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Op Ed: That's Professor Faggot to You

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That's Professor Faggot to You

by John Corvino

I?m back in the classroom after an eight-month sabbatical. It?s good to be teaching again.

I love teaching. I?m a philosophy professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Mostly, I teach ethics, including a large Contemporary Moral Issues class. It?s fun ?selling? philosophy to undergraduates who take my class just to fulfill a requirement. (Wayne State calls the requirement ?ethical exposures,? a phrase that makes me think of wardrobe malfunctions.)

Some years ago, on an end-of-semester evaluation, a student called me a ?faget.? I?m not sure which disturbed me more ? his homophobia or his abysmal spelling. (?Faget? almost looks French, like it should rhyme with ?beret? or ?toupee?: ?Professor Corvino is a faZHAY.? Ooh la la.)

I?ve been openly gay since my earliest semesters of teaching. I don?t put it on the syllabus or anything. But like my straight colleagues, I sometimes illustrate points by making reference to my significant other, and I don?t change the pronouns. Besides, nowadays students will often google a professor?s name, and when they google mine the screen goes lavender. There?s no getting around it: I?m the Gay Moralist.

What this means, whether I like it or not, is that I?m a ?role model? for gay students and their allies, and a curiosity (at best) or a deviant (at worst) for the others. It?s a somewhat uncomfortable position, but since the alternatives are either going back into the closet or finding another job, I work with it.

Like most professors, I have pet-peeves in the classroom. Here are a few. None of them is related to my being gay, but hear me out for a moment:

Bluetooth earpieces make stupid fashion accessories. Unless you are planning to take a call during my class, you have no business wearing one in the lecture hall. Ditto for tracksuits, which are, as the name implies, for the track.

E-mail may be informal by nature, but that doesn?t mean you ought to be dumb about it. If my class is full and you want an override, sending me an e-mail rife with grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors won?t make me jump at the chance to work with you.

Speaking of e-mail: now that you?re in college, it?s time to get a grown-up e-mail address. I don?t need to think of you as ?cutiepie@domain.com.?

As I said, none of these pet-peeves is linked to being gay. They involve lessons that all students would do well to learn. (Potential employers don?t want to think of you as cutiepie@domain.com, either.) But whenever I scold offenders, I worry about coming across as a prissy queen. Being a curmudgeon is fine, but being a prissy queen scares me.

Is this fear internalized homophobia? Maybe. Or maybe it?s acute awareness of my ?role-model? status. For many students, I?m ?the gay guy.? I?m the faZHAY. And so when I mentally critique my classroom performance, I find myself asking ?What message about gay people will students draw from me??

The concern is not unlike that of female professors ? or for that matter, businesswomen or presidential candidates ? who have to navigate the line between ?tough? and ?bitch.? It?s an unfair double standard, but that doesn?t mean it?s irrelevant.

A teacher?s effectiveness depends in part on audience reaction. (In this respect teaching is like many other professions: think of salesmen, actors, or writers.) When personal characteristics get in an audience?s way ? in this case, by distracting from learning ? they become relevant to job performance. It doesn?t matter whether we?re talking about gender, or sexual orientation, or race, or having a thick accent or a squeaky voice. It doesn?t matter whether the characteristics are innate or acquired, or whether they?re mutable or fixed. What matters is whether they affect getting the job done. Sexual orientation sometimes does.

My worries about ?prissy queendom? may be a personal quirk, but my concerns about how my gayness affects my students? learning are part of my job. I?d be remiss if I didn?t think about it.

I would not for a moment suggest that the answer is for gay professors to remain closeted. I don?t ? and even if I plausibly could, I wouldn?t. I say this not merely because the closet is dehumanizing. Being closeted would ultimately make me a less effective teacher. Part of being a good philosophy professor is challenging people to examine their presuppositions, and part of being a good teacher of any sort is moving students beyond their current boundaries. Besides, the closet has a way of undermining credibility, even when unsuspected, which it seldom is.

The bottom line is that the challenges faced in reaching students ? including homophobia ? can be opportunities rather than obstacles. Except for those damn earpieces. I hate those.

?365Gay.com 2008

http://www.365gay.com/opinion/corvino/corvino.htm

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John Corvino is a writer, speaker, and philosophy professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. His column ?The Gay Moralist? appears bi-weekly at 365gay.com.

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Being in school right now I can say with fair confidence that very few students care about his sexuality and more about his teaching style and course material. They may make comments on it, but I highly doubt they judge him by his sexuality. Maybe he should focus more on being the best professor he can and everything else will fall into place. Sometimes I think we are our own worse oppressors...

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I read it that he IS focussing on being the best professor that he can be, and only noticed that the odd time he'll think about the orientation as a factor in how some student might listen to what he's saying.

It kinda makes me laugh: there's no need to even write differing opinions, we can read the same article and read different things into it. :confused::wav: :wav:

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I read it that he IS focussing on being the best professor that he can be, and only noticed that the odd time he'll think about the orientation as a factor in how some student might listen to what he's saying.

It kinda makes me laugh: there's no need to even write differing opinions, we can read the same article and read different things into it. :wav: :wav: :wav:

This is very true. You may be able to take something completely different from the story than I am. Doesn't make either or us wrong though.

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