13 May 2009

The End of a Class or the Beginning of a New Stage?

Today it was good-bye to the Poetics and Rhetoric of Hip-Hop class. I'm really going to miss the students in that one. Some are graduating; I may see some of them or the others again. Still, I was about to cry at the end of it.

Students paid tributes to me, which I wasn't expecting. They said that they never knew hip-hop could be so closely related to classical English poetry and that they never knew how poems or songs work until I explained stresses in poetic lines, and their similarities to beats in music. They also said that I was one of the most inspiring teachers and unpretentious people they'd ever met.

The odd thing is that I didn't see it as another "nail" in the coffin of my current life. Instead, I started to feel as if that class was an early step in my new life. I was teaching my own ideas in my own way; I'd never quite done anything like it before.

What's really interesting to me, though, is that in spite of the fact that all but two of the twenty-seven students in that class were black (Caribbean, American or African) and the other two were Hispanic, I never was conscious of my whiteness. You might say that I stepped out of race, or at least my own race, for a couple of hours every week.

If that sounds like an escape, well, it is--from stereotypes and other kinds of misguided expectations. In other words, it's an escape from a kind of willow prison: one that is easier to bend but just as difficult to break as one made of concrete or stone. In some way, I felt as if it were part of my process of transition from life in one gender to living in another.

And from the time I started this transition, I realized that it was, in many ways, a new stage of my recovery. It took me fifteen years of living clean and sober--and as much depression and, at times, much more anger and pain than I experienced when I was abusing alcohol and drugs--to arrive at the point at which I could start my gender transition. Now I sense that teaching the hip-hop class--or, more precisely, the students in it--has begun yet another stage in my recovery: my recovery of my self, my essence.

Maybe my essence is no more beautiful than my body. (That's saying something!) But, deep down, I really would rather relate to people (and animals, or certain ones, anyway) through love than by other means. I really would rather trust people than to deal with them with suspicion. Actually, Cady Ann, my department's secretary commented on that. She told me that she warned a student from another class not to mistake my kindness for weakness or stupidity. I know that people cheat and do all sorts of unethical and simply unsavory things. But no-one ever has a chance to become trustworthy unless someone trusts him or her. Of course, there is always the risk of having that trust betrayed. Still, some people violate rules, laws and other people even when they are constantly under surveillance and the threat of punishment.

Now, I know what you're asking yourself. And I'll answer it: I caught plagiarism in one student's final paper. When I pointed out to him, he looked abashed. He even apologized for "letting [me] down."

If that's the worst thing that happened in that class, I'm pretty damned lucky. Or something.