I feel like a coward.
I keep teetering on the edge of ‘Coming Out’ at work, but then I keep finding that the opportunity doesn’t present itself. Even when it does, I sidestep it. I don’t think I’ve been ready. Over the last couple of weeks, however, I’ve started to feel differently.
It’s coming, I can feel it. I feel the responsibility to be visible more and more every day. Like a calling.
I hate it. I hate feeling like in some way I am being selfish or irresponsible for not being that one person they can see who is different – who doesn’t quite fit the proverbial ‘box’.
Worried that it will somehow change their perception of me, or expose them to issues they may not be ready to deal with, I stay invisible.
I’m not ashamed, and yet my silence says otherwise.
Teaching in a high school setting, I see and hear about young people so much braver than me – transgender kids and their wonderfully supportive parents, gay, bisexual and pansexual students who are all open about themselves and their experience, irrespective of the potential that sharing this information brings for bullying and hardship. Kids can be so cruel, yet they put themselves in the line of fire, regardless. They are just so courageous, and I’m learning so much from them.
Since beginning teaching ten years ago, I’ve always hidden my sexuality from my classes. Fear of being unfairly judged and/or creating unnecessary issues has meant that I’ve grown accustomed to using gender-neutral personal pronouns at all times when discussing my personal life.
I’ve adopted terms such as ‘my partner’ or ‘my kids’ other house’ when discussing my family life, purely to protect both myself, and the students from being ‘exposed’ to my alternative lifestyle. I am actually ashamed to admit this now.
Mostly though, it has been to shield my own children from any negative backlash from having two mums. I was in the fortunate position of being able to send my older two children to the same school where I was teaching for the majority of their primary schooling. This isn’t the case anymore. They are no longer students at my school.
Part of how I relate to my students is by talking about my family, and sharing anecdotes about my own life with my children. My primary classes always knew who my kids were. As little ones, Master Z and Miss D would come bounding through my classroom door after school, eager to share all the exciting news they had from the day. It was a highlight of my day: one that hurts my heart now knowing those days are long gone.
This made it a no-brainer for me.
There was no way I wanted my little ones to suffer teasing or bullying of any sort, particularly at my expense, so I kept my sexuality to myself. They became a convenient excuse for me to remain in the closet.
My fellow staff members have always known, and the close friends of my kids have generally known, but other than that, it has tended to remain a topic we have kept on the down-low. Not out of shame as such, but rather just to avoid potential unnecessary ‘issues’.
My father, himself a Catholic High School Principal for the second half of his career, told me initially when I first became a teacher that I would always have to keep my sexuality a secret if I wanted to have a career in education. I hated him for saying this to me, and I hated it even more that I felt that he was right.
Reading articles in this week’s paper have been disturbing for me. It is one thing to feel some uncertainty about how you might be perceived by others. It is another to read it in black and white. What does my sexuality have to do in any way with my ability as a teacher? Yet debate is currently ensuing about ‘religious freedom’ to discriminate, and even exclude teachers who are openly gay in religious schools.
Growing up, I attended religious schools. I received a wonderful education where principles of tolerance, understanding and social justice were of paramount importance. If teachers were to be excluded on the grounds of race, disability or gender, there would be an absolute uproar. Yet on the basis of sexuality, the debate continues. The ‘get out of jail free card’ to discriminate is still up for grabs through a ‘religious freedom’ loophole that allows prejudice against one particular minority group: the gays.
It feels very much like a case of two steps forward, one step back.
The more people see and experience same sex parents and our families, perhaps the more they will understand.
Only time will tell.
One thing is for sure, my time in the closet is now officially over.