≡ Menu
Pushing the Edge

Coming Out to My Students – Again

How I came out to my students

Coming Out isn’t a one-time event. We’re often coming out in our personal lives. But what about in the classroom? How do we navigate this often tricky & potentially dangerous situation?

NOTE: Recently, I wrote about talking equality in my classroom. If you haven’t read that post, have a look there first. Then come back here – for this follow-up piece.   

 

Coming Out – as gay – has been a pretty regular occurrence for me as an English Language Teacher of adults. 

Each semester, it’s the same pattern with my adult students presuming that I’m heterosexual and asking if I’m married.  

Students are intensely interested in this aspect of my life. And these occasions can make for powerful teaching (and I’ve written frequently about such) – even if I decide not to open up and reveal my personal life to them.  

This year though was MARKEDLY DIFFERENT.

This year I’ve felt that Coming Out wasn’t particularly wise.

I’d felt the hostility and tension whenever sexual diversity – particularly relating to gay, lesbian and bisexual people – was mentioned in class.

So not surprisingly I decided to stay firmly in-the-closet.  

Yet as much as I dodged and weaved refusing to answer their personal questions, students’ interest continued unabated. 

They wouldn’t let it go, raising the issue of my girlfriend or wife whenever it related to the topic we were discussing in class. 

What an intensely introspective time it was. 

Greg you’re 51 and you’re back in the closet. What sort of example are you?

 But truth be told, hearing the anti-gay sentiment a number of times in my class, combined with the seemingly endless attacks on GLBTI people in the Australian media, it just felt much too much to bear.   

Better I thought, to keep linking back to matters of Equal Opportunity, discussing what is and isn’t appropriate language in class, talking about class being a ‘safe space’ (as we’ve previously discussed), and then moving on.  

Ultimately though it was becoming ridiculous. 

Modelling in More Ways Than One

As an English Language Teacher, I generally model what I’m asking my students to do. 

If my students are learning to write recount texts, then I write recount texts with them. 

If they’re making a video recount, then I’ll make one myself, using the same materials and tools they’re using.  

Yet my texts were becoming exercises in hiding – as I became chief censor – changing the ‘we’ in my texts to ‘I’. 

I felt like a fraud, utterly ashamed that I was erasing the most important person in my life from my stories.  

But who wants to cop anti-gay epithets?

Who wants to hear that they kill people like you?

Who wants to hear that people like you shouldn’t be able to be married? 

 And so…6 months after I started teaching my students, and a few weeks after the latest burst of homophobic sentiment, I decided enough was enough.  

A proud moment - coming out to my students
Proud Moments: Coming Out to My ELL Students

It began with our class writing topic: Our Proudest Moments.  

We begin by listing their most significant moments of pride – as a precursor to writing recounts about such. 

It’s such a happy and joyous occasion as they excitedly recount the birth of their children, significant achievements in their children’s lives, as well as their learning of English which is such a critical event for all of them.  

This is the moment I thought. They’re sharing the stories about their loved ones – why not me? 

So I went home and wrote – My Proudest Moment (My PhD Graduation) 

My Proudest Day
Before we read my text, I began as I usually do with all the texts we study.  

I write the text title (plus a couple of cues) on the board – My Proudest Day (My PhD Graduation Day)

  • We read this title and students made predictions about what they thought they’d read. Even here, talk of my girlfriend or wife begins to surface. 
  • Next, I started to pre-teach the key vocabulary in the text.
    • First up is personal titles (since I was writing about becoming a Doctor).  We list various titles like Ms, Miss, Mrs, Mr, Sir, Lady etc which lead to an interesting little discussion around gender, status and power.  
    • We talk about how some titles were linked to marriage.  And once again students start talking about whether I have a girlfriend or wife.  
  • Then I ask them to predict the WHO – WHAT – WHEN – WHERE – WHY aspects of the story.  

As we talk about the ‘who’ aspect, students suggest that I might take my wife or girlfriend to my graduation ceremony.  

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘Maybe not’ 

And I leave it at that.  

Next we begin to read my recount text. I feel nauseous. My voice is slightly shaky as I say: 

‘This is personal.’

As I come to the words that give me away – the tension within me is palpable. 

My mind keeps replaying the anti-gay outbursts that had occurred within this class – a few weeks earlier. 

Would it happen again?

Would my students not want to come to class anymore?

Would my students complain?

Would my students now hate me – once they faced my truth?

I just keep thinking:

…just read the story just like you’d read any other story Greg. 

And so I read the words, ‘…my partner Simon’, simultaneously scanning the room for any signs of reaction whilst trying to appear like this was just ‘business as usual’ teaching and learning.   

Nothing’s said but there’s a few confused looks. 

It’s as though no one wants to say anything. 

I just keep reading on – again thinking – just treat it like every other story we read in class Greg. 

Then the silence is broken. 

Partner. Does that mean your brother or cousin…or friend? 

Steeling myself, I reply:

No,  it means two men who are in love with each other. It’s like we’re married, although we can’t get married in Australia because we’re both men.

There’s looks of surprise and shock all around the room. 

And just at that precise moment – a student knocks over a bottle of water.  

If this wasn’t so serious, it’d be a comedic moment.  

I respond quickly moving the computer and keyboard out of the way whilst grabbing a cloth to clean up.  

I’m on hyper-drive – adrenaline pumping. I must look such a sight frantically cleaning up the water on the desk. 

THEN as I look up, holding the saturated cloth, all eyes are on me – total attention. 

Students are seemingly grappling with this information – trying to make sense of it. 

My heart’s racing so hard I’m sure that they can see it pumping through my shirt.

What on earth do I say?

How do I respond to this?

What are the words I need right now?  

The words that came to me – said it all. 

I’ve surprised you all.

To which there was a very loud collective ‘YES’. 

And just like that something shifts within the room, something shifts in the atmosphere.  

The students begin asking questions and we just chat:

What does Simon do?

How long you together? 

Greg, when you getting married?

 It was such an incredibly normal moment, so, so human. 

And life and our reading lesson went on – as it should – without a hitch.

Stepping out of the closet. Being honest with my students

Related Resources

 

  • Check out my GLBTI-related posts and podcasts here – or click any of the images below. 

Feedback

I’ve been incredibly moved at the response to this post. Thank you so much, it means so much to me.

Please Share This Post

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bridget

    That is a fantastic story and what a great way to tell your students. Your sexuality is just one tiny part of your exciting story, making it very normal, as it should be.
    My eyes welled up with tears when you wrote, “What does Simon do?” Just like that they had moved on to acceptance……

    • Greg Curran

      Thank you Bridget. Yes I think it’s about being matter of fact – it’s one part of who I am. There was no need for a big fuss or anything – it’s just one part of the story. And yes it did move really quickly to interest and acceptance, thankfully. It’s so nice not to have to cover up and hide anymore.