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Memoirs of a Gay Teacher

by Gert Hekma in Films & Books , 20 september 2004

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Peter van Maaren, the writer of the strongly autobiographical book Mijn meester is homo (My teacher is Gay; unfortunately a translation is not available) has worked as a teacher for a VMBO (pre vocational education) school of the Regional Educational Center (ROC as they are called in Dutch) in the neighbourhood of Amsterdam. From the beginning of the eighties he had chosen to come out as gay and didn’t want to hide the fact that he’s homosexual.

For the first time is described in a book, what the media have brought as an item for quite a long time: the discrimination of homosexual teachers in the world of education. In 200 pages Peter van Maaren tells about a hundred incidents he had because of his honesty about his sexual preference. The way he describes how things go along similar lines, is clear. Most of the students in his classes are prejudiced when it comes to homosexuality. In many case he’s able to be open and to answer concrete questions of his students and take away their prejudices.

In many cases the students, girls and boys of all ethnic origins, get fond of him because of his honesty. Boys have a romp with him, while the girls talk with him about their love problems and questions. Sometimes they consult him about personal problems around sex and their own sexual preference. He does the best he can to answer all these questions. What is nice is the fact that he has an eye for the effect of sexual attraction in the classroom. He loves his Turkish and Moroccan boys because he thinks they’re tough and pretty. But that’s why white girls also like these students. That doesn’t mean they’re in for the sexual boldness these boys allow themselves.

Because white girls are dressed sexy and do not always avoid sex, a lot of Muslim boys have the idea that they’re sluts and whores, which as honourless creatures should put up with their butt pinching and breast pawing. Peter van Maaren was able, as an honourless "ibne" or "zemmel" (Turkish and Moroccan for "faggot"), to establish some respect by being honest and brave, and by his sex education.

The biggest problems aren’t his students, but his colleagues and the school board. They constantly force him to hide his sexual preference and to stop teaching sex education.

As if this isn’t a subject of sociology, which he teaches. The white colleagues are afraid that his clarity might cause problems. Van Maaren opposes that the students are appreciating his honesty.

His involvement with the students is also not appreciated. He makes clear how hard it is to fight against the prejudice of his white colleagues.

Because not only they don’t want him to teach sex education or talk openly about his homosexuality, but him having a romp with his students they consider to be way out of line.

Talking about heterosexual relationships is considered normal, about such subjects as partners, having children and marriages.
However, when a gay man starts to talk about his relationship, it’s suddenly improper. By this he would be sexualising the atmosphere. The school board denies him to use the students’ toilets, a rule which is not in force for straight teachers. They're probably afraid he might shag with the boys in there.

During international school trips his male colleagues don’t want to share a room with him and suggest him to sleep with a female colleague instead. When, during a school party, he’s dancing with a homosexual colleague the other teachers frown their eyebrows. Van Maaren thought these problems would disappear over the years; but his colleagues are confronting him with their prejudices time and time again. When he has problems with children from other classes who call him names or spit at him, the board refuses to stand up for him.

The school commission against discrimination and intimidation doesn’t see it as their duty to protect a teacher for students. Their only assignment is to protect students for teachers, not even students for students. The constant inclination of the school board and colleagues to ignore prejudices and to get rid if it, to cover it with the cloak of charity and not solving it, makes this book very depressing in some ways. When male students rape a girl, the board doesn’t act up.

When van Maaren is being threatened with a gun or knife for example, because he doesn’t want to give a student an afternoon off, the headmaster tells him he has to give back the weapon to the student after class, because these are simply the rules. The school will not report violence to the police because this might cause a bad reputation. The last thing the board worries about is his well-being, when he’s getting a gun pointed in his face. As fast as possible they like to hush up the case.

Peter van Maaren is an incorrigible optimist. He fights himself through the problems over and over again.

He prefers to take interest in his students and identifies himself more with them as with his colleagues. In the end he suffers from it. At the end of the story he ends up with an invalidity benefit.

It isn’t the resistance of the white and other students that settled his hash, but the hetero-normative opinions of his colleagues and the school board.

It’s sad we have to state that the profits of thirty years of gay emancipation get ruined by a public culture which only acknowledges and consolidates heterosexual relationships.

At schools like the ones Peter van Maaren used to work, an extra investment in gay information seems to be more than wanted. Because of the managers, who fear problems with students, which can be solved with some exertion according to the author, nothing changes. It’s more the laxness and the heterosexual prepossession of white school boards than the homosexual aversion of students from ethnic origin that needs to be approached.

All stories of other gay teachers make it quite clear that the case of Peter van Maaren doesn’t stand by itself. Research turned out that in more schools gay teachers and students do experience problems, or that the acceptance of homosexuality remains kind of shallow. In the past there have been proposals to work on the school climate and make it more gay-friendly, to introduce more study material about homosexuality in education, not only in sociology classes but also in language teaching, history classes, gym classes and at other places. The inspectorate of education announced to attend with a closer look when it comes to homosexual discrimination, and the politics should live by this.

The book of Peter van Maaren will be an eye-opener for many people, because of his many concrete examples. It’s a pity he is so strongly involved with his own story and therefore ignores the experiences of others. Also the misery of the ROC becomes a little bit too much for the reader sometimes. Fortunately opposite of it, there is his unlimited optimism.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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