Protests, Oral Sex, Coming Out, Being “Kinda” Gay and Compassion. Wow. What Just Happened?

Wow. Never before and perhaps never again.

Let me explain.

I really like to keep all my classes organic -with a point. I want the point to be made- yet keep open all the infinite ways the means by which it may be made. Typically the weirder the better, as I find students remember concepts much more vividly.

Be careful when you get what you want.

The class began rather normally and I did not see what was coming. Not a clue. In my traditional courses -as opposed to my hybrid/online course where there is very limited room for flexibility- we have opportunity to meander and “Golden Snake” quite a bit, particularly on days like this one when we are in between delivering speeches.

In general, the climate of this class is normally subdued and mellow. Not a quiet class, yet not a loud class either. Some students in the 18 member group have never talked at all…with these students I am the speech dentist, attempting to extract thoughts from their brains as painlessly as possible.

Not today. No need.

I began the 3 hour course with a lecture/discussion on the positives and negatives of the use of public protest as a means of political action. Such a lecture is quite relevant for a public speaking course as said protests carry a form of public speaking, not to mention the political process is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind at the moment.

I suppose it was not surprising that the discussion began to get heated. Going against my natural wiring, I did not assert my thoughts and opinions very much…there was no need as the class was providing the required fodder for spirited debate and discussion. I had the pleasure of acting as more moderator than instigator, clarifier over invigorator, and referee not player.

As the class purged their opinions on the current political climate and protests specifically, the discussion took a turn in the direction of LGBTQ when a normally quiet student, a 19 year-old lesbian (we had no idea until that moment) declared she was recently kicked out of her house by her conservative father upon revealing she was homosexual.

We discussed. We opined. We pondered. We empathized. We cared.

Then the strangest thing happened. An older and much more vocal student, who dropped hints during the semester of his religious affiliations and somewhat eccentric nature, informed the class he was a homosexual for a few years and really enjoyed oral sex with men during that period…yet he is straight and married now.

What. The. Fuck.

Did Captain Inappropriate just strike or what?

Aside from the obvious general bewilderment as to why one would even offer up that information to an entire class…how does a person turn gay and then straight again? Did he just really say that? Why?

This then sparked a conversation about being “kinda gay” and the spectrum of sexuality.

Perhaps it was just me that was bewildered concerning this seemingly out-of-place and strange comment- but then the floodgates opened. Another rather quiet student in the back of the class opened up about how she was sexually assaulted within the past year and her parents instructed her to not talk about it or tell anyone. She began crying…and crying…and crying.

This student was not a drama queen. Conversely, she is a stoic, tough, and strong young lady.  As she broke down, she confessed that this behavior was all an act as she DOES care what people think, she IS hurt and that her strained relationship with her mother is killing her inside. She recently signed up for the military -to escape- and is not telling her mother until the day she leaves.

We listened. And as the class gently responded to her, the tones of their voices drenched with empathy and love, I realized one can be untruthful with words, yet tones do not lie. This was real.

Then an older student, the class matriarch if you will, who came over from the Sudan 14 years ago, got up out of her seat and walked over to her just to hold her in her arms, as if perfectly scripted and brilliantly blocked out. And yes, the poetry of a woman from a “banned” country being the source of unity and love did not escape me.

The class was silent. Yet even the most silent of students would gingerly chime in a comment…comments that were poignant, soothing, and well, brilliant, as if something beyond the totality of the present individuals were guiding their tongues and caressing their minds.

The open confessions kept coming. A man opened up concerning his 16 year-old daughter who was recently stalked by an older man and was attempting to arrange an illicit affair with her; a young man, who just moments earlier was defending the recent Berkeley protestors and was visibly distraught, confessed he was bisexual while suffering from anxiety and depression on a daily basis…and could NEVER tell his parents for fear they would disown him.

It seemed everyone’s personality changed to accommodate this powerful dynamic that was taking place: The loud were quiet, the quiet just loud enough, and the apathetic empathetic.

I manufactured nothing. It was as if I jumped on this train and went along for the ride.

It was the most powerful 3 hours in my nearly 30 years of teaching.

We all were looking at each other with the facial expression suggesting, “What is happening right now?”

This was so much more than a “hippie dippie” Kumbaya moment. It was the kind of moment people pay hundreds of dollars per hour to a therapist to achieve.

Then the father of the 16 year-old suggested that perhaps this 3 hour lecture went full circle. As we began the day discussing the MACRO benefits and costs of a protest, we now realize the point of any protest must eventually benefit the MICRO of each of our lives.

If a macro protest is not undertaken with the ultimate objective to enrich what really matters in all our lives, for all people, for all countries -family, friends, love, trust, support, ie, the micro, it might just be a misguided protest.

A class that was divided minutes earlier came together and unified as our attention focused on what really matters, no matter our political associations or beliefs.

The class ended and the students slowly began filing out the door, changed to be sure, realizing something very special had just taken place.

