Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to Ruin a Gay and Lesbian Literature Class Before It Even Begins

Moments before you teach the class, look in the restroom mirror and accept that you’re at least fifteen pounds overweight. Actually make that an even twenty.

Force yourself to remember that your boyfriend said that it wasn’t your fault. Upstate New York is known for The Garbage Plate. A big helping of hotdogs, baked beans, French friends, and whatever other deep-fried foods you can shove in a trough. You never ate one. But still. Food works like second-hand smoke. Eventually you gain the weight even if you didn't cause it yourself.

Flash forward to the gay male students who will judge you for your chubbiness. Promise yourself you won’t despise the ones in good shape. If you weaken, remember their coolness may make them look more vulnerable to gay-bashers. Their stick bodies may be cracked in two. Don’t smile too much thinking about this.

Or they might secretly have an eating disorder. A lot of fags do. Especially the ones with hot boyfriends, You might be obsessed with macaroni and cheese and die of a heart attack. But more than likely, your death will be quick. Eating disorders are slow killers.

You glance over your syllabus for typos. All you see is you don’t have any books about coming out. Anything slightly aspirational.

Coming out didn’t do anything for you. All that happened was you heard of even more parties you weren’t invited to.

But you know that isn’t fair. You did become a big campus activist, wrote a newspaper column which caught the attention of a drug addict who choose to love you. “You’re a good substitute for meth,” he said. That’s when you fell in love.

The drug addict did have a great chest. You still dwell on the secret reason why you are transfixed by men’s upper bodies.

You were never breastfed.

But there are worse things that have already happened with this class before even its first day. One gay man came to your office and asked how much time would be spent on discussing unisex politics. What the fuck are you talking about, you wanted to say. You felt old. You thought invoking the word queer would be cutting edge.

You’re such a dummy. That is how far you are behind the times. You decide you’ll never confess that in 2009 you saw Rent for the first time. And yes, in 2009, relished telling you friend that you saw this brand-new hip show. Your friend slapped you across the face and said, “’Legally Blonde: The Musical is all the rage now.” Realize he is still the kind of gay man who still wears rainbow necklaces.

Promise yourself that if any other gay man mentions something you don’t know, avoid outright lying, Instead you smile and talk loudly. That’s how you convey sincerity to gay men. And the deaf. Talk loudly and smile.

You promise yourself to make the class not about yourself. The books are what matters. You will not blabber on and on about yourself and turn it into group therapy. Even though that’s one of your strengths. Isn’t that ultimately why we teach what we teach? To voice our obsessions to people who have no choice but to listen?

Don’t offer a Spark Notes version of your memoir that’s just been released: the public sex with strangers who reminded you of your dad who left your family; cruising for men outside STD clinics, who looked like they just got a clean bill of health; your happiness in telling a gay man who didn’t love you back that you were gay-bashed. You wanted pity to create a spark that had never been there in the first place.

Whatever you do, don’t think of the class as an opportunity for redemption, a chance to purge your sins, to say to the world finally, something you should have said years ago, perhaps even before you came out. “I’m sorry,” you will want to say. You will want to say it before it even begins.


  1. I think I've read this four times now. The style is addictive. It's so full of ideocyncratic details (something I need more of in my own writing!), and your so witty! Is this what your book is like? I need to read it (as soon as I have money again to get my own copy.) I'd love to see what you would do with fiction.

  2. I also watched Rent for the first time in 2009... and I am SO into Legally Blonde right now...
    This article made me laugh at myself. Thank you for your wit.

  3. I took a Gay/Lesbian lit class a few years ago and am happy to report my professor did none of the above...he did write "gender fuck" really big on the board one day (he had his reasons) and then left it there for the next class. A golden moment.