These were the bad old days…

A couple of days ago, someone tried to chase me out of his diary about sex discrimination because, you know, only women can be victims of sex discrimination.  Put me in my place he did.  To him, I’m not a woman.  So I was never a victim of sexual harassment in my place of work, but maybe some other kind, I guess.

But he has “impeccable liberal credentials,” so, you know, I should just shut up.

I can’t do that.  I am morally and ethically incapable of shutting up.

So I remembered a piece from long ago, written in June of 1994, less than a month before the beginning of Diary.

Cross-posted in Orange


Fear is what makes people do things like this.  My very existence challenges the foundations of their beliefs.  I am well aware that their actions were not caused by me, but are the result of their own inner problems.  But it still hurts to be the recipient of those actions.

As they say in Arkansas, “if I had my druthers,” I’d rather live elsewhere.  It hasn’t been easy to transition here, but I haven’t had a lot of choice.  As a tenured professor, I have job security.  The job market right now is very bad and I know that with hundreds of people applying for every job, departments look for any little thing to disqualify applicants…I’m afraid the fact that I am currently still in transition would fall in that category.  Unfortunately, I have few skills I could fall back on to get alternate employment.

Back?stabbing is a state pastime.  Speak nicely to people until they are out of sight and then do your best to besmirch their reputation, question their morals, and/or criticize their lifestyle.

One thing I learned here is that you cannot say anything negative about this state or its inhabitants if you are not from here. That is a sure way to be ostracized from the community.  I have never really been a part of this community, though.  When I moved here, I arrived with long hair and a full beard…an acknowledged “aging hippie.”  My liberal politics and anti?intolerance attitude didn’t fit in.

Hopefully, by next year at this time, I will be moving elsewhere. This portion of my transition is almost at an end (59 days to surgery).  As a friend, Arlene Allen, once said to me, “it may not be easy to transition on a college campus, where you must do it in public, but we have access to things that many transsexuals don’t have access to…among them job security and the money to finance the change.”  I have not been the most frugal person through my transition, often traveling to get away from here  (A week in San Antonio in January of ’93, one month on the west coast last May/June, 3 days at the Rainbow Gathering last July, 6 days in New Jersey last August, 4 days in Virginia and Pittsburgh last Thanksgiving, 12 glorious days of honeymoon in Hawaii last December/January), a weekend in Virginia in March, and spring break in Bloomington, IN, in March with my SO).

Still, with all this traveling and lots of bills I got custody of from my divorce, I will be able to afford my surgery this August.

The impression that I have very little support here locally is an erroneous one.  I know it appears that way because I mostly post about local conditions when I am hurting.  I do have people who support me.  The college students on campus here are for the most part supportive of me and so is about half of the faculty.  It’s true that fewer of these people are around in the summer semester, but I manage, most of the time.

I am not trying to be a martyr here.  When I first transitioned, I had a fear that I might become one.  I don’t have that fear anymore.  It has been hard transitioning here, but I think it has made me a stronger person for it, and in the process, I have had the chance to educate several thousand people about tolerance and diversity.  Being open about myself has given courage to other transsexuals in this state…I’ve had about 10 ts’s come to me for help initially that are currently in therapy with an eye towards starting hormones soon (the majority of them ftm).

Gay couples walk hand in hand in the Walmart here now.  Being gay has become, if not socially acceptable, something not to be ashamed of (after all, they could be worse…i.e. transsexual… right? 🙂  )  My hairdresser and his partner are openly gay here…my hairdresser was one of the original 12 people that threw the cops out of the Stonewall Bar in NYC when the cops came to hassle a DQ named Jose.  John has a thriving business here.

I went to an International Students Banquet a few months ago…one of my colleagues brought her partner.  They were the object of lots of craning necks, but no one said anything vicious, even though they were open about their affection, like any loving couple should be allowed to be.

If I have had a hand in opening a few minds here and allowing other people freedoms that they did not feel before, then I think I’ve done some good.

I know how to take care of myself.  It may not seem like it, but I am an eternal optimist (as April can tell you 🙂 )  Things do always get better.  I am enjoying my life, most of the time. Sure, there are times I get depressed.  But it usually doesn’t last long, and then I try to do something to change things a bit.

Today, I am writing to the American Legion, complaining about the treatment and demanding a formal apology.  Originally, I was just going to write to the state office of the AL…but it has been suggested that perhaps writing to the national office would be more effective…after all, I was not the only person harassed at these gatherings around the country, I’m sure.  I personally know of a woman in Nebraska that was harassed.

I have no choice to be out.  I work for the state as a college professor.  Attention is focused on me most places I go.  That’s just the nature of my life right now.

I would rather the story about me that was picked up by the AP and the 6:00 news had been better, but as it was, it was not that bad.

This was not about “passing.”  One can hardly pass in an atmosphere where everyone knows.  This was about people being mean and nasty, intentionally.  Sitting still doesn’t help the situation.  All that does is make it seem that doing it is okay. Well, it is not okay with me, and I believe that writing the letter might possibly do some good.  It might not, but not sending the letter will surely not do any good.


