paper writing
When I had the coming out panel in my first class at 10 a.m., I kept a close eye on one of my best English students. "Tom" is a tall, pale, rangy and soft-spoken nineteen-year-old. He walks with one part peace and serenity and another timidity. He appears to be a direct descendent of the founder of Mormonism himself, Joseph Smith. He is homeschooled and devoutly Christian, and likely has never seen or heard a gay or lesbian person speak.

That changed (date). As a glanced over to him now and then, I saw his pale face showing red splotches, his posture more hunched. My fear in bringing in the panel--that my students would "hate" me by an extension of being annoyed by the stories of sexuality--were focused on Tom, because I suspected that in hearing out a gay or lesbian or otherwise person with an "abnormal" lifestyle, he, by extension, would surely be getting closer to Hell and further away from Heaven, in my construction of his belief system.

Yet he sat there composed, albeit after stepping out for a drink of water. It didn't occur to me before, but as he reentered, careful to disturb no one, I realized that Tom is totally earnest in everything that he does, and that his personality has an absolute dearth of arrogance.

Thus the ostensible reason for bringing in the coming out panel--to facilitate discussion about "culture"--became apparent. I felt I was contributing to some form of corrupting of these innocent ex-wards of diffident suburban parents. Not because introducing them to "the gay lifestyle" was bad in and of itself--I believe the complete opposite, that this cultural knowledge is beneficial in innumeral ways. I thought that helping assimilating these students into a cultural milieu that is academic, quick intellectually, prone to prevent close relationships, politically liberal, cultural tolerant, and, in a word, comfortable with irony--I thought the students would reject this. Perhaps more people would, if they knew what they were getting into.

But my reassurance after the coming out stories were over indicated the nature of what the stories did. The students filed out of the second section, a couple students graciously shaking the hands of every panel speaker. None were angry, and all seemed to acknowledge unconsciously that this class was superior to the thirty or so we'd had previously in the semester. The speakers appealed to anything but that intellectual-liberal discourse. Most, but not all, appealed to a normalcy that has inhabited U.S. national culture since about 2004, when Massachusetts and San Francisco allowed same-sex couples access to the traditional institution of marriage. The students certainly didn't notice this, neither did I during the two panels. The speakers appealed to a new normalcy: an identity fixed to the point where it does not need to defend its existence, a normalcy that takes sexuality--and homosexuality--as normal and everyday as eating breakfast.

Thus at this level, the cultural Left has already won the war. The reason I could bring a coming out panel to my two English 101 sections at the University of Arizona in Tucson is because my wife, Jessica Knutson, is a political organizer working against a proposed amendment to the Arizona constitution that would ban not only gay marriage but also "marriage-like" benefits to unmarried couples. The religious conservatives are led by a man with a bad haircut, Len Munsil, who heads the Center for Arizona Policy. I can't remember the panel speakers having necessarily good hair, but I do remember that the content of their narratives outweighed their arguments for change as a minority. And their narratives are the focus of this paper; I want to interrogate how these documents (coming out stories) work: their stand on cultural and political change, which audience they are addressed to, how they make and use identity, how they interact with dominant social norms, and how these people have faced social stigma. Additionally, I want to use concepts described by French theorist Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality: An Introduction and in later lectures to investigate certain aspects of seemingly informal nonfiction storytelling.

May 2017

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