I Was in the Closet at Work Until the Vice Principal Asked Me to Lead the LGBT Club

Syndicated

I have long, flowing hair. My nails are almost always immaculately designed thanks to my love affair with fake nails. I have an affinity for basing entire outfits solely around my accessories.

New makeup makes me squeal in delight. I am, in every sense of the words, a “girly girl.” I am also a lesbian.

Gingersass

Due to my girly-ness and outward appearance (as well as stereotypical misconceptions of what a lesbian looks like), I’m able to assimilate to the straight culture I’m surrounded by on a daily basis. In my role as a high school English teacher, I find myself surrounded by colleagues who identify as heterosexual.

This doesn’t really matter, as whom I’m marrying never comes into play when I’m teaching adolescents about reading and writing. I find myself not necessarily hiding who I am, but pushing various parts of my identity to the side when I’m trying to balance my personal life with my teaching life.

In my first two years of teaching, I have been handed a society very critical of the education field, new data requirements that count towards my performance assessment, two clubs, a field trip, a change of courses halfway through the year, the self-imposed challenge of implementing technology in all of my classes, and multiple classrooms a day. On the surface, it looks like a lot. For me, this is just my daily life as a newer teacher.

I keep going, going, going, and sometimes I forget to pause for a moment. Sometimes, I even lose my identity in the daily bustle.

I just keep moving.

Last year, for a fleeting moment, I forgot to look up from the madness. Despite being lesbian-identified, I accidentally isolated a student who was a masculine-presenting female and made her feel less than stellar. I was so caught up in the chaos of everyday existence that I forgot part of my own existence, and, as a result, made this student feel forgotten.

It’s okay to push part of who you are to the side when you have a task to do. However, by pushing part of yourself to the side, you also lose the opportunity to use that part of you to make a difference.

Since last year, I’ve been very cognizant of the fact that I am a newer teacher, a self-proclaimed weirdo, and lesbian. While I prefer students knowing me as “Ms. B the weird English teacher,” this year I am also upfront if they ask me if my fiancée is a woman. (Believe me, they have!) With this honesty, I’ve been able to create a more cohesive learning environment for my students.

I spent my college years joining every LGBT-identified organization I could find on campus. I thrived on knowing that there were others like me out there. I volunteered with different LGBT causes, and I became a proud, out student leader on campus.

When I secured my first teaching job, the rainbows that had shined in my life dimmed. It came as a bit of a shock when I realized that the atmosphere of my school district wasn’t exactly welcoming to LGBT individuals.

I found myself back in the closet, something I hadn’t been in for years. Leaving the college and grad school bubbles of open-minded individuals and acceptance was a bit of a shock, but I resolved to be quiet about my private life. I didn’t want my sexuality to have an impact on my non-tenured job.

After 50 job applications and countless interviews, finding a tenured-track teaching position with courses I loved was like winning the lottery. I didn’t want anything to jeopardize this.

So, I kept moving.

Eventually, once coworkers found my blog or realized that I was engaged to a woman, colleagues began to talk about my sexuality in the faculty room when they thought I couldn’t hear them. I could.

They didn’t exactly share the kindest words about me. However, their own ignorance only made me stronger as an individual, even more determined to be someone students who are struggling can come talk to.

Yet, I wanted to just keep moving. I wanted to explore literary greats, strengthen the writing skills of my students, and introduce young, brilliant minds to the world of creative writing. I didn’t want my sexuality to become a part of my school identity.

Then, the vice principal directly asked me to run the newly formed LGBT club.

When you’re a second-year teacher, you don’t say "no" to a vice principal.

For personal reasons, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of running a LGBT club. Its original ally-identified advisers had unexpectedly gone on leave, and, in an odd way, I didn’t want to become known as the gay teacher with the gay club.

Nonetheless, I still kept moving.

On the first meeting as the adviser, one of my students loudly declared to the room of apprehensive students, "This is Ms. Barbour. She has a fiancé …WHO'S A GIRL.” Another student quickly responded, "WAIT. Our GAY CLUB has a GAY TEACHER now??!”

The entire meeting came to life, and, for an hour, students bombarded me with questions about coming out, my family’s reaction, their current support levels, and more. They needed me, and, in retrospect, I needed them, too.

Sometimes, you just need to keep moving. Other times, you just need to pause and realize what’s going on around you.

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