By Priya Gauchan and Brittney Rigby
Senthorun Raj is a queer academic focusing on the intersection of gender, sexuality and human rights. He loves Grindr, glitter and Twitter, and has written for The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald. Sen is a current law lecturer at England’s Keele University, a former Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and it was a pleasure to speak to him for this special Queer edition of Spotlight On.
What’s the best thing about being part of the LGBTQI+ community?
I find it difficult to prioritise what I love about being a part of the LGBTIQ community. The ways in which glitter, rainbows, and pride are used as protest symbols are particular highlights for me.
Do you have any helpful tips to manoeuvre the difficult coming out conversation, whether it be at home, with friends, or in a professional environment?
There is really no right way to “come out” (even if you accept that “coming out” is something that you have to do). The best advice I can offer for coming out is, affirm your feelings and seek support from those who will not judge you (this sometimes means going online or to a LGBTIQ group than talking to family or friends). Coming out is an ongoing process that does not really have a start or end date.
How would you briefly describe your journey to becoming an academic who focuses a lot on queer issues?
There are three things that spring to mind for what sparked my journey to becoming a “queer academic.” I’m a gay man. I read feminist theory in high school and then did Gender Studies alongside Law at university. I also joined Amnesty International when I turned 18. Basically, reading feminist theory opened me up to the ways in which the personal (aka being gay) is political and Amnesty was the first place I felt comfortable disclosing my sexuality to others and where I could work on a range of human rights issues that I felt passionate about.
How has being queer affected the way you’ve experienced the world and your career?
I think we are all affected by our social privileges, positions, and experiences. My friends describe me as a “Professional Gay,” which I think is quite apt. My life as a gay man definitely shapes the kinds of politics I’m invested in, the advocacy work I’ve undertaken, and the academic work that I do.
Have you faced any specific difficulties?
I’ve been very lucky because I have never had to “closet” myself in order to succeed professionally or academically. In fact, I’ve built my professional profile in policy and academic spaces around being queer. Because I love what I do and because I’m so intimately connected to my work, the greatest challenge I face is creating space away from the demands of work. To crudely paraphrase the feminist slogan I mentioned above: if the personal is professional, sometimes it feels like I do not have an entirely separate personal life anymore.
Do you have any tips to help our queer students who wish to follow a similar path to yours?
Some of the most vital things for me to become a queer academic were the people and spaces that nurtured me along the way. So, regardless of what you want to do (I never expected to become a queer academic when I started at university), find groups, mentors, friends, family, objects, and activities that can help you thrive.