THowMhga Daid sapebru taught4,etbegay(sot2of)By
How David Halperin taught me to be gay (sort of) B~fryB,
ou were in class. I was at a party.
Don't get me wrong. English Prof.
David Halperin has many lessons. The
man behind the University's "How to Be Gay:
Male Homosexuality and Initiation" course
that sent conservative regents into a furor when
first offered in 2000 (and for years thereafter),
Halperin is an accomplished scholar, and the
merits of his employment are not in question.
He's brilliant, and he'd be the first to tell you.
Yet when I first registered for his "Queer
Fictions of the Past" course last fall, I knew
I was in for more than a bunch of books about
Oscar Wilde and AIDS. I was OK with that.
This was the man who inspired state legisla-
tors to propose a bill that would scrutinize
higher education funding because they didn't
want a public university "promoting" homo-
sexuality. There had to be something there.
I entered the class the first day under the
reasonable assumption that Halperin's cours-
es were not intended to be a threat to the
regents' children or an affront to taxpayers.
The last day, I left thinking they were both.
Let me explain. Walking into that third-
floor room in Angell Hall was one of the
strangestexperiences I've had at the Universi-
ty. Designed to hold 40 students, the class had
only, about 15 registered, mostly good-look-
ing men who all seemed to know each other.
(As it turned out, they did: A fellow classmate
later told me that half the guys in the class had
already hooked up.)
Everyone also seemed to know Halperin,
which struck me as strange, but later made
perfect sense. Most of them were return stu-
dents or kids from other majors who were
there because of the professor's reputation.
Ten minutes into the class, Halperin apolo-
gized for the section's meeting so early on Fri-
day morning. "I'm working on it," he told us.
"I know it's not a very gay hour."
That pretty much set the tone for the entire
semester. Every comment like that got the
requisite laughter but also some uneasy looks.
The only straight people in the room were a
few doe-eyed female English majors, most of
whom dropped the first week. On the first day,
a freshman girl admitted she took the class
because she went to a private high school and
wanted to take the "least conservative" class
she could find.
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or be offend-
ed, but people kept talking like that. Usually
first-day icebreakers are all stilted conversa-
tion about John from West Bloomfield who's a
sophomore and an econ major and an Aquar-
ius. The first day here people were speaking
more freely than most do in the 16th week.
Maybe it was because there were so few
of us, but I don't think so. The classroom was
permissive and expectant. It was like we were
in a different place altogether. There was a
sense of collectivism, and that's exactly the
way Halperin would have it.
Every time I went to class after that - and
before long it was the only class I went to - I
looked at the people across the hall, thinking
how different an experience I was having. It
wasn't the coursework, which was fine, but
the atmosphere, the conversation. Every so
often David would often talk about his past
and tell stories, and everyone would just lis-
ten, like they were somewhere else entirely.
And I'm serious when I say the class was
an event. There were actual parties, though I
never went to them, but I'm not talking about
those. One minute we'd be deciphering old
police documents, the next the conversation
would swerve all over the place. For a while,
the class seemed incredibly intimate.
I couldn't believe it. I was pretty sure David
Halperin was teaching me how to be gay.
Now before you write your congressman,
let's back up a second. The fate of my sexuality
was sealed long before I met David Halperin.
What struck me about his class was how he
taught it as not only an intellectual but a moral
imperative. He knew the syllabus inside out,
and he taught it with due attention. But for my
money, that's not why he was there.
He was there because he knew the objec-
tions to his classes could never be substanti-
ated. He was there because he knew there
were some students who needed a different
perspective. He was there because of us.
And that's where the regents really should
fear him. Halperin doesn't teach his students
how to be gay - even he doesn't have the ego
to stake that claim - but he is a maverick social
critic, and that's what's so dangerous about
him. I suspect "How to Be Gay" was meant to
spark exactly the reaction it did, but that's only
because Halperin is a smart and amusing man.
He knows it's only a matter oftime before those
objections collapse on themselves.
When we left for Thanksgiving, Break Hal-
perin assigned "Edward II," which he figured
was esoteric enough for us to read in the com-
pany of our parents. That weekend, a class-
mate sent as an e-mail suggesting that while
we sat around the dinner table at home, we
imagine what it'd be like to watch a Halperin-
picked movie with our families. "Keep your
sense of humor," he wrote.
I did, and I laughed, but not because he was
- Jeffrey Bloomer is an LSA junior and the
managing editor of The Michigan Daily.
Back to byte you
In the Internet age, a digital camera in a dorm room could
end your political career before it even begins.