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Queering seduction: eros and the erotic in the construction of gay teacher identity.

This article situates itself in cross-disciplinary work that combines research into my own teaching practice, and my own conflicted identity as a gay man (my "queer locatedness" as Grace, 2000, calls it), with more traditional elements of media studies and critical pedagogy. The circle around this reflection is defined by ruminations on the relationship between Eros and the erotic, media representations of teachers, and morality and mortality in male identity and pedagogy.

For rhetorical purposes Aristotle configured intense pleasure into two peaks: sexual intercourse and thought. (1) This classic split between mind and body still permeates cultural discourse and is reflected in media representations of teacher identity, but does little to define the spiritual and physical connection between the erotic (sexuality) and eros (passionate desire). Since Socrates and Plato, the homoerotic element of the teaching relationship has animated discussions of how the quest for wisdom and goodness comes from passionate desire.

My own "coming out" in 1992 and then Frank Oz's film In & Out (1997) became catalysts for an on-going interrogation of queer teacher masculinity. I offer several tentative conclusions: the role of a queer teacher is more conflicted and problematic than that of a heterosexual; good teaching, defined, in part, as effective teaching that positively influences learning, is seldom possible unless there is an element of seduction in it. However, in understanding eros, it is important to see that it is teachers who are seduced by their students, not the other way around, as Hollywood would have us believe. Good teaching may also be defined as ethical teaching which celebrates differences by exploring them. This discussion might contribute to our understanding of the tensions inherent in being queer in the classroom and "que(e)rying and queering" the classroom, as Thompson (2004, p. 273), following Sears (1992), so aptly calls it.

Constructing the Cultural Context

This essay is an "ethnography of one," as Kelly (1997, p. 25) in Schooling Desire calls it. Grace (2000) posits autobiographical life narrative as a medium to explore issues of queer being ("a social and cultural text, a research method, and a risky business"). Hill (1996) calls such explorations a "production site of fugitive and oppositional knowledge" (p. 254), which to me demands the first person narrative voice if only because the acts and performances of teaching are as personal and intimate as one's sexuality.

bell hooks (1994) has noted, "professors rarely speak of the place of eros or the erotic in our classrooms" (p. 191). On the premise of metaphysical dualism we teach to the mind and ignore the body because since Descartes we have, as Alexander (1997) says, "unsexed the mind" (p. 332). Yet such politically divergent critics as hooks herself who speaks of "students desperately yearning to be touched by knowledge" (p. 199) and Allan Bloom (1987) who longed for the days when students were "physically and spiritually virginal ... [whose] lust was mixed into everything they thought and did" (p. 135), conceive that beyond the sensual and sexual, "acts of learning and teaching are acts of desire and passion," as Barreca and Morse (1997) put it. "The personal history that both student and teacher bring to the place of instruction informs the tenor of the relationship" (p. viii).

How much more problematic is the connection between the mind and the body for gay and lesbian educators who are "othered" and defined by their difference? Our sexuality pulls us into the limelight of the body politic. We are understood by our sexual difference because, as Elliott (1996) says, our public identity is, "predicated upon private [and hitherto] taboo sexual practices" (p. 704). A call, by educators of divergent critical and political persuasions, to restore passion to the classroom is a greater challenge to those whose sexual identity is problematic, i.e., the queer in the academy. (2)

More than a decade and a half ago, Wexelblatt (1991) understood the implications of the metaphor of teacher as lover endemic in our understanding of academic manliness. "Let us be clear from the start: the whole issue of meaningful emotional attachments and/or sexual relations, is tangential to the question of the structural eroticism of professing" (p. 10). If we profess then we are owning up to something like guilt or innocence say, or a longing for both eros and the erotic, or perhaps more pedagogically comprehensible--quite simply a desire for passion in the teaching/learning milieu.

Many, including Wexelblatt, have understood teaching metaphorically as a form of courtship:
 The professor is polite, for his or her intentions are
 "honourable." The professor attempts to win the students'
 affections by means of gifts (a paper extension or interesting
 anecdotes, say).... The courtship may well take more directly
 pedagogical shapes: a complaisant manner in the classroom ...
 showing excessive regard for jejune interpretations.... a subtle
 running-down of competitors, other disciplines, other professors.
 (p. 13)

The metaphor strengthens because of the secrecy and furtiveness of encounters in academia. Teaching, usually behind closed doors, is like a conspiracy.
 [G]roup-bound secrecy is fostered in "our class" which meets as if
 for a tryst. The relationship between professor and students is
 exclusive, enlivened by private references and in-jokes; it has its
 own history. (p. 14)

The trope of cavalier courtliness, with allusions to chivalric codes of honour, dignifies such manipulation by masking it in an aura of romantic enchantment. This feminizes pedagogical seduction by harkening to a patriarchic view of the process: the imposition of knowledge is, we are assured, to be alluring and safe and gentle.

