Season 02: Episode 13: Dr. Rick Gatteau Transcript
Queer Diagnosis Podcast
Season 02: Episode 14: Dr. Rick Gatteau
[Theme music plays]
Zarya: Welcome to Queer Diagnosis. As always, I am your host Zarya and my pronouns are she/her/hers. Today we are changing it up a little bit with a guest host: our editor.
Jameson: Hi, I'm Jameson and my pronouns are he and his. Our guest today is Rick Gatteau, the Vice President of Student Affairs at Stony Brook University. Rick, could you introduce yourself with your pronouns?
Dr. Gatteau: Hi everybody, I'm Rick Gatteau and my pronouns are he/him/his. Great to be with you today.
Zarya: Could you tell us a little bit about your role at Stony Brook?
Dr. Gatteau: Sure. As Jameson mentioned, I am the Vice President of Student Affairs at Stony Brook. I have actually been here for 20 years so it's been a really exciting couple of decades at the university. I never thought I'd be in one place for that long but I absolutely love Stony Brook. I actually came to Stony Brook in 2002 as director of academic advising. In my current role, we really focus on everything that relates to the co-curricular experience, the out-of-the-classroom experience, including living on campus, all our clubs and organizations, spirit and pride, being at Stony Brook, and everything around career development. That includes internships, applied learning opportunities, volunteer work. It includes everything you use for building your resume portfolio as an undergrad and grad student at Stony Brook. Making sure we have a robust campus life is really an important part of all the work that we do. Clearly, these past couple of years, because of COVID, we have focused an extraordinary amount of our time on health, wellness, and safety. That's always been an important part of the foundation of anyone's college experience because if you don't feel healthy and well, you really can't become your best self in your education. So we put a huge effort into keeping the campus safe during this time and I'm just so proud of the work that the student affairs team did to keep the campus open and active and not really interrupt anybody's education at Stony Brook. We're a team of two-hundred-fifty people and really just worked so hard in the best interest of our students.
Jameson: What inspired you to pursue a career in educational leadership?
Dr. Gatteau: It's interesting. My parents were both teachers. My dad was a gym teacher and my mom was a reading teacher at an elementary school. So education was kind of in our blood in our family. I actually loved high school and so my original plan was to be a high school principal. My dad warned me though that I'd be working with too many angry parents on issues so he recommended that I look at higher education instead. I thought about that a little bit but didn't know. I thought about it in the context of maybe being a professor or a faculty member, but that didn't seem like it lined up with my interests. I mentioned internships before. I feel like going to college was probably my own internship, in a sense. I started to realize what working in a college could look like. That's when I first learned about the field of student affairs and that there was this kind of support group or support network that operated outside the classroom to help college students be successful. Once I learned about that, I still wasn't sure if that's what I wanted to pursue. I was a business management major in college. I loved the idea of operations, and I did learn a lot about marketing and finance. I thought, because of that degree, that I should go the corporate route, and that's what I started to do after college. But then I realized it wasn't the right fit for me and I think in many of our experiences in life when you're not sure what you want to do, you cross things off the list of what you don't want to do. Then I decided to call my mentor back at Bucknell, where I did my undergrad work, and said, "What's this higher ed thing that I could do in Student Affairs?' She recommended some graduate programs and that's when I wound up at the University of Vermont for my graduate studies. I think it was in that experience, especially just related to meeting really diverse people, thinking about the field of higher ed is as a career option is something that I just started to embrace. I still remember in my fourth week at Vermont, walking to my class, I had this epiphany and I thought, I'm going to do this for the rest of my life. I'm so grateful I had that thought as I've now worked in the field for 20 years. I have a lot of friends and even family members who might be in jobs where they feel like it's a job and not a career. You just don't want to take that for granted so I'm really grateful for that. I'd say the most ironic thing about the position I'm in now is when I was in graduate school at the University of Vermont, I met the vice president of Student Affairs in my first week, their name was Rosalind Andreas and back then it was more atypical to have a female leader in that significant of a role in a large institution. I was in awe of her and I remember thinking, as all people do when they're young, "I want to be you someday." My career meandered in all different directions and went this academic advising route, as I mentioned, and it's so ironic how I had kind of forgotten about that wish of mine. Yet four years ago I got asked to serve in the vice president of student affairs role and I just thought about life coming full circle. I will just say life is unpredictable. You never know where you're going to wind up and you know what, don't try to figure it out. Let it happen. You can have goals, but let it happen the way it does. And now I look back and I'm just so grateful that I have had the opportunity and it's been just a dream job for me in my work at Stony Brook.
Zarya: I think it's really funny that you said don't necessarily plan it out because I was talking about this in the last reflection. I have my life planned out all the way until I'm 60 in the sense that I know I want to go to medical school, become Chief of Surgery, and a professor in the School of Medicine. From there I want to open a flower shop. I know that the two things don't seem connected but I want three professions in my life. So it is kind of comforting that you did try out different things along the way. For instance, this podcast is not something that I necessarily thought would come out of my undergraduate experience, but it's been a really enjoyable experience. You spoke about having a strong female role model. Is that what inspired your dissertation on female presidential leadership?
