Inspired, Scared, Courageous, Scared

While absent-mindedly trolling the Internet just moments ago, I found the most amazing article about a Middle School History teacher coming out to her students. As I read the story, I felt like I was reading about my own life as it happened in an alternate reality. In that reality, I was brave. I came out to my students from the get-go. And I stood up to those that tried to knock me down. But it wasn’t me. This was someone else’s story – a story that I have for so long wanted to make my own.

The teacher’s name is Jody Sokolower. To me, she’s a hero. Reading her words, I started to feel so ready to do what she did. I began to imagine her story playing out in my own school, with my students and administrators. And then, just as quickly as I felt ready, fear crept in. That is where I am stuck. For every part of me that feels inspired and ready and brave, fear looms like a dark cloud ready to squash it. Each time I imagine all of the students that are just waiting for a Gay or Lesbian role model, fear reminds me of the parents, administrators and other students that could be ready to pounce. How did she do it? How did she get so brave?

In her story, Jody talks about how it started with the question, “Are you married?” I can’t even count the number of times I have gotten this question from my students. And instead of holding my head up to the world with the truth, I brush past it with a simple, “Nope.” Over and over again, I have had the opportunity to come out to my students, but I always find a way around it.

Last year during the Presidential Election, my Honors classes worked the entire month of October on a project in which they researched the many Presidential candidates and studied their specific beliefs and policy platforms. One of their assignments was to come in ready for a Socratic Seminar, during which the students would be discussing some of the “hot-button” topics of the 2012 campaign, including Same-Sex Marriage. For this type of lesson, the desks are set up in two circles – an inner circle for discussion and an outer circle for observation. The entire seminar is driven by the students – I simply watch and take notes. It wasn’t long before the discussion settled onto Gay Marriage. I held my breath, curious to hear the opinions of my students. And as each student contributed their personal beliefs, I was shocked. Even though a few students had some religious reservations on the topic, most of the class was in agreement that Same-Sex Marriage should be legalized. I felt myself getting choked up as I watched. One student said that he didn’t even understand why the government should get involved in people’s personal lives, and that soon this topic was going to be as ridiculous as slavery once had been.

I can see the opinion on homosexuality of the American Youth changing before my eyes, but I still cannot shake the fears. Unfortunately, I can no longer tell if these are genuine fears I have, or simply excuses to avoid the issue. Is the backlash I am anticipating real? Will there really be an angry mob ready to mobilize? Or is it just something I am creating as a why of putting it off?

I know this: Jody Sokolower’s story has made me feel inspired and scared. I know, too, that I cannot continue to keep my life bottled up. This needs to happen. And the sooner I make that clear to myself, the sooner I can get to work on clearing that dark cloud, and moving on.

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Coming Out Again and Again

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What many outside the LGBT community don’t realize is that “coming out” doesn’t just happen once. It is not set and sealed after only one awkward conversation. And while each “coming out” conversation did get easier for me, it still had a way of making me feel like I was odd – like I had to clarify my life against the norm.

When I graduated from college and got my teaching job, I made the decision to not be forthright with my lifestyle right away. I was in a new state in a new setting. I did not know a single soul at the school and, to be honest, I was scared. I was afraid of what the other teachers might say behind my back. I was afraid that students would find out. And most of all I was afraid that parents would rise up against me, pitchforks in hand, ready to have my head. It wasn’t until my second year at the school, after I had made some good friends, that I came out. I didn’t even think too much about it. One day, the conversation offered up an opening and I took it. What was surprising (or perhaps not at all so) was that my new friends almost seemed bored with the news. Like, “Yeah, so? And I’m straight.” It was great! I didn’t feel odd. I just felt like it was normal. And that was when I started to realize that it is normal.

My sister once said to me, “Why would you ever hide being gay? I don’t understand why anyone would want to hide who they really are.” I explained to her that, while I agreed with her in my head, my heart fought back. Coming out to family can be difficult enough. But being out from the get-go to co-workers and strangers leaves the heart vulnerable. We put ourselves out there for ridicule, criticism and hate every time we step out from behind the closet doors.

That same year that I came out to my co-workers at school, another female teacher in my building brought in pictures of her new baby girl. I was pretty confused at first – I didn’t remember this woman being pregnant. I didn’t work directly with her and rarely saw her throughout the week, but I was sure I would have been aware of a pregnancy. As I flipped through the photos of the beautiful baby in the hospital, one photo made my breath catch. It was a picture of a woman in a hospital bed holding the newborn girl, while my co-worker smiled proudly beside both. She was gay! I was so exhilarated I couldn’t even speak. I learned a valuable lesson that day: Sometimes we step out of the closet waiting for the attack of the Monsters, but we forget to look for the company of a Friend.

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” –Hermann Hesse