Conversations Postponed

This morning, I walked into my office at work, saw a trusted colleague and friend, and started sobbing.  It was one of those moments where I didn’t really know it was going to happen.  I kept thinking I could recover, but it soon became apparent I couldn’t.  We found a private space, and she talked me down off the ledge.

I don’t think there was any one thing that set me off, but the last few days have been personally tumultuous.  With the news out of Ferguson on Monday night, I came in on Tuesday morning to a school-wide email from a fellow colleague that she planned on addressing the events in Missouri overnight in her classes and she hoped the rest of the staff would as well.  I was conflicted.  I know the conversation is important, and I know that talking all of this about openly and honestly is the only way to get to a better place.  Things were just too raw for me, and I knew that if a kid started talking about how race played no role in Michael Brown’s death I was going to lose it.  And that wouldn’t be productive for any of us.  The focus of a classroom conversation like this needs to be on WHY people are so angry as opposed to whether or not Darren Wilson should have been indicted.  The classroom needs to be a safe space for all my students, not just the ones who have the same political perspective on the world as I do.  And I just wasn’t ready to maintain that kind of focus with my students.

So I chose to stay silent.  The few times I thought I might speak up, tears welled up in my eyes and I had to stop.  At lunch, some colleagues talked about how the conversations went in their classrooms.  Most of the kids reported that they hadn’t talked about it, and in one class a group of African American Boston students were more than ready to get a few things off their chest.

I called the friend who taught that class later that night and expressed frustration that we weren’t taking a more collective approach to addressing this issue as a school.  She challenged me to articulate which I’d prefer, teachers having the conversation even if they weren’t adept at leading it or simply promoting silence on the matter.  I know that teachers can actually do more harm than good if they aren’t careful and deliberate about how they facilitate these conversations with students and I also know that silence sends a much heavier message.  I just kept coming back to the idea that we needed to come together with some consensus as an institution about how to deal with issues like this.

Then I spent the rest of the night reading articles and blog posts and Twitter feeds about Ferguson, which didn’t help my emotional well being.  One post (I can’t remember where I read it, but I want to say it was Tim Wise) mentioned that white privilege surfaces even in the liberal reaction to the events in Missouri this week.  The post essentially said that if you are outraged by what is happening in Ferguson, you are still in a more privileged position than the millions of people who have had their fears reinforced by what happened between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown.

That made me pause for a moment.  I am absolutely outraged by the events that began last August, and at the same time, I fear for the day when my children will fall victim to the bias and prejudice that leads to innocent black deaths over and over, seemingly with increased frequency.  Our son is incredibly impulsive as a six-year-old, and I worry how that impulsivity will manifest in his teenager years, especially as brown-skinned boy in our all white town with a nearly all white police force.

During my breakdown this morning, I realized that my real issue is the way in which my husband and I have to prepare both of our children for the reality that they need to treat each encounter with a police officer as a potentially fatal one, no matter how unfairly they feel they are being treated or how safe they think they actually are.  And this isn’t something that my husband and I have experienced as fully as they will.  I can attest to a certain amount of fear when being pulled over with my Human Rights Campaign emblem and rainbow sticker on the bumper, but gay men aren’t strapped with the stereotype of aggression that black and brown men are.  And my fears are fairly irrational when compared to the statistics–not so for my kids.

After I recovered, I blew my nose and ran off to focus on Holden Caufield’s fictional problems, which ended up being far easier to do than focusing on my own.  And now that the Thanksgiving weekend has officially begun, I am hoping I can focus on my family, give thanks for the love that keeps us together and the wits that will keep us safe.  And next week, I’ll find the courage to steel myself from how very personal this all feels and chat with my students a bit about how Michael Brown is playing an important role in getting us all to talk about this country’s race problem.

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Reacting with Understanding

In eighth grade, I was a short gay Asian kid with pimples and a mullet.  I was awkward, just like everyone is at that age.  My weirdness mostly blended in with everyone else’s; I had good friends and people liked me.

