Patton named Emory's first
Although Cindy Patton jokingly refers to herself as a "pointy-headed
intellectual," her practical approach in the application of knowledge
is what made her stand out among a host of candidates vying to be named
Emory's first lesbian/gay studies faculty member.
lesbian/gay studies professor
According to Dana White, director of the Institute of the Liberal Arts (ILA),
what made Patton's candidacy so appealing was "a combination of her
theoretical approach to the subject and the kind of practical research she
has done. She's had one foot in academia and one foot out in the field,
and that's the direction in which the ILA is moving."
Last semester Patton was at one of Taiwan's national universities teaching
the first lesbian and gay studies course ever offered there.
A former journalist who came to Emory from Temple University, Patton has
focused most of her scholarly work on the development and impact of social
movements. She became actively involved in the AIDS movement in the early
'80s. "The bulk of my published work has been on AIDS politics,"
Patton said, "and I've written quite a bit about the role of lesbians
in AIDS politics and also on the emergence of the lesbian and gay rights
movement as a social movement."
Because the AIDS movement was dominated by men, however, Patton's work has
not been focused on lesbians. "I'm never quite sure why that is,"
she said. "I think one reason is that my early academic training was
in anthropology, and I learned that it's better to study other cultures
than one's own. So I've been kind of an anthropologist in gay male culture.
When I was so involved in AIDS politics in the '80s, I was often the lesbian
tagging along [with a group of gay men]. People would often say, 'Oh don't
mind her. She's just kind of a strange expert on gay male life.'''
A native of Jacksonville, N.C., Patton said she grew up feeling oppressed
by southern culture and "fled" to the Northeast, which she believed
would be a much more friendly environment to lesbians and gays than the
South. "It turns out that there was this huge gay bar [in Jacksonville]
where all the gay marines went," she said. "I didn't know about
this growing up. I learned about it much later." She also learned much
later that nearby Greensboro, N.C., has a large lesbian community.
Several of Patton's students have begun doing research on southern gay culture,
and she believes they won't have much trouble finding material. "I'm
almost wondering whether embracing gay southernness may be part of the new
liberal, multicultural south," she said. "We'll see. I've always
felt that the South is the queerest place in America. The traditional drag
cultures in the South are really quite highly developed. And I think southerners
are just kind of peculiar as a people."
In addition to being intrigued by the idea of returning to the South, Patton
also was impressed by the ILA's designation of a faculty member specifically
for lesbian and gay studies. The availability of domestic partner benefits
also influenced her decision. "I was very impressed that Emory had
not neglected this area," she said.
For her first semester, Patton is teaching one graduate lesbian and gay
studies course and one undergraduate course called "American Identities."
Patton said that while some lesbian and gay faculty make a habit of coming
out in class, she doesn't directly reveal that she is a lesbian. "Other
people do it, and I hear it works out really well," she said. "But
that's just not my personality. So I rely on the fact that people already
Similarly, Patton works to avoid situations in class where lesbian and gay
students feel pressured to come out. "I feel that's kind of an act
of violence," she said, "particularly with undergraduates-who
are kind of under your control-to force them to make personal claims. I
like it if they try to think about that stuff, so I try to make it possible
to think about it in a safe way. Whether they announce that in class is
not so important to me. As long as I can tell that somewhere out there,
they're thinking about these issues, that's good enough for me."