Susan Stryker is passing on the torch as director of the UA's Institute for LGBT Studies after five years in the position. In a Facebook post last week, Stryker said she's also taking a year's leave from teaching gender and women's studies at the UA to focus on other passions, such as writing a book on gender set to publish in the next year or so. "I'm going to recharge my batteries, get some non-paper-pushing work done, enjoy a change of pace and scenery, and then get back in the saddle again," she said on Facebook.
One of Stryker's happiest moments at the institute was leading the formation of the world's first transgender studies program—the UA currently offers several classes on the topic and a graduate certificate is underway. Most recently, Stryker had also been in talks with the UA administration to push for inclusive health care options for trans faculty, staff and their family members.
Although she's taking a break for one year, Stryker will still be involved with the trans studies initiative, and other advocacy and guidance on campus. Right now, she's also looking forward to spending more much-needed quality time with her girlfriend in their San Francisco home.
I spoke with Stryker last Friday about her upcoming plans. This is an edited version of our conversation.
When did you decide it was a good time to step down as director of the LGBT Institute and focus on other things?
It was known from the beginning that I would be director for the next five years, and that I needed to take a break somehow. [I came in] as an associate professor of gender and women's studies, a full-time, tenured position, two classes a semester, research. On top of having a professorship, I had an administrative appointment to another position in the university, which was to be director of the Institute for LGBT Studies. You can't get anything done in less than three or four years. My position all along was, "I can commit to doing this for five years." I was really focusing on the [directorship] and wasn't focusing on much else. Other things took a back seat, and I agreed to that for the five years. I enjoy this but it is also not the only thing I want to do in my career and professional life. This is an opportunity to recharge the battery and do some fun, creative work.
You are taking one year off and then you're coming back to the UA to teach again, right?
I want to continue to be a tenured professor at the UA ... continue to work in the transgender studies initiative. I will still continue to be involved and work with the new leadership. I am working on a promotion to become a full professor [at the UA].
What have been your biggest accomplishments from the past five years?
[When I came in], our building was in terrible shape. I was able to get our building into workable standards. I have been able to pull together a good team of staff who help the institute run. I have been able to bring in some external money from grants that helps increase our activities...[like] trans-oriented research. I like the programming that we have done, the annual lectures, the conferences that we have been able to sponsor.
One of the first things I said when I first was interviewing for the job, is I wanted to do something like the historical society in San Francisco ... an LGBT archive. I think archives are good things for communities to have. [Our] history is very important. So I said I would start an archive here. There were some grad students at the time in the Ph.D. program in library sciences. [The university] made space available for us, we were able to get a little bit of funding, [and] the work sustained. I feel like I have done a little more than plant the seed in getting the archives project up and running. It's been a pretty good five years.
And then there's the first transgender studies program in the world now offered at the UA.
For me the big piece was being able to spearhead the transgender studies. I didn't expect that was something I would be able to accomplish here. The administration has been supportive of my ideas. I have been very pleased to hire faculty ... what we were able to do in that particular area for people to understand the issues. We still have one more staff member position that we need to hire.
Are there things you wish you could have finished? For instance, you have been fighting for a while now for equal access to health insurance for UA trans faculty, staff and family members...
That will keep moving forward. It is a long process. It is a bigger effort. I still have my finger in that fight. I don't want to say too much because it could be that there is a lawsuit. I'm going to be off next year, but there are lots of people working on the same effort. Nothing is off the table.
Tell me about the book you are working on.
It is about how gender has changed from the 19th century until now. I don't have a final title yet, but that is the topic. The manuscript is due June 2017. I will deliver that manuscript and then it is up to the publisher how long they will take to get it out. If they rush it out with minimal revisions, I imagine it can be under somebody's Christmas tree in 2017. That's out of my control. It's about how happy my editor is with my work.
What is the difference between Susan today vs. the first day you walked into this position?
I am a more patient person. I am a person who is more confident in my abilities. I have always been kind of a lone wolf in a lot of ways. I have been a writer, a filmmaker. I have worked with the public a lot more, I have raised money to do my own projects. Part of that is the discrimination against transgender people .... the mentality that no one is just going to give me something.
Does the institute know who is going to fill your shoes?
It is like 99.9 percent sure. Everything will continue to evolve. I'm leaving the institute in good hands.