Dr. Gatteau: Yes, that's a great question. When I pursued my doctorate in Florida, the program itself was very much focused on leadership. I've always been intrigued by leadership and studying leadership theories and for a dissertation, you had to obviously pick a topic that would be would be of interest to you for this four-year period of writing a book, essentially, on your subject. I knew I wanted to frame it around leadership and the fact is, in my entire career in higher education, most of my mentors have been women. I've just always been in awe of what I would view as more of a collaborative leadership style. And I've learned a lot from female leaders. So the fact is, I was actually brushing my teeth one morning, and thinking about my dissertation. And then all of a sudden, I got this idea that I need to focus on female college presidents. For folks who are either in or considering pursuing a doctorate and writing the dissertation, you need to find a topic that's going to sustain your interest so you can commit to it for a long period of time. You need to find that it's really interesting to you. I also think it's important to try to find something that will add to the existing literature in the study because you don't want to repeat what's already been done. You want to try to find something new and so when I started doing my research when I also found that there was not much published about women leaders, maybe some at community colleges, but women had not really achieved success at the upper echelon of higher ed institutions when I did my research almost 20 years ago. That has since changed. I talked a lot in my dissertation about breaking barriers and breaking the glass ceiling. And that had happened to a degree but in the last few decades, it has happened just more and more in significant ways. Ironically, for my dissertation, I interviewed the first female president at Stony Brook, Shirley Kenny, back in the early 2000s. Now we have a new female president, Maurie McInnis. I've just been really in awe and doing that research was such a passion of mine and I learned a lot. And what I really found was that the women that I interviewed were women at more selective institutions, so they broke through that barrier, often being the first female president. They had to work through that model of the old boys club and navigate and negotiate through that. We also talked a lot about their focus on collaboration and that was my biggest takeaway. The women presidents I interviewed didn't view their college or university in a more insular way, that we kind of stay within campus and do our own thing. They viewed the success of the college as dependent upon their relationship with their community and bringing in business into the local community where students could then get internships. This symbiotic relationship is something that was really an important theme that I saw across all the women presidents. I can't speak to men not having the same philosophy but I just found it very evident in the work that they did. I think it just aligns with my own style of leadership and about the value of collaboration and bringing people to the table and coming up with the best idea, relationship building, good communication, and transparency. I think those were values and traits that I saw in these women that I think I want to emulate in my own leadership skills.
Jameson: So you had mentioned that, for your dissertation, you've interviewed a lot of women who were the first in sort of their organization to be in that high of a leadership role. How is it different and what is your experience working at Stony Brook, which has such a predominantly female administration?
Dr. Gatteau: Yeah, good question. Even with Stony Brook, I think that is what inspires me to be here too because when I came into the division Student Affairs, we have had many women leaders. I've actually elevated many women to leadership roles and I'm really excited because I think that they are incredibly talented and bright and experienced. I still obviously want gender balance. I think that's a really important aspect in terms of our work so you get multiple perspectives in the room. I honestly want the best candidate for roles and there are so many qualified women and especially as Student Affairs, it's definitely a more female-focused profession in terms of the number of women in the field. But I just think, too, we want to make sure women are aspiring to these leadership roles and given the opportunity to be mentored. Having a female president at Stony Brook also just amplifies that a bit more by saying female leadership matters. We want this equity in the leadership model in order to get the best results. And I think this is just true in life when I look at diversity more broadly. It is so true and people ask the question, so why would you want a diverse organization? Well, it's because that brings the best ideas to the table. And because of a place like Stony Brook where we're serving such a diverse student constituency, on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, you need the representation in that leadership group so you're serving your constituents well. If you don't have that representation, you're going to clearly miss the opportunity or miss the mark on what's needed to support that. I hope and think that Stony Brook is a microcosm of what we want the world to look like. We're not there yet, globally or in the US. However, I do think that in higher ed spaces, I think there's an absolute focus on equity, especially in gender equity, that I've not seen before.
Zarya: I do think that Stony Brook does such a great job of promoting inclusivity and diversity especially because I remember that my high school was somewhat polarized by the presence of people being out in the LGBTQ+ community. When I heard that Stony Brook has an LGBTQ+ center, that was such a big deal to me, because I didn't even know that it was something that was possible at such a large institution. With that said, do you mind telling us a little bit about your involvement with the LGBTQ+ community?
Dr. Gatteau: Yeah, great question. I am so happy to be able to share this here because, going back to Jameson's earlier question, I also chose higher education is because it's a very inclusive place. I think the natural tendency is you're going to go in the career path where you feel like your identity will be embraced, and I was not out as a gay male for a very long time in my life. I came out in my early 30s and actually was at Stony Brook when I came out. I think one of the reasons why was because I knew what Stony Brook's value set was. That was obvious when I was walking around campus and just seeing the diversity. We didn't have a designated LGBTQ+ center, but I just knew because of the field of student affairs, it's a very welcoming environment. You feel like you're going to be embraced by your community. I was sheepish in my early years going, "Well, what are people going to think of me? Am I going to be judged differently? Will I be accepted?" Those are all thoughts that go through your head. I think those are natural human reactions when you feel like you're different from everybody else. I think, for me, my coming out process was definitely one of my own maturity and growth and feeling like I'm ready. Worried about the reactions of my family and colleagues, I had a very weird notion in my head that I needed to feel financially independent to make this proclamation that I'm gay. That is actually what drove the decision for me at that point in my life. I felt like if I'm rejected by everybody, then I know I can still make it on my own because I'm financially okay. Again, it was the most absurd logic in my brain. Once I came out, half the people said, "Rick, we knew." People asked me later if they should have asked me. I always respond to that question with no, because I think that could out someone even more and then put them in the closet more. Everyone reacts differently. My view is that you got to come out at the time that's right for you. I also made it a mission now, this is an evolution for me, where I can be in front of an audience and I'll share about my partner, my husband, my dog, and my life in an unabashed way because that's who I am. I think there's a level of confidence to tap into to say to your audience, whoever it is, that I really don't care what you think. You have to have that confidence. Before, I wouldn't share it at all. Then you move to the stage sharing it with select groups, and then you say I'm going to share with anybody because that's who I am. I recently had an experience where I was speaking in front of a class and sharing about who I am and my husband, not even giving it a thought. I just shared who I am. One of the students in the class wrote to me later and said, "Wow, I'm really grateful you shared who you are." He himself is a closeted gay male and felt like he saw someone successful in the open, and that just even drove home the point more to me - how critical it is to be who you are so that others can see that. This student was like me 20 years ago. I just think it's a duty and responsibility to be open and encouraging and supportive so that people feel that they can be their true selves. Again, higher ed is a different profession. Some fields, I think, are much more accepting open than others. So things take time. But I truly hope that, as we go on in the following months and years, that change will continue just as it did with marriage equality. I think it's evolved in such positive ways in a very short period of time.