At the extreme of this continuum of such ravishment is the violence of rape. The image of Yeats' Leda taking on, "perhaps/ "His power with His knowledge" is an apt metaphor for the asymmetrical power relationships which have defined student-teacher relationships. As a university student in the sixties, I recall the rhetoric: 'they (the old, the establishment, monopoly capitalism) are fucking us man', mowing us down like some grim reaper. Resisting the rape, the more political of us idealized liberation in the form of Che Guevera; the more literary of us clung to Holden Caufield, a catcher in the rye, a saviour of our naivete; for the most romantic of us there was William Blake, who would sing us songs of innocence, and Walt Whitman who exposed us to "the body electric".

Bredbeck (1995) cites Gailop's discussion of the "student body." Subject to the empty vessel syndrome, "a greater man penetrates a lesser man with his knowledge. The student is empty, a receptacle for the phallus; the teacher is the phallic fullness of knowledge" (p. 169). From here it is a short step to having "been had"; the guru speaks, the disciple listens, and they become one: a particularly insidious form of academic nepotism regardless of age or sexual orientation.

Glavin (1997) rails against the role of seducer imposed by the ideal of the good, i.e., the responsible and controlling teacher and the good, i.e., passive but demanding student who clamours: "Take me.... Charm my resistance. Captivate my indifference. Please me, entertain me, divert me, fascinate me, thrill me--seduce!" (p. 12). Teachers with the ability to manipulate rapport into learning in this construct are reduced to used car salesmen or drug pushers, ready to make the sale and close the deal--an entrepreneurial image of successful masculinity. For Glavin (1997) all successful teaching, either "abusive or seductive," is inevitably corrupting. Drawing on Walter S.J. Ong who called abusive teaching "agonistic" (bullying and cajoling students into learning with threats, punishment, and competition), Glavin reminds us that this hyper-masculine model is reflected in "a Latin etymology at least," of "testing and testament," from testis, testicles (p. 14), which the OED confirms originated possibly from "evidence of maleness."

So how do queer teachers wade through such heterosexual mire? The queer literary canon has always been witness to the older man as the initiator: someone who teaches and who, at the same time, longs for the beauty and innocence of youth, like George, the expatriate British professor of English, lusting after Kenny, the undergraduate blonde California beach boy, in Christopher Isherwood's novel, A Single Man (1964). Closeted, many queer teachers have simply mirrored repressive norms, ironically and tragically becoming paragons of agonistic teaching, in which self-inflicted, sado-masochistic homophobia becomes an excuse for teaching that is abusive in its brow-beating and belittling of those who don't conform. The teacher as tormentor, in whom passionate desire is twisted by repressed eroticism, has a long and ignoble past. Manguel's History of Reading (1998) is full of stern and brutal men and women throughout the ages who with pleasure would spare no rod in the name of teaching and learning.

Glavin (1997) prefers "romantic" teaching because it implies passion and revelation, "the crucial capacity to feel and to communicate enjoyment of the sell" (p. 16) ... and that enjoyment guarantees in turn the student's enchantment" (p. 17). The lack of a defined power relationship in this statement is seductive to those of us who might wish to structure the teaching and learning paradigm along more egalitarian lines. Gay and lesbian educators have been drawn to such romantic definitions because they imply inclusivity. There's a promise of hugs and the warm fuzzies in diversity education that suggests that none need be excluded; indeed we might even dare to celebrate our differences together. Are sexual difference and orientation, and the explication of the relationship between eros and the erotic, any more difficult in the classroom than other fundamental differences like class, ethnicity, religion, race, or gender? From some feminist perspectives, the old metaphors of seduction, romantic or otherwise, don't work, even in a heterosexual paradigm. (3) From a queer perspective they are even more problematic (Evans, 2002).

As first a high school and then a college and now a university teacher and administrator, I have come to understand over the past thirty years that it is students, at all levels, who exert real power along the teaching/learning continuum. Students grant us permission to teach; without such permission, that is, the offering of their readiness and receptivity, the act of teaching is reduced to a solo act. It is like trying to play catch with a two-year-old: lop-sided, unfair, and mutually frustrating and unfulfilling. Or to use a queerly unsettling metaphor given this context: without student consent and participation, agonistic teaching is an act of masturbation: pleasurable perhaps, but alarming, undignified, and inappropriate if done in a public place. That is why so much bad teaching is embarrassing. It should be done behind closed doors. It is awkward in its portentousness and garish in its presumptuousness--much like the sweaty fumbling and lurching late at night in the back of a '62 Galaxy that I inflicted on high-school girls in the name of "going steady" to prove my manliness. As a teacher-educator, I have seen individuals making their often painful transitions from student to student-teacher to teacher, adopting often very inappropriate stances that presume to know what masculinity and femininity are all about as they try on roles as gendered authority figures in the classroom.

When a high school or university teacher focuses less on performativity, that is, the "acts" of teaching, and more on the learner and learning outcomes, good teaching may become ethical behaviour, with social and political implications, not just personal ones. I understand teaching occurring on the line where the public and the private intersect; indeed making public of the private, making the personal universal, making the unique a sign or symbol, is a common reading of all creative ventures, which I also see teaching to be and what animates my teaching, despite what the media has determined a teacher to be.

