Toronto
3 min

Reconsidering higher education

What the hell am I doing? It’s five in the morning and I am busting my ass preparing applications to do something I never thought I would do.

No, it isn’t military college, the Conservative Party or Rosie O’Donnell’s great big gay cruise — those I will definitely never do. It’s university, the pursuit of “higher education” that I abandoned some 10 years back to join “the real world.”

I feel partly brave and partly like I am caving to the pressure of “making something of myself” in a way the world, queer or not, considers valid, irrefutable and intelligent.

I’m 29 — I just realized I assert my age almost to the point of obsession right now. I refer to it at least once a day, which is a seemingly abnormal thing to do unless you are three years old and these are some of the only words you know.

I have been recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive dis-order. I think turning 30 this year might have something to do with it, although it seems like a debatable, chicken-and-egg scenario.

Anyhow, I’m 29, which has come to represent the most significant crossroads in my life so far. I am facing the choice to grow up or not, to get healthy or not, to explore my horizons or commit to the career at which I have come to feel capable, comfortable, competent. It was never my goal to be comfortable but, when you think about it, uncomfortable doesn’t seem like a good goal either.

It’s funny. I know that academia is the place where a lot of new thinking and progressive language for queers and many other marginalized groups is born. But I feel like it is also somehow a very unprogressive place to be. What exactly is my issue with school? (I recently heard a clip from artist/teacher Carolina Echeverria on a CBC podcast where she says, “All these kids have issues. I couldn’t even translate the word ‘issues.’ We don’t have issues in Spanish.” Thank goodness my daughter has some Colombian in her).

Maybe it just represents an unprogressive place for me. I did exceptionally well in grade school. I did reasonably well in high school. I flunked out of university. The more I came out the lower my grades went. Thinking about school puts a bad taste in my mouth and I guess it isn’t easy to imagine why.

School was the be all and end all of my social scene while I was there. My sexuality, and my internalized perceptions of what that sexuality meant for both my role in the world and my understanding of significant events in my childhood, contributed to an extremely private and largely constructed persona.

I avoided parties, alcohol, drugs, cars, boys, girls — pretty much all the makings of a quintessential North American teenage student experience. I went to Catholic schools for most of my life where my emerging sexuality was anything but celebrated so I used all the intelligence I could muster to impress, feel valuable, feel good at something.

As I started to care less about how “good” I was (because an A didn’t do anything to change the fact that I was not good at being straight) my performance at school as well as my appreciation for the rewards of formal education plummeted.

I have to work on shedding the negative associations I have about school that are casting an ugly light over the whole idea even now. Universities have queer student groups, queer pub nights, queer theory in the curriculum. Going back to school 10 years after graduating high school will be completely different. I won’t care anymore about sitting alone in the cafeteria, wearing the right shoes or whether those girls in the stairwell were whispering about me because they think I’m gay (and I secretly have a crush on one of them). God, this is like Never Been Kissed all over again. Please don’t make it be like Never Been Kissed.

For many people I know, high school and university were their glory days. They were in the prime of their coolness — trendy, sexually adventurous, fearless and free. I didn’t find any of those things at school. In fact I am still looking for all of them. At this rate I will hit my coolness prime in my 60s, when I’ll be lucky if the woman I love is still paying attention, let alone anyone else.

I don’t really have any fond memories of school beyond maybe Grade 3. It was a bitch, I was glad to see it go. So for me to be voluntarily pursuing it again seems crazy. But still it’s seemingly necessary if I want to redirect the course of my career right now.

Did I mention that I’m 29?

Julia Gonsalves appears in every other issue.