Jameson: I think it's so inspiring that we have so many LGBTQ+ role models in so many different areas and so many different fields nowadays in the professional world. You had mentioned how you got into education, partially because of how accepting it was and that was your perception of it. But I was wondering if you would be willing to share any challenges or backlash that you face as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in education?
Dr. Gatteau: It's a great question. I don't have a specific example where I've ever felt that I was shunned by someone. I think it was partially more in my head about how someone would react. I call it selective sharing, where you selectively share your identity at different points in your life and in front of different audiences. After grad school, I was at the University of Vermont which was a very open environment. It opened my eyes to different identities. Back then, being transgender was not really part of the discussion. It was much more centered on being gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Now it's evolved again in even better ways of being even more inclusive, which is important. But back then I knew in Vermont if you were out in the open, you were fully accepted. That was in a Burlington, Vermont community. So I think there needs to be a recognition that the community and the space matter about how you feel about it. I also don't want to be unrealistic. There are other cities or other communities across our country where the reaction can be very different. I think it's a matter of judgment about what's the right time and space for someone in terms of how you feel and what the reaction would be. There have been times my partner I went down south to vacation in August, and I was about to hold his hand and he gave a reaction of, "Well, what would others think?" Part of me doesn't really care, but you also have to think about safety issues and that people may be less accepting. So there is a time and place to think about that. It's unfortunate though. We shouldn't have to live and be ourselves based on our geography. Again, I don't think I've ever felt like I'd been shunned. Interestingly, while higher ed was a very inclusive space for me, one of the reasons I wasn't out earlier is because I also worked in a Catholic college. The religious value of it was that homosexuality was not accepted. What makes me really proud is, since that time, that college I worked at now has an LGBTQ+ student organization. It made me so proud to see this level of acceptance and even friends and family of mine who are religious have embraced me and my husband because they view us as good human beings and the religious factor does not dictate how you maintain a relationship with someone. I think it's this evolutionary process that's happening, and maybe it sounds corny, but I also feel like once you meet somebody who's gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender, you would never speak ill against that. They're a human being. I think there's been more fear of the unknown and what you don't know. What I will share is that the day that the Supreme Court voted to pass marriage equality, I happened to be home that day. I'm watching TV and I actually started getting emotional. I didn't think I would but I got emotional seeing the screen. The highest court in the land says it's okay. It's this validation we all want. One of the things that I saw about a week or two later was this report on CBS News Sunday morning. I love that show, it's a great show. There was a story exploring why the Supreme Court didn't act sooner. Think about a revolution in society. It often happens as a grassroots effort. You don't need the person on top telling you what you want to do because it won't be as accepted. So the view was it passed at the state levels and there was enough momentum where society had gotten to the point of acceptance. The reporter asked the question of why it happened so quickly. It seemed like it wasn't happening and then it happened so quickly. The reason is that in the states where marriage equality was approved, nothing happened. There's this notion that your society is going to change because there are gay people that are now married. Who cares? It doesn't matter. Now there's also a notion that gay people are really good parents and gay people are good leaders in organizations and it doesn't really matter. I've even seen the evolution of straight friends in companies that have idea thinkers and thin tanks who want to embrace the community more. I have a friend who is now an ally in groups. I just think that this evolution happening is just is amazing. We're not there yet, by a longshot. I just see that over time this will change and it almost goes back to the earlier comment about women in leadership roles. I am thrilled that the barriers have been broken and that women are at the highest levels. We have to get a female President of the United States. That's the next barrier. But other than that, we have women in these roles and I know people want it to happen faster. It takes time, but there will come a point where no one will wonder if it should be a man or a woman in any role because every barrier would have been broken at that point.
Zarya: I think you bring up a lot of great points. One thing that resonated with me is when you mentioned being in a religious environment. I went to a private Catholic school for middle school and I can't say that it did much for me to be comfortable with my identity. Recently I told one of my mentors about the podcast. It was actually in regards to talking about setting up a scholarship because that's something that we're hoping to achieve through the podcast. For our listeners who don't check our website, you can find more about it there. So I asked my mentor if they know anybody who has kind of set up their own scholarship before, and he put me in contact with the head of a very conservative Catholic private school, but I couldn't blame him for that because I didn't tell him what the podcast was about. In the end, it turned out that the head of that school they were completely comfortable with the content of the podcast, and I realized that I'm the limiting factor here, which I think is something that you've spoken about in detail as well.
