Sunday, March 31, 2013

Being an LGBT teacher in the black south

Well, the title says a lot and I'm not sure that I can really address all the issues.

I know that my personal experience has always been one of comfort. I came out first as bisexual in the 10th grade and soon after came out as gay. I tested the waters by changing the sexual orientation label on my MySpace (I'm dating myself) and looked for what the reaction would be.

First I got a couple questions, then I was labeled. At no point did all the dominos in my life fall. I was scared that would happen.

I came out to my father when I was in the 11th grade and I'm pretty sure he was the last one in town to learn.

I've always tried to avoid being overly gay. I went through the girl jeans, concert phase with eyeliner and long emo hair. But that was because I was a teenager experimenting with all that life offered.

I realized I want to be "normal."

"Oh alright", I hear from you all as you read that... "Normal".

Never did I think about what I was saying when I said "I just want to act normal and not be automatically labeled gay on first impression."

Normal was and still is the "straight" way of doing things. I try not to raise my voice at the end of sentences; I attempt to use my hands only to express myself as much as an Italian, but less than a gay; and I try to interact in a way that sends off vibes that I like women.

Now, I have had relationships with women and will never rule out the possibility in the future. (A bold statement I really haven't said to many people) However, part of me still feels like I'm not being 100% truthful. I attempt to act "normal" (*cough* straight) but in fact I am not straight.

How does this relate to the Black Southern community and teaching?

Hmmm, a beastly amount.

Regularly you can hear students, parents, community members use the word "gay." I understand its gone mainstream in many circles and its not an immediately demeaning or derogatory word to use. Unfortunately though, it's overused in an environment where people are suppressing their true identity.

I can not tell you enough how many times I have discussed with friends in my community about the "down-low" black gay community. In fear, they turn to Craigslist, grindr and other anonymous services to express their desires.

It's not healthy for them, or the gay community.

Again, what do I have to do with that?

My children are the ones using the word. Ironically, my students now think I'm straight after first accusing me of being gay.

However, when they use the word gay in my classroom they know that they will be told to broaden their vocabulary.

What makes me upset is that I have not told them why they shouldn't use the term. I build character into my classroom everyday but I have somehow overlooked something that I can personally speak about and alter my students perceptions.

Why haven't I capitalized? I am scared. I'm so used to being "normal" that I'm afraid to now be labeled. I don't want to affect relationships when the students and I have worked so hard to build what we have.

I'm also afraid if becoming a martyr. No, I don't think I'll die or that I'll be injured. I am afraid of being accused of sexual misconduct just because I'm gay. There seems to be this illusion that if you're gay you're more likely to engage in illegal sexual acts. Unfortunately that is how our media (and unfortunately the elected officials causing the scene) have created it to be.

I want so desperately to expose myself as someone that is different (or perhaps more relatable to some). It is simply taboo in the South and even more stigmatized in black communities where I work.

I'm looking for a way to create these character traits in my students to be open and to be willing to sacrifice for what is right. Who knows, maybe there would be just as little struggle as there was when I became the first openly gay male in my high school. I won't know until I try...

Any advice and opinions are completely welcome because I can't just think deeply and come up with an answer. Discussion and support will create more energy for me to talk about it with my students and the community.

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