that the stories of the people in these edge communities need to be told, and the start-up funding will allow me to do the project justice – and within a reasonable time frame.
Shelly: As of this writing, you’ve met 75%+ of your funding goal of $3,500 and you have about 10 more days in the campaign. I plan to contribute what I can because I think this book project is important. I hope some of my readers feel the same. To my readers: If you’re interested in helping out, please click he Kickstarter link above. You can contribute as little as $1.00 or as much as you like!
For the benefit of my readers who may not have seen my previous post about you and about your first book, I’d like you to tell them what it is that qualifies you to write a book like Fringe?
Gayle: From a professional standpoint, I’m a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Sacramento City College. I teach courses on gender and sexual orientation, I’ve done research that focuses on the LGBTQ community, and I’ve given talks on these topics throughout the United States. I’ve also written another book (reviewed on this blog!) titled Backdrop: The Politics and Personalities behind Sexual Orientation Research. But I’m also a human rights activist, and this is what fuels my personal motivation to write this book. I think there’s a part of all of us that feels like we don’t fit in, that we’re on the fringe. The irony is that many people in mainstream culture who think that people who are genderqueer, BDSM, or poly (to name a few) are “freaks” – but the reality is that all of us have that feeling within ourselves.
Thank you very much Dr. Pitman. It’s been a pleasure! I’m looking forward to profiling your book here, when it’s published.