Dr. Gatteau: It's interesting. I'm also curious about your feedback on this. One of the things that I see in the higher ed space, even when I worked at the Catholic college and maintained relationships with students and RAs, is that younger demographics just don't care. There's a general acceptance among the younger population. I think if you grew up in an era where people were not out, it's just hard to get that relatability and understanding. I think today's youth are coming out much earlier than ever. Now even a lot of high schools have LGBTQ+ organizations which I find amazing because I don't think I even knew my identity well enough to be able to pronounce who I was. I'm thrilled that, at that level and that age and in that age group, there's an opportunity to do this identity exploration and that there's this embracing of it early on because to me once you start that early in the process of education, it is an integrated part of your overall experience. It doesn't feel like it will only happen in your 20s or 30s. Part of growing up is experiencing fear of who you are but no matter who you are, you will be accepted for that. It will take time but I think all these steps of the ladder move into this direction that is ultimately going to transform our society in better ways.
Zarya: I do think I disagree a little bit in terms of the younger generation being more accepting. There definitely are more support spaces, but I also feel like, for instance, when I was in high school, which was about four years ago, the people who chose to come out had to have something else going for them in order to come out. So for you, I know you mentioned being financially independent. For them it was that they were the top scorers in the class. And so at that point, it was like no one could comment on their identity because they were high achieving in other ways. There's almost this compensating factor.
Dr. Gatteau: That's also kind of sad because you are saying that I'm a high achiever and I'm a great athlete or I'm a smart student so it diminishes your identity. This is part of our own sense of self that we've got it we've got to determine. Is it on us? Is it Are we interpreting what someone's thinking by the way they look at us? Maybe I go back to the "Who cares?" You've got to say, "This is who I am, and I'm proud of it." I also want to point out that being gay is just one of many identities. I'm a twin. I'm a Long Islander. I'm a higher ed professional. I don't have a rank order of everything, but it's one of my identities. It's not my number one identity but I'm still going to show pride in that identity because, for all those who are struggling, I want people to know that they're valued and if that's the number one identity, I stand with you on that.
Jameson: I think it's interesting that we all kind of have different perspectives on this. So you mentioned geographic barriers between progress earlier. There are some areas where it's very accepted to be in the LGBTQ+ community and then others it is not and Zarya had mentioned that she viewed the LGBTQ students in her school as having to have something else going for them. But coming deep rural upstate New York, where I come from, it's not really the most progressive place in the world. My school had a pretty active GSA, gay-straight alliance club, that met after school every single week. There were at least twelve to thirteen members that went every single week and they were not the top achievers or anything. Something about having that community, it doesn't matter where it is geographically, allows people to be themselves despite possible barriers that they can face because if somebody wants to come at them and disagree with who they are, which is wrong, they're together and that's what matters.
Dr. Gatteau: It's making me laugh because I'm thinking of where we see people, in terms of gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender role models in media. It's so different now, even with athletes being out. I just think it all changes the dynamic about this level of pride to say, "Why am I hiding?' Even in the sports world, it has changed. This is going to sound like a silly example but I find it so interesting. My partner and I love watching those Hallmark movies. So like all holiday specials and hundreds of movies, up until about a year ago, showed a straight couple. That's all it was. Now it's funny because we see like a gay couple peppered in we know it's the token gay couple. So now I'm waiting for the day when they are the main lead in the show. That will obviously happen. Hallmark's audience is likely not a progressive audience. Maybe it is, but I just think these are just examples over time. People say we also have to write for our audience, right? That's part of it, too. You're trying to focus on your consumer and if people are willing to be who they are, you've got to address that audience. If the company is economically driven, it should capitalize on a consumer that wants to be acknowledged. If you know, where, you know, they want to as an economic driver if they want to, you know, capitalize on, you know, on a consumer that wants to be acknowledged. I would never make a judgment saying that rural areas are more like this or suburban areas are like this. It does vary. I think metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, New York, or Chicago, have a different attitude. But, I agree that every community should be evaluated on its own merit and what they do. I would hope that the experience that you had and saw at your school would replicate itself at other schools. Maybe it really takes leadership in a school district to support that. You can get a grassroots effort from students but, ultimately, you need school leadership and teachers who may self-identify as part of a group for one or serve an ally role. This is important because I know there are students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and they have a right to be acknowledged. That's, I think, part of what's going to happen over time, but I think it is happening.
Jameson: Yeah, I just thought it was very interesting, given Zarya's and my different backgrounds, especially because she was from the city and I was from more rural New York. I think it was interesting that the dichotomy was sort of the opposite of what you expected.
Zarya: One thing I did want to ask you about is that you said that Vermont was generally a more accepting space for you. And then when you traveled down south, and you said, you went to Florida. Was it Florida?
Dr. Gatteau: Oh, it was actually Georgia.
Zarya: Like that new song with Justin Bieber. You were saying that your partner was able to identify that maybe this wasn't the safest place to even hold hands. So as somebody who is applying to medical school and trying to figure out if they will be supported by the administration and by their colleagues and classmates, do you have any advice for trying to figure out what identifiers to look out for to make sure if we are safe being out?
