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Listserv Etiquette V: In which nothing is ever “merely” anything

June 26, 2008, 1:13 pm

Every department houses one person who doesn’t understand the purpose of the departmental listserv.  What is, for the majority of its recipients, a simple means of alerting interested parties to talks, job offers, and other relevant departmental business is, for this person, a public confessional.  If an email opens:

LGBT Event at Cross-Cultural Center

This person’s outraged response will look like this:

LGBTQ Event at Cross-Cultural Center

Or perhaps like this:

GLBTQ? Event at Cross-Cultural Center

Point being, this person will find fault with whatever the first email said because the entire department must be constantly reminded that his or her devotion to justice entails questioning of any potentially privileging statement.  If the “G” follows the “L,” the author replicates—and in replicating legitimizes or, even worse, appears to legitimize—divisive structures of representation within the queer community (as broadly as the word can be defined).

Such grievous offense requires a brave crusader to parse every last permutation and then decide, in the end, that since every possible combination privileges something, the only thing to do is consider the sending of any email ever a pregnant “teaching moment” and append something like the 5,000 words he or she has just written to every one of them … for great justice.

Should someone respond to this email with a sarcastic recommendation that the letters be stacked, so as to avoid the any possibility of untoward LTR directional privilege, this person will write another 5,000 words, this time about how unfunny the resulting mess would be:

Stacked_2

Only it is not merely unfunny—nothing is ever “merely” anything for this person—it is also symptomatic of the desire by hegemons to obliterate the unique identities of the various groups represented by each letter by transforming their hard-won bonds into an amorphous blob of non-identity, thereby effacing the personal struggles of people, like this person, some of which he or she will now share with the entire department no matter how inappropriate discussing the loss of your virginity on a departmental listserv might seem.

Positive responses to this cathartic effusion will be deemed patronizing; negative, evidence of insensitivity born of privilege; silence, a vile attempt to shame this person back into closet in which the queer-uncomfortable majority clearly believes he or she belongs.  Any attempts to pull this person aside—via email, in the break room, it matters not—and convince him or her that no offense was offered or intended will result in yet another 5,000 word missive about the conspiracy to silence him or her.  Were someone to pipe in with a reminder of listserv decorum, complete with a lengthy quotation of its charter, the conspiracy becomes institutional and still another 5,000 word letter must be written, this time only CC’d to the listserv as a courtesy when it is sent to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.

When this person finally leaves the department, he or she will write a lengthy email reminiscing about how crucial the listserv was to development personal and professional and apologize if exchanges were ever unnecessarily heated.  Sooner or later, word will come through grapevine or the Chronicle of Higher Ed that this person has moved up in the world—what was once limited to interdepartmental listservs is now featured on the local news.

And I will laugh at the poor television producers who have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Previous Installments:

  1. What they must think when they read it
  2. My CFP is infinitely more important than your email
  3. Does anyone know if Marx wrote anything substantial on capital-qua-capital?
  4. From the desk of Dr. Elderly Jew Deserving of Scorn
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