I’ve been teaching two classes during our second summer session. One is a junior-level literature course on women and literature, the other a junior-level writing course on women and writing. We’ve just finished the fourth week of the session and have one more to do. I keep swearing to anyone who will listen that this has to be my last summer of teaching. It’s exhausting, which makes me cranky, and it’s keeping me from writing (both my scholarship and my blog).

The money’s pretty good, but I’m increasingly convinced that it’s just not worth it. I have career ambitions that aren’t ever going to happen until I get a second book finished. And my second book isn’t going to write itself. Plus, I’ve been doing a little work on an article when I steal a minute or two between classes and fits of exhaustion, and I’m definitely feeling some resentment that my teaching isn’t letting me get it done (which is obviously a bad thing to feel). So, I’m not planning on teaching next summer. Instead, I’m planning to write (and maybe visit the Alps).

But in the meantime, I’m teaching two classes. The writing course has been focused on women’s autobiographical writing. We started with Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and discussed whether we thought that it counted as an autobiography. We then read Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which is an autobiography and connects back to the issues of slavery and race that Behn raises. Our third book was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

We spent one day on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “White Glasses,” an essay that I absolutely love. In the right context (i.e., not near the end of a summer session), it’s a joy to teach. It’s an amazing piece of writing, in my opinion. And now we’re doing Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

I was a little hesitant to teach Fun Home in this class. Of course one never knows for sure, but I assume that all of my students are straight. They’re also not English majors and may not even be particularly interested in reading great literature, which Fun Home is. So, I was worried about how they would respond.

I’m pleased that so far; they’re doing quite well with it. We’ve had two days of discussion on it. I was especially pleased when one of my (very perceptive) students pointed out that Bechdel’s parents are never drawn with wedding rings on. She wanted to know what was up with this, so we threw out some possibilities. Another student pointed out that the family members always look angry in the family portraits Bechdel includes in the book. So, I’ve been very happy with their ability to analyze the images and to pay attention to the ways in which Bechdel is portraying her story in images and words.

Today, we discussed the middle third of the book, which covers some of her father’s sexual liaisons with teenaged boys and her own growing awareness of homosexuality — her own and that of others around her. When I taught this book in my Lesbian and Gay Lit course in the spring, we talked about a section in which Bechdel refers to her father as a “sissy” and a “pansy.” In that class, my students immediately felt the slap in the face that those words can convey, and we talked about why she uses them.

So, I thought we would have a similar conversation in class today. But of course these students are quote different from the students in my GLBT lit class (though one student from that class is taking this class with me too). It really struck my how different they are when we got to this discussion. For them, words like “sissy” and “pansy” are obviously gay epithets, but they don’t automatically feel the slap that they sometimes convey to “us.” I also wondered, but didn’t ask, how often any of them had used such words. Maybe I should have pushed it further, but didn’t. She follows this section with her memories of the first lesbian she recalls seeing as a girl. Many of my GLBT lit students can identify with this episode — we too remember seeing someone “like us” as children and feeling reassured by it.

As we moved on to discuss Bechdel’s mentioning of the Stonewall Riots, Christopher Street, and 1960s and 70s New York City, I further felt the differences between classes. I usually have to explain what all of these were to my GLBT class, but most of those students (at least this past spring) had a personal interest in the explanation — “we” have a history; “our” lives haven’t always been just like they are now. My W&W students don’t have this same connection, so I might as well have been telling them about any other historical event. Plus, I became a little paranoid — for the first time in years — about my own position in the classroom. I don’t mean in a physical way. Rather, I mean whether I was coming across as an advocate rather than as a teacher. I read the looks on some of my students’ faces as their feeling awkward about talking about Stonewall (which I guess is kind of weird for them to feel), and I started to wonder if they saw me as somehow trying to recruit or evangelize or something.

I have no real reason to think this way, but I did start to wonder nevertheless. This isn’t a class I’ve ever taught before, and today I suddenly felt the awkwardness of being outside of my comfort zones — the classes I normally teach: eighteenth-century lit, drama, women & lit, queer lit. Ultimately, I felt that his was a good thing and hope that I get the opportunity to move outside that comfort zone again soon. I think it’s good for professors to have to reexamine what they’re teaching and how they’re teaching it. It’s good for us to get uncomfortable every once and a while.

As long as it’s not in summer again — at least for me!

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