Dr. Gatteau: I think it's a great question. I think people throw the word diversity around in language because it's the socially acceptable and expected thing to say, but I think it is important to try to understand how much the schools you are applying to and visiting value diversity and how they have indicated it in their admission materials. Maybe there could be some schools that might specifically identify support for a subset of identities, LGBTQ+ as an example. But I think you would want to see the university actually espouse the value of diversity without having to ask questions. If you don't see it in the written material or the way that they articulate it in their own interview process, if I were a student applicant, I would ask the question, "What's the value of diversity?" If I didn't feel like I want to speak about my identity because maybe I'd be judged, I would just ask the broader question about the value of diversity because that in itself is a little bit more innocuous. Diversity is a broad base term. So that's one piece. Some of it is based on observation. Engaging with people is helpful as well. It doesn't have to be on the basis of sexual orientation. I feel like when you go on a job interview, or when I interviewed at schools, you get a sense of if you feel like you fit in. So maybe some of it's a sixth sense, you just know if you feel connected to these individuals or feel like you would belong. That's a huge part of it. So those are a couple of things I would say. The challenge is sometimes it takes just one ignorant person to affect your view of something when they're not reflecting the organization at large. There are unintentional things people do and intentional things people do. There are a lot of times when things happen unintentionally. I've had friends or family that may say something and they use the wrong terminology or they ask a question I didn't think they should have. Some of it is out of curiosity. Some of it may be that they didn't know enough to ask because they aren't part of the community. SoI think I find that more acceptable. If it's something intentional, where somebody is trying to be exclusionary, you're not going to know that on an interview. You just really can't tell. The other question is, in terms of then on applications, because I've read a lot of students' med school application essays, is how much they talk about their research and their interest in the field and maybe their experience in college. There's always the question of do I share my identity and consider the risk in that. And I'm not here to just say do it or not. I think it's an individual choice. I would like to think that if it was something really important part of someone's identity or related to why they want to do medicine, that might be a reason that they'd want to talk about it. I know there's always this fear, I go back to the early part of the conversation, of being judged. Maybe someone would say I don't want that person here, whereas if you didn't reveal it, they wouldn't have known and you would get in. I've always thought that you don't want to be in an environment where you feel like you don't belong, especially in medical school or any grad program. With the time, effort, pressure, and workload, you need to feel like you belong. If you feel like you're coming up against someone who says something that might be insulting or negative, that's going to be hard to work through. So it's a challenge, it really is. I just hope maybe there's intuition or sixth sense. Someone has to know if this is the right fit for them and make an informed decision that way.
Jameson: I think that sixth sense that you mentioned is very interesting, the idea of gauging somebody's support or whether or not they will view you differently. Circling back to an earlier part of the conversation that Zarya was talking about, do you think that you could tell us about a mentor that you chose to disclose your identity with and an experience in which you felt that sharing your identity would change their opinion of you?
Dr. Gatteau: There were several mentors. When I came out, it wasn't in drips. It was like "today is the day" for everybody. That is kind of the way it worked for me. People operate very differently. They might share with family and some friends first. I had this notion that once I shared with one person, everyone's gonna know anyway, so why not just tell everybody. I'm not kidding. It was like literally one night and a series of phone calls. Let's just call everybody so there was no concern. I even reached out to mentors. I never had a concern about thinking that they wouldn't accept me. Interestingly, my concern was, this actually happened in a couple of cases, because I had passed myself off as being straight because I didn't want to share who I was that people would feel duped. I was concerned that I would come off as dishonest. It blew over very quickly. The problem is you make up these things in your head. You're trying to play out your Hallmark story, but you don't really know how it's gonna end. So I think I had these notions in my head that I'd get rejected just because they didn't like gay people, but the fact was they just wished I could have been myself. They would have embraced me. I went through the motion of thinking that I should have come out years ago when I heard that. I felt this level of embrace I didn't even realize I had. I just had made things up in my mind. That was the one thing that I needed to work on a little bit with a few people to explain. It's weird, when you're at a party, you never have to say that you're straight. Do you want to go to a party and say, "I'm gay?" I'm sure this is true with others. When you say this is my partner or my husband, it's so nice because you now know what that means. I don't have to reveal my identity because that is the socially acceptable way. So it's a little bit bizarre. I didn't have that at the time, but I've had to share with friends who are straight to say, "Okay, here's why you don't ask somebody. Here's why." I was in a state of turmoil. And once I explained it, they go, "Oh, my gosh, I understand." When you're in the majority population on whatever aspect you're looking at, it's so hard to see the other side because you don't live that experience.
Zarya: I think that's really funny that you brought up the experience where your reading was that people felt duped. I was talking to a professor about the podcast because the podcast is now in my email signature. They asked about the podcast and I told them. They then asked, "Why you specifically?" And I explained that I was an ally and that I'm really passionate about this. And they said, "Oh, okay, that's really cool, because my best friend is gay." For fifteen minutes, I told him a story about being an ally when, in reality, I'm part of the community. And then as soon as they said that their best friend was gay, I was like, "Oh, by the way, I did kind of just tell you a little bit of a lie. I actually am part of the community." They asked why I didn't just say that but I didn't know how they were going to react. It was just really funny to see their reaction and they were very affirming. That was a really nice way for that story to turn out because I think if I hadn't corrected myself, I would have felt bad that I didn't tell them I was part of the community. I feel like I'm getting better about not caring what people think, but it is a little bit harder to be out in the public eye, especially when my own family does not know, for instance, about the podcast. So it's a little bit of a shift.
Dr. Gatteau: And that's why I think it is an important message to share. I hope I'm just one of many examples. you've got to do it at your own time and when it's right for you. I do look back on my life and we all play the "what if?" scenario. You say, "Well, what if I had come out when I really knew I was gay? What would that have been like? What was the experience of it?" Even with my partner, we've been together nine years and married for three. We both have made the same comment that where we were, especially as two gay men growing up on Long Island, if we had met years ago, we would have been ready to be together at that point. I just ascribed to the idea that what's meant to be is meant to be. I think some of it is lessons learned throughout life. I hate to say it but there are no do-overs in life. You just have to go through every day with the cards you are dealt and make the right decision for this day. Looking towards the future, I'm very grateful. I think the time and space where I was in my life, I was ready to date and meet him on match.com. It worked great. That was the right space and time for me. It was just meant to be that way and it's okay. That was the right time in my life to be who I was and be my full true self. I just hope, in the end, that this dialogue encourages people to really give more thought. I didn't have the benefit, back in the day, to listen to dialogue like this because it was not really discussed more broadly. I think this discussion is just a moment of education and maybe it's to build peoples' self-confidence. That's something that, I hope, kind of helps in the end.
