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Dr. Hammers questions privilege, norms and identity

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Michele Hammers. Chair of the Communications Studies

When I first heard the word LGBT as a child, I never once thought that there were more variants to the queer community than what was placed in that acronym. The binary was clear to me. I thought gay men marry men, lesbians marry women, bisexual people have the choice of both and trans men and women marry whomever they wanted to based on their preferences.

Eventually, the Q, which stands for queer and questioning, was added to LGBTQ to include more people who did not feel properly represented by the term LGBT. It became so widely accepted to the point that GLAAD, a historic LGBTQ media monitoring company, embraced the acronym. Yet, I still believe that the Q has not been represented and understood by the majority as it should be. It’s an umbrella term that describes those who do not necessarily fit the binary of gender and sexuality, which covers many people, including professor and Chair of Communication studies Michele Hammers.

While sitting in her small office in Foley building, I recalled an email exchange between us in which she cautioned me that her experience might not fit what I was looking for in regards to interviewing LGBTQ persons. She stands as straight-identifying, meaning she’s attracted to men, but never really desires to have sex, bringing her to realize that she’s also asexual. Romantically, she holds an open mindset as she’s married to a woman in a romantic partnership.

Hammers grew up in Texas and was buried deep within what she described as, “straight white female privilege.” It wasn’t until she was employed at a law firm when she realized the dark realities of being a woman in the workplace.

While working as a lawyer, she remarked that her female co-workers were harder on other females because they had to be held to a higher standard at a time when females were not as common in her career field.

“It never once dawned on me that my gender mattered. I assumed that in order to be a good lawyer you just had to be smart, do your job and work hard, but it’s not. I couldn’t be a good lawyer, I had to be a good female lawyer,” Hammers said.

There were countless double standards imposed on her as she was told that she wouldn't be able to hold her own in court for not possessing a masculine demeanor. She would also be critiqued for wearing sweaters rather than suits as her male colleagues could walk in looking like a hot mess while still being treated as top lawyers due to having a male body. She eventually adapted to the double standards by wearing a suit and glasses, which caused her colleagues to see her as more of a competent lawyer when in reality all she had done was change her wardrobe.

She became more political after leaving law with the knowledge of the reality of having a female body, leading her to pursue her masters at Arizona State University — a time in her life that she explained gave her the vocabulary to explore what it meant to not fit the binary.

Hammers discovered how she had bought into many assumptions about herself, including how being straight does not entail marriage to a male.

The academic explained to me that she is married to her wife, but the relationship was rooted in a roommate agreement that bloomed into a romantic partnership.

“I have been married now to a female for three years who I met through a role-playing slash fan fiction community. It’s very non-traditional because here I am as a straight-identifying predominately asexual woman married to a bisexual woman, but we have our own terms and for us it’s the partnership that matters on our terms.”

While this path Hammers chose was an accomplishment of self-discovery, the repercussions of telling the news to her family in Texas frightened her.

She is very wary of telling others about her marriage outside of her immediate family due to her lack of close ties back home and the small community she has in L.A. Her mother was very shocked but still accepting, while her deceased father never got the chance to grant her his acceptance as she left it to her mother to tell him.

Hammers started to tear up with the memories of her past internal conflict. She believed that her indiscretion toward her father was a privilege in a way.

“I think it’s one of those things where you wonder if I had given him enough credit. Was I sparing him or was I sparing myself? I mean I had to choose whether or not to tell my father, who would’ve loved me regardless,” said Hammers. “Big ------- deal. At that moment I had to understand how to feel compassion for him without comprising myself or being crippled by guilt and disappointment.”

A silver lining message emerged from her story due to the fact that she used her difficult decisions to help her empathize with others who have to make tough life decisions on a daily basis.

Hammers still strives to better her community by being an educator and embracing language such as “partner,” rather than “husband and wife,” to create a space for those who do not fit that binary. 

After finishing my conversation with Hammers, she left me with questions that I still find difficult to address. How can we push against privilege when we’re buried so deep within it? It does make us blind to other ways of life, but how can we be fortunate enough to get an education to recognize our stance in the world? Thankfully, Hammers and I have both noticed that this generation of students is more aware of their place in the world at a young age, which many generations before were not able to know or understand.

As the Robert Frost quote goes, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Hammer embodies this quote whole-heartedly. From the plight of coming out to her family to becoming a professor of empathy, a lion’s heart emerges when looking at her life. So, if you are questioning your sexuality, gender or your place in life, just know that you’re in good company.

This is the opinion of Alex Myers, a senior French and philosophy major from Edmond, Oklahoma. Tweet comments to @LALoyolan email comments to jlee@theloyolan.com.

To see this article in the context of a larger feature about the queer experience at LMU, visit laloyolan.com/special_issues/queer_lions/.

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