Saturday, September 30, 2006
Last weekend, gf and I flew to Massachusetts for a gay wedding. I remember getting the first draft of the ceremony on email a week or two before. "Oh no," I told gf, as I gazed in horror at the clauses of a Pablo Neruda poem, something codependent about your hand being my hand and my hand being your hand. "It's so . . . sentimental!"
I also freaked out about the date. A whole weekend spent travelling in the middle of the semester. Flights with two legs each way so we could afford them. A day of missed classes on Friday, and Monday morning missed as well. And what--with my year of overweight unemployment wardrobe--to wear?
"Why, why do gay people have to get married?" I wailed. Why indeed. Weddings are a drag. At my sister's wedding, my mother freaked out and wouldn't let me stay at the house. All the lesbians sat at one table together. None of us felt very comfortable dancing. Weddings seem always to be more for the older people than the people getting married. Weddings are about the fact that you made your parents happy
1. by actually finding someone unwary enough to marry you
2. by giving them the occasion to show their own siblings and cousins that they are not such dysfunctional parents that they can't produce reproducers, and
3. by giving them the chance to look as if they are big spenders.
Now, a gay wedding to go to, for one of my oldest friends. The first gay wedding I'd ever been invited to, and that rarity of rarities besides, a LEGAL one. I'd been asked to co-officiate. Because I don't live in Massachusetts, I couldn't be the "official for a day" that married them, but I could help the official. I could write something sweet to say. Ugh! Now I had to find something to wear AND do wedding homework.
GF and I flew into Providence and were picked up at the airport by friends of my friend. They had an SUV with a navigation system that talked. They had named her Dolly, and we joked about what would happen if Dolly snapped. What if you caught her on a bad day, and she was drunk and maudlin, feeling unappreciated? Would that calm, valium-coated calm crack? What if we took the opposite route from the one she patiently outlined? Would she swear at us, or pout quietly? Would she take her revenge by luring us somewhere completely out of our way?
Not having many friends wealthy or bourgeois enough for SUVs, let alone with navigation systems, GF and I marvelled at Dolly, and the lesbians who used her so callously. We patted the creamy leather seats and laughed at all their jokes. Later that afternoon, we marvelled at the big bed and breakfast on Buzzard's Bay where we had luxurious rooms paid for by my friend, who wanted us to come and knew we couldn't otherwise. You could see the ocean from the windows at the headboard of our king-sized bed. Lesbians with money. How dreamy it felt to be swept into the soft rush of comfort, where material things were mostly taken care of and people were free to focus on their emotions, their friendships, their families. How nice to escape our apartment where bored cats clamored constantly for attention, and the toddler upstairs regularly erupted in a lengthy, head-splitting trot up and down the entire length of the apartment.
GF always seems to look nice, and has a decent wardrobe of teaching clothes and snappy outfits she pulls together on a shoestring. I have one suit and a bunch of polo shirts, but that suit jacket and a brief trip to Dress Barn Woman resulted in some passable ensembles for the dress reheasal dinner and the wedding day itself. The couple who drove us and another couple we knew were staying in the B & B with us. We all drank champagne and chatted in our underwear as we changed for dinner. Suddenly, it was festive.
The dinner was at one of the brides' family house. We all showed up in our suits and drank up their liquor and ate and ate. We made my friend getting married sing Vikki Carr--something she used to love to do 20 years ago. She pretended to protest, then sailed off on "It Must Be Him," accompanied by the rest of us in a rousing chorus. It was a brief, but very welcome camp moment, a female impersonation of female impersonation that offered a respite from the lovely soft normativity of it all. I kept looking around and pinching myself. "It's a gay wedding, " I wanted to say out loud, to the various people I didn't know but tried to chat with. It didn't feel any diffeent from any family event, any wedding I had been to. But it was.
Later that evening, all of us rather drunk, our group sat alone with the brides and talked about relationships. I couldn't believe they were actually going to be able to be legally married in the morning. It felt like something that happened to other people, people on the inside. Not to people you knew well. I found myself looking at them speculatively. I felt like they were different from us, would always be different from us now. They had turned their backs on the sexual revolution, on the "We don't need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true" era of Joni and Janis. They were moving away from the radical sexual politics of the 90s. They were taking vows to be monogamous, to join their stuff together.
They were matter of fact about it, but I wondered whether we would do it too if we could, and how it would feel. I thought about what it feels like to be defined by a lack of options, and tried to imagine the choices I would make if I had them. I gave up because I just couldn't imagine what it would actually feel like. if I could imagine such a thing, would I be a lesbian any more? Or something else?