Zarya: I also just like what you said about just making every day count and looking forward to every day and making the most of that. Especially for something like medical school, that's such a long-term process. It can become overwhelming to think of everything at once. If you are struggling to make time for the MCAT, you start to worry about how you are going to make time for step one or step two. So I do appreciate you sharing that. One other question that I had is, looking forward, what initiatives and projects are you interested in working on as it relates to LGBTQ+ advocacy?
Dr. Gatteau: Again, that is a really good question. I've been really fortunate at Stony Brook. I wanted to highlight, as you mentioned, that we have the LGBTQ+ center on campus. I'm really proud because we're one of the few institutions in the country that has a designated space that provides allyship support. I kind of view it as an identity-building and as a safe space for people to be. I also think it's an education hub for the campus to say what is really important. I think it's a way to attract students to a place like Stony Brook, for people who are struggling or are out and are looking for a place that has a built-in support structure. It's really important. I've been really fortunate to, along with our team and the LGBTQ+ center, with our interns and our staff there, implement a lavender graduation event. Every year, I've been asked to speak at the event and share a little bit just like I've done today. I hope it's somewhat inspiring to people to say if this guy can do this, I can too. Some people in the room are not even out to their families. You're in this time and place in your life trying to navigate a really complicated road. With Stony Brook, we have been very engaged with going to the pride parade in the city. I am really excited that we've had our marching band there. Those are such affirming moments. Those are moments where you feel so united and supported. Even this conversation is an example of that. I hope that it lives on and can help support and inspire others along the way. It's something that I am really passionate about. Being at Stony Brook and in higher education, it's such a core value of who we are. I just know that anybody who identifies as LGBTQ+ and coming to Stony Brook, they're going to be valued here. That's only gonna propel them, in all the ways that we just shared today, for future career opportunities and change the landscape of these professions. Professions where if the level of acceptance isn't there, it will be over time.
Jameson: So this atmosphere of acceptance that you're talking about and the idea of seeing someone in the community who is successful, if you could turn back time and talk to your college self, what would you tell them?
Dr. Gatteau: I think this is my favorite question. It's so cool, the notion that you look back in a mirror, at yourself twenty or thirty years ago. What would you do differently? I have to say I wouldn't have done anything differently because I think my life has turned out in such a wonderful way and I'm so grateful. I am relieved because I know there are times, if you can't be your true self, you make some bad decisions and go down a bad path. I've read a lot of literature about people who can't be out it may result in alcohol or drug use and other concerns or feeling like you've been ostracized from your family. I'm so grateful I didn't experience that but, I know that's a reality for many people. I want to acknowledge that. In terms of looking back at my life, I just had such a good grounding with my own family and ultimately realized in the end that I've had such incredible support from my parents and my siblings and friends. I wouldn't really do anything differently. I think I would have revealed my identity sooner but I just think it was the place and time where I was in life. I'm okay with that. It is a level of acceptance and acknowledgment of where I was in my own development. You can't rush things right? You don't rush it. You have to feel comfortable where you are and in the decision that you make at that time. You can't go back in time. You can just look to the future. I love the question because I think it helps you think through not just what you do in the past, but what I do now in the future and how can I be supportive of others? I wouldn't want people to experience what I maybe experienced too.
Zarya: Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I really do appreciate you taking the time. For our listeners who don't attend Stony Brook, Rick is one of those people who you can definitely approach and it's interesting to have someone in the administration who's so friendly and who you can pretty much just walk up to in Starbucks and just say hi to. And they won't be like, "Why are you talking to me?" Rick is that person.
Dr. Gatteau: I'll buy your Starbucks.
Zarya: That's why we have dining dollars but I appreciate that. Thank you again for doing this. This has been really fun.
Jameson: Thank you for coming on, of course, everything you said today was very inspiring.
Dr. Gatteau: Thank you both for the opportunity, I really appreciate it. I'm just so thrilled that the initiative you've taken to create Queer Diagnosis and to create this whole series because I think it's incredibly helpful. I love that there's broad reach with the work that you're doing. So kudos to you as well. Thank you for everything!
Jameson: Thank you again to our guests Richard Gatteau, our usual co-host, Srihita, is absent for this episode and so I'm filling in. As somebody going into education, I thought that it would be a very worthwhile and informative experience to have a conversation with him about his experiences and how the landscape has changed. We are also joined by our interns today for this reflection.
Aaliya: I'm Aaliya and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
Sofia: My name is Ana Sofia and my pronouns are also she/her/hers.
Zarya: My name is Zarya Shaikh and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Jameson. We've been recording for almost a year now and Jameson has never done an episode. So Jameson, thank you for joining us. Jameson actually always works behind the scenes. He does a lot of work for the podcast that goes on behind the scenes that you see, that you are actually in the editing. So check them out on our website, a very nice young man. Hopefully, you enjoyed him on our episode. So with that said, Jameson, what were your takeaways from this episode?
