Saturday, November 21, 2009

Some Random Thoughts On Being a Gay Male Mentor to Gay Male Students (Part One)

In college, all my gay male friends and I signed up for a Gay and Lesbian Literature class to affirm the fact that we were successful homosexuals. I've always considered myself a failure at being gay. Dorky haircut, out-of-style glasses, belly, I didn't know even how to be a good wallflower at the queer bar; someone always stepped on my shoes on the way to pick up the gay man of their dreams. This is not meant in any way as self-deprecation--a trait I always find uncharming--but as an objective fact.

On the first day of the gay and lesbian lit class, all the queer men sat in the front row. I've always wanted to be one of those teachers who could gracefully scribble brilliant things on the blackboard. That's what he was like. His students took notes. Maybe it's because I'm a creative writing teacher, but I cringe when my students write down what I say. "What's important to you," I say, "You'll remember."

When we received our first papers back, I got an A-. I was devastated.

I decided to be a man. Someone who he'd respect. I looked up to him, after all. So: I made an appointment. We met and I said, "I received an A-."

"I know," he said.

"No homosexual ever gets an A in my class," he said, "We all need to remember we're flawed. Until we get equal rights. So we keep fighting."


After five years of teaching at my school, I finally received the opportunity to teach a Gay and Lesbian Literature class. All the books by gay men featured protagonists who were seriously troubled, and once in a while suicidal.

One young gay man came to my office and said, "From the books you choose, it seems like you don't like yourself. Do you?"

"Sometimes," I said.


Unless it happens to be in Gay and Lesbian literature class, I get very nervous about teaching a book by a queer author. I don't want it to seem like I'm biased. And I figure that my presence is more than enough. It takes up enough room on the syllabus as it is.


Another gay teacher during my undergrad years was HIV-impacted. He was beautiful. He had a wonderful chest--you could tell he had the best pectoral muscles. Something that obsesses me. I suppose it's because I was never breast-fed.

His health declined. Along with a bunch of friends, we visited him in the hospital.

"I got this disease because I was promiscuous. I never used a condom," he said, "And I have no regret. I did what felt good for me. I'm not saying you shouldn't use a condom obviously. But you need to do things that make you happy."


Recently a male student told me he was gay. I shuddered.

"That sucks," I said laughing, maybe a little too hard. Or maybe not. Maybe not hard enough.

He said, "I heard that's what you'd say."


As a gay male teacher, I'm always walking a difficult line. In a workshop I taught, some women always believed that I was siding with the heterosexual men--there I was, according to them, getting off on masculinist impulses. On the other side, some of the heterosexual men told me that I seemed to be promoting a feminist agenda, too concerned about the representation of men.

The gay men never accused me of anything, even when I asked. They seemed not to have anything to say about the matter.


  1. Sometimes I find it uncanny how important gender roles and gender identity are in heterosexual culture. Like, do you ever notice that when there's a commercial on TV for a cleaning product, the commercials only have women in them? How fucked up is that?

    I get what you mean about feeling uncomfortable about the books on your syllabus. When I just taught my long poems/sequences workshop, almost all the male poets were gay. In fact, I think they all were.

    But on the other hand, so what? I bet my straight workshop students are spending all of their self-directed reading time reading books by heterosexual authors. And the work on my syllabus was so great. If I can share good work by a gay writer with a straight person who'd otherwise overlook it, I say that's awesome.

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