UM tried to teach students how to be Gay. Fail.

Posted in Uncategorized by bblurbs on April 7, 2010

It’s about that time, kids, Registration time. Time to pick out your classes for next semester fall. While talking to one of my freshmen friends and recommending the Queer Race class for next year, I was surprised to find out the past controversy surrounding a “LGBT” class offered at the University of Michigan in 2000. The course (not offered at Maryland, THANK GOD) was an English class, called: How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation.

The Course Description begins: “Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn’t mean that you don’t have to learn how to become one. Gay men do some of that learning on their own, but often we learn how to be gay from others, either because we look to them for instruction or because they simply tell us what they think we need to know, whether we ask for their advice or not….In particular, we will examine a number of cultural artifacts and activities that seem to play a prominent role in learning how to be gay: Hollywood movies, grand opera, Broadway musicals, and other works of classical and popular music, as well as camp, diva-worship, drag, muscle culture, taste, style, and political activism”.

 Huh? Am I missing something? This course is laughable to me. Since when does college offer courses teaching students to become homosexual? I thought we were supposed to be academic and getting degrees here, not learning how to be the poster child for homosexuals around the world. “Learn how to be gay” “Homosexual INITIATION”? I guess University of Michigan should also offer some classes on how to be “black”, how to be a “woman”, how to be distinctly hetero perhaps? What do you guys think? Opinons?

 According to other articles, the title and description were “misinterpreted”, saying that it doesn’t teach students how to be homosexual, but “examines critically the odd notion that there are right and wrong ways to be gay, that homosexuality is not just a sexual practice or desire but a set of specific tastes in music, movies, and other cultural forms — a notion which is shared by straight and gay people alike” (1). Hmm, I say, nice try. What were you thinking UM?

You can read (AND LAUGH) more about this course on the University of Michigan website. Click here: http://www.ns.umich.edu/index.html?BG/317descr

(1) http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/gayhowtounivcourse/


8 Responses

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  1. saimaanika said, on April 8, 2010 at 1:38 am

    This is an amazing find. Thank you for posting this. After looking past the façade of this class (the title of the course and immediate first line of the course description), we can see that people teaching this class is getting the whole concept wrong. Toward the end of the course description, it says “one aim of exploring these questions is to approach gay identity from the perspective of social practices and cultural identifications rather than from the perspective of gay sexuality itself.” Hence, they are trying to understand the gay identity by deciphering their likes, dislikes, hangout spots, social routines, works of arts and literary work that they are interested in and identify with, and the like instead of focusing on their gay sexuality. It should be the other way around and hone in on gay sexuality like our class (ENGL 49Q) does because that is when you can get the optimal understanding of the gay identity. Yes, if the class delves in to the things that this class at University of Michigan, then they can get some sense of the gay identity, in terms of their part of understanding part of their mind, but the interests that they cover in this class at UM is a generalization and some gay people can think of some works and social things in one way while other gay people may think of it in another context. Basically, the educators of this class think that they are teaching everything you need to know about gay people, when it just focus on one aspect of gay people and that aspect is sort of generalized as to what they think gay people think about the literary works, social practices, etc. they cover. This is just hilarious to me.

    Anyone up for taking Gay 101?

    Oh wait, never mind

  2. shortstuff84 said, on April 8, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    This is a very interesting topic! Personally, I don’t see what’s so laughable about it. It’s arguable that the course material is based on stereotypes but I feel that a lot of stereotypes are based in truths. That doesn’t mean every single aspect of every single stereotype is correct but generally, they’re on the money. So I don’t think the course description sounds that bad. If people approach this class with an open mind, it could turn out to be worthwhile. Haven’t you ever been “stuck” taking a class that sounded lame but you actually ended up enjoying it? I think that the third paragraph of the course description actually asks some good questions, particularly “What is there about gay identity that explains the gay appropriation of these works?” As a straight female, I am definitely interested in exploring that topic, ya know? Why do gays love showtunes and drag queens? Despite the title, I don’t think the class is at all about teaching kids to be gay. It’s about exploring areas that are identified (rightly or wrongly) with gay men.

  3. iTerp said, on April 10, 2010 at 1:30 am

    As a Michigander, and a former University of Michigan student, I am appalled to read a post about this course. While all students in our course and LGBT/queer individuals would recognize the apparent and blatant flaws in this course listing, I am afraid that this potentially could have lulled in other ignorant students and misguided them into not only perpetuating LGBT stereotypes, but strengthening them, too.

    When speaking with some of my friends outside of our class about our course work, they commonly ask “what do you learn about…how to be gay?” Despite my urge to beat the ridiculous question out of them, it’s probably these types of people that may have blindly signed up for this course.