Jameson: I think Rick had a lot of very interesting life experiences that he brought to the table during our interview. In particular, I thought that he had a pretty large focus on LGBTQ+ people as role models for younger people in the community to look up to and see as examples. He talked about that one time when he gave a lecture and then he received an email from a student who was in the closet. I thought that was really interesting because you think of someplace like Stony Brook University, you think of it as a place that's very open and accepting where people are who they say they are. It's sometimes a little bit surprising to me that there are still these stigmas that can hang around and people can think that there are going to be negative consequences at the university level. It was very interesting to see his viewpoint, coming from somebody who looked up to people like that to becoming a person like that. What do you guys think?
Sofia: I think that ties down to his experience of coming out because he came out later while he was at Stony Brook. So Stony Brook accepted him and embraced him and it didn't really have a negative influence on his career. For myself, I wouldn't go to a school that is not open to these kinds of things. I think we can tie it back to also to what Sami said in a previous episode. She said that when she was applying to medical schools or residency programs, if they turned her down just because she talked about being gay or being in the LGBTQ community in her personal statement, then it's good riddance, right? I wouldn't want to be there. She wouldn't want to be there. I don't think any of us would want to be there. His views reflect the SBU community and it makes the school more open and more welcoming to these kinds of things. It just makes us think that we don't have to be afraid and that we don't have to hesitate.
Aaliya: He talks about this in the interview. He said that diverse organizations and leadership are very important and that's why he chose Stony Brook. To have the diversity that there is on campus and to have everyone feel like they belong, you need to have diverse leadership to come up with diverse ideas. Everyone's different background makes up how they think about the world, essentially. I think it's so important that he brought that up because I felt very included just being a woman of color here at Stony Brook and a lot of it has to do with the fact that leadership itself is so diverse.
Zarya: Jumping off of that idea of diversity, coming into school, I can't say I was very open about my identity. I think having like a role model and someone who was in the position of power and who is in the administration being out proudly set the bounds for me to feel more comfortable with my identity. I was able to think, hypothetically, if I want to be out as a doctor in the future or even out as a pre-med student, how would that look? Knowing that there is a community, even if it is just one person, is all you need to really feel comfortable in your own skin. Aaliya, you mentioned the point of being a woman of color. In my undergraduate classes, initially, I didn't know many other people who were also of color. I knew mostly other white individuals. The way I and Jameson met was we were taking calculus together our freshman year. Jameson was the only one who knew what he was doing in this class. He's saying no, but if you think that you don't know, where do you think the rest of us stood in that class? I remember like there was a really nice little group that formed in that calculus class. I remember that was the first time where I felt really comfortable with my peers and it was really nice to have that kind of community as a person.
Jameson: I think that feeling comfortable where you are ties back to another interesting point that Rick brought up with the geographic dependence of one's identity. I thought the story of him and his husband traveling to Georgia was very heartbreaking. You go and you're with somebody that you love and then you can't express that with them. Even though you're in the United States, which is sometimes considered to be a progressive country. You think people would be able to be who they are, but there are certain states where you can't be. I think the different experiences that Zarya and I had in high school were also very interesting. In my high school, which was in the middle of rural upstate New York, there was GSA and a very active LGBT community. Zarya perceived her high school as having a very limited LGBT community, which was limited to the top achievers. It went against what I expected when we were talking about the geographic dependence of acceptance because you think of the city as someplace that's so accepting and where people can be open and be themselves but then that is the place where people need a qualifier to be queer, whereas, in my hometown, people are just who they are. I just thought that that was contrary to what I expected.
Zarya: Even with that idea of differences between our high schools, I'm thinking back to my freshman year biology class in Frey Hall, for those of you who are at Stony Brook. I remember that there were top students who were answering all the questions. The thing is we used to race to see who could get the best seat in lecture. We used to take each other's seats essentially. Jameson might not know this, he's laughing. We used to take each other's seats at every other lecture. I just wanted to be dead center to the projector or whatever. I kept looking at this person and felt like they were giving me LGBTQ+ vibes. I'm not saying I have gaydar but it felt like this person was wired in the same way that I was. I feel like it was because I wasn't out. I'm still not technically out all the way. Anyway, it felt like so much of my energy went from worrying about my identity into my education and just studying. If there was something I was going to perfect, it would be how people perceive me so that when I do come out, there's no place for anyone to really follow me.
Jameson: Yeah, this person that you were sitting with, didn't know about their identity at the time. They only discovered that two years into college. It was like being internally closeted, where you're not only denying it to the world but also yourself for a long time. I just think that that's an interesting concept because I think it happens to a lot of people in the LGBT community. It's not considered the standard for the world. For a long time, you feel like it's not you, that you are just "normal". And then, one day, you realize you're not. It's funny because I'd asked this person about their identity, before they had figured it out themselves, and they didn't know. A year later they said I was right.
Zarya: Jameson and I reconnected over COVID after our calculus class over a snap. I don't even remember what the snap was. We were talking about this person and I didn't exactly like them. But then, I hung out with them and Jameson once and I realized totally had them figured out wrong in my head. They weren't out to get me. I wasn't necessarily out to get them. I think maybe I was projecting my own identity onto them, at least for some time. I saw where they were and I knew where I was. Regarding what Jameson asked them about being part of the community if he asked me that I would have said that I was as straight as a bendy ruler. A ruler is always straight but if it's bendy, then it's not straight, right? You can bend it into a parabola. Looking back, I didn't set myself up in the best way. At least, going forward, I have new connections and am able to connect with people on the fact that I wasn't always comfortable with where I am now.
Jameson: I think it was an Instagram story over the summer about you asking which frames you should have for your new glasses and I replied to that. For some reason that snowballed into us becoming really close friends and then we started the podcast that December. Anyways, I would like to get some more words from our interns about what they think about these subjects.