Except Maria.  She sat behind me in English class.  Every day, we’d shuffle into Mr. Anderson’s room for the last class of the day, I quickly learned to begrudge the seating arrangement.  Maria hated me for some reason.  I may have known why at the time, but I don’t think I did.  She’d say horrible things to me, whispering them in my ear.  When I didn’t pass papers back quickly enough, she’d shove me in the back of the head: “Come on.  Pass ’em back.  What’s wrong with you?”  I was known in middle school for being a smart ass jerk to teachers, using my witty repartee to put them in their place or get a laugh from the class without actually saying anything that could get me in trouble.  Still, I was willing to make a federal case out of being bullied like this.

This daily assault continued until one day I snapped.  She shoved me in the back of the head, calling me stupid, and I turned around and backhanded her.  In the middle of English.  It was one of those moments where all you here are the proverbial crickets in the background as everyone’s head quickly turned to find the source of the sharp crack as my hand met her cheek.  Maria immediately started crying, and Mr. Anderson asked us to stay after class.

When I explained myself, Mr. Anderson felt I had been pushed into a corner after Maria admitted that she had been treating me horribly.  He moved my seat and made us promise to treat each other better in exchange for not reporting any of the bad behavior that had taken place in his room.

As I sit here today trying to make sense of the news out of Ferguson last night and the resulting protests–both the peaceful and the violent–I’m reminded of how quickly any one of us can be pushed to that snapping point.  The violence isn’t a result of one simple grand jury decision; it’s the catalyst for a mixture of volatile chemicals that has been simmering for far too long.  When I slapped Maria, I wasn’t thinking.  I was angry and embarrassed and I wanted to hurt her.  I look back and I know it was a mistake no matter how good it felt or how much mileage I’ve gotten out of the story in the last twenty-five years since it happened.  This morning as I watched the footage of the looting and the burning, I thought about how I can understand the reaction.  I don’t necessarily agree with it or think it’s the right thing, but I can understand it.

That same year in middle school–I wasn’t the best behaved kid–I got kicked out of choir.  There must have been about sixty kids in chorus, and all of my best friends were in the room.  I would talk and talk and talk with them any chance I got.  Mr. S, our choral director, would pause for a moment to chat with the pianist, and I’d zip over the sopranos to talk about last night’s episode of Twin Peaks.  Mr. S was incredibly frustrated by my behavior, constantly letting out a sigh as he called me back to me seat.  He often ignored the other people talking to focus in on me, and I started to feel like he was unfairly targeting me.

Then one day, I decided to make a change.  I wasn’t going to talk in class today.  I was going to stay focused and wait patiently in between songs.  Mr. S. pauses for a moment between numbers and turned his back to the choir, which immediately burst into gossipy action.  I sat quietly looking at my music.  Mr. S. turned around and with barely a glance at the room he called my name and asked me to be quiet.

“What?” I was incredulous.

“I asked you to stop talking.  Again.”

“I wasn’t even talking!”  Now I was getting riled up, and I started yelling.  “You’re always focusing in on me.  I know I talk a lot, but so does everyone else!”  By now the entire room was focused on me.  “You’re always calling on me to be quiet and today I wasn’t even talking!  What’s wrong with you?”

Mr. S. remained calm as the class listened for his response.  “I get the feeling you don’t respect me.”

“Well Mr. S., that’s something you have to earn.”  A few kids gasped.

“Please take a seat.”

The next day, I was informed by the main office I was no longer in choir.  Mr. S. never had a conversation with me and I resented him for years, even when I saw him at a wedding about ten years later.  I’m sure he didn’t feel that he’d done anything wrong.  I was a talkative kid who drew focus from his teaching.  As a teacher now, the kids who act like I did are the ones that drive me the most crazy, and I am in awe of how calm Mr. S. always in response to my constant pushing.  At the time though, I was even ready to admit that I was a talkative and distracting kid and I felt that he wasn’t treating me the same as the rest of the class.  Both of these realities existed for each of us, and maybe if we had a chance to sit down and talk about them, each really listening to the other, we might have reached a different end.

This is my contribution to the Ferguson reaction today.  There are many people in this country who don’t believe the black perspective.  Someone else’s point of view isn’t for any of us to believe or disbelieve; it’s for us to understand, even when its truth serves as a complete antithesis to our own.  In my professional work in these topics, when someone says that they simply can’t believe a particular position is true, we ask, “Well what if it were?”

