I might’ve mentioned before that I’m a professor, no matter how little I’m paid, so I do have students, class discussion, all that. Most discussion is through writing prompts and all of us having a laugh at the sillier and clever efforts, but this is the first semester I’ve been given a lit course, no matter how introductory, so it’s given me the chance to actually encourage the sort of class-long discussions every professor hopes to see in their career. The opening of the course dealt largely with stories, poems, and plays examining the various issues and conflicts faced by women and men, some traumatic, others mundane, all enlightening, and near the end, there are a number of poems that examine LGBT issues as well as gender issues.
I didn’t assign any of them, rather I allowed the class to pick 6 poems from a long list to write reactions to in their journals for discussion, and a few students did go with the LGBT poems. “Crazy Courage” by Alma Luz Villanueva, which examines gender identity, was the one that some in the class loved, but it eventually brought out the reminder that I’m in a rather red part of NY when several students took the time to make it all about gay marriage, and why they didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to the gay community. “Gay agenda” was even dropped, and I did my best to not cringe, and make a smartassed retort that a thousand memes already have about what the “gay agenda” truly is.
“We’ll just say I disagree with you on that point. I’m not going to argue it with you, because right now we’re having two completely different conversations at the same time, so we’ll just wrap up and move onto the next poem.”
William Blake’s “The Garden of Love” proved to be much less controversial.
And yeah, I did want to really put out there what I felt, but I can’t, because let’s face it, fear is still a very real part of the daily gay experience. But, we were having two different conversations, and the odd thing was that I wasn’t angry at the student, because hey, it’s their opinion, and I’ve kind of run into this before.
The student’s conversation was that they simply don’t understand why gay people want to get married, and have it called a marriage, when there are other options. The student was straight, male, and likely never had to even consider why it would be an issue. It’s just not part of the sum of their life experience, they’re largely innocent to what it’s really like to be gay in the US, even with all the advances. To that student, we’re just fighting over a simple word.
My conversation was a little different.
My conversation was about how I refuse to be “less than”. And by “less than”, I mean “less than human.”
I’m not going to be angry at that student, because how do you be angry at someone who honestly has no idea what it’s like? How can you fault them for failing to possess skills that they will never have to possess?
Here’s a short sampling of just a few skills I’ve utilized over the past week:
1. My fiance and I have perfected the unspoken communication to stop holding hands in a nonchalant fashion, separate to at least 3 feet apart, and not make eye contact with anyone approaching, yet still smile in a genial fashion to seem nonthreatening.
2. My collection of gender-neutral pronouns that I use to describe the man I love has quadrupled since I started teaching here, while I’m discussing football, automobiles, and heavy metal with enough knowledge to be considered in the know of generally heterosexual male subjects. I’ve always been a fan of the Seahawks, but I’ve been clinging to that fandom like a talisman to ward off the muttered “faggot” comments.
3. My fiance and I can go to a restaurant 30 minutes after I’ve proposed, and act as if it’s a simple dinner between two good friends.
4. I can keep a countdown going in my head, informing me of how many days are remaining until I can feel comfortable enough to let it slip around my students that I’m engaged to a man. That countdown is to the last day of withdrawing from the course without financial penalty, because I lost five students in one week when I let it slip during the last three days of add/drop.
5. I can recall, at will, a list of people who know, people who don’t, and people who can’t, and can edit, revise, delete, and add to my conversation topics and talking points when talking to them to keep people in the dark a little longer until I can exit the conversation with a sigh of relief.
6. Before I go anywhere I know various people are going to be at, I can remember which version of me I have to be and apply the necessary filters in less than ten minutes. Personal best is four minutes, but I had a soundtrack to help.
7. I can, in less than an hour, successfully remind myself with adequate confidence that I am still, in fact, a human being and am worthy of being treated like one. Personal best is thirty-nine minutes, but that’s largely thanks to Odesza’s Summer’s Gone.
Like I said, two conversations. Two sets of skills. I have to appreciate the fact that we spent time on William Blake, as he had a number of poems exploring Innocence vs. Experience, poems that examined the same issue from both sides, whether it was God, faith, love, hope, or life itself.
And sometimes never the twain shall meet.