17 May 2017
Dr Bela Chatterjee reflects on the welcoming culture for students that we pride ourselves on in the Law School.

I recall an incident, more than ten years ago now, when someone I know approached me and seemed quite agitated. I wondered what was wrong.

‘Me and my friends have been discussing something, and we thought there was something you ought to know’. The last bit was his emphasis, I paraphrase here as I can’t remember the exact words, but this was the gist of it.

 ‘It’s your trousers’ he said. ‘Cos they are combats, right?  And so…some people are saying that because you wear them, this must mean you are a lesbian! Did you realise that this is how those trousers are seen?’ He looked very concerned.

What to say? For note, I explained to him that anyone can wear them. There are no rules. I told him that my penchant for army surplus was formed at an impressionable age due to watching too many episodes of the A-Team with the results that he saw before him. My favourite character was Murdoch, and if you missed this one the first time round, I reckon you missed out (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084967/). In my defence it was the 80s and there wasn’t much on. Plus I find the tailoring of women’s clothes appalling in that there’s never enough pocket space and I don’t do handbags. But I also confirmed his friends’ evaluation. He went away, slightly thrown, and never raised the matter again.

It’s now 2017. I’m still wearing the same trousers. One of the (many!) bonuses of army surplus is that it lasts. I’m also still coming out.

Coming out is a continual process and one that I’ve been doing for so long I almost forget that I have to do it. Over the years I’ve had a vast spectrum of reactions, the vast majority positive, some of them less so. Increasingly, nobody bats an eyelid. However, it’s worth remembering that for some, negotiating sexuality is not an easy task. Despite there being an increasing number of publically visible gender queer/non-binary/gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans role models, this issue can still be challenging and daunting. Having come from an Anglo-Asian background myself, I can appreciate some of the cultural differences and complexities involved. Heterosexuality is still arguably ingrained to the extent that we sometimes don’t see its universality.

I remember another incident, namely reading a text on how to get a Ph.D, which recommended that for women in particular, doing a Ph.D. was great for resolving that perennial dilemma of whether to call yourself Miss, Mrs, or Ms - in case you missed the significance of this, women are traditionally categorised by their (hetero)sexual availability, in contrast to men who are not - if that was my biggest motivation for doing a Ph.D., I remember thinking, I might as well just fail myself now...

So why am I saying all this? The purpose of this blog post is to reassure all students (current or prospective) that the Law School is a positive and welcoming place for all its students, and to reassure them that the staff are understanding and welcoming too. Regardless of how you identify; as trans/gay/lesbian/queer/intersex/asexual/non-binary/pansexual/undecided/uncategorised/heterosexual, I want you to know that we appreciate having you here, and we want you to feel like you belong.