04 March 2009

My Course, A Real Education As Justine

One of my students in the Poetics and Rhetoric of Hip-Hop class I'm teaching is writing a feature for the college newspaper. It happens that a history professor, George White, is teaching a course on the history of hip-hop. They are the first two courses in hip-hop to be offered at the college. That is the subject of the article my student wants to write.

She asked, among other things, how this course differs from the others I've taught. Well, it's an elective, so nobody's forced to be in it. And I have more freedom in my choices of materials, assignments and such than I have, say, in a composition course.

But the real difference, I said, is that in that class, I'm teaching from my heart. When I teach about poetry, I am sharing the essence of what I am. And in linking it with hip-hop, I hope that I am offering my students an opportunity I had: My interest in poetry developed from the music--or, more precisely, the lyrics--I grew up with. Among them are songs by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell and, later on, Bob Marley.

There was something else I couldn't explain at that moment. It really is the first time I am teaching a course as Justine. That, I think, is the reason I freaked out just before the semester started: I never expected to have a class that I designed and that I would teach in my way. I submitted the proposal for it, thinking it would be rejected or that someone else would teach the course. Plus, it seemed almost ludicrous that I, a white middle-aged transgender woman, would be teaching about hip-hop in a college in which 80 percent of the students are black.

But my race, gender identity or the fact that I didn't grow up with hip-hop hasn't been a factor. In fact, I've joked about all of those things. And the students tell me that they enjoy the class all the more for it. And, somehow, I think that if I were still living as Nick, the heterosexual guy, I never would have taught that class. Truth is, acually, that I couldn't have.

I'm not quite sure of why I think that, but I feel certain about it. Nick had the intelligence I have (for better or worse) and the education I inherited. But I also inherited his fear of becoming a scholar or critic, or some other such thing. They were failures as artists and at life, or so I believed, and that is what I didn't want to be.

But one prof, who's a playwright, advised me not to worry. You'll always have your own writing, he said, and what I'm doing with that class should help me, because it's creative, too. After all, he explained, it takes a creative spirit to bring together the sorts of works I'm joining.

So where did all that fear come from? Well, I guess I was still fighting a part of myslef. I stopped the war that I'd been carrying on with myself when I started my transition to Justine-hood. But I still do battle with smaller issues. I guess if you're used to fighting, you look for conflicts, however small. I really don't need to do that anymore, but that doesn't stop me.

Maybe that's the reason why I couldn't have created or taught such a course while I was still living as Nick. Making the change has, bit by bit, freed my mind--and most important, my spirit. And now I know that the course--or, for that matter, a real education, to the degree that I'm capable of getting or giving it--is not only an intellectual expereince: It is spiritual, if not in the religious sense.

Well, all I can do now is thank Nick for providing me with some of the tools and skills I need to do that sort of work.

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