By: Angela McComb
I don’t practice Queer Archaeology, per se. My graduate studies centered on poverty, disaster, and heritage management. I excavated my first site at the tender age of 14, and I have spent the entirety of my professional career doing some form of cultural resources management either for the state or federal government or for a private CRM firm. I didn’t begin to integrate my own queer identity into my outward expression until my early 30’s – long after I lost my first trowel or wrote my first site report. I now work for the federal government assisting communities that have survived disaster to navigate the historic preservation compliance process. None of this work is explicitly queer or specifically driven by queer theory.
But here’s the kicker: my archaeology is Queer Archaeology because I, a queer person, am the one practicing it. We are taught early in our academic studies that we carry all of our own biases, inferences, and worldviews into our practice as anthropologists and archaeologists. This has been true for the majority of archaeology colored by the biases of straight, white, affluent men, and it continues to be true today as we experience a diversification of our field.
My queerness is like a superpower. My experiences – even that year in high school when I was so confusedly, deeply in love with both a boy and a girl at the same time – help me to understand the experiences of people whose lives are not always fully reflected in their outward expressions. For a discipline based on the study of outward expression (that is, material culture), that nuance between internal and external reality can often be difficult to understand or even identify. Now that I’m in disaster management, my experiences – not just as a queer woman, but also as a former Evangelical Christian, or musician, or food stamps recipient, for instance – help me to create and sustain relationships with members of the public who have experienced some of the worst moments of their lives and are asking for my help. My role as an archaeologist is in service to people who may not understand or appreciate what it is I do. By bringing my full, authentic self to our interactions, I am better able to build a trusting relationship and support them through an often confusing, opaque consultation process.
I sometimes worry that my openness causes me to be a target for harassment. I’m tattooed, pierced, and I have a haircut that Cameron Esposito would be into. Every day I have to trust that my colleagues will respect me and my work and that my superiors will support me. They don’t always. I’ve been subjected to some pretty heinous commentary in the workplace, both gender and race driven. My grounding in queer and socialist feminist theory helps me to recognize when the shitty behavior I’ve been subjected to is the result of my social standing as a queer woman with expertise and authority. By validating my experiences and helping me to understand them, queer theory makes me a better archaeologist and better at my job.
My archaeology is a queer archaeology because I am the one practicing it, and my queerness makes me a better archaeologist.