Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Sometimes, when someone really wants you to know something, they don't tell you. They let you discover it.

In the freshman comp class I'm TAing, a student turned to me today and asked, "Want to read my paper?”

I said, "Sure." I'm not going to turn down a student, especially one who's even mildly excited about the admittedly dry subject of essay writing. Plus I'd been curious about the quality of the students' final drafts (as a TA, I don't grade). And beyond all that, I love reading.

The paper was about his experience being an ethnic minority gay man in the military who'd been raised Catholic and is currently in a relationship with another gay serviceman. It discusses the possible consequences Proposition 8 could have on him, if upheld.

The paper was not only well organized and demonstrated a depth of critical thinking, but was also impassioned, measured, and extremely affecting. I read it and thought, I hope he gets a God damn A. (I may be biased, though; Prop 8 still pisses me off.) The other thing I thought was how generous it was of him to share this with me. I've liked this student from day one--funny, engaged, earnest, polite--and I take it as a compliment that he chose to divulge this to me.

The students anonymously workshopped their papers in class this evening, and when this student got his back, the only comment written on it was "gay." I am choosing to think of it as a topic assessment rather than a disparaging remark. I am also choosing to think that the reason no one commented on the paper wasn't that they didn't know how to approach the topic, but that they were so affected by the writing, that they didn't have any criticism.


Lakin said...

Michelle...I hope you are able to talk directly to this young man to let him know that he's a good writer and a fine man. That comment must be so hurtful to someone who has written in such a heartfelt manner and been so open. I know I would be stunned. Though I don't know the other students in the class (what age they are, etc), it would be difficult not to read the comment as derogatory. I do hope he knows it says more about the other students than it does about him and his writing.

Of course, I might not be reading the situation correctly, not having been there.

lpanik said...

Life is never fair. The ones who are the fairest with their fellow man always get the "bum" rap. What if he substituted the gay part for a young slovak immigrant back in the 30's writing the same paper about being rejected from the army for having flat feet. He had the desire to serve his county but the law then said he could not. You will soon find out too often in life laws are not necessarily fair or right but what politicians pass to get reelected nothing more. Take him aside and confidentially tell him, Thank you from me. I for one appreciates his service no matter what his preference is. DAD

Michelle Panik said...

Might you be the Lakin from the Napa Writers Conference who was ever-present with the video camera? I sing the praises of that conference to whoever will listen (really, I clasp my hands in front of my chest, stand up tall, and start belting it out).

I appreciate both of your support of the student. He's travelled all over the world with the military, so I'd hope that a lame comment from another student wouldn't affect him too much.

Kathryn Law said...

Good for you, Michelle. How sad that there are still so many closed minds. Tragic, even. I too am grateful for his service. And the whole human race should be grateful for his honesty and courage.

Lakin said...

why, yes I am that videographer-gal! I'm so glad that you enjoyed the conference; I love it too. I hope you apply again sometime. Who were you working with?

I agree with you that this guy can handle the lame comment. He's probably seen/heard worse. Still, it's bothersome that the reader of the essay focused on that one quality and didn't pay any attention to the writer's courage and service on our behalf. I hope the writer knows that so many of us do thank him.