But as a homosexual, making the personal public has had, I suggest, greater implications than for a heterosexual. Teaching, unlike many other aspects of academia, is an "up front and in your face" activity. We expose ourselves, not physically but intellectually, and then don masks and roles and costumes in order to teach, constantly checking that our flies aren't down and our slips aren't showing. If I imagine learning to be a "battle" complete with winners and losers, that is, those who "pass and fail," if I am the general leading students to intellectual battle, then my constructions are conflicted: the personal in becoming public becomes a heterosexist metaphor. In sharing with colleagues my search for less entrenched tropes, I hear many metaphors for teacher: builder, gardener, caretaker, doorman, window-cleaner, match-maker, dinner-party host, jazzman, stage manager, ship captain, stand-up comic, and snake-oil salesman to name just a few. Steiner (1995) concludes, "Muzzled, hobbled, [professors] trim the wick of their passion to make the flame of learning glow. It is little wonder, then, that most non-academics look upon professors as "figures of fun, contempt, or disgust" (p. 165). The martyr is one image with which teachers often identify. It is an appealing if self-indulgent image for anyone who has had to endure (often closeted and self-abusive) personal and systemic discrimination and victimization. (4)

Reified Cinematic Images of Teacher

Erotic irony, the subject of the 1997 film In & Out, galvanized for me a sharper understanding of the relationship between teacher role and identity within the parameters of eros and the erotic. Frank Oz's movie casts Kevin Kline as Howard, a teacher of English in a bourgeois high school in a small town in contemporary Middle America. Outed by a former student turned actor, during the broadcast of the Academy Awards, Howard is forced to deal with students, colleagues, his parents, his fiancee, and ultimately his own admission that yes, he is gay.

Complete with a typically unrealistic Hollywood ending where the entire school celebrates his new identity, In and Out is a lovely romantic comedy, a true "fairy" tale. Howard's transformation, from geeky English teacher--replete with bow tie and bicycle clip--to an openly gay man, begins with a kiss from Prince Charming (a television news personality played by Tom Selleck). The kiss allows Howard to experience an epiphany, a sense of wholeness, presumably for the first time, between eros and the erotic and between body, mind, and spirit. Inspired by Gadamer, Alexander (1997) calls such experiences, "the revelation of the possibility of the embodiment of the ideal in the real by transforming the scattered fragmentary nature of the everyday world into a moment of harmony, lucidity, and ... presence" (p. 333). (5) Sexual orientation makes no difference to this longing. In & Out, with its strident acceptance of one teacher's gay identity, ends on an up-beat note. Presumably, however, Howard will have to follow his new lover to the big city where difference is either accommodated or simply ignored. (6)

I revisited this media artefact in light of my queer sensibility as a middle-aged man who once was a student of teachers and is now a teacher of students. The cultural repertoire remains the same but "the gaze" (Mulvey, 1989) or point of view is different and my own sense of manhood has profoundly changed. Positionality and context determine how we read media texts but also how texts, in turn, read us. Di Piero (2003) points out that masculinity is by definition conflicted and over-determined by the discrepancy between hegemonic ideals of manhood and identity as it is lived on the social plane by real human beings (p. 3). Because queer is generally conceived not to be part of "official" hegemonic patriarchy, and indeed challenges "fatherly knowledge" (Libretti, 2004, p. 170), my reading of the discourse of popular cinema addresses the tension between the personal and the public: the social cauldron in which we perform identity.

Myths and fantasies about what teachers are like and what society might wish they were form part of the cultural milieu of our educational context. Each generation draws on a filmic or televised view of teaching that can be variously sentimental, idealistic, romanticized, and even funny. Eve Arden, playing Connie the English teacher in Our Miss Brooks in the fifties, first on radio and then on TV, captured the wise-cracking tough cookie with the heart of gold and became an icon of popular but implicit lesbianism, if only because her attempts to win the attention of the biology teacher fail miserably. The message, reinforced by the principal (played by Gale Gordon), is that in being sharp and funny and intelligent, she is not attractive to men.

In the mid-sixties, I remember watching a cute and imperturbably sincere James Franciscus play Mr. Novaks and wishing my own high school English teachers might be (like) him. For others, Welcome Back Kotter, To Sir, with Love, Blackboard Jungle, Good-bye Mr. Chips, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Mr. Holland's Opus, Stand and Deliver, or Dead Poets Society will resonate. Whether it is Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile (2003) playing a feminist art teacher in a private East Coast women's college, or Ryan Gosling in Half-Nelson (2006) playing a conflicted but socially conscious history teacher in a Brooklyn slum school, such movie characters can be critiqued for the inaccurate faux-heroic, heterosexual, and often heterosexist view they give of teaching and education. (7)

Reified images of the teacher, then, exist and define our context. In the public imagination, good teachers are born not made. Through the authority of our personalities (whether as nice guy or clown or rebel or absent-minded professor or uncle or father, to name only a few) we are supposed to be successful at teaching. And in popular culture, success as a teacher is constructed as a gendered and sexual identity. Eros and the erotic are present on the screen but only heterosexually. Such successful teaching is constructed without preparation, planning, reflection, action or scholarly research, but simply as a gift of faith, inspiration and dedication, and dependent as a self-made or natural-born teacher on one's "straight" performance as teacher (Britzman, 2003).

