You were in class. I was at a party.

Don’t get me wrong. English Prof. David Halperin has many lessons. The man behind the University’s “How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation” course that sent conservative regents into a furor when first offered in 2000 (and for years thereafter), Halperin is an accomplished scholar, and the merits of his employment are not in question. He’s brilliant, and he’d be the first to tell you.

Yet when I first registered for his “Queer Fictions of the Past” course last fall, I knew I was in for more than a bunch of books about Oscar Wilde and AIDS. I was OK with that. This was the man who inspired state legislators to propose a bill that would scrutinize higher education funding because they didn’t want a public university “promoting” homosexuality. There had to be something there.

I entered the class the first day under the reasonable assumption that Halperin’s courses were not intended to be a threat to the regents’ children or an affront to taxpayers. The last day, I left thinking they were both.

Let me explain. Walking into that third-floor room in Angell Hall was one of the strangest experiences I’ve had at the University. Designed to hold 40 students, the class had only about 15 registered, mostly good-looking men who all seemed to know each other. (As it turned out, they did: A fellow classmate later told me that half the guys in the class had already hooked up.)

Everyone also seemed to know Halperin, which struck me as strange, but later made perfect sense. Most of them were return students or kids from other majors who were there because of the professor’s reputation.

Ten minutes into the class, Halperin apologized for the section’s meeting so early on Friday morning. “I’m working on it,” he told us. “I know it’s not a very gay hour.”

That pretty much set the tone for the entire semester. Every comment like that got the requisite laughter but also some uneasy looks. The only straight people in the room were a few doe-eyed female English majors, most of whom dropped the first week. On the first day, a freshman girl admitted she took the class because she went to a private high school and wanted to take the “least conservative” class she could find.

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be offended, but people kept talking like that. Usually first-day icebreakers are all stilted conversation about John from West Bloomfield who’s a sophomore and an econ major and an Aquarius. The first day here people were speaking more freely than most do in the 16th week.

Maybe it was because there were so few of us, but I don’t think so. The classroom was permissive and expectant. It was like we were in a different place altogether. There was a sense of collectivism, and that’s exactly the way Halperin would have it.

Every time I went to class after that – and before long it was the only class I went to – I looked at the people across the hall, thinking how different an experience I was having. It wasn’t the coursework, which was fine, but the atmosphere, the conversation. Every so often David would often talk about his past and tell stories, and everyone would just listen, like they were somewhere else entirely.

And I’m serious when I say the class was an event. There were actual parties, though I never went to them, but I’m not talking about those. One minute we’d be deciphering old police documents, the next the conversation would swerve all over the place. For a while, the class seemed incredibly intimate.

I couldn’t believe it. I was pretty sure David Halperin was teaching me how to be gay.

Now before you write your congressman, let’s back up a second. The fate of my sexuality was sealed long before I met David Halperin. What struck me about his class was how he taught it as not only an intellectual but a moral imperative. He knew the syllabus inside out, and he taught it with due attention. But for my money, that’s not why he was there.

He was there because he knew the objections to his classes could never be substantiated. He was there because he knew there were some students who needed a different perspective. He was there because of us.

And that’s where the regents really should fear him. Halperin doesn’t teach his students how to be gay – even he doesn’t have the ego to stake that claim – but he is a maverick social critic, and that’s what’s so dangerous about him. I suspect “How to Be Gay” was meant to spark exactly the reaction it did, but that’s only because Halperin is a smart and amusing man. He knows it’s only a matter of time before those objections collapse on themselves.

When we left for Thanksgiving Break, Halperin assigned “Edward II,” which he figured was esoteric enough for us to read in the company of our parents. That weekend, a classmate sent as an e-mail suggesting that while we sat around the dinner table at home, we imagine what it’d be like to watch a Halperin-picked movie with our families. “Keep your sense of humor,” he wrote.

I did, and I laughed, but not because he was kidding.

– Jeffrey Bloomer is an LSA junior and the managing editor of The Michigan Daily.

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