You know how when you were a kid and you got some new thing that was so fabulous you never ever wanted to share it with anyone ever? In fact you liked it so very much that you sort of pretended to not like it so that no one could guess how absolutely devastated you would be if they took it from you? Yes? You know that feeling? Well, that is how I feel about school.
I’ve just completed my first full week of Grad school and I am so excited. Last week, before classes started, I met my cohort. 14 of us in one of the only Sexuality Studies Masters programs in the country. As we sat around the large square table during our formal orientation I found that I am the oldest person in my cohort. Then as we introduced ourselves, I found I am the only parent. Fine. That’s cool. Only one other person came from UC Berkeley and I am the only one with a full BA in Anthro. At least I’m not the only person who lives in Oakland. Yep, I’m older than you. Yep, I’ve got kids. Yep, I’m a sex positive writer. Nope, I don’t want to kick it with you after class. No offense, I just have to pick up my kids from school and I already have a community, or rather several, that I belong to. My social calendar is full, it’s my brain that needs a structured exchange of interaction.
Did the feeling that maybe I was in the wrong place start to worm it’s way into my mind? Of course. This is a hard program to get into, so it makes sense that my peers would be the top of their game, dedicated to their studies, maybe not so much experience with fucking around as other Masters programs may admit. Honestly, I haven’t done much fucking up since my late teens/early twenties. But it’s amazing how those misguided attempts at early independence haunt me. So, ya, in the couple days between the orientation and our first class with the Prof who created the department, (the course that the 2nd year cohort told us was the most difficult) I felt a little trepidation.
Then the syllabus was emailed to us. This Prof has a reputation for being a hard ass. But really, those are my favorite kind. I feel a kinship with them, as I am a hard ass too. For real. In all areas of my life I give it as well as I get it; parent, friend, lover, whatever. Being a student is no exception. The reading list for this course is impressive, and familiar. But I graduated from UC-fucking-Berkeley with a double major in English Lit and Anthropology. I knew the authors, I could pick out the theories he would be focusing or building on that week. The load is comparable to my undergrad seminars. Some stuff was new, I don’t have a very thorough Sociology background, so yes there will be new material for me. BUT the very first assigned reading, what the Prof wanted us to have in our minds when we walked in to our introductory lecture for the course, gave me a big clue that I was in the right place.
The reading assignment was the commencement address given to the graduating students of the Department of English of the University of California at Berkeley in the Hearst Greek Theatre, May 15, 2005. I was there for that. I was in the audience for my Aunt’s graduation when Mark Danner addressed the September 11th generation. I remembered being shaken by his honesty, being inspired by his account. I also remember the negative reaction from my family. “Typical Berkeley Bullshit” they had said, their eyes rolled, their mouths puffed in indignant disdain. They were offended and affronted by Danner’s blatant critique of the Bush Administration. I was inspired. I had just finished my first year as an English major and he was speaking not only to the graduating class, but to me too, when he said:
English majors, and other determined humanists, distinguish themselves not only by reading Shakespeare or Chaucer or Joyce or Woolf or Zora Neale Hurston but by refusing, in the face of overwhelming pressure, to answer that question. Whether they acknowledge it or not — whether they know it or not — and whatever they eventually decide to do with “that,” they see developing the moral imagination as more important than securing economic self-justification.
I left that commencement so proud of my Aunt, (who happens to be a Queer Woman of Color, but don’t mention that to her mother, father, brother or in-laws) but also resigned to differentiate from my family. Fuck them, I kept thinking. Fuck their blind belief in social conservatism, fuck their dependence on might makes right. Fuck them for supporting the regression of our society. Fuck their two faced patriotism. Ultimately, my family was happy I got my Bachelors, they indulged me with my double major, they didn’t really want to hear much about Anthropology. They could not believe I wanted more education.
That was 5 years ago. And as I completed my first assigned reading for grad school all of those feelings came back to me. I am pursuing a social justice graduate degree based upon a thorough understanding of human sexuality. That side of my family has not congratulated me on my admission to the Sexuality Studies program at SF State. None of them have offered any support to the only member of their family to go on to graduate level studies. They have just sort of stopped talking to me.
Which means I am so doing the right thing. I met the professor, looked him in the eye and said, “You are so happy to have me. Really.” The entire first lecture I felt at home. And home is a new place for me. The UC Berkeley campus was my first home. And Home is what I’ve just created for myself and my boys in our apartment in Oakland. My brain now has an intellectual home. As I laid in bed that night after class, my mind felt like the magic bean stalk from the tale with Jack and the Giant. It took everything in me to reign it all back in so that I could get some sleep. I am so completely excited.