I've read that there is a physical component to "gaydar", that there are tiny markers like the curve of our hairlines and the ratio of our fingers' relative lengths that might contribute to our perception of others' sexuality without us even realizing it. I'm certain there are obscure biological processes involved, some heady mix of body language, pheremones (eau de academe?), a certain electromagnetic frequency that pulls people together; it works with love, why not with friendship? Why not with geeks? Why not with people who simply have some common, obscure element in common that pulls them in the same direction academically?
I started noticing that there is a certain aura to my fellow historians, and while I can't necessarily peg a Latinist at fifty paces, I'm starting to think that with much more contact I'll soon be able to identify who in a given room is in the humanities (though doubtless some of the engineers will continue to throw me when they've had a couple of beers). It's like Highlander, except instead of a beheading it ends with professional contacts and mutual regard. The first sign of this was that I sat down in the auditorium, and within a few minutes a fellow historian I didn't really remember came up and asked to sit with me. We began to gather more around us until the group reached about nine strong. Several of them had been in touch with each other and planned to get together, so no magic there, and strangely none of us found any European historians all day. I assume they formed their own little colony. Nevertheless, I was impressed with how rapidly our contingent became a unified social bloc.
In any case, the first thing I noticed about the group I was with was the easy gravity with which we interacted. Without really having a bead on their personalities or interests or stories, I immediately felt comfortable with them, the sort of odd kinship you sometimes feel at a family reunion with a cousin you've never met, or the way you can sometimes see someone in a crowded room and know that you are going to become friends with that person. We all bonded over rolling our eyes and heckling the Chase bank representatives, who essentially performed a live action commercial for us before the actual orientation commenced, and from that point on it was clear that I was among my own species.
Once we got past the initial round of Warwicking, the cadre that accreted around me more or less stuck together through the morning, and while we split off for the breakaways, we all came back together for the lecture on getting funding (because if nothing else, we can all of us bond around that), then got ourselves some free food (the other thing that will draw students out like pigeons at a public park). As the afternoon waned, my new tribe began to dissolve, but not before promising to get together for a little soiree this weekend. However, before they left, we got to mix things up with a musician (our music department is f'realz weird and awesome) and a handful of the most adorably geeky physicists who were a lot of fun to talk to.
I realized during all of this that trading personal information with my new colleagues is something that perhaps warranted something a touch classier than scrawling on the back of a 7-eleven receipt or the torn off top of a welcome letter. This is maybe acceptable for that cute guy at the metro station or your seventh grade crush, but not so much either in bulk or at a certain professional threshold. At the very least, you start running out of non-embarrassing receipts, and also it gets tedious stopping to write all that stuff down on some random person's shoulder when people are trying to leave. So, business cards are a thing I'll be doing now.
But setting all of this aside, I will say the single most awesome and wonderful thing about yesterday was the complete lack of awkwardness when my partner came to meet us for the free food (and I will decline to state whether this was by my request or at the behest of his own instinctive honing instinct). He showed up, I brought him to the group, and they welcomed him with open arms -- I just imagined that literally, with everyone doing the traditional "jazz hands" gay welcome dance. In reality, there was simply no break in the conversation or in the camaraderie. My partner and I stood together, held hands occasionally, even showed affection, and not a single shit was given that day. This is progress: Amicable apathy at the very least, support and egalitarianism at the best. Pair that with Chick-fil-A capitulating, and I feel like maybe things are getting better after all!
In any case, I had a lot of fun, and while I know that there is a lot of work to be done, the whole thing gave me a sense of confidence that I am not, in fact, kidding myself, and this is exactly where I need to be.