Zarya: Quickly, I do want to say that I didn't like Jameson because he said that I was the first Pakistani or Muslim person he met, and I was like, "Really?"
Jameson: What do you want? It's not my fault.
Sofia: I can vouch for that. I was in upstate New York for my freshman year, in Albany. In our batch, we only had one black person and I was the only Filipino so I can vouch for that. Maybe we need diversity in the entire United States, not just in New York City.
Aaliya: I'm actually from Albany. It's really funny you say that. You're talking about the university of Albany, right?
Sofia: Oh, no, I went to this pharmacy school. I think you know about it.
Aaliya: Albany College of Pharmacy? I was gonna go there. That's cool. I think it's really funny that you talk about Albany being really white. I realized, after coming to college, that I did live in a very white area. It was weird because, in all my classes, all my friends were people of color. It wasn't because I didn't like white people. It just turned out that way because we were in the same neighborhood. Whenever someone asked me about my high school, I always thought we were so diverse. Now, I'm looking back and I realize we really weren't. My group of 15 friends was the diversity at that school. There were maybe twenty or thirty people in a class of two thousand. It's just weird how people you surround yourself with affect how you see things. I think Upstate is more conservative so I wasn't really exposed to the LGBTQ community at my school at all. It just wasn't very talked about, which isn't right, obviously. I wasn't exposed to a lot of it until I came to college. One of my closest friends was my freshman year roommate and I'm not gonna name her, but she was pansexual. I didn't know what that meant. She was my in on learning more about the community. I knew that what gay, lesbian, and straight were, the "basics" I guess. I got to ask more questions and learn more about it so I could be more intentionally respectful to people around me. It was really cool to learn more about the community like that.
Zarya: I think it's interesting that you mentioned that you knew the "core" identities or the indetities in the acronym, LGBTQ. There are some identities are not necessarily explicitly talked about, for instance, like what it means to be demisexual, pansexual aromantic, asexual, so on and so forth. Even in my life, I haven't necessarily met people who are part of those identities. And I wouldn't be able to explain it to somebody else, which is why I think it's so important that, to the best of our abilities, when somebody is part of a community and they are willing to share their experience that you learn from them when you can. For instance, when I was in high school, and everyone was like, "Are you straight?", I thought that meant that they were asking me if I was doing well in my classes. I didn't actually realize I used to have that association. The would ask me if I was straight. I was just like, "I'm doing my best."
Aaliya: I think the most embarrassing thing that's happened to me this semester, I don't think it was that big of a deal for Zarya, was I met her to grab the microphone to be able to like record these reflections. I came out as straight and I was like, "Why did I do that?" I was worried I was being disrespectful. Is that weird? My friend said that maybe I needed to be part of the community to be part of the podcast. I was worried that I was going to take someone's spot. I told Zarya, "I have something to tell you." She was like, "What?" I told her I was straight and she took it so well. She was like, "Oh, thank you for sharing." I felt like she probably thought I was so dumb for saying that I was straight, but that was a really embarrassing moment for me.
Sofia: Coming out as straight should be normalized in this day and age.
Jameson: I think it's funny the way that you said that she took it so well. It's what you say when you're talking to like your parents, like when you tell your mom and dad that you're queer and then you go tell your friends that they took it so well.
Zarya: It's so funny because a lot of people, when applying to the internship, asked if it was okay that they were straight. I responded by asking if they were homophobic or transphobic. If the answer to those questions are yes, please lose my email. If not, then it's okay. But it's really funny because the way that you did it was so much more formal than the way anybody else did it. And that's fine, but it was interesting because we have like this cohort of interns, and not to out anybody in their identities, but most people came out to me as straight. It felt like I was on the opposite end of things, not in a weird way. It was just humorous. Everyone's taking this so seriously, and I actually really appreciate that. I also appreciate that nobody lied about their identity and if any of you are no longer straight, then I'm here for you.
Jameson: She's saying that if she turned you not straight, tell her so that she can get an ego boost.
Zarya: And if by listening to my voice, you did turn straight, I'm so sorry for your loss.
Jameson: Anyway, I think it was an interesting point Zarya made. We always talk about LGBTQ+ but the "plus" includes so much. There's demisexual, asexual, or gender pansexual. There's all of these different identities that people have that aren't sort of roped under those forced, first four letters. But then that's what that's what the "plus" is for. That was an interesting theme, early in the season, where we would ask guests what the word queer means to them, because I think it is different for everybody. I think some people in that community will see queer as sort of a different term from what they believe that they themselves are, whereas other people will identify with it more. I thought that was a very interesting point that you brought up. Anyways, that's about all the time that we have for today's reflection. Thank you for listening. I had a lot of fun coming on and being a guest co host. Thank you to Zarya for letting me come on and thank you to Srihita for, I guess, not being here.
Zarya: Thank you to Srihita for also being sick. Thank you to Jameson, Aaliya, and of course, last but not least, Sofia. Bye!
Zarya: Read the transcript for this episode at QueerDiagnosis.com. Queer Diagnosis is
Aaliya: Aaliya Sayed.
Jess: Jessica Pathmanathan.
KaiQi: KaiQi Liang.
Lara: Lara Castaneda.
Serena: Serena McDaniel.
Sofia: Sofia Peralta.
Jameson: Jameson Coleman.
Srihita: Srihita Mediboina.
Zarya: And me, Zarya Shaikh. Music is composed and provided by Cara Dugan and Adam Fredette. This podcast is supported by listeners like yourself. Our Patreon is patreon.com/QueerDiagnosis rate and subscribe to Queer Diagnosis wherever you like to listen.
This transcript has been edited for clarity. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future.