04 May 2011

Avoiding the "G" Word

On my second job, I find myself avoiding the "g" word.  If you've been reading this blog, you know which one I mean:  gender.  

It's not that anyone there would be offended.  At least, I don't anyone would.  I've simply made it a point--at least to myself--not to talk about my identity, or the life I lived as male.  I simply didn't want to be known only for that or, worse, to have people encourage me to talk about it and have the same people use it, and the fact that I talked about it, against me.  Finally, I got tired of people trying to push me into doing another degree--in gender studies, a field most of them don't actually respect.

But it's getting harder not to talk about those things when I'm teaching.  When reading Othello, as my class at that college is doing now, the discussion always seems to get to the "g" word.  And I'm not the one who brings it up.

I guess students, particularly the younger ones, are accustomed to thinking about it.  They've probably had teachers and other professors who've taught them various subject from a women's, gay or gender studies point of view.  Plus, they all know they have gay friends, relatives and co-workers.  Some of them might even know trans people.   Certainly they know we exist, and some of them have even have see us without the blinders of the stereotypes that shaped the views of people from my generation, and earlier ones.

But I find now that I can say so much more about gender, and how gender roles and expectations shape the way we live and the things we read.  One student asked, "Professor, do you think this is a man's world?"  I could only tell her that she needs to answer that question for herself.  Then there is another student who continues to bring up the idea that Iago was not really trying to wrest Desdemona from Othello; instead, he really wanted Othello.  I don't disagree with that idea, but I try not to talk about it because there are just too many things I could say and that student, and others, would--rightly--want to know why I think what I think.  

Now, I don't think of myself as a transgender first and foremost. But I can't deny that it's shaped, wholly or in part, my views about many things.  There are times when I'm tempted to mention it, simply because it would make explaining some things easier.  But then I wouldn't be explaining those things anymore; I'd be talking about my past and my identity and answering all of those questions we get when people realize who we are.  

Sooner or later, I will tell my students.  Or I will stop teaching anything that might lead to a discussion about gender. That would include, oh, about 95 percent of the plays, poems and stories I've ever taught.  And it would probably include about 90 percent of literature.

Of course, if I follow that second course of action--censoring what I teach--I would eventually stop teaching, in fact or in effect.  

At times like this, I wish that I'd been a math whiz or a technical person.  A surprising number of male-to-female transgenders are engineers.  Why couldn't I have been one of them? I mean, how does gender come up when designing a circuit or writing code?


Sophie said...

Your situation, your decision.
My perspective is from a couple of years transition when I've averaged about 3 hours conversation a day about gender, transition,etc., usually 1-3 people at a time.
It's been valuable not simply because of the support it's provided but because the depth of sharing in those talks has helped me feel some worth. I do feel our gender journeys, however near or far or differently constituted, do give rare and useful perspectives.
A small private group looking at gender perspectives on...might be an alternative to any class/teacher dynamics thing. Maybe to help you try and evolve a school of trans lit crit - after all there is trans fiction already ;-)

Justine Valinotti said...

Sophie, I don't actually dislike talking to groups (preferably small) about what it means to be trans, or issues related to it. I just don't want to be pigeonholed, as I have been. Also, I am more careful now because some of the very people who encouraged me to talk about my identity and background are the very same people who've used them against me.

But I think your idea about small groups is definitely worth looking at. In fact, I think I would enjoy doing something like that.

Trans lit crit...Omigoddess. I never wanted to be a critic. Somehow, though, I get the feeling there are already trans lit critics out there. Or there may be critics who are trans and we don't know it! ;-)