I became acutely aware of my own guardedness. I am always guarded around straight people--the more normative they are, the more guarded I am. I suppose this is something like the way people of color feel in crowds of white people, though with differences. Some straight people are cooler than others, but few of them get how it feels to be a freak on an everyday basis. Accomodating while being fiercely ourselves is the balancing act of our queer lives. Don't worry, boss, we're really ok EVEN THOUGH we are gay. Don't worry Dad, we won't embarrass you, and you might be surprised how much you like hanging out with us. Don't worry, student of mine, I am your out professor but I really am thinking about World War One poetry right now. It's ok, girl who sits next to me in my law school classes, my body space won't take up too much of yours.
Gay people live like this all the time. We get on a train, and people stare at us, and we pretend not to notice, or care. We get gas in a rural area and leap back into the car as fast as we can. We smile, or don't smile. We try not to seem too comfortable. We rarely say hello to people's children, even when they say hello to us.
At the wedding we were surrounded by lots of heterosexual family, in this case the local family of one of the brides. Family usually means high guardedness mode for me. These were not artists or intellectuals, either, so there were no real bohemian queerish exceptions. They were resolutely normal, married, with kids and houses and jobs. BUT they were there for a lesbian wedding. The secret was not only out of the bag, as it usually is, but it was the subject of the event. The subject.
Can you dig it? That means even the thinnest layer of genteel closet that stubbornly sticks to the social relations around any event not dominated by gay people was GONE. I'm talking about decorum, about social logic, about the truth of relationships. The center was gay, you see. No one could be erased. The species in the center defined other parts of it. We were not aggregate particles, but the main event. And that, my friends, was mind-blowing. That was was made everything lurch slightly out of its normal perspective into something shaded differently. Gay people were not a majority of the attendees by any means. But we were not a minority, or outsiders, because the rules defining us as those things were not possible given the nature of the event.
When the violinist started playing and the flower girls sullenly tossed their petals, I felt like my whole body was being squeezed. My throat closed with emotion. My friend came down the aisle to stand in front of me, escorted by two burly gay men. I blinked back the tears that welled up immediatley with the first strains of music. I looked around, and everyone was blinking back tears. Then her lover came in, and walked down slowly, with a sideways smile. Friends came forward and spoke about the two of them, and about love. I was supposed to speak about evolution in relationships, but having consulted with GF, decided Pater's exhortation to live each moment today was better than talking about measuring a relationship by its pastness. Burn with today, I told them. Let today pulse through you.
Then it was time. We gave them the rings and they said their vows. "Now you will shelter each other," we told the two women getting married that day. "Now you will not feel the rain." Everyone held their breath.
The woman co-officiating with me then tried to say "By the power invested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" but her voice broke at "Commonwealth." Everyone let out a sigh. Sobbing, she squeezed out "I now pronounce you married!" They kissed, and all you could hear was sniffling in the room.
And then, a loud, long cheer.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Property was cancelled today. That meant that my entire section--60 people, or 1/3 of the Class of 2009-- got out of school at 11am instead of 2:45pm. I haven't see such hilarity in years. I actually heard one guy tell his friends he was getting drunk before noon. I don't think he was kidding.
Sometimes the sections are broken into half sections for smaller classes. My half section--A1--went out to lunch together to celebrate our good luck. We sat at long table in an Italian restaurant and ate pasta and chatted.
It felt so nice to actually talk to people. One girl said we should try doing this once a month.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Getting my first paper back is a good occasion to blog about what it feels like to be a student again. I look at the short, loopy cursive messages tracing the borders of my Legal Writing assignment, a "single case analysis" that examines a situation in light of a precedent case, and hypothesizes how that situation should turn out. "Good that you use a direct quotation here!" it applauds on the first page. "Clarify," it commands, elsewhere.
Going to law school is a schizophrenic experience. The first half of the week, I hate it; Thursday and Friday, I like it very much. I find the reading fascinating; I'm not so wild about wandering the halls as a student. I like getting lost in the material; I hate how in order to do it I have to drive away from gf, both of us inevitably in tears.
So my ups and downs have a lot to do with leaving home and getting ready to return; with tough material and material I feel less alienated from, and from the simple material effect of scheduling and endurance issues. Still, I spend a lot of time thinking about being a student across the divide from the teacher. I think about what it means to have the norm be 23 years old, and how that might make some teachers feel as if they are talking to children, or building knowledge up in a person with nothing for a foundation. I suppose I am talking about infantilization, but I am also reaching for something about the powerful effect it can have on students when they feel constructed by their teachers. Constructed as tedious morons, or as remarkable young people, or as an odious task to get out of the way so that research can be done, or as sensitive, lovely thinkers.
How do you think about your students? Do you think they know?