A decade ago Barbra Streisand produced, directed, and starred in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), an indicative study of this kind of teaching. Despite the artifice of the ugly duckling's inevitable transformation to beautiful swan (a Barbra motif that defines her as essential, like Cher, to gay iconography), Streisand's character, Rose Morgan, as a professor of English is proposed pedagogically as an example of good teaching. In lectures she has hundreds of students eating out of her hand because she is funny, self-deprecating, relevant and direct, and she can, as if by magic, call on any one of the hundreds of beaming students by first name. It is not mere chance that the subject of the only lecture we see her give is love. Despite her supposed intellectual prowess, she confides to her students that, in the end, romance is superior to sex because "it comes down to fucking feeling good" (such a deliberately ambiguous phrase). Her success in convincing her class of this truth proves she can walk that tightrope between eros and the erotic. The vulgarity of the apparently personal appeal, publicly embracing sensuality, is to be considered an example of good pedagogy. Imagine a queer teacher doing that, in either the media or in reality.

Pity the poor math professor, Greg Larkin, played by Jeff Bridges, who on a ruse seeks Barbra's advice on teaching ("make it something kids can relate to," she says). Mumbling to himself at the blackboard, Bridges doesn't hear female students lamenting his lack of interest in their flirting. One concludes disparagingly, "He must be gay." But the other quickly retorts, "Oh no. He's too boring to be gay."

Indulging in such stereotypes, pedagogical success by Hollywood's standard is achieved through the power and cult of the personality. Teachers portrayed like this make claims to authoritarian constructs and the American dream of success through determination, ambition, and powers of seduction. Bauer (1998) calls such teaching, "the erotic manipulation of desire." We see this vividly in the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, loosely based on the memoirs of inner-city high school teacher, LouAnne Johnson. The heterosexual female teacher, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is the potential victim to be seduced by or succumb to the predatory macho-sexuality of the class leader, Emilio, the Hispanic James Dean character. Instead, (and isn't it lucky she has some training as a Marine), teacher seduces students with her mental stamina and physical strength. She wins them over by teaching them martial arts.

In comparison to the heterosexual and suspect pedagogy promoted in these two films, In & Out seems so deceivingly "heart-warming" because a gay man is able to be a respected teacher of English and drama and a basketball coach and come to acknowledge his homosexuality first privately and then publicly. Eros and the erotic have merged in an idealistic if unrealistic way. But this is a new way of gendering pedagogy, even if it is mere fantasy. As a media text of popular culture it designs to educate--literally to lead us--didactically to understand that the explicit naming of erotic orientation need not compromise the eros of passionate teaching. Indeed, as an out gay male, Howard's new self should allow him to strive more freely for beauty and truth by coming to better understand the "other," his students who are the subject and object of passionate teaching.

Teaching Asexually in a (Hetero-) Sexist Culture

By default then, teachers are part of a mythological media construct that defines them. Such identity is more conflicted than this cursory glance at the more obvious elements of popular culture's view of teachers might superficially suggest. From learning theory we know that students respond to the developmental potential of the environment and the curriculum. In teacher education and in instructional development I had, for all sorts of reasons, chosen to make my sexuality a non-issue. Part of me said it shouldn't matter, that my sexuality is a personal thing and no one else's business. Pragmatically, it is easier than having to deal with students' fears or ignorance, or Faculty members' misconceptions or good-intentions (Harbeck, 1992). Pinar (2001) suggests that such closeted denial subverts curriculum as "currere which should challenge and interrogate the status quo, in a form of "social psychoanalysis" (p. 2). At the same time I have eschewed the authority of the power figure, despite (or rather, because of) my age and experience. Yet new faculty and pre-service teachers alike still crave that "gift": how narcissism can be transformed into the art of seduction so that they might "control," or at least successfully manage, the teaching/learning environment. Understandably, this preoccupation with control--of themselves, of the content, of the students, is a hallmark of novices finding their way, but it is also embedded in our understanding of masculinity and heterosexuality. In the past I would have deliberately chosen to be neither an openly gay nor an authoritative teacher, even though I am both, because of the focus those perceived roles bring to the cult of personality. (8)

What I would hope pre-service teachers and novice university instructors would learn is that they can be successful by being more interested in the success of their students than in their own constructed identity. So again, I am locked in contradiction: I do have the authority of my experience, and I am a gay man. Why did I deny this and what degree of "choice" or agency was involved in such a decision? Part of an answer may lie buried in the sub-text of eroticism, involving seduction and power in the teacher/student relationship, which, in turn, leads back to the narcissism of the "act" of teaching. Regardless of our sexual orientation, we educators are vulnerable public figures, needing approval, prepared for derision, conflicted by the authority imposed by their roles, and fearful that we will or have become in the public domain something separate, and thus somehow invalid or inauthentic or distanced, from the personal self. Female pre-service teachers and new female university faculty members, for example, worry about becoming something they are not--either "the hard-nosed bitch" or the "nurturing earth mother"--in order to lay claim to the authority of their role as teacher. The same concern is echoed often by their male counterparts, particularly those who do not come easily to a smooth or extroverted manner of the "manly" expert: the charmer or the controller with the firm handshake and the smiling eyes.

