Queer in the Field

By: Carla Hernández

As an archaeologist, there is nothing I love more than fieldwork. I love everything about it – even the early morning hikes in the cold, the constant feeling that my body needs a break, the lack of internet, Netflix, and all those luxuries that I enjoy back home. I got into archaeology because I wanted to forever be a kid playing in the dirt, and I got it. There is one thing that I never thought about, though, and it is how much (or little) I can let my personal life be known by my host communities. So, long story short: I am bisexual, and married to a wonderfully smart and beautiful woman who is in the same field as me, and who more than once has joined me on fieldwork projects. I work in small, highland communities in the Peruvian Andes. Think those small towns that are two hours away from the next small town, with less than 300 people living there at the same time; towns that are almost ghost towns every day between 8 am and 4 pm, as people tend to their fields. I love the town where I work, the people are amazing to my team. They welcomed us with open arms, and we developed really great friendships with many of them. I went and had beer with the workers that participated in the excavation, they threw us a dinner the day before we left, and we hung out with members of the community.

But, as a 35 year old woman, there are always questions I get asked: “Do you have kids? Where is your husband?” The first question I can easily address with a “No” and then proceed to show the array of pictures of my dog, explaining how he is the only baby I feel capable of handling. The second one throws me into a vortex of self-doubt. Because no, I do not have a husband. I have a beautiful, smart, amazing, supporting wife, and we have a happy marriage. But do I trust that people, that are otherwise my friends, will accept this? That they will see me the same way? That they will still like me? I could –and sometimes have- also ask myself if I would be safe if I tell people that I am married to a woman. I don’t know if by assuming that people in my host community would be biased towards my queerness I am showing my own bias. But is it worth the risk? I usually end up making up a husband based on my wife – it’s easy to change “Gabriela” to “Gabriel”. But I hate it. I wish I could share all parts of myself with people I consider friends.

When I started in archaeology, I didn’t know this would be an issue. I didn’t know that there would be always this wall between me and the people I work with. Frankly, I didn’t even know that I would care. But I do. Sometimes my workers would tease me; one of them became a good friend and would constantly tell me that he didn’t believe I was married, because my husband wouldn’t let me go to the field for months alone. Ignoring the implicit sexism, I would confirm that indeed my spouse didn’t let me go to the field, Gabe supported me and my work. Yet the realization that I may never get to introduce my wife to the community saddened me. Actually, some of them have met her before, they just don’t know of our relationship.

Maybe I should have more faith on the people I care about. But I still don’t know if the benefits are worth the risks.

There are issues that queer archaeologists face that are hard to explain. My gender presentation is female, and according to my wife, fairly femme. So I can choose to pass if I want to. I do not want to. Yet I feel I have to.

So, if any queer wide-eye student is about to go to their first fieldwork experience and is starting to face this issue, know that even though I have no perfect answer for you, you are not the only one that thinks this sucks. Maybe someday it will be okay.

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