Klara loves zombies. We have to walk all over the neighborhood looking for cardboard or inflatable zombie figures. People across the road have one that’s as big as a house, and she adores it. 

Today we went to the YMCA for their famous Halloween decorations. Klara and I climbed to the second floor that has a large open space with workout equipment. Klara saw rows upon rows of people marching in silence on the treadmills and spinning the wheels of stationary bikes in place. They all had bugged out eyes and were panting.

“Zombies!” she exclaimed happily. “Mommy, zombies!”

My Experience with Gaydar

When I was doing my Master’s, I had a very close friendship with another female student. We are both loud, flamboyant, ultra-feminist women and we are both on the heavy side. So one professor decided we were a lesbian couple. 

Once she overheard me and my friend talking about going out to meet guys and she was very disappointed.

“But I thought you were a gay couple!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been telling everyone at the department how cute it was that you are just like me and my partner when we were young! Please tell me you are gay.”

This was extremely uncomfortable and not because my friend and I have a problem with being considered gay. If it were another student who said it, we’d just laugh and move on. But the idea of a professor discussing her fantasies about our sex lives with colleagues was disturbing. And hey, we were adult women, we got over it. For a teenager who might just be figuring out their identity, finding out that your sexuality is a subject of gossip and conjecture among professors might be quite traumatic.

Gaydar is total junk. It doesn’t exist. You can’t possibly know. Often, people keep figuring this stuff out about themselves during their whole lives. Thinking that you are qualified to guess is presumptuous and can be very hurtful. My principle both in my private life and work is that if a person feels like sharing something with me, they will. Until they do so, I’m not wondering, guessing or assuming because it’s a ridiculous thing to do. 

Gaydar in the Classroom

This is priceless, folks:

if you self-identify as trans, queer, a person of color, female, or as a member of any marginalized group you’re given priority on the list of people who want to speak – the stack. The most oppressed get to speak first.”

Not only am supposed to guess who is trans and gay – and trans and gay students must surely love having gaydar applied to them in the classroom – I must also assign rank in terms of oppression to them. Of course, there’s nothing at all objectionable in the idea that gay and trans people can be visually identified and \ or interested in declaring their sexual and gender identity to professors. 

And what if you make a mistake? What if there’s a guy who “looks gay” but isn’t? What if he’s bisexual? Or asexual? Or unsure? How do you decide whether a bisexual student is more or less oppressed than an asexual one? What if he doesn’t feel more oppressed? Obviously, you can’t ask students because feeling oppressed is not a good measure of anything (see Trump voters). 

Racial identity is tricky, too. Do you go “She looks swarthy. Is she not really white? But what if she’s Jewish? That would make her very unopressed in an academic context. But what if she’s Hispanic? But then again, she might be a Hispanic Jew”? That really sounds like something we all want our professors to do to us. 

What if students figure out what your system is for calling on them during class and feel mortified? What if they didn’t want to be ranked as oppressed? What if they feel that you are outing them to their classmates? What if they are not ready to come out? Isn’t that a bit more important than a percentage point on a participation grade? 

And finally, while you obsess over the sex lives and the racial identity of your students, trying to judge and categorize, when do you actually teach? 

We all hate it when students or colleagues treat us as a woman or a Latino or an immigrant or a lesbian first and professor second. Why should we do this to them? Why are they supposed to like it when we don’t?

And More

More from the same source:

Rather than anxiously waving your hand around and wondering if you’ll be called on, if you would like to participate, signal to me in some way (a gesture, a dance move, a traditional hand-in-the-air, meaningful eye contact, etc.) and I will add you to the list.

Yeah, a dance move. Because all non-white students are into dancing. Maybe they can also bounce their basketballs because they must all be into athletics, too. 

Speaking from Stereotypes

There are personal, cultural, learning, and social reasons people don’t speak up in class.  Students of color and women of all races, introverts, the non-conventional thinkers, those from poor previous educational backgrounds, returning or “nontraditional students,” and those from cultures where speaking out is considered rude not participatory are all likely to be silent in a class where collaboration by difference is not structured as a principle of pedagogy and organization and design. 

This is absolutely not true. African American students, returning and mature students, and working class students are my best participators, both in Spanish and English. I think the quoted person speaks from stereotypes and not from any real experience. She decided these students must be silent, shy victims and is squeezing them into this role because it’s convenient and enjoyable. 

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds often have lacunae in their knowledge and need remediation. That’s a real problem. The ease and the joy with which they participate definitely isn’t. 

“Women of all races.” Really? You’ve had a black or a Hispanic woman in your class and she sat in the corner, completely quiet? And this kept happening for years? I’ve been teaching for a while but I can’t imagine this happening. Black or Hispanic women are a gift from God to every teacher because of how well they participate. What you need to be doing to force them into silence is a total mystery.