In getting my sexualities minor I had to take a lot of courses that felt like repeats. Gender & Sexualities was a lot like Sexualities, or Intro to Queer Studies. At the start of the term they always run through the basics, given the assumption that not everyone there knows as much as you do, or that this is their first class of that sort.
In each of these classes there would be a person, or a group of people, who acted like they didn’t need to be there. They’d already taken that class, they already knew this information, they wanted to learn. In one class in particular the student raised their hand and said they felt like they weren’t getting their money’s worth because it was a higher level course and they expected higher level education.
I felt bad for the professor because they were doing their job, and a good one at that. What I wanted to say in response, but wouldn’t have, is that you have to work for a higher level education. When presented with basic knowledge, you have to look at it and see the ways that it is complex.
The best example I saw was when we discussed gender and sexual orientation. You run through the basics. What is gender presentation, what is identity, what does it mean to be male or female, why is heterosexuality, what is homosexuality. In more specialized classes you might discuss the history of homosexuality or what the world was like for people who were gay before the word “gay” was used. You dig deep into the politics of gender and how it’s socially constructed. I can only assume that when these students were upset about the course material, this is what they were wanting. A real intensive look at what these concepts meant.
Instead we got it real straight, being gay means you like the same sex, being intersex means this, being trans means this, being asexual means this, hormones this and hormones that. It pissed some people off. Once you know that stuff, you kinda know it.
What they failed to see were the opportunities to listen. Each professor presents the material in new and different ways. I remember one time a professor told me that identity was “to identify as” and I’d never heard it put so simply before. That one little sentence about something I knew so much about. My god, I create my own identity. That one sentence set forth an entire weeks worth of pondering about how many times I’d let others impose their feelings about my identity into my world.
Hey, fuck you, I don’t identity as that, so it’s not part of my identity.
It was the little things I picked up. The stories that the class shared about growing up or the letters we had to write to younger versions of ourselves. I got out of it what I put into it.
That’s not to say that I didn’t complain in my head or agonize over yet another lecture about who Freud was and why “your mom” jokes were so funny. But each time I relearned something I wasn’t just re-learning it. I was strengthening that knowledge. Adding new knowledge on to it. I was learning to think about simple concepts in more diverse ways.
This past week I submitted my application for graduation. If I’ve learned anything in college, I’ve learned how to learn.