Such novices understandably yearn to become the kind of dynamic figures that Hollywood plays back to us: vivid personalities for whom teaching is a "natural" act of passion where traditional constructions of gendered masculinity and femininity define the pedagogical paradigm. In this context, and learning to project an identity, novice teachers may well believe they have more to learn from teachers portrayed in such films as The Mirror Has Two Faces and Dangerous Minds than they do from Faculties of Education and Institutions of Higher Education, or specifically from me--someone who has un-closeted his sexuality and rebutted the role of authoritarian.

Kelly (1997) attributes the dearth of educational literature addressing eros and teaching to a general resistance by educators to any acknowledgement of desire in teaching. "As teaching subjects, teachers have been positioned within the same discourses of desexualization" (p. 124). This has abetted those of us who, for whatever complex reasons, have chosen to be closeted or circumspect about our sexuality and have thus in a de facto way bolstered the heterosexist norms that permeate the classroom. But what does such symbolic castration or mutilation mean for our pedagogy? How can we speak from the heart or the gut if we are disembodied? As Litvak (1995) points out, "every classroom is an eroticized space: eroticized in different ways and with different effects, depending on the sex and gender of the students" [and teacher] (p. 19). Pioneer queer teacher-educators Khayatt (1999) and Silin (1999) explored these issues in relational and temporal terms and struggled with fundamental issues of teacher authenticity and teacher identity.

"You must come naked to wrestle," said the ancient Greeks, capturing the eros of philosophical reflection. In what ways, as teachers, inviting our students to "wrestle with ideas," must we also come, metaphorically, naked to teach? Surely such a stance requires a kind of preparation and receptivity that implies vulnerability, regardless of gender construction or sexual orientation. To be authentic we must dispense with masks and suits of armour. Isn't my sexual orientation part of this nakedness? Moreover, in what way then as a gay man does the homoerotic animate the eros of my teaching? How do I go about learning and explaining that to myself and to my students? (9) Surely I am charged ethically to do so. I think I now understand that we diminish our potential for passionate desire (eros) if we dismiss our sexuality (the erotic), as I used to do, as nobody else's business, or just a matter of biology or politics, or (worse), like some conservative colleagues, diminish or misrepresent it even further by presuming it to be a mere or unfortunate "preference" or "life-style." Rasmussen (2004) has usefully summarized and critiqued some of the literature relating to the "coming out imperative" that influences the discourses of the closet and of coming out. Much of teaching, however, is in metaphor, in making comparisons and contrasts, in learning to discriminate distinctions between one thing and another. If part of me as a man is defined as "nobody's business," what implications are there for my pedagogy when eros is the force that prompts the pursuit of wholeness?

Anti-oppressive educators such as Kevin Kumashiro (2000) and Frank Tuitt (2003) have been inspired by bell hooks' (1994) adage that "education is the practice of freedom" (p. 207). They encourage us to focus less on teaching for and about differences and concentrate more on teaching about oppression and privilege. The former continues to stigmatize and victimize "others" for their place and space in society; the later encourages us to seek justice. Using curricula as a series of windows and mirrors (McNinch, 2004 following Styles, 1996) implies that we should look critically and appreciatively at ourselves as well as others and negotiate the space between. We need to help each other look in the mirror and to see out the windows to the world beyond.

When there is deception on the erotic side of Aristotle's parabola, there can be grave moral implications for eros. Think of the tragic violence inflicted by men with guns on university campuses, or of the lurid and salacious stories the media loves to tell of female school teachers taking students as their lovers and having children by them. Think of school administrators who have been charged with caching and disseminating child pornography through the Internet. Think too of the culpability of victim and perpetrator in sexual harassment cases that continue to emerge at universities involving students and professors. This "evidence," while it might be dismissed as marginal and exceptional, helps us to understand that eros is not just complicated by erotics but by asymmetrical power relationships. (10) Fear and denial of all sexuality, not just homo-sexuality, continues to define the educational environment (McNinch, 2004)

There has always been the potential for the merely erotic in teacher/student relations because of the promise of both dependence and liberation. The old are mortal; the young are beautiful simply because they are not old. Think of the machinations of professor Humbert in Nabokov's, Lolita (1958), or the pathetic longing of Aschenbach for Tadzio in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1912). Erotically, it is the Lolita's and Tadzio's of our worlds who have something to teach the sexually repressed bourgeoisie. But in the classroom, students the same age as Lolita and Tadzio have tyrannized many teachers in another way; that is, they have refused to be pedagogically seduced by them and often driven them from the profession. In my era, it was Anglophone teachers of French who seemed to suffer the worst fate: We "went through" five of them in one year, grade 8, and took perverse pubescent pleasure in wasting these vulnerable "weaklings" who didn't subscribe to narrow gender stereotypes.