These conversations need to happen more authentically more often.  And then maybe we won’t feel the need to react to perceived indignities with anything more than a measured dialogue.

Dancing Bears

As part of today’s marathon day, after teaching a full day at school I’ll head out to facilitate a three-hour workshop on racial identity in teaching.  The workshop meets about every two weeks, and as we wade through the complicated ideology of race and education each session, we always make time for participants to “check in” on things they’ve noticed over the period of time between sessions.

We stress that as educators and as members of this complicated American society, we don’t know what we don’t know until we know it.  That may sound convoluted, but for many of us that grew up in the latter part of the twentieth century, race and its impact on achievement and success was a taboo topic, something that we learned very early not to talk about.  As we take on different perspectives, we tend to see things in ways we never imagined possible.  This is true in these workshops, as well as in life in general; it’s one of the reasons I love teaching great literature because it provides the opportunity to experience the world as something completely unique to our own experiences.

To illustrate these points in class, my co-teachers and I use this great video:

If we don’t know what to look for, we typically won’t see it.  This is the lesson we teach with racial dynamics in America, and it’s something that constantly surprises me.  I’m constantly seeing dancing bears in my world, and I’ve been doing this work for several years.

In today’s session, I’ll be “checking in” on a few things I heard in the two weeks since I last met with this group.  Here are some highlights:

  • This NPR piece about double-eyelid surgery that many people believe is representative of Asian women pursuing a more Western standard of beauty
  • This article exploring the ways in which Kim Kardashian’s recent nude cover photo extravaganza actually is an explicit reference to the objectification and oppression of women of color

  • The story behind one black man’s six-word identity phrasing as part of the Race Card Project: “With kids, I’m dad.  Alone, thug.”
  • The recent lawsuit against Harvard claiming that the school unfairly limits the number of Asian Americans it admits, a lawsuit that is actually a veiled anti-Affirmative Action test case

These stories are everywhere, particularly within my social circles and the media in my world.  Granted, my specific identity and perspective help me gravitate toward friends that post this sort of stuff on Facebook and dictate what type of news I listen to.  Still, it excited me to be living in a time where these conversations can be had so publicly.  Slowly, we are chipping away at the stigma of even talking about race and how it impacts our daily existence in this country.  There are still lots of examples of the pernicious effects of our racist history, but when something like Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson happens, I’m thankful that we can engage in a dialogue about how race plays a role, even if there are still lots of people who don’t want to believe that it does.

So I’ll continue to look for dancing bears.  I’ll continue to post them on Facebook.  I’ll continue to use these stories to promote my left-wing gay agenda in my teaching.  And I’ll continue to use them to teach my own children to be safe and happy in this world.

I Like Cats (and other musings of a second grader)

A quick post tonight to continue with day four of NaBloPoMo!  (I’m not entirely convinced I’m using that word as the proper part of speech.)

My husband and I had our daughter’s fall parent-teacher conference today.  The teacher opened with her recent realization that our daughter has many layers.  (I was a little concerned that this was the opener…what kid doesn’t have many layers?)  She did go on to suggest that our daughter’s many life experiences as an adopted black girl in a white suburban community with tenuous ties to her biological family has probably influenced the many defensive layers she’s amassed, so that calmed me down a bit.

She said at first she was very concerned with our daughter’s lack of academic skills, but now, two months into the school year, she’s discovered that confidence has a lot to do with how our daughter demonstrates her learning readiness.  This revelation occurred for her during a one-on-one lunch in which they discussed how our daughter felt about the recent loss of birth grandmother, and this gave the teacher the chance to talk with her about the her own experiences with grief as a young child, all of which paved the way for them to have some great conversations about family; each of them learned some important information about the another, and after this, our daughter started responding much differently to this teacher’s high expectations of her regarding academics.  (And this teacher has some high expectations.  The third spelling list of the year included “Black Locust,” “Quaking Aspen,” “Carbon Dioxide,” and “interaction.”  Yes, in second grade.)

I’m glad this the teacher had a chance to really connect with our daughter, and I wish it had taken place a little sooner.  A colleague from my work on racial identity in education often suggests to teachers that research suggests white students learn from the teacher, while students of color learn for the teacher.  Nothing could be truer of our daughter, and I wish that more teachers took this ideology to heart and let it influence their teaching of students of color from day one.

