I’ve taught in the classroom for two years and taught dance for five years before that. I fought this part of my identity for much of my growing up, not wanting to be just like my mom and my sister who were both educators. Now look at me – loving being in the classroom and praying I become more and more like the women in my family. 

When I add on the layer of being a gay teacher, navigating a classroom with twelve and thirteen year olds can become… tricky. 

There is a great need for representation, especially knowing that at this point in my students’ lives, many of them are coming into their own, and that may in fact for them mean coming out.

I have also always taught in the Bible belt and have had to hold my proud queerness in one hand with profound reverence for my students’ families’ religious beliefs in the other. 

It’s a balancing act I’ve tried to handle delicately, and have found a few ways to hold both a little more steady. 

Coming out with authenticity is key. 

I never come out to my students on day 1. It feels incredibly fake to me to say, “Hey kids, welcome back! How was your summer? Here are photos of me and my wife on the beach. These are my two cats. Also, I love hot yoga and reading books for fun.”

When I was their age, I had been raised to think gay people were wrong. I thought they were too busy doing perverted things to have jobs. So I imagine telling my 12 year old self that introduction, and I don’t trust that teacher. I don’t want to like her. 

So I wait.

I’ve had a student directly ask why I hung a pride flag, so I told her more about me. 

But coming out to the whole class waits until they know me more. It waits until I am a teacher first in their eyes, not the gay teacher. I’d rather be the pushes-me-because-she-believes-in-me teacher, or the makes-me-do-breathing-exercises teacher, or the always-talks-about-Parks and Rec teacher. Then, I want to become the gay teacher. 

Being out means being ready for questions. 

“Ms, were your parents homophobic?” 

“What was dating like in college?”

“How many girls have you dated?”

If the door is opened, the hinges come off fast. 

An affirming classroom is more than a pride flag. 

Yes, a pride flag is good. I’ve had many students comment saying that it means a great deal  to them. 

But if it hung in silence, without any mention of my personal life, without any celebration of queerness in the room, without intent –  it would be performative. Hang only what you commit to engage in. 

Respect the fact that some won’t love this about you.

This is hard and queer people face it everywhere we go. It feels harder though when it’s your students and you have to face the fact that wait, they’ll never, ever like me? 

I think only half are pretending to like me, anyway. And it’s okay. 

Some have been raised in a way similar to how I was and they may need more time to realize the importance of my role. 

Just like I did, they will learn.

And if not, I taught them English damn well. So there. 

Honor the fact that you being out and proud could one day save a life, give your student the courage to come out, or provide a safe space for them to confide in. 

When the student asked, “Ms, were your parents ever homophobic?,” I knew where that conversation was headed. I explained a little of my story and when I asked why they were curious,  they replied, “Well…um, yeah.”

Child, thank you for trusting me.

May there be more teachers, pastors, car-pool drivers, room moms, soccer coaches, that eventually empower the “um, yeah” to transform into –

“I’m gay. Can you help me?”

“I’m questioning my gender. What do I do next?”

“What do I tell my parents?” 

Teachers have the ability to also be role models. Queer representation must be handled delicately and boldly. Leaders need to find our way so the students can see they have one, too. 

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