The title of this piece is a question I dreaded being asked as a 22-year-old teacher at the beginning of my career. I was worried that being open about my sexuality would be frowned upon by other staff members or that being honest with students may lead to them not respecting me.
I had thought about what I would say if the question arose; “I would rather not talk about my private life”, “I am not sure how this is relevant to the lesson” or simply “no”. Surely not “no”; that would be denying who I was, suggesting a sense of shame. At this stage in my career, I gave very little thought to discussing my sexuality with students, it wasn’t on my radar. I lacked confidence, I needed to establish myself and I wanted nothing to jeopardise my credibility.
One day the dreaded question was asked: “Miss, I’ve heard a rumour you are gay.” I panicked, I didn’t think, words just came out of my mouth, “I don’t know where you heard that, it isn’t true.” Instantly I regretted it, it felt wrong. Why had I denied it? Who was I trying to protect? Myself? What was I so scared of? My response to this question has regularly played on my mind since.
Seven years on, I still think of how I responded and I regret it wholeheartedly. Young people deserve honesty and they require role models who are proud of who they are. I do not advocate teachers sharing too much with students about their private lives as there have to be clear boundaries. However, my lie and denial did not send the correct message; it suggested a lack of pride in who I am.
In the four-and-a-half years that I have been with my wife, she has always been open regarding her relationship with me. Previously, she had only been in relationships with men and, in every circumstance, has tackled questions about her "partner" head on. This is something I truly admire; her response normalises our relationship rather than hides it. Not once has her honesty been met with anything other than support and acceptance. Seeing her approach showed me that honesty was the best way to tackle questions regarding sexuality. This was something I knew before but was not confident enough to follow through with. Whilst I have never been directly asked the exact question since, there have been opportunities for me to discuss my sexual orientation which I have not shyed away from.
I did not deal with this question well in the early stages of my career. Actually, I dealt with it appallingly. I denied my sexuality and set a precedent for how I may tackle similar questions in the future.
Fast forward a few years, and at no other time has a student asked me explicitly about my sexual orientation. However, there have been circumstances where I have been able to discuss my partner with students, both past and present. The most notable time was on last year’s ski trip in Italy. Another teacher and I were talking one night with two students. My colleague was talking about her boyfriend and one of the students said to me, "Miss, are you with anybody?" I was able to confidently say, “Yes, well actually I am married”. The conversation continued and I disclosed that I was married to a woman. It was as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders; it felt great to talk about my sexuality. It was exactly how I wanted it to happen: natural and met with complete acceptance, as I should have assumed it would have been.
I wouldn’t say I am openly out with students; it isn’t something I feel the need to declare. It is not something I feel the need to talk about freely, in the same way, I wouldn’t expect any professional teacher to talk openly about their private life. I have been questioning the need that people in the LGBT community have to come out and tell people about their sexuality. In a truly equal society, there should be no greater need for me to announce my sexuality any more than my heterosexual neighbour.
The Gutsy Gay is a teacher-blogger from Norwich. You can read her blog here.