My 10th grade biology teacher, Mr Thomas C Twilley, is among the greatest humans who ever walked the earth.
I didn’t especially like science until I had Mr Twilley. But because of him, I will always know the Latin name for flat worms (Platyhelminthes! Platy! Flaty! Hel! I said HELL!!! Minthes!) and round worms (annelida! round worm! annelida! round worm!) and how digestion works (wanna make hormone? put a little pressure on the belly! wanna make a (w)hor(e)… mo(a)n(e)? put a little pressure on the belly!), among a very great deal else.
And because of him, I’m a much better teacher than I would otherwise be. I make up silly mnemonics for my students (wolffian, weenie! mullerian, mamma!), I chant, I sing, I use humor and s p a c ed r e p e t i t i o n. s p a c e d… r e p e t i t i o n. what do I use? i use s p a c e d… that’s right, r e p e t i t i o n. And I listen seriously when my students talk, just as though what they’re saying matters. Because it does.
And because of him I fuckin’ LOVE biological science. He introduced me to the power of evolution; it took me 10 more years actually to GET, I mean really deeply GET evolution (“The thing about evolution is, if it hasn’t turned your brain inside out, you haven’t properly understood it.” – D. Adams), but without Mr. Twilley I might never have gotten there. Now I’m thinking of getting a damn tattoo of Darwin’s tree of life.
But most importantly, from glorious, brilliant, charming, funny, friendly, geeky, wonderful Mr Twilley I had my first introduction to sex positivity. See, he had each and every one of us write a paper, and all he gave us was the title. The title was:
THE Beauty… THE Wonder… The Menstrual Cycle.
Now remember, this is a class of 15 and 16 year old American kids. We were near a maximum “ew gross!!” phase about body fluids. Especially fluids related to (sh!!) VAGINAS. And here we’re given the task of writing a paper (no specified length) with that title.
He was simply taking away the option of treating menstruation as if it were gross, and he was doing it in a funny, ironic, totally accessible way.
Now, I was a sheltered nerd of a kid who didn’t want to touch condoms when they were passed around in health class; I didn’t know why they were WET and I didn’t WANT to know. Sheltered. Ignorant. But then here’s Mr Twilley and his paper.
I adored, I just ADORED the fact that my own reproductive cycle was being handed me as beautiful and wondrous thing. The assumption of positivity gave me permission to be curious. I went to the University of Delaware library and taught myself about luteal phases and follicle stimulating hormones and all the rest of it. Because I had permission to be curious, my curiosity went wild. Oh, what would I give to see a copy of that paper now!
Mr Twilley gave us the chance to learn the science of human reproduction AND to challenge our culturally constructed disgust, without ever trying to force it on us! He just ASSUMED it was normal, natural, even wonderful. Nowadays I call it a cognitive dissonance exercise, but then I just thought it was BRILLIANT.
(What do I use? I use s p a c e d… that’s right, r e p e t i t i o n.)
There is a small number of people I can point to who directly contributed to making me the oddball sex educator I am today – I can count them without taking off my shoes – and Mr Twilley is one of them.
Week 2 of my Women’s Sexuality class next semester is about sexual physiology. The title of the section on women’s reproductive cycles?
I’ll give you one guess.
EDIT: Mr Twilley died on July 22, 2011, a year and a week after I wrote this post. Love to his family and to the many students who share my mourning for his loss and my celebration of the gift he was to those of us who were taught by him.