I’ve been meaning to blog this for a while but keep forgetting. A few weeks back a discovered the online autobiography of sociologist John Alan Lee. He is for me one of the ‘godfathers’ of my field and I have become hooked on reading his texts, and then reading the ‘backstory’ contained in his blog. Reading who he was (in his words) fucking while also producing his landmark work is fascinating. It was still a time when texts weren’t endlessly referenced (there was little or no pre-exisiting literature) and sociologists and anthropologists often alluded to how they gained their ‘knowledge’. Tracing his story from 1933 to the end of 2008 is an amazing journey and powerfully moving. I’m making it a suggested pre-read for the module next year.

A good example of what to expect from the more explicit entries is this from June 14, 1966:

‘June 14. This summer is proving to be my most promiscuous yet. I’m bringing home three or four tricks a week. Bars, discos, baths, parks, the street– I’m cruising everywhere. What voracious hunger!

I’ve taken the cherry of four gay men this month (fucked them for their first time). I’ve learned how to do it painlessly, by encouraging the guy to take control: “I’ll just put my cock there, you take it in at your own speed. Don’t hurry. There’s lots of time. Once you begin to want it, you’ll be surprised how much you enjoy it.” And they do’.

The honesty is wonderful and left me wondering what would happen if we all released these kind of academic biographies. He was the first Canadian student to visit Communist China and I think was the first Canadian academic to publicly come out. As an academic Lee combined his study of sexuality with a keen interest in teaching and was a radical faculty member arguing many views that would now be recognised as sensible. One move that would still be regarded as radical was when one of his classes, who had listened to his long dislike of examinations refused to sit his examination in December 1983. He describes is as:

December 19. I’ve inspired another first: the entire 36
students in my Sociology of Education course have boycotted their final exam.
Under the leadership of several bright and mature women, the class arrived at
the exam room, signed in, but refused to write. They’re taking seriously the
approach I discussed in class — that examinations are not a good measure of
learning. Such a demonstration has never happened before in this university,
even in the glorious Sixties.

I was thrilled. Soon after, I went to the college Xmas party and ran into
Dean Krashinsky- the same one who opposed my Unemployed project — and told him.
He was furious, and assured me the students would be punished.’

I am not suggesting any of you revising for follow his advice! His description of the follow up department meeting will ring a bell of familiarity for many modern academics:

‘January 10. Mayhem! Academic Affairs spent three hours on the boycotting students and still couldn’t agree. Dean Krashinsky poured scorn on my defence of the students: “An inspiring but irrelevant speech;” yet his motions were defeated!

My students are hanging strong. Most attended the meeting. It was their first experience in observing academics at work in committee. It’s a testimony to their courage that they have not bowed to threats about delaying their graduation.

Using suggestions from colleagues, I started my argument with the famous Yale experiments on submission to authoritarian behaviour, and ended with the holocaust as proof of what happens when people merely obey orders. The Dean, Jewish in background, objected angrily to “trivialization” of the holocaust, but he clammed up when I rejoined: “Sir, you forget that many thousands of my people (homosexuals) also perished in the ovens.” [ Some weeks later he came round to my office to apologize: “I hope you bear no ill feelings”].

Of course I don’t consider my motives saintly; each of us acts out of personal interest. It suits me to be militant. I like the attention and I am willing to pay the cost in social rejection.’

The next entry in his autobiography reads: January 19. I spent delightful hours with Rory tonight — I tied him to the stair-post and fucked him silly. He loved it.’ I wonder if his students knew? lol. Read it folks, it’s brilliant! It can be accessed here.