Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 1, Issue 2
Spring 2011
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editor, John-Albert Moseley
Layout Design: Nick Appleby

An Interview with Graeme Reid

by Jacob Conway, Davenport '11

Graeme ReidWhat was the highlight of your Yale experience?

It is so hard to pick out one particular highlight. I have had a very good experience at Yale and it is certainly the longest two-year contract that I have served, having arrived in 2007! I have grown to love teaching and engaging with students during the four years that I have been here. When I first arrived I was astounded by the resources that Yale had to offer and the libraries, in particular. I love browsing through the stacks in the Sterling Memorial Library. And the archival holdings at Manuscripts and Archives and of course Beinecke. To say that Yale has been an intellectually stimulating environment is an understatement; there is always too much going on at the same time. It gives me the same feeling of mild panic that I get at a great conference or arts festival where there are dozens of parallel sessions or events to choose from. You choose one thing and miss out on another. Aside from the regular programming of WGSS and LGBTS and Anthropology, a few things do stand out: the ongoing seminar series organized by the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexuality, the Photographic Memory Workshop, and the Sensory Cultures of Religion Research Group at Yale.  The Anglican Schism conference was a highlight and for me, as was Justice Edwin Cameron’s visit to receive the Brudner Prize in 2009.

What would you describe as your biggest challenge as an ethnographer?

Inevitably there are challenging experiences in research, some specific to the context in which I work and some related to the terrain of gender and sexuality. Most of my research has been in South Africa and it is not surprising that one of my main challenges is navigating historical cleavages of race and class in a society that continues to experience high levels of inequality. In my research collaborations I have learned humor and humility go a long way. My research interest is in the social and political dimensions of gender identity and sexuality. These are experienced as deeply private and personal. I try to be particularly mindful and vigilant about that.

... as a professor of LGBT studies?

LGBT Studies is necessarily and rightfully interdisciplinary. At the same time I am not a fan of LGBT studies that take place in isolation from other disciplines. I like the Yale model – there is a clear thematic focus but faculty are located in various disciplines. In my case that has meant an affiliation with Anthropology.  There are two reasons for this bias on my part – firstly it avoids the ghettoization of LGBT Studies and secondly, it serves to enrich and enliven debates in other disciplines through a queer perspective.

Who are your inspirations?

Gosh, I am inspired by a broad range of people. Amongst them are academics, artists, hairstylists, healers, atheists and Pentecostals. I am inspired, for example, by the hairstylists with whom I have worked in rural South Africa and the creative ways they have found to live rich and fulfilling lives despite the obstacles put in their way. A friend and colleague at Yale, Jacob Dlamini has recently published a provocative new book called Native Nostalgia. His book says: ‘Apartheid tried to diminish and belittle us and to a certain extent succeeded, but there was a whole terrain of our lives that could not be reached.  We found ways to live rich and meaningful lives, lives that we, too, can be nostalgic for.’ Small forms of resistance and defiance inspire me - whether in terms of challenging gender norms and values, or political regimes. I am interested in the everyday, the seemingly inconsequential, the unseen and unnoticed.    

Why is queer ethnography important?

If we are to take transnational studies of queer sexualities seriously, queer ethnography is clearly indispensable. Together with historical studies of queer sexualities, queer ethnography has gone a long way in troubling and questioning assumptions about gender and sexuality prevalent in the West. In the academy we have come to think about sex, gender and sexuality in new and innovative ways largely because of transnational scholarship.

What are your plans after Yale?

I have been appointed to my dream job as the Director of the LGBT program at Human Rights Watch, based in New York City. As the Director of HRW’s LGBT program, I will be responsible for charting strategy, setting priorities, planning, and executing research and advocacy to best defend and advance LGBT rights as human rights globally. Human Rights Watch reports have a reputation for being rigorous and reliable and as such have a significant impact on policy. I am very aware of the responsibilities that go with this exciting and challenging position. For me the work combines both my activist and academic interests, my academic work grew out of my activism, and this new role feels like a synthesis of these aspects of my experience. I look forward to staying in touch with colleagues and collaborating on future projects at Yale.

Jacob Conwayby Jacob Conway
Davenport '11

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