Addressing issues of masculinity and schooling, Martino (2001, 2003) argues that a fear and denial of sexuality serves to undermine, for example, the success of boys in education. Queer educators might come to understand this through their own imbalanced position vis-a-vis power-relationships in schools and universities. Queer educators' own lack of voice, lack of power, and potential for victimization, link us, through struggle and eros, to students generally and to minority groups specifically who have fought against prejudice and oppression. Being queer, "we are in excellent historical company" (Elliott, 1996, p. 703). Such a queer gaze is incubated by insult and contempt and of "suffering the experience of a subordinate positionality," as Pierre Bourdieu calls it (in Eribon, 2004, p. 38).

Playing the Model Teacher

What, then, is the relationship between eros and erotics and how does this play itself out for both the straight and the queer teacher? Why does teaching continue to be about the art of seduction, particularly in media representations of pedagogy? Vygotsky (1986) spoke about "luring students into learning." Why, even in his alliterative metaphor, is a trope of eroticism the tool that will lead us to eros--the pursuit of the passionately desirable--truth, justice, and beauty? I am struck by the often highly romanticized (and hence suspect) image of the berdache in Aboriginal cultures: an individual that might be (in contemporary terms) a homosexual or cross-dresser or transsexual or hermaphrodite but accepted as a manifestation of the natural and spirit worlds and celebrated as a gift and a power, and not shunned as a deviance or a perversion. (11) In teaching First Nations and Metis literature, I have learned that the erotic has no negative connotations; the wisdom of the shamans and the elders fuses the corporeal and the ethereal. The ideal teacher in Native legends as well as contemporary fiction is no trickster, no Wesakeyjak or shape-shifter, though the best teachers and storytellers will use such characters to their advantage. In the same way they will draw on sexuality as a wonderful endowment of richness, humour, and humanity, a gift where there are no "dirty" words to describe the body or denigrate sexuality. (12)

What a contrast to the image of the colonizing teacher, in literature and in history, not just as seducer but as abuser of cultural identity and of individual children. Brian Moore's novel, Black Robe, vividly demonstrates the contradictions of guilt and sin imposed on the duality of mind and body. Spying in 17th-century North America, as part of initial European contact, on "les sauvages ... like dogs coupling" (p. 54), Jesuit missionary, Father Laforgue is sexually aroused and ejaculates, and then flagellates himself with willows to punish himself for these sins and, symbolically, for all the sins of sexual molestation and physical abuse at the hands of clerics in Residential Schools in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Despite rich beginnings for eros and the erotic in both Aboriginal and Greek cultures, we continue to teach that pedagogy is not a sensual and intuitive search for wholeness but rather a rational and technical pursuit of competency and skills that become normative through standardized testing of both students and teachers. (13) What kind of burden of responsibility for authenticity and identity do such assumptions impose on educators, particularly queer ones? Authenticity is judged by the power of applause or approval and students' rating of our performance. We need this approval or, like the actor on the stage, we fail. Thus teacher-educators encourage student-teachers, for example, to entice pupils with a "set," grab attention and learn to work the crowd with their bodies and their eyes, to play up to their charges, cajoling them to "work with me on this," "play ball" and hopefully gain trust for the engagement and seduction into teaching and learning.

Student-teachers who fail to establish their presence in the classroom (lacking "with-it-ness" their supervisors whisper) have failed to seduce their students with the power of their personalities. We see too academics floundering in their role as teachers, blinking blindly through the glare of data projectors, caught like deer in headlights, clinging to the authority of their own texts, insisting on the primacy of ideas, refusing to see how the dancer is the dance. But what if these dances, including gender performativity, are in themselves inauthentic or closeted or unacknowledged? In failing to acknowledge, much less celebrate, the tension and synergy between eros and erotics, do we, particularly if we are gay or lesbian, encourage in ourselves and our students a false consciousness of what pedagogy is? How do we, with intentionality, reach for what Grimmet (1997) in critiquing the mere busy-ness of schools calls the "focally real"? Following Britzman (2003, 1991), Pinar (2001) suggested we should be creating "anxious knowledge" about concepts of identity, such as manhood, that we know are inherently in flux, inherently unstable (pp. 11-13).

Aristotle's parabola of pleasure is not a binary between sex and thought. The tension inherent in our humanity plays itself out on a continuum between immortality and mortality, between the young and the old, between ignorance and knowledge, between the student and the teacher. When my father, for example, kept his long hidden secret of his cancers from his adult children, while at the same time insisting my mother take vows of complicit silence to this dirty little secret, he fulfilled his sex's and his generation's adherence to a Hemingway code of taciturn circumspection. Today we might charge him with a profound fear of intimacy, only emotional--by turns gleeful or raging--when drunk. While I flatter myself to think I understand my father's "dis-ability," I also know I cannot ascribe to this model of living and dying in my own life, any more than I could ignore the "coming out imperative", or accept the binary of Platonic duality in my teaching.

