This article was originally published on Femsplain.
There is one moment that will forever be engraved in my memory. After I had graduated from my studies, with my feet firmly planted in a school, I was in the middle of teaching a lesson when a student asked me if I was gay.
I’ve always been an honest person. I’m not outspoken or loud about my life, or things in general for that matter, but I pride myself on my honesty. When I came out to my family and friends, it was hard, and it was scary, but I was honest about who I was. It was a huge relief to finally have this weight lift off my shoulders. I was free! Or so I thought. Little did I know at the time that the coming out process wasn’t over, and that I would be doing it over and over again in my professional life.
I’m a teacher, and at the time of coming out to my family and friends, I was still in the early stages of my studies. I hadn’t even set foot inside a school yet, let alone thought about what life would be like as a professional teacher. A gay teacher. A teacher who would have to interact with both students and colleagues, not just discussing work and education, but life. My life!
During my first teaching practicum, I managed to keep my sexuality a secret. It was easy enough. I was so nervous and busy learning to be a teacher, all I ever spoke about was work. By the time my second teaching practicum came around, I was more comfortable with the work, and started to balance the conversations between work and my private life. I was nervous. I remember clearly pretending to be heterosexual, for the most part because it was easier. I would only be spending four weeks at this place, so why make my life harder by being honest about who I really was?
I started omitting parts of my life from conversations. I essentially edited my life to fit the persona of a straight person. Why did I think being straight would be easier than being gay at work? At the time, I couldn’t tell you why. It was just easier I guess. I didn’t have to fight the battles gay people often have to in the workplace. I immediately felt like I was 18 again, and struggling with the task of coming out.
These white lies became a chore. It was simply another task to add onto the list of things to do at work. I would use pronouns like “they” and “them” to mask the identities of the women I had crushes on, each time feeling the weight accumulating on my shoulders again.
During breaks and over lunch, colleagues would openly discuss what they did at the weekend, or over the summer holidays, not realising how easy it was for them to speak freely, without fear of judgment or discrimination. I can’t speak for the entire LGBTQ community, but from my own personal experiences, speaking about my weekends and summer holidays wasn’t always easy, and I was often afraid of being discriminated against because of my sexuality.
“Miss, are you gay?”
I was shocked, and the look on my face probably gave it away, but I was quick to respond with a no. Her friend immediately berated her for asking me, and I went on with the lesson as if nothing had happened. Reflecting back though, I wish I had been brave enough to be honest. To be my true self. Not someone who hid behind lies to create a false identity of who it was easier to be. Why didn’t I use that moment as a teaching moment?
It has taken me a long time to find the courage to be my most true self at work. I met my wonderful wife when I finally found the courage to be open and honest in the workplace.
Students don’t ask me if I’m gay or not anymore, and I’m not sure if this is because there is true change happening in the world, or if students just don’t care about the lives of their teachers, but regardless, if a student were to ask me now whether I am gay or not, my answer would be a loud and proud yes!