I have Contracts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings from 9 to 9:50, and again Monday afternoon from 4 to 4:50. Property is also on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, from 1:30 to 2:45. When I come back from seeing gf for an all-too-brief weekend, I face a dreary first part of the week. Contracts is taught by a renowned expert in his sixties who flees the room as soon as class is over. Today it was my turn to be called on, and I did the best job I could presenting the case, in which a man read a newspaper ad for mink stoles on sale for a dollar at Abraham and Strauss on a first-come, first-served basis, presented himself, was told the sale was for women only, and sued. I successfully contrasted it to the Nebraska Seed Company case, pointing out that the mink stole advertisement was clear, and for a stipulated item at a specific price and quantity (unlike the Seed Company case, where the company got off the hook when it couldn't fill a customer order because the amount of seed it offered for general sale was not specified). When Professor Contracts asked me what the point of the first-come, first-served stipulation was, I had already answered the question (a specific amount of goods) so I thought he was asking something else, maybe about performance. When I attempted to explain this, (the customer presented himself, which satisfied the requirements for performance on his part) I was told with some disgust that we all knew the definition of first-come, first-served.
Later I asked a question about the wording of an acceptance and whether it constituted a closing of the deal or merely a preliminary negotiation. I asked it to get back on the horse, but it wasn't satisfying, even though he liked the question.
Property is taught by a corporate gal who makes very detailed lecture notes. She is still unsure of herself, though very interesting to listen to, and very smart. It is clear that she wants the class to like her, but she also wants them to be a little afraid of her. I try to volunteer examples in her class, but I think maybe I'm stating the obvious. Her voice always drops, almost to a whisper, when she reluctantly says my last name. She has never been unkind, but she has a way of making me feel like it is probably better just to keep quiet and continue typing my notes. Mostly, I do.
The second part of the week is much better. Torts is Thursday and Friday mornings from 8:30 to 9:45, and Criminal Law is Thursday and Friday afternoons from 1:30 to 2:45. I like both of these classes a lot, mostly because I like the teachers as well as the reading. Torts is taught by a guy with a fabulous flair for absurdly ridiculous hypotheticals that get more and more outrageous over the course of the class period; Criminal Law, by a precise, very smart prosecutor with faint traces of a Maine accent. Both of these teachers are very kind. There is something engaged about them--a genuine interest in the students they call on. They like what they do, and they like the people they teach. You can tell. Their classrooms are more relaxed, but no less rigorous. Most of the time, people are raising their hands to volunteer answers. When these professors call on you, you feel as if it is your moment to shine, to engage the material. NOT your moment to fail. These professors are comfortable in the classroom, and comfortable with themselves. They are passionate about their material, and not afraid to show it. They like their lives. They like us.
I'm sure it doesn't hurt that both Torts and Criminal Law are concerned with the vagaries of human nature, but this doesn't entirely explain the dread I feel in the beginning of the week, and the happiness I experience on Thursdays and Fridays. What I am trying to say, perhaps not successfully, is that it I can pretty much tell how the teachers in my large lecture classes feel about individual students, about their roles as professors, about their classes. I can tell which professors are enjoying class and which think it is a bother. And this affects how I feel about being there, about myself, about my capabilities and what I know.
Did I mention that some classes make me feel stupid? Worthless? Like a loser? Other classes I feel excited. I am not threatened by what I don't understand; only intrigued. I sit on the edge of my seat, sometimes talking, sometimes not, but always in the fray. I feel lifted up and carried along by someone else's mind, by their expertise. At the end of class I realize I have been flying.
So this is what it feels like. Throw in a Legal Writing class Tuesdays from 3 to 3:50 and Fridays from 10 to 10:50, and a Legal Research class Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 10:50, and you have my schedule for the week. These last are gnat-like classes that fly around my head and pester me while I am trying to get the work done for the big classes that will determine my life. These little classes are basically pass-fail. These are the classes that my heart longs to love, since they best resemble what I am used to in academic work, but I cannot love them. They require a stern eye and a cold cheek. Turn away from their voluptuous primary- and secondary-source siren songs, their vixenlike concise arguments, and master the other material that you will be evaluated on at the end of the semester. In one. Single. Exam.
Did I mention that the entire semester hinges on one single exam in each class?
So I don't like being a student, but I do like learning new things. I don't like the pressure, but I do like the accomplishment. I don't like the student-teacher divide, the strange passivity that can be enforced in a classroom, the odd disconnect that happens when you become part of a bullied mass. The solidarity of that mass with each other. The silent compact not to speak under such conditions.
I like being in a classroom where that isn't happening, and oddly enough, when I am in this better classroom, I feel the divide between teacher and students disappear. I know it is gone because I am no longer thinking how much it sucks to have lost my job, to be stuck in a classroom feeling like an idiot. I forget. I marvel at the patient logic of law and its painstaking rules. I get lost in ideas, and contemplate marvelous machines.
When I was teaching, I used to complain about students who seemed to have a "remote-control" attitude, where they got to sit back and watch me dance and perform for them. I felt harried, defensive, judged. Now it is easier to see what kinds of teaching contributes to that, and what breaks it down. Sarcasm, disgust, and condescension build it up. Zany humor, earnest engagement, intellectual and moral passion, self-deprecation, and mutual respect and admiration break it down.