June 12, 1994

American Legion
700 N Pennsylvania St
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dear Sirs:

From June 6th through June 10th, the Arkansas Boys State held a convention on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas, under the auspices of your organization.  I am a mathematics professor at that university.

For the first couple of days, the event seemed to run fairly smoothly.  My office is very close to the auditorium where the meetings were held and I could overhear the veterans of World War II talking about their experiences on D?Day (which seemed to be a major theme).  Several times, students stopped by my office, asking directions to the restrooms or the pay phone.  On one occasion I gave a pen to one of the students.  Another time I let one of the students use my phone to make a local call.  I tried to be as helpful as my duties permitted.

On Wednesday, June 8th, I became the object of harassment by the boys.  Sexual slurs and innuendos were directed towards me on many occasions.  My door was pushed open several times so that students could look inside.  The participants went out of their way to walk by my office, peek in and make comments.  All in all, the boys acted very rudely.

I complained to one of the counselors about the behavior that afternoon and again on Thursday morning, when the harassment continued.  I was told that the students had been told to apologize.  Indeed, four of the boys came by a little later to apologize for the behavior of those from their county and said that the harassment would cease.  I accepted their apology.  The harassment did not cease.  Instead, if anything, it got worse. Some of the junior counselors even took part.  When I complained to one of the senior counselors, I was told that they had no control over what the boys did or how they behaved.  They did post a counselor outside my office from time to time, but they seemed to do little to try to stop the harassment.

Friday morning was even worse than the previous two days.  I was holding office hours and my conversations with students were interrupted by constant insults and derogatory remarks from the boys as they passed my office.  None of the counselors appeared to try to stop it, nor did any of the counselors apologize to me.

It has always been my view that visitors anywhere should treat the people at the place with dignity and respect.  The boys were supposedly learning about respecting veterans, from what I could tell.  I happen to be a veteran, having served during the Vietnam War at the grade of E5 as a correctional specialist in the Army. It is clear that the students did not respect me, nor did the counselors.

I believe that your organization owes me, at the very least, a formal apology.  Perhaps you should include sessions in civility as well as sessions on citizenship in your programs.  Having talked to a few people at campuses in other states, such behavior seems to be widespread.  Harassment of women on campuses seems to be tacitly encouraged since it seems to not be controlled.  I would hope to see better behavior from boys who your organizations likes to tout as leaders among high school students.  They ought to be ashamed of themselves and you ought to be ashamed of them.

Robyn Elaine Serven, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Mathematics
University of Central Arkansas
Conway, AR 72032


Strangely enough, I never did get a response.  I didn’t really think I would get one.

This episode spawned a poem.  Some of you have seen it before.

Art Link

We are Normal: a duet

Would you please
Lend me food?
I am hungry.

We do not know you.
You are alien.
You are not welcome.
We are normal.
Can I please
Share your water?
I am thirsty.
We own the water.
You are strange.
You cannot have any.
We are normal.
Will you then
Share your fire?
I am cold.
We need all the warmth.
You are other.
You must go away.
We are normal.
Is it too much to ask,
To be able to live,
To be able to be?
We don’t like your kind.
You are different.
You make us think too much.
We are normal.
But all I want is
To live in peace,
To be happy.
You have no right to be happy.
You offend us.
You hurt us by existing.
We are normal.
I know how to love,
How to care,
How to hurt.
You are not one of us.
You don’t belong.
We want you to die.
We are normal.
–Robyn Elaine Serven
—June, 1994


Skip to comment form

    • Robyn on September 23, 2007 at 20:58

    Work sometimes interferes with life.


  1. except keep on keepin’ your head up high, robyn.  i really appreciate your desire to help others ‘see’…and that you are a teacher at heart, not just by employment..

    but you cant change the willfully ignorant, and they CAN change you if you let them make you feel depressed.  and that would be a shame.

  2. strength and wisdom.

    Not to mention my great respect for your being a professor of mathematics–Good Gosh do i suck at math!!  🙂

  3. It was taught.  It was modeled.  It was rewarded.  It was facilitated.  It was coached.

    And that it reflects the flaws of those who perpetrated it doesn’t make it hurt any less or mitigate the damage and harm that it inflicts.  Like a virus, it mutates, spreads and destroys to a much greater effect than just the act itself.

    • snud on September 23, 2007 at 22:55

    in a very unique position to spot sexual discrimination and see right through it no matter which gender it’s aimed towards – moreso than most, I’d wager.

    I agree with aek – it’s learned but I’m sure that doesn’t make it any less painful to be on the receiving end of it, nor does it excuse it.

    Best of luck!

  4. Many happy congratulations. 

  5. Robyn, I follow the PhysOrg site for its health and medical research news.  This study might be of some use to the LGBT community – especially for those close to college age.

    • Diane G on September 24, 2007 at 22:57

    The idiot who told you you couldn’t speak to harassment is missing it entirely as many straight people have been trained to.

    If you are transitioning, it is only to become who you already really were inside, who you have been all along.

    I am so happy for you, and for your partner!

    You know all we SBNN people can do is support you anyway we can, and try & teach those small of mind.

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