Tentative Conclusions

Teaching can be seductive and alluring, to both students and teachers. The act of teaching sets us clearly on the tightrope stretching between eros and the erotic, and between innocence and wisdom, between the young and the old. In the students who greet us each September, forever the same age and saccharine as an ABBA song, and forever reminding us that we are no longer young, we see poignantly the struggle ahead of them with this business of living, of having and making a life. In light of the senseless violence and tragedies replete in our contemporary and campus worlds, it is we teachers, not our students, who are guiltily aware and somehow culpable because of our "mere" mortality. Literary anthologies are full of poems about death and poems espousing carpe diem sentiments of the Cavalier poets--and I am drawn to teach them--because these are issues with which we teachers are concerned. It is not our students, but us, who need to be encouraged to "gather ye rosebuds while ye may" and "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

For teachers, ageing teachers, and certainly queer teachers, the distance from brave tightrope walker to clown is but a foolish fall. This rumination on eros and the erotic in teaching as the art of seduction has revealed inchoate aspects of my identity as a queer teacher, and led me to interrogate eros and the erotic through an exploration of the media and mortality. Despite significant and liberating advances in human rights for homosexuals over the past decade, the role of the queer teacher has been and remains conflicted: in the past by the burden of the closet and of Socratic dualism, and now by the burden of responsibility for modelling health and openness beyond stereotypes promulgated in popular culture's obsession, like gay culture itself, with youth. I have learned that those of us who have been knocked around by love and death, and shame and guilt and grief, usually conclude that we should be more tentative in our forays into the realm of "truth"--which teaching, in attempting to cultivate passionate desire for what is "right" and "just and good"--is all about. Kelly (1997) suggests that in reclaiming eros we exercise caution.
 Such caution demands, minimally, that we ask continuously of
 ourselves and our pedagogies what the sources of our passions and
 desires are, what effects our passions and desires have on
 others.... (p. 130)

But it is more than a matter of being helpful and useful to others and it is more than eros simply displacing the erotic. Following Felman and Lacan, Kelly sees transference from teacher to student as "an emotional erotic experience" (p. 133). What is often missed in such a discussion is the reciprocity of the process of identification and (counter) transference between student and teacher (Robertson, 1999). bell hooks (1994) and others talk about this eroticism in the building of community and transformative visions. This visionary community building is what queers have been doing stridently and courageously for at least the past three decades. We make sense together; in a pedagogical construct we also need to make sense to others if we, as queer educators, are to be included in the larger community of meaning-makers. Engaged in daily work, we embody a form of advocacy research for ourselves and for all our students as we struggle to queer and que(e)ry the curriculum (Clarke, 1999; Garrison, 1997; MacDonald, 2006; Pinar, 2001; Sears, 1992). We must become ourselves, first for ourselves and then for all teachers, and most importantly for all our students, despite the ambiguity and ambivalence of the discourse in this still largely unmapped territory of eros and the erotic in the queer land of homosexuality.

Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach (1998) speaks of the need for the inner and outer lives of teachers to be congruent in order for any of us to maintain our integrity. This wholeness will show students how to define themselves "authentically and spontaneously in relation to the world," as Merton describes it (cited in hooks, 1994, p. 199). Inspired by Giroux, Roger Simon (1992) talks of the "pedagogy of the possible." As a political act, teaching must rest, he says, on "a fascination with the dignity of those whom we teach" (pp.6-7). For me this wholeness is in continuing to be charmed, intrigued, captivated, enchanted, in short--seduced--by youth in all their brave, frustrating, naive, sweet ignorance. (14) Regardless of our or their sexual orientation or degree of openness, students will not grant to us the permission to teach if we do not accord to them, and celebrate with them, the majesty they desire. This is the passionate desire of both eros and the erotic that we must cultivate: the desire to learn and to love; our mortality insists on it. Pedagogy is an act of privilege; with straight teachers, gay and lesbian teachers must jettison Hollywood stereotypes and create their own pedagogical models and images. It has taken me twenty-five years to realize that teaching is an affair not just of the mind, but of the heart and the body.


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University of Regina

James McNinch, Faculty of Education, University of Regina.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to James McNinch, Faculty of Education, University of Regina, Regina, SK, Canada, S4S 0A2. Electronic mail:

(1) Allan Bloom (1987) commented that the human soul is a parabola spread between two peaks, displaying "tropical variety and ambiguity" (p. 137). Bloom's own conflicted and closeted homosexuality both explains and undermines his strident attachment to a conservative canon and to Platonic duality.

(2) I use "gay and lesbian" and "queer" roughly as homonyms, although "queer" implies a stronger sense of critical consciousness.

