Note: Parts of this post have been substantially altered since it’s original publication — my continued thinking on this topic ultimately led to a different conclusion and an epiphany.

As the faculty advisor for Open Doors, OU’s undergraduate GLBTAQQT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, ally, queer, questioning, and two-spirited) student union, I attend a couple of the group’s weekly meetings each quarter. Let me say up front that it’s always kind of weird being there: Here I am a 36-year-old professor sitting in a room of mostly 19- and 20-year-old undergraduates — we don’t have a lot in common. Add to that my general shyness and social awkwardness, and we have a generally weird situation. Just to put things in the proper perspective: at least technically, I’m old enough to be most of these undergrads’ father.

So, as I was saying, it’s always a little weird for me to be sitting there mostly listening to their conversations. My weirdest experience was last quarter. Each meeting is divided into announcements and then a discussion; one particular discussion involved a somewhat humorous conversation among the undergraduates about “relationships,” which quickly devolved into a series of sexual revelations: one student talked all about only being a top, another talked about only being a bottom, etc. The more explicit their conversation became, the less comfortable I felt being there, especially since I think the ones saying these things seem so naive and inexperienced. Like most people in their early twenties, they talk as if they’re adults, but I’m increasingly convinced that true adulthood doesn’t start until you’re in your forties (or maybe even later — I’ll let you know when I get there).

Partly, my sense of the weirdness comes from my fear that they’re all wondering who I am sitting there listening to them. While I certainly enjoy the gossipy qualities of the meetings — and I do cyberstalk my favorite former students on facebook (generally with their knowledge and permission) — I worry that in the Open Doors meetings I will come across as some sort of voyeur, which is not at all how I feel while I’m there. Mostly, I’m thankful for my age, experience, and (just to sound completely old) wisdom. I really don’t see how older men can find twinks sustainably attractive. (Not that there’s anything wrong with twinks — we were all twinks before we got old and married!)

The meetings begin with an ice breaker question. Tonight’s question was, what would your superhero name be and what superhero power would you have if you could have one? As usual, I had no idea what to say. If I say anything that could even remotely be turned into a sexual thing, I’ll end up embarrassed and full of all the fears mentioned above. If I say something totally boring, I look like an old professor and therefore evoke all of the fears mentioned above. It’s a can’t win situation in my mind. So, imagine my horror when the most precocious of the undergrads (who’s never had a class with me, btw) turns to me and says that he knows what my superpower would be: the ability to be invisible and walk through walls so that I could spy on my students; my name, he declares, would be “The Voyeur!”

Mostly, I think this is funny. But I also can’t help but see it as confirmation of all of my worst fears about how they perceive me. Late last school year, the kids talked me into going out with some of them for drinks after one of the meetings. I was subsequently horrified that one of them actually seemed to think (or liked pretending to look like he actually thought) that I, as an older professor — he made that part explicit — would be interested in him and would be sooooo excited if he flirted with me and two of them simply assumed that I was single and desperately lonely and therefore needed their company. (I just want to point out: they asked me to go out with them, not the other way around!)

Overall, they’re sweet kids, and I’m happy that I can be any sort of role model for them. I didn’t have out faculty mentors when I was their age, and if I can be any sort of help to them I’m happy to do it. If I could adopt them, I would — or at least most of them. But everything they say about youth is true — it’s totally wasted on the young!

I’m also struck, however, by how narcissistic my responses to being at the meetings is — I spend almost the entire time thinking about myself, how I’m being perceived, and how I should behave. After I started my blog, one of my friends, James, asked, “Isn’t it narcissistic to think anyone but your closest friends are going to want to read it?” (He also intimated that even my closest friends might not find it all that interesting!) So, I realize now that I can’t possibly be a voyeur — I’m too narcissistic to be concerned with what the gay kids are doing! (I’m soooo relieved to discover this!)

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