Coming out to my students frightens me. Will they quit respecting me? Stop listening to my feminine voice? What will their parents do when they find out? But I want to say it, I want to say it; I want the queer among them to know they can grow up.
My father always said that education is the securest investment in the future. As a kid I thought to myself, "What future? Who will I become? Who can a homo kid become?"
I knew I would die, presumably by my own hand, before ever deciding what adulthood meant, but here I am: graduated from Stanford and working as a teacher. I don't know how, but I think it's because of teachers.
* * *
We teachers have every power to show our students a bright and possible future. We are the people they see every day; the people who push them further.
Studying delivered me through depression, failed love and self-hatred. I became a teacher to do the same for my students. To excel myself. To demand the best of young people like me. I wouldn't have wanted to push myself without incredible educators. But they weren't the best at teaching me how to be a functional human being. That's not the purview of teachers, you might say. I disagree. It is the responsibility of anyone who works with young people to show them how to grow up. I've become a teacher to be what mine were not: gay.
How should I come out? I'm convinced I need to show these kids a queer life as it moves into adulthood. What's the occasion of coming out, though? We're not reading queer books in class. Do I just say it outright in conversation? I've never heard of something so horrifying. But that may be the move.
* * *
LGBTQ visibility allows us to envision the lives we might lead; on an even more basic level, to learn that such lives are possible. I had no idea what I would be as an adult because I didn't see anybody I could be.
What I would have given to hear a high school teacher say, "I'm gay," "I'm a lesbian," "I'm queer;" to tell me that I could grow up to be a person a young man would respect?
Even a teacher assigning a queer book would have been a step. The closest we ever got was reading Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, which led me to the original short story "Brokeback Mountain." A story that reinforced that I, a Texas queer kid, would forever be tortured like those inarticulate Wyoming cowboys.
* * *
If you are a queer teacher, please come out. I was a queer student who would have gained a great deal of self-respect from a role model, and I'm asking you now, as a queer teacher, to please come out. If you might lose your job for your queerness, do all you can without coming out. I hope your workplace is a safe one.
If, however, you don't think your sexuality is a big deal, that you're here to teach mechanical physics and not the physics of life, please do better for yourself and your students. If you're lucky enough to work in a supportive school, use that privilege to teach what it means to be proud. Know that your students talk about you, speculate about your mannerisms, wonder what you do on Fridays. Take ownership of that gossip and maybe inspire some students to do the same. They will thank you for it; they will learn that queerness does not mean the end. They will know they can grow up.
Note: This post has been edited by the blogger after publication.