Last week I was surprised and pleased to learn that an article I wrote years ago, “Queer Hoover: Sex, Lies and Political History” (2006) had been featured in an essay by Mathew Wills at the JSTOR Daily. You can read it, with a link to the original article, here.
I am really very flattered by this, and I would also like to point out that, after starting its life as an article that migrated from place to place without success, “Queer Hoover” has become that rare thing that one becomes known for. Twelve years after it was published, and almost fifteen years after I first drafted it, it seems to find new friends wherever it goes.
- “Queer Hoover” was originally written in 2004 as a short, ten-page presentation for a conference Henry Abelove organized. I then put it aside for a year or so, as was my habit then, since I struggled to balance my writing against the time-consuming business of managing the increasing (and at the time, puzzling) disfavor of a number of colleagues whose approval was, unfortunately, required for me to proceed further in my career at the university where I was appointed at the time.
- Parenthetical note: had I to do over again, I would have gotten into psychotherapy earlier, learned to screen out the contempt, be less snarky towards others (which surely was gasoline on the fire) and reclaim some of my time and self-respect for the enterprise of writing. Contrary to popular opinion, articles do not write themselves while sitting in an unopened file on your computer waiting for you to stop weeping. This is a true fact.
- Around 2003 or so, I re-wrote “Queer Hoover” into an article and sent it to the journal GLQ, where it then did whatever articles do for eight or nine months while the editor pretends they are being actively read by someone. Eventually I was encouraged to revise and resubmit. I did. About six months after that, they asked for more revisions. I did them, and sent “Queer Hoover” back. A few weeks later, GLQ rejected it. Go figure.
- Now it’s about midway through 2005. Things were, in general, getting worse professionally. And yours truly was working hard to revive a career in the face of some pretty clear messages that some of my colleagues would not be unhappy to see me an associate professor for life, or maybe an administrator. At some other university! Even better. So, at the suggestion of my therapist, instead of drowning in a puddle of tears upon receiving this rejection, I packaged up the article again and submitted it to the journal of the American Studies Association, otherwise known as American Quarterly.
- Six or eight months later, I heard from the editors at AQ, who sent me an outstanding, engaged and highly interesting set of comments on the article that suggested they had really liked “Queer Hoover” — except that in their final paragraph, they rejected it outright. Which was refreshing, given my last experience, but weird. I can’t remember exactly how they framed it, but the essential logic of the rejection was: this article is too weird (perhaps the word they used was “idiosyncratic?”)
- In any case — at this point, I thought, well, alright. Stick a fork in it. Stick a fork in my whole career, if you like. (In fact, I sneaked over to Yale one day, took the LSAT, and then dropped in on the law school dean, who told me that he actually found me quite interesting.) This article may or may not be doomed, I thought, but it certainly isn’t worth all this time and effort. A few days later I was walking down the street with a friendly gay scholar, telling him this story, and he said kindly: “Send `Queer Hoover’ to me — I will see if I can think of a good place for it.” He read it, and suggested I send it to The Journal of the History of Sexuality. Which I did.
- Two weeks later — now it is winter/spring 2006 — the editor wrote and said he would like to accept the article, unchanged, and publish it immediately. “Queer Hoover” came out in the fall issue, as the featured article, which pleased me enormously.
- In 2007, the article won a prize from an AHA – affiliated society, which was thrilling. I had not won an academic prize since graduate school.
- Another parenthetical note: Despite the fact that the organization wrote a letter to my chair, the prize was never mentioned in a department meeting, and no one but my two closest friends in the department ever congratulated me for this accomplishment. Which I thought was small, if any of you are listening. And maybe you think it is small of me to mention this slight over a decade later. It is. We are even now.)
- In 2012, I left that institution for a job at The New School, where I have been happy ever after.
- In 2014, “Queer Hoover” was translated into French and republished in Politix.
- In 2018, JSTOR writes about it as if it is still really cool and worth revisiting.
So what’s the takeaway? I suppose one lesson is: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” A second lesson was that I would never try to publish in GLQ ever again, and have, in general, been skeptical of journal publishing every since, because it takes so. Damn. Long. And I am not sure that you can’t produce quality scholarship in a shorter amount of time if everyone just does everything they are supposed to do and is honest an up front about the process.
That “Queer Hoover” wasn’t suitable for AQ at the time is less clear to me, but it is true that I am not a conventional academic, and if they found “Queer Hoover” weird, then I agree that it wasn’t the right place to publish it. On the other hand: did the three rounds of revisions I did on the way to being rejected contribute to “Queer Hoover” being a prize-winning article that people seem to still like? It’s hard not to think they did.
Now that I am on the other side of being judged by people constantly, I can say I think being unconventional is a good thing and has reaped a number of benefits for me. But the failure to be conventional can also mean being excluded from conventional rewards: for example, prizes, fellowships, and being promoted to full professor in a timely manner (there I go being small again.) Newton’s Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
But — in the process of salvaging this article, did I learn something about standing up for myself?
Yes I did. And here I am.