Early in the evening on a hot and humid Friday, Dr. Andrea Pitts, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), sits at home in East Charlotte, working on fundraising proposals for LGBTQ Grad Students of Philosophy. The only known gender non-conforming tenured professor on UNCC’s campus looks to be barely over 16 years old, yet is in possession of the knowledge, grace and wisdom of contemporaries twice the professor’s actual age of 37.
Within this home office space, walls are decorated with photos from travel: a map of central America, a painting by a favorite uncle and a framed Cannonball Adderley album, African Waltz. The walls are void of any degrees, but speak volumes on personal accomplishments that echo sentiments of intersectionality.
The easy-going Professor Pitts is happy to talk about life and attempts to make some complicated issues surrounding race, gender and orientation a little more plain.
Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to speak to qnotes readers today. Are you originally from the Carolinas?
No. I was born in Panama City, Florida and grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. And here’s the funny thing, I was born in Panama City, Florida and my mother was born in Panama City, Panama.
What brought you to Charlotte and how long have you been living here?
I’ve been here for six years. I moved here from Nation, Tennessee where I was completing my PhD. I moved here for my position at UNCC.
How do you identify?
Mixed-raced Latinx genderqueer. The broader umbrella would be trans, but I identify with the term genderqueer more directly.
What does all that mean for you?
I guess it means that, I’m understanding the term non-binary in how it shows up in my life. I would say I’m more masculine identified in terms of my clothing and gender presentation, but I also deeply identify with some of the women in my family in a way that I’m more connected to and intently related. I described myself in college as a dyke and a butch.
I liked dyke, the fuck you mentality — the “I’m not here to please men mentality.” With butch, it was more the erotic relation to a lover, but now there are newer terms, and I’m thinking about those terms. It’s probably why I like genderqueer because it has the erotic in it — the erotic as power, which is in the Audre Lorde sense.
I didn’t know what philosophy was until I was in college [at the University of North Florida]. I’m the only person in my generation in my family to go to college. While learning about jazz [in college], I realized I wasn’t going to be a musician.
I had been studying music, I love jazz, and was also studying the history of jazz music as a Black art form, as a Black resistance art form. This was the thing that turned my head to philosophy. I had been studying how small changes in musical form or tonality would shift to new genres and new trajectories in the art form. So, I took an introduction to philosophy class, and it seemed very similar to the way that I understood the history of jazz. It had a similar structure in that small changes led to entirely new ways of thinking.
Wow, what a lane change. So, what’s it like being a philosophy professor at UNCC?
To be honest I feel lucky. It’s a job that I am happy to have and grateful for. One of the things I love about it is that I’m fortunate to be in a job where I work with young people a lot. The student just out of high school, the student returning after having a career, the student who is in college for the first time — all on different journeys and pathways. Each semester I’m working with a new group of people. I get to continue to work with young people and learn from them. Emotionally I feel very lucky to have that relationship with young people. Especially because I’m not a parent and don’t plan on becoming a parent. I still get to be part of their learning process and have an impact in their lives.
Would you mind elaborating on not wanting to become a parent?
I love kids, holding babies, playing games, being around children and all that stuff. My brother had a daughter when I was 18 and he was 16. I watched her grow, but I think I got to the point where I don’t know if my life includes having our own children. We talked about this years ago and decided against it. We found that in our lives, it wasn’t something we needed to do to find our lives meaningful. Also, I have a gay uncle, a Latinx gay man who never had children who has been involved in my life since I was young. He didn’t strike me as having lost anything for not having children. His life seemed full, and he didn’t seem to have regretted the decision of not having children.
You mentioned “we” talked about the decision not to have children. Who is “we”? Do you have a partner?
Yes. My partner is also a faculty member at UNCC. She teaches Women and Gender Studies and Philosophy. We met in Grad school and moved together to Charlotte to begin our jobs here at the university.
Are you out on campus?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s a condition of my employment. I’m not gender conforming, and I can’t hide who I am. I wouldn’t want to work somewhere that I couldn’t be out. Which is a privileged position I’m aware of.
What’s it been like being you at work?
In terms of gender, it’s kinda lonely because so far as I know there aren’t any other trans or non-binary folks. There are on staff and maybe there are some adjuncts, but as far as I know of when it comes to full time faculty — I’m the only one. For a while, I was president of the LGBTQ+ Staff and Faculty Caucus to try to build better representation on campus.
How’s it going?
It’s alright. It also serves a social function in assisting staff and faculty find and connect with each other. But I’m no longer president. I’m currently the vice president of the Latinx/Hispanic Faculty and Staff Caucus.
You’ve mentioned your connections and involved with race and ethnicity a few times. What do you think about the recent legislation banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory? Has it impacted your teaching?
I think it’s misdirected and another attempt to prevent future generations from understanding the deep systemic forms of racism that exist in the United States.
Has the recent fervor impacted your teaching at this point?
No, not at all, and nor will it. Critical Race Theory is one of the most helpful ways to address issues of systemic racism that is available to educators today. CRT can be considered a fundamental method that’s used to examine institutional histories and practices to show how they have developed patterns and ways of excluding and diminishing the lives of people of color. If we don’t look at how our institutions have failed people of color, then we are at risk of perpetuating harm towards people of color — specifically Black folks.
When you’re not reading, teaching or philosophizing, what do you do for fun?
I like to rock climb, although I haven’t done much of that during the pandemic. I’ve climbed in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the U.S. and Canada. And Salsa dancing, I really enjoy Cuban Casino; it’s a particularly Cuban style of Salsa dancing.
Sounds like you’ve got a lot going on and have figured out how to balance academics and recreation. What do you see yourself doing 20 years from now?
I think in 20 years I’ll likely still be teaching and researching. Both of which I really adore. I also enjoy history, storytelling and traveling — so I hope to continue enjoying that in the future and I hope to still be Salsa dancing.
For someone who isn’t even 40 years old, you really seemed to have a handle on navigating some complicated waters. What word of advice would you give to a 12-year-old trans child that’s struggling with the journey of being transgender?
Follow your passions. Try to learn to love and care for your body in a way that feels right. Try to find people who reflect back that love to you, that love that you have and want to have for your body.
That’s perfect, and what a perfect day it will be when body acceptance becomes the norm. What’s a perfect day for Andrea Pitts looks like? Can you describe it?
Good coffee, sunshine, not much to do and good people.
Is there anything else you’d like qnotes readers to know about you?
I love connecting with people, and I’m happy to chat with just about everybody. I like learning about people.
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