    I think there is a fine line between the study of a subgroup, and the learning/appreciation of a subgroup in society. I think it is human nature to be curious about the unknown and things that we do not experience on a day-to-day basis, but it is completely counter to the ideas or respect and integrity to pull out a clipboard and analyze the interactions of the gay community like they are/we are gorillas in the mist! I didn’t know that the gays could be put in an ant farm and be analyzed in a science lab so as to better understand and communicate with these strange beings…

    Having said these things, I do have some questions about “gayness” and characteristic traits that at times seem to be present in the LGBT community. A friend asked me why all gay men were so flamboyant, and despite knowing that the question was wrong and extremely narrow-minded to state that all gay men exhibit character traits like flamboyance, I had a difficult time answering the question head on. No, not all gay men are flamboyant, and not all straight men are uber-masculine (that’s right; I pulled “uber” out of late the late 90s Clueless era!) but flamboyance for males seems to be prevalent in the gay community. So, my question goes along the lines of learned behaviors versus natural behavior and may be a bit more existential than that even…what is it to be gay? Is it more than sexual attraction? What types of lifestyles may it or may it not encompass? How appropriate are questions like this, and how accurate are answers, by hetero and homo people alike?

    Great find, bblurbs! And you’re absolutely right, I can’t believe I’m saying this but, FAIL U Mich!

  4. anj316 said, on April 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Wow, thanks so much for posting this. I had no idea that UM offered a class like this. Although a ridiculous class, I feel like it filled up pretty fast. I mean, think about it. A class that teaches you how to be gay! I’m sure all the students in the class are those in the LGBT community.

    Even though a pretty outrageous class, maybe there’s a better side to it. Perhaps it was able to affirm those people whose identities were shaken and beaten down by the rest of society. This class could be that safe place, and give gay students a boost to their self esteem. However, I think that offering a class on the “right” way to be gay is pretty outlandish.

    Overall the article and the notion that this class is offered is laughable. But although questionable, maybe there’s more to it than we know?

  5. erobert8 said, on April 19, 2010 at 12:12 am

    The fact that a large school such as the University of Michigan (which I would expect to have a subsequently large population of students that would read and be immediately opposed to this class) would actually have the gall to allow this class is unbelievable.

    The title itself is bad enough- the concept of someone even academically to be “initiated” to be gay is just as horrible of a concept as conditioning LGBT individuals to be straight. Then there’s the issue of the description with the content- “Almost as soon as I learn how to be gay, or perhaps even before, I also learn how not to be gay. I say to myself, ‘Well, I may be gay, but at least I’m not like that!’” What is this — a personal anecdote? From an academic standpoint, it’s incredibly informal for a university catalogue and from a moral standpoint, I don’t understand how people that are born a certain way can be initiated into another.

    This post does remind me of a question I had though. I was talking to my mom about our class and when I told her the title of “Queer Literature” she looked really offended and said, “I don’t think homosexual people would like it being called queer, would they? Isn’t that derogatory?” I would assume not, since that’s what the English department approved but from an LGBT standpoint with anyone that identifies that way, is there a better way the class could be titled? Is it offensive? Just curious.

  6. bblurbs said, on April 23, 2010 at 4:57 am

    Hmm interesting comments.

    While I think yes, this would be an interesting class just to take, it would be taken for SHOCK VALUE. It’d be intriguing to see exactly what they teach and if they stick to the description posted on the sight but I feel as though, no one who is culturally and socially sensitive, not me especially, would be able to sit through this class without raising their hand and million times with contradictions.

    As we’ve studied in class, there is an “essense” of everything. But isn’t it someone’s own choice to choose who they are? It’s bad enough that there are labels with terrible connatations and stereotypes defining what we are physically (race) and what we sexually prefer, now there’s a CLASS on how to BE GAY?? PFft. No thank you.

    This would ONLY be taken for shock value.

    And please try this lol, because it’s painful or really funny.
    How to be (Enter your race) ENGL093.

    How to be a Jewish.
    How to be Straight (lol)
    How to be Chinese.
    How to be Indian.
    How to be Bisexual.
    How to be a Woman.

    No. These all sound like self-help groups. I say No, No, and…No.

  7. bblurbs said, on April 23, 2010 at 4:58 am

    Oops, and not “a Jewish”, just Jewish. Forgive me! I initally put “a Jewish man” lol Typo

  8. ajshort314 said, on April 29, 2010 at 1:03 am

    I was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race the other night, and while the contestants were making up their drag mothers, one of the mothers mentions something about Oscar Wilde. The contestant asked, “Who is Oscar Wilde?” The mother was upset. The idea that a gay person would not know about Oscar Wilde seemed preposterous.

    I remember that when I came out as a lesbian, part of my initiation into lesbian culture involved reading A LOT of books: Stone Butch Blues, Rubyfruit Jungle, Giovanni’s Room, and the Well of Loneliness, to name a just few that I can see from my desk. I felt that whether or not I enjoyed these books, I was still expected to be familiar with them. This became especially true when I joined a lesbian women’s choir, where I spent my time talking to and learning from older women.

    Perhaps the rise of queer culture, where personal identity may be seen as more important than a cultural identity, makes us think that being queer is simply about who one is attracted to. But within lesbian culture and gay culture, paying attention to history, aesthetics, and icons is an integral part to being part of that culture. I am proud to say that yes, I do know who Oscar Wilde is and why he is important to lesbian/gay identity. I also know Willa Cather, Sappho, KD Lang, Melissa Ethridge, Ani Difranco, and the Indigo Girls. For me, lesbian is more of a cultural identity than my sexual preference.

    So no, I did not find the class so surprising or even laughable. I think that a class that looks critically at how gay identity is formed/imagined would be a good thing.

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