Friday, October 21, 2005

Teaching the Margins

I started teaching the gay lit section of my diverse cultures class today. It went surprisingly well -- surprisingly, since I have been having tiny rumbles of rebellion since I put out the syllabus and the students found out that, along with Asian and Jewish cultures, they would have to read the literatures of Gay and Feminist cultures. (Ack! Not that!)

So I went in today with a fiery lecture about why, exactly, one needed to study and read gay literature: what exactly was interesting and important about gay literature/queer theory: why queer matters. Including side forays into the junctures of how porn is politics and putting sex on the page is a political act.

Forgot this was the day my chair was observing my class, incidentally.

I talked to them, I kid you not, about margins: I held up the page and I showed them how the print was in the center of the page. I asked them who was in the center of the page. Then I asked them who was in the margin. This metaphor -- no, I am not joking -- knocked them out.

I said, WASPs will let the gay guys live in the margins, they'll let the Hispanics live in the margins, they'll let the black folk live in the margins, so long as what?

"So long as they don't hold hands in public," said one of my black students. "So long as they act like white guys."

I told them the story one of my colleagues told me, about a woman in her class who complained about having to read a feminist essay: I'm so sick of this feminazi crap, the student said. "In a college classroom, she said this," I said. "Sitting in a college classroom, she said this. Why is that deeply ironic?"

The young woman in the front row got it: "Because feminists got her in that classroom," she said.

"Why would she say that, then?" I asked. "Why would she claim to hate feminists?"

"So everyone will think she's a good woman," said the bad woman in my class, with wicked grin.

"So she can be safe in the center," I agreed. "Because otherwise she's out there on the margin, in't she?"

I told them that's what queer theory is about: the world on the margin, and sex on the margins, and gender on the margins, and identity on the margin. I told them that's what gay literature was talking about -- and in fact, what all literature of diverse culture was talking about, and that's why we were reading gay lit in this class.

This idea seemed to interest them.

Then I talked about why the margins were important -- why they had to exist, why what happened out in them was important, why the literature that was written about them was important, all that. Got into ethics and the creation of the self and choice and all that.

It was a lively class, and the students seemed to be taking right to it. Hope for the Fort yet, I tell you.


jo(e) said...


I love it when students actually get this stuff.

Anonymous said...

delagar, this is great! I've been at such a loss for words when our soccer kids ask about what they're reading in English class. (For the most part, they are enjoying the selections. The selections in both high schools by the way are diverse and quite good.) What I've been telling them is good, but not as good as what you said. They would get it, too. The majority are Hispanic and most immigrated here. One is Sudanese and a Muslim. These kids know all about the margins.

zelda1 said...

Most Hispanics didn't immigrate here, they were here first...well second and then we came and after a while took their land and then after a while sent them across our border and then and then we make them immigrants in their own land. Does anyone not see the fucktardness in that? By the way, I have always hated those linear characters created by the old southern white male writers who had, for instance, in The Barn Burning, Faulkner has one black character and he is wait, wait, yep, you got it a contented servant, during reconstruction. I hated that. He acts like a devoted, wait, yes an unhappy freedman who is happy being a slave and won't leave Masta's plantation. They have to get it, please tell me the students will someday get it and say, we want more. We want developed black characters and hispanics and Native American, and Japanese, and all the other Asians, and gay and female and not just stereotypes or linear or walkons or foils to make the white guy look better. Oh my god, I am going to bed before I start pulling out all of Faulkner's works to reexamine the texts. God I wish I were in your class.

Ol Cranky said...

dang, if you had been an English prof at my school when I was in college, I not only would have enjoyed my Englished classes, I would have taken more!