One of my pedagogical questions for myself in teaching the AIDS anthology, "Persistent Voices," is if I should disclose my HIV-negative status in the classroom. Here are what I see as the advantages and disadvantages in doing so:
1.) If they know I'm HIV-negative, students may be more likely to engage in an aesthetic evaluation of the material. If they think that there's the possibility of me being HIV +, then they might feel "forced" to praise the material no matter how weak some of the poems may be (and some of them are. Which isn't a bad thing. All anthologies have weak material. That's the fun of teaching an anthology--you essentially make your own anthology within the framework of a larger anthology. This is why teachers create selected readings)
2.) If they know I'm HIV-negative and there's an openly HIV + student in the classroom, that student may feel that they bear the brunt of authenticating the material. This could limit the conversation in that no one would want to "hurt" the student's feelings. It would also advance a whole set of problems when I disagreed with the student.
3.) If I declare myself as HIV-negative, I might allow myself to be less self-conscious about how HIV + "feel" or what I have to say about aesthetic and political issues. It's exhausting even if of ultimate importance to realize and acknowledge the diversity in the classroom.
4.) If I don't disclose my status, I might have to spend an inordinate time in the classroom attempting to "convince" my students they can really tell me what they think of the poems.
5.) If I don't disclose my status, students might assume I'm HIV + and tell other students of what they assume my status to be, and I could be gossiped about.
6.) I like being gossiped about. I like attention of any sort.
7.) If I don't disclose my HIV-negative status, I might be saying that one should withhold naming in a public realm. Which may make me come across as cowardly. It may also come off as an endorsement that HIV-status should only be talked about to a certain extent. And in certain ways.
8.) If I disclose my HIV-negative status, it may make the material feel less urgent.
9.) If I don't disclose my HIV status, it'll force students to be even more usefully self-conscious. They could give more thought to the poems and perhaps even more importantly in their relationships with people beyond the classroom.
10.) If I don't disclose my HIV-status, an HIV + student may assume that I might be able to help them with knowledge I don't possess.
11.) If I disclose that I'm HIV-negative and I've had a boyfriend (not husband, that would be delusional, even if sweet, to claim) for 12 years would that cause students to think of me as The Good Homosexual because my relationship may be similar to their parents'. Except that I've been pretty happy.
12.) If I disclose my HIV status, will my students think that I think I believe monogamy is the only way to go?
13.) If I disclose my HIV status, will my students incorrectly believe that I think that pure lust and acting out and recreational sex are bad things? Or even lesser things? When I actually believe there needs to be more of them in this world.
14.) I am HIV-negative. That's a fact. Why try to elude a fact?
15.) Isn't there something inevitably self-congratulatory in an HIV-negative gay man teaching an AIDS anthology?
I'll probably be adding and maybe even subtracting from this post as the days go on.
Poetry workshop at Decatur Writers Studio
4 weeks ago