I like to keep my lectures organic -with a point. And, on some days, the point is even made for me.

jimmysintension

18 Comments

  1. Wow! Excellent story i got goosebumps just reading it. I felt almost like I was in the moment and I’m sure those students will never forget that class session.

  2. Great post! I’m trying so hard to find things to argue with on your blog posts, and I mean this in the least brown-nosing way possible, but it’s really difficult!

  3. This experience is a testament to you, to your students, and to the human spirit (when we are able to find even a tiny crack between the protective layers). So inspirational!!

    • Thanks Dalia…I am a bit uncomfortable with so many complimenting ME when that was not the purpose of the blog at all. My style is my style and it certainly does not work for everyone. I tell my classes all the time that if I had me as the 53 1/2 year-old professor when I was 19, I would have dropped the course. We all were just so fortunate that for one class everything clicked…I just wonder how many times my style has gotten in the way of classes potentially clicking before in the past and not. The good news is that when it works and students gravitate towards it, it REALLY works. But certainly not always and in every case. Thank you Dalia! I am betting you are delighted with the Trump/Netanyahu this morning!

  4. Thank you for being such a non-judgemental teacher so that students want to open up and feel safe doing so. This was important, thanks for sharing the moment. You do great things, professor.

  5. Don’t forget about him being a former witch as well Jimmy! I won’t forget that class period and I won’t soon forget you as a teacher Jim, the pleasure is all mine. See you on thrusday! 🙂

  6. It’s true that the “Protest-on-the-Macro” discussion evoked internal private protests. It’s actually a beautiful expression of the interrelatedness of micro/macro. So profound. And those moments are indeed sacred–can’t say I’ve ever had one in a group setting. How unforgettable. Thank you for writing about it …

  7. This was a beautiful story than sent chills through my whole body. What an amazing experience for you self and all the students, that I’m sure will be an unforgettable moment for all of you. It’s neat that you’re able to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and being open about personal experiences.

  8. Hey Jimmy after reading this and hearing about in class I thought more about it and felt while I have no issue with the topics being discussed in a lecture like that or personal stories shared I feel not so many people would be open to this type of lecture in class. I really feel like this worked well in this class because you had the right students who could conduct a lecture like this but it is debatable to say this could happen in everyone of your classes. I would like to think everyone would be able to have these type of moments in class because I really feel this is where a student can learn the most about not just education but life.

  9. Those are those moments that you won’t ever forget, It must of listed so much weight off of some of there chest’s to reveal there true sexuality. WOW to the once gay now I’m married with two kids. Say what? My first step dad was living a double life. He was cheating on my mom with men for eighteen years, She found out it was shaking to her. I always knew he was gay. All tell, tell sings were there. I was just angry that you lied to me my whole life and used us as a cover for your secret life. Crazy huh? I guess we all have stories. Oh and he just stopped talking to me one day. How can you be someones dad for over 20 years and then just cut me off? He’s so emotionally unavailable! Coward if you ask me! I even named my oldest son after him. His middle name is my step dads first name. He still see’s my son and is his grandpa to my first son but not my second son. I guess he never really loved us. Life happens! I can relate!

  10. I don’t disagree with this post or anything about it. I find it very interesting that everyone in your class came out during class. A lot of people talk about how hard it is to do such a thing. Yet everyone in your class felt comfortable enough and felt like your classroom was a safe environment. I have always felt that your class is always a safe area where people can really be themselves and express things they couldn’t to other people. When i first came to your class i was very closed minded. I didn’t really know much about the world and how people felt towards certain things. I’m happy to say your class has helped me be more understanding about different issues around me. I find it really intriguing that the girl from Sudan was the only one to go over and give her a hug. It goes to show that we are all going through something and sometimes the stuff you talk about in your class helps us relate in one way or another. Thanks for having a safe zone in your classroom. It really helps people open up. And it also helps closed minded people like me to learn a lot more about others.

  11. That was a Very expressive and interesting letter. You know I find because it’s “2017” the idea that people feel this perception should no longer exist is straight bull. I see nothing wrong with the student feeling this way. People take a stance for and against other positions so why should the subject of being part of the LGBT community have to be handled with white gloves. No different then a parent not being accepting of their child’s rocker boyfriend.

  12. It is brave of them to come out and express themselves. As for me I keep things to myself I hold everything in and I think that’s why I have so much anger and frustration. I wish all these people the best. And I glad I got to read this blog because it changes my way of thinking. People have many challenging situations and all we see is the face not what’s truly inside because we judge based of appearances like first time ever seeing or meeting them. This showed me something I can change in myself. Be more compassionate more understanding and open and not to be afraid to speak out. I am taking public speaking this summer. I hope this helps me because I am very shy and have a hard time talking infront of people.

    • Thank you Andrea. Your point is very well taken. We never know one’s full story yet often act as if we do. So many of have our demons in the closet that I really try to cut people slack when they portray undesireable behaviors. You will do GREAT in public speaking! It is going to be a blast. 🙂

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