On Being A Gay Teacher
I’m extremely pleased to present today’s Guest Slap. The author, who prefers to remain anonymous, is a gay high school science teacher here in Canada. Today, he shares his thoughts and experiences on what it means to be gay in a complex learning environment.
To be out or not to be out: That is the question; whether it is better to suffer the slurs and taunts of outrageous cowards, or take care with every word you say, and keep your true self guarded. This choice is faced by many in my school and every other school. The purpose of high school is all about learning who you are, more than about learning Archimedes’ Principle, conic sections, or how to play the flute. But because of the highly judgmental nature that exists in a milieu of teenagers, the decision of whether or not to come out of the closet is difficult for anyone in a high school, especially someone like me, a teacher.
I bet that many students who read this had never even considered the prospect that the person standing in front of you on Monday morning droning on and on about some dead poet could possibly be gay. After all, everyone knows that teachers live in the school, never take off their work clothes, and disappear in a puff of chalk dust on the weekends, only to re-materialize the following Monday in the teacher’s lounge. They certainly don’t have emotions, parents, friends, social lives, or sex. My students couldn’t believe that I went out for karaoke with my co-workers, and when I told them that—even though I don’t have kids—I bought a Nintendo Wii, they asked “What do you use it for?” So I’m pretty sure that if I were to tell them that I am gay, their brains would implode; it would be that difficult for them to comprehend.
When I was student teaching just a few years ago, I realized that it wouldn’t be long before I would have to make that decision about how out I would be at school. Every school has a different atmosphere when it comes to how well minorities are accepted, and thankfully, at mine both the administration and general student body are relatively open-minded and accepting. For example, on one of the first days of the year, I saw a group of kids surrounding two boys who were scuffling around. Immediately I thought “Oh God, I’m going to have to break up a fight.” But it turned out that they were having a dance-off to a Pokémon song they had invented. Still, no group of teenagers is free of bigotry. Everyone who has gone through high school knows that picking on the minority is an effective way to increase one’s social standing among the majority. So because of that, some gay teachers try to live a completely closeted professional life, and don’t open up their true selves to anyone at school. Others are completely fine with being out and proud to everyone, and even wear their leather outfits to school on Halloween (yeah, I’m not kidding there).
So I made the decision to make no decision; just to be myself. To any colleagues who I consider my friends, I am completely out. I’ve gone out for drinks with them, played Scrabble with them, taken them to see drag shows, and invited them over for dinner to meet my same-sex fiancé. With anyone who I know strictly on a professional level, like the principal of my school, or my students, I haven’t shared that side of my life. But if they find out, or if it comes up in conversation, I’m not going to hide anything; I’ll just be honest about who I am. After all, my students aren’t my friends; we can be friendly, but we can’t be friends. The rare teachers that do treat their students like actual friends, telling them about their night out at the bar… well, they’re just creepy to the exponent creep.
Sometimes I wonder if I would be a better role model for those students who are questioning their sexuality if I were more open about my homosexuality, even though it would mean opening myself up to personal attacks from homophobes. When I was in grade 12, would it have helped me to know that my Canadian History teacher was gay? Would it have helped me to come to terms with my sexuality easier? Would it have hindered my understanding of Wolfe & Montcalme?
Eventually, I just realized that being out doesn’t have to involve being out to everyone—just everyone you care about. So I choose simply to be who I am. After all, isn’t that what coming out of the closet is all about?
Thanks again to today’s special guest author!