Apr 7, 2015

Fall 2006: Outed in the Locker Room of a Jewish High School

One day when I was living in San Francisco, Kevin the Vampire showed me the want ad section of the San Francisco Chronicle with a job circled: a man to teach English and Spanish at a Jewish high school.

"The perfect job for you!" he exclaimed.  "You could forget about this back-to-grad-school nonsense and stay in San Francisco,"

"Sounds interesting," I said noncommittally. Teaching high school?  

"And it's only a few blocks south of my apartment.  Very convenient, once you move in!"

"But I don't have teacher certification."

"That's not necessary for teaching at private schools in California."

"And I'm not Jewish."

"So you pretend.  You've been to synagogues.  You can read Hebrew.  It won't be difficult."

I looked at the ad.  "Why do they want men only?"

"Because it's a boy's school, and in Orthodox Judaism, women can't teach men. It's above their station."

"Wait -- they would never hire anyone gay -- Orthodox means homophobic.  They think we have no morals or self-control, so we'll be trying to seduce all the students."

Kevin rolled his eyes.  "My dear naive Boomer, haven't you figured it out yet?  All breeders are homophobic!  They want us dead, every one of them!  That's why we must pretend to be straight, every time we set foot outside the Castro!  Or is it just shyness that keeps us from holding hands as we walk down Geary Street?"

"You're right, of course. You always have to be careful in public."

"Not careful -- a whole new person.  Someone who gazes longingly at women and has never heard the word 'gay.'  We must always wear the mask.  This job will only make it more obvious."

So I tweaked my resume: my semester in Turkey became a semester in Tel Aviv, my volunteering with youth at the gay church became at a straight synagogue, and my reason for abandoning my Ph.D. changed from they were homophobic to they were antisemitic.

Sure enough, a few days later, the principal called me in for an interview.  He was Dr. Meyer, a grinning, rotund fellow, balding, with a close-cropped white beard.

He asked the usual questions about my education and experience, and then what it was like growing up "different" in western Illinois.  He meant "Jewish," of course, but my experiences with "what girl do you like?" heterosexism transferred easily into "what church do you go to?"

He asked why I moved to California.  I changed it's a gay haven to it's got the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.

He asked about my wife.  I changed Lane to Leanne, and gave us two kids, Isaac and Miriam.

"Your students will all be seniors," Dr. Meyer said, "18 years old, legal adults, but afraid to move out into the world.  Your job will be to encourage them to seek out new experiences, meet new people."

I wanted to ask "Like gay people?"  But I didn't.

For my sample teaching, I led a class of seniors in a discussion of The Great Gatsby, carefully omitting any reference to gay subtexts.

Then came the campus tour.  A library crowded with studious high school boys poring over the Talmud.  A gym class full of muscular 18-year old jocks playing basketball, divided into shirts and skins.

This might not be a bad place to work after all.

As Dr. Meyer escorted me through the locker room, I was ambushed!

Eight or nine high school musclemen in towels and jockstraps.  A flurry of hand-shaking and shoulder-patting, and every one of them, in turn, grabbed and squeezed my bicep.

"Are you going to be our new teacher?"
"I need lots of help with AP English!"
"Will you be available for after-school tutoring?"
"How would you feel about starting a Spanish club?"
"No, we need him to be faculty adviser for the paper!"

Finally Dr. Meyer pushed through them, snarled "Don't pester the candidate," and led me away.

"Well, that was fun!" I exclaimed, glowing with exhilaration.  "Are they always so,,,um, physical?"

"Touching the tefilim of a teacher is a mitzvah.  Of course, you weren't wearing any, so they had to improvise." (Tefilim: prayer boxes attached to the arm and head).

Why was he staring at me so oddly?

"They seemed to like me," I said, feebly.

"Yes...um...well, I think we have everything we need.  We'll be calling the successful candidate before Shabbos."

He didn't call.

I think the ambush was a test, to weed out the gay candidates. Straight guys were supposed to find contact with other men repugnant, so they shrank back in disgust from the shoulder-patting and bicep-squeezing.

See also: My Date with the Vampire.

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