It's what I think I always knew, but from where I sit now, it's just as plain as day.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
WARNING: This isn't one of my serious-type posts, where I try to be all artsy and tie everything up in some profound bow. This is a newsy, slightly bitchy post. I hope that's ok, because I am feeling slightly bitchy a lot these days, which means you have to listen to it but hey, it's better than depressed. For me, anyway.
I went to my first meeting today. No, not THAT kind of meeting, though after this weekend's multi-martini bender in Midwest City with GF and my best friend from out of town, I probably should go to one of those meetings. No, today's meeting was a chance at last to meet GLBT people at my school. I have been looking forward to it. The group calls itself SOLIS, which stands for something I've already forgotten having to do with Sexual Orientation Legal whatever. I find this acronym very interesting, because it sounds so, well, solitary, which is exactly what I've felt here. Note that the usual name for the gay groups in many law schools is OUTLAW, of which there are chapters all over the country. Now, besides the sly nod the name gives to the way gay behavior has been criminalized in the past, OUTLAW is also a cool acronym because it sounds very OUT. SOLIS, on the other hand, not so out. Maybe masturbatory, as in one of my favorite nineteenth-century euphemisms, "solitary vice." But not exactly loud and proud.
Ok, so I used to teach English, and I'm a little heavy with the close reading, which law school is only intensifying. But I go to this meeting, and there are twelve people. I know, you're wondering, "Where's Jesus?" Me too. But besides this, I'm wondering why the hell there are only twelve gay people in a college of 680 J. D. students and 37 L.L.M. students. To make my heart sink even further, the president of the group applauded the "large turnout."
So you're doing the math, and you're coming up with about 717 students, right? Ten per cent of which, if Kinsey is anywhere near the mark, should be gay. That's 70! Five per cent if you credit recent scholarly insistence that Kinsey overestimated his one in ten. That's 35! Half of that is, well, you get the picture. We didn't even get half of that. The twelve of us waited for our pizzas to arrive (pizzas are apparently the way they get you to show up to organizational meetings at my school), and introduced ourselves to each other. It wasn't hard. And you better believe I memorized each name there like it was my secret agent password to get me out of the war zone.
Now, I understand that the law is a conservative profession. I understand that my school is in the cornfields. I understand that even the people that make it to law school as out GLBT folks tend to stay in big cities, if only to stay alive, get a date, and not go ballistic when they walk by the Federalist Society organization booth.
But we are a public institution less than 150 miles from one of the largest cities in the country. I couldn't help it. Yes, I was crabby. "Is this it?" I asked, loudly. "Is this really a large turnout?"
I regretted saying it almost immediately. Some of the people in the room got that sad, shamed look in their eyes you see when country people think you are making fun of their town. I grew up in the country, and I don't think city life should always or even ever be the measure of value and sophistication. That wasn't what I meant. Certainly this college town is fairly urbane. When you go to the Panera (ok, now I'm getting that look in my eyes) you can see a mix of people that includes genuine farmers in jeans and John Deere caps, ladies with long white hair who look as if they have looms in their houses and pottery wheels in their backyard sheds, Sikh men in turbans, hippies, many different people of color and families of color, professor types, student types, graduate student types, people who haven't quite figured out how to leave here and get on with their lives, people who are various combinations of several of these identities, and more.
In addition, our law school is in the top 25, top 20, or top 15 of the 200 law schools in the country (depending on which ratings system you go to). I certainly don't feel as if this is a second-rate or backwards place. And yet.
The good news is, I could probably take over the gay organization if I wanted. Hell, I could crown myself Queen of the Night and drop down to my seat in Contracts every morning riding a crescent moon. But all of this doesn't matter if there are no subjects to rule. Where are they? Did they not come? Are they not out? Or--and this is my favorite theory--are they so young and so interested in NOT being alternative that they aren't out yet even to themselves?
On the bright side, I met some very nice people at the meeting. One went to my undergrad college, though much more recently than I--aged thing--did. Two knew people in common that I am friends with at Elite University, though as teachers, not friends in the way I--aged thing--know them. One went to the MidAtlantic university as an undergraduate where I--aged thing--got my PhD. The 2Ls and 3Ls planned barbeques and happy hours, talked of getting a speaker or two, and invited the 1Ls to visit a firm in Midwest City in October.
The best part, though, is that several people in the group are 1Ls, which makes me think that even if Jesus doesn't show up for one of our meetings, talks, barbeques, or happy hours, we'll somehow figure out how to keep our tiny sect alive here in the coming years.
There's my moon idling outside to rapture me off. Gotta go read Torts now, but next time, I promise to tell you all about how truly creepy it is being a student in the machine that is the law classroom.
I won't make you wait long, because it is bugging the hell out of me.