Saturday, September 14, 2013

CCNY and gay men for whom "el suicidio" is not enough

"Y matarás el dios del miedo, y entonces serás libre”.   Eugenio Maria de Hostos
"I do not know of any salvation for society except through eccentrics, misfits, dissenters, people who protest" Justice William O. Douglas

It did not happen, but the thought was often present. And the thought was there not because there was an intention of carrying it out but because the actions and words of some of my colleagues and few students had similar effects on my thinking processes, quite similar to the ones I had had while growing up in an idyllic Caribbean town. Luckily, by the time I got to work at the College, lots of transformational experiences had helped me understand not only who I was as a Puerto Rican jibaro, a colonial, but also as a gay man. Readings on historical, social, educational processes and ideas that were quite popular during the sixties, the Stonewall revolt, primal therapy and working with the very talented and daring Teatro de Orilla (a street theater collective) shaped some of my ideas on these issues and provided me with a different perspective and sense of self. Liberation had begun and it was not going to stop. Such luck and perspective, emotional and intellectual framework, does not seem to be present among the young gays killing themselves.

Had it not been for those particular literary, theatrical, therapeutic and educational experiences (and the support and structures that were provided by Professor Lillian Weber*), my reaction to a very mean and false accusation aimed at me by a very progressive, socialist, anti colonial (!Sí, Pepe!, decía mi abuela.) colleague would have been closer to what some of these kids are doing now: disappear from the planet. I already had to abandon my job, family in the islands of Puerto Rico and was not planning to abandon any other place, simply because a very opportunistic professor wanted to corner me “politically”. According to her, I sexually harassed a colleague twenty years earlier. The so called harassed professor, a much older gay man, had actually tried many times to get me to visit his very comfortable bourgeois life in the suburbs. I always said no until one night at a College retreat he went into my room and tried to get into bed with me. I pushed him out of my bed and never said anything to anybody else.

Sexuality can be used to control, provide opportunities, have pleasure or to understand yourself and the world. How easy it was for the colleague to use my sexuality as a political tool in order to corner me, and to push her agenda. Around the time of the false accusation, another Puerto Rican professor, a woman, was coming up for tenure and, in retrospect, it seems as if the colleague had a difficult time relating with no nonsense Puerto Rican women. Under her leadership none of the three Puerto Rican women who previously came to work at the Department were given tenure. Some were pushed out even before coming up for tenure. As the only other Puerto Rican in the faculty, she needed my support and I was not going to do so. And by the time the event in question took place, I was already a member of the Executive Committee and was able to participate in deciding who was to be considered or not for tenure. Since the PR professor was a top quality educator, I was not going to keep quiet this time.

As I listened to this educator trying to scare me with a false accusation of sexual harassment, memories of my lover at the time came to mind, a writer and politically engaged gay activist. In terms of many factors my ex lover's values were quite far from those of the CCNY professor, a proto bourgeoisie suburban, socially constipated typical 1950’s language teacher who did not know the difference between Marx and Mars.

We, the Stonewall generation, were already engaged in conversations on issues of race, discrimination, gender and were quite clear as to how gays were viewed by the others. We were seen as deviants, sexual vultures that would try to conquer any pair of pants or testicles. For the professor trying to corner me it was easier to believe a white man than a Rican. ¡Por favoooor! Neither me nor any of my friends are/were that stupid or lacked good taste.

There were many other situations (listed below) that would have led another type of person to leave the institution but there was the work, at time difficult; often, enriching. After all, CCNY has a very unique and wonderful student population, and thanks also to them, to continue learning and growing was a gift not be abandoned that quickly.

Adolescents and children are more vulnerable than adults, and unless they have a very strong support system at home, they cannot depend on their readings or peers to handle the type of terror imposed on them by bullies, homophobes, racists or just plain nasty people, even some who are supposed to be very progressive. Unfortunately, schools of education are not necessarily dealing with this very traumatic and destructive situation.

(I will write on the most shameless betrayal of the work and ideas of what was and still is the most important educator at the SOE of CCNY, Professor Lillian Weber.At the same time when the events on this anecdote took place, the Center founded by Professor Weber was turned into a pedestrian elementary science education classroom, camouflaged behind the term “inquiry center’, far from the larger ideas on freedom to learn and open education. Around that same time I was kicked out from the Center. Why?, go figure! As they say around here, dos más dos es cuatro)


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