Roger Blackwell

Identity: Queer Cis Male

Current Job: Clinical Instructor within Community and Behavioral Health / ETSU College of Public Health

What does your identity meant to you?

My identity is important to me; it is not static but ever evolving and identifying as a sexual minority has been vital in my growth as a person.

Living an authentic life has been paramount; not being true to myself has been a source of pain and illness in my life. My affectational / sexual orientation is but one of many parts of my life.

Having congruence in the various aspects of my life has given me greater focus and opportunity. The freedom and peace of mind that I have is partly due to embracing all aspects of my identity, not just those pieces that others are comfortable with.

What has your experience as an out professional?

My experience being “out” in the workplace has been a mixed bag.

Earlier in my life I had several starts and stops in being out on the job, largely thwarted by living in fear of what others would think, comments heard along the way, and my own fears (framed by an evangelistic fundamentalist upbringing that continually shouted that I was defective).

When I first began working at ETSU, I was unsure of how to proceed in being more open, so it was more of a gradual process. I had some negative experiences with various faculty / staff at the beginning, but also felt empowered by the positive responses from others and so I continued to blossom in these efforts.

I have never been ashamed of my identify and when asked or if it came up in conversation, I was honest.

When working on my dissertation project back in 2010-13, I became known on campus by many students as “you know … the AIDS guys” (from my topic). It made me laugh, and it was not a moniker that I shied away from, more of a badge of honor so to speak.

I am out in my professional life and have had positive interactions and feedback from many here on campus.

What type of support have you experienced with your identity?

I have experienced both negative and positive support. It’s been surprising along the way in that sometimes the ones who you think are going to have “an issue” with you are far more supportive than you could have imagined.

I have had some ups and downs with some extended family but even there, more positive than I originally thought.

Microagressions are something that have lost much of their sting for me, just swat them away and turn the tables on that kind of speech and flip it and own it.

As cliché as it may sound, what others think of me is none of my business. My happiness in life is not dependent upon approval of others (it would be nice to have) but if I do not have it, well fine.

My resilience has increased over the years and I strive to be authentic and genuine in my interactions with others.

What advice do you have for queer youth?

Welcome to the tribe! We have a rich and diverse history. We are everywhere and always have been. Learn from your legacy and use what you will to craft your own journey. To have a friend – be a friend.

We often cultivate our own “families” and these folks can be a source of support and strength.

Your journey is yours and so treat yourself with kindness and care. Test the waters in regards to coming out, and pick people who will be supportive of your thoughts and feelings.

Coming out is not a onetime process, I still do this several times a month in various aspects of my life, and it is mine to share when and where and with whom I want.

Find local support groups via social media or even here on campus (perhaps SAGA)? Many of us here as faculty and staff can be a help to you if you need it.

One of the truths that I live by is this; “we are only as sick as the secrets we keep.”

It can be such a burden to keep everything all bound up inside. Talking with others like yourself can be such a release and we are all better in being there for one another.