(3) Ebert (1996) articulates a Marxist view that speaks to the struggle for consciousness op pressed minorities have experienced, as opposed to the "libidinal pedagogy" of the privileged. For Ebert "the pedagogies of pleasure" are a middle-class indulgence (see Ebert, 1996, pp. 795819).

(4) The martyrdom of the priest taking vows of chastity remains for most an impossibly idealized virtue. Cf. the 1996 Canadian film Lilies in which Saint Sebastian figures prominently in an exploration of young homosexual love and betrayal.

(5) Alexander (1997) makes useful distinctions between Platonic Eros ("the drive for the ideal") and Freudian Eros ("sublimated sexuality") and what he sees in Dewey and Gadamer's work as a form of "Human Eros," that is, "this basic drive for experiencing meaning and value" (pp. 333-324).

(6) Despite the popularity of television programs such as Will and Grace, living happily ever after as an openly gay teacher in Middle America is not yet the stuff of comedic media representations of queers who teach. The positive spin on gay teacher identity in In & Out is still outnumbered by more typically negative caricatures. In Coming of Age movies, adolescent audiences take satisfaction and find revenge in portraits of teachers as idiots, boors, and malevolent beings--vampires, aliens, or simply exhausted "nerdly" shells, like ... "anyone, anyone?"... the brilliantly parodied answer-seeking burned-out history teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986).

(7) See Glavin (1997) for a deconstruction of the role of the teacher as manipulator and seductive mentor in Stand and Deliver and Dead Poets Society (pp. 14-26) and Bauer (1998) for a critique of culturally sanctioned sexuality in pedagogy in The Mirror Has Two Faces. Kelly (1997) does a good job of explaining identification and transference in To Sir with Love. See also Mitchell and Weber (1999), and Bell (1998) for critical discussions of popular culture and teacher identity.

(8) My own performance of straight teacher in the nineteen eighties looked like this: Big Bee Gees hair, tight flat-front pants, pink cotton button down shirts, and baby blue ties. This construction was not mere fashion: it presented a particular (hetero)-sexuality (in contrast to two of my English teacher colleagues: Mr. McPherson who was never without his patched-at-the-elbows Harris Tweed jacket, and Sister Jasmine, always in some variation of black wool). Like current student-teachers, I assumed my appearance paramount to meaning and intent.

(9) What do we make of the Greek concept of agape, that ultimately "we become what we love"? The Greeks made the education of eros, i.e., passionate desire, the supreme aim of education--the desire for and to do "good." The result of such an education is supposed to be practical wisdom: the ability to distinguish between what we immediately desire and what proves truly desirable after reflection, that is, what is for the common good: values, laws, principles, and ethics. Schools and universities used to pride themselves on bearing the burden of such ethical responsibility. It was not merely a question of teaching the young delayed or sublimated gratification. As an extension of many phallic or patriarchal narratives in our culture, this responsibility was a noble charge that lent integrity and thus dignity to the academy. For many this is, in itself, a romantic and seductive idea.

(10) According to a survey in Campus Canada, 38 percent of male and 63 percent of female undergraduates still fantasize about having sex with a professor (Intini, 2000, pp. 12-14). This discourse can also be seen in the "hotness" chilli peppers awarded on the <rate my> web-site. From Plato and Socrates to Shaw's Pygmalion (1916) or Morag Gunn and Brook Skelton in Margaret Laurence's The Diviners (1974), there has always been the potential for the erotic in teacher/student roles. The role of the governess, the live-in teacher, in Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) and Henry James' Turn of the Screw (1898) shows the heightened, often hysterical, tension between eros and the erotic because of the ambiguous power relationships between master, servant, and child. Who is seducing whom is the precise question that Bronte and James would wish us to ask. Plato, in the Dialogues, warns young men to take care not to confuse tenderness with romance; older men seek their own pleasure at the expense of the young.

(11) For Norval Morrisseau, the Ojibwa artist "... a homosexual is one of the most gifted persons there is. I think all shamans are homosexual, or, anyway bisexual (in Martin, 1999, p. 42).

(12) I am indebted to colleagues Jo-Ann Episkenew, Heather Hodgson, and Neal McLeod for helping me clarify this. See also Cannon's (2004) seminal article, The Regulation of First Nations Sexuality.

(13) The parallel between Aboriginal and Ancient Greek mythology is illuminating. Eros in the Aristophanes myth of three-sexed humanity is male, female, and androgynous but then split by the gods who felt threatened by them and leave the parts longing for the whole. Eros in this scenario is the force that prompts the pursuit of wholeness, a wholeness implicitly understood in traditional Aboriginal conceptions of sexual identities.

(14) Edmonton playwright, Brad Fraser (1999) speaks of and is drawn to the seductive powers of youth--their energy, their confusion, their passion, admitting he prefers to "hang" with adolescents rather than with his peers. Partly embarrassed by and partly envious of Fraser, I find him, with T.S. Elliot's Prufrock, as well as myself, "At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-/ Almost at times, the Fool[s]. I grow old ... I grow old ... /I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled" (11. 118-121).
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