We got a chance to read something that our daughter had recently written during a free write.  It’s endearingly childish at times and entirely revelatory about her life experiences and their impact on her identity as a seven year old.  She seamlessly weaves her thoughts on sea creatures with her delicate connections to her birth family.  I’ll close with what she wrote, typos and spelling errors included:

I like cats.  They are my favorite.  I alos like dogs.  They are my favrite and I like bike.  They are fun and my favorite of all is ocean.  I love The Ocean.  Crabs are silly.  My mom don’t live with me.  But I still love her and I love my grandma and my friend is Emmy and also [my teacher].  I like the ocean.  It is my favate thing.  I love shraks.  They are good to stay away from them.  But I still like it and also my favorite is dolphins.  They are fun to play with.  They are gray and smooth and kind of soft and cute and my favorite.  My brother is A___.  He is silly and has black skin like me.  I love him.  I love my friends and they are so silly that I’m gona laf and that is it.

Teaching & Learning Are Not Neutral Acts

What’s your pleasure? It’s for science!

This week my daughter came home with an assignment in which she had to collect data, create a graph, and answer some questions about what she had “discovered.”  Her assigned question on which she was to collect said data was, “What is your favorite pizza topping?”  She was very excited about this homework, and she immediately wanted to put on her boots and tromp around the neighborhood asking people whether liked plain cheese or pepperoni.  Before we headed out, she looked at the data collection page, which the teacher had carefully constructed, including a few lines with prescribed sources: Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Friend.  This was followed by a bunch of blanks for the kids to fill in as necessary.  The instructions said that we should write down each person’s name, so she wondered out loud what she should do about the “mom” category.  Then she said, “And where do I put Poppy?”  After a bit of discussion about how crossing off “Mom” and writing in “Poppy” wasn’t going to corrupt the scientific process, she was off on her research expedition.

This is a minor issue I know and I won’t say a word to the teacher, but would it have been that hard to leave those lines blank?  Do kids who live at home with both their mom and dad need to be instructed that those people should be asked what type of toppings they like on their pizza?  Or does it matter if kids don’t ask their biological parents?

I encounter constant questions like this as a gay dad with two adopted kids.  Sometimes they remain internal, and sometimes I voice these concerns.  I know I need to teach my kids to navigate these waters they’ll be traveling their entire lives, and at the same time, sometimes I just want them to be kids.  My daughter is not even seven yet, and I could see this assignment giving her pause today in a way that will be a bit more heavy for her as she matures.

Ask any teacher who has become a parent whether the latter has affected the former and the answer will be resoundingly affirmative.  Parenting these two amazing kids with my husband has changed my teaching in even more important ways.  Seeing the ways that my family is marginalized in schools without careful and deliberate thought to the contrary has exposed the same understanding to me in my teaching at the high school level.

Useful reading tool or evil propaganda?

I first encountered some of these issues in graduate school, years before having kids of my own, when a left-wing gay Indian professor taught my multicultural literature class.  He assigned Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and he carefully unraveled for us the way in which the old “Dick and Jane” primer books I remember from my own school days can actually be seen as oppressive propaganda for the dominant white culture.  In the novel, one of the characters is literally driven insane by her desire to pursue the normative beauty of Dick and Jane’s world.  That might sound a bit crazy initially, but now, thirteen years later, I can attest that this is backed up by both research and my own family’s experiences.  Anything that is presented as the norm to a class of students immediately pushes others to the periphery and makes them feel less than.  I remember in my undergraduate program a professor of communication grouping homosexuals with others who “lived outside society’s norm,” others like prostitutes and rampant drug users.  Although he was coming at this idea from a purely academic perspective, I immediately wanted to stop learning from him–and I was 21.

Now as an educator for more than a dozen years myself, one who teaches courses on anti-racist education practices to other professionals, I am all too eager to discuss the issue that teaching and learning are not neutral acts.  This is actually the specific wording of a basic tenet of these professional development courses I now teach, and when we go over these guidelines I am dying for one of the participants to ask what exactly that means.  Just last week, this was the situation.  I had started co-facilitating this course and when one of my colleagues asked the class if they had any questions about any of the guidelines, I kept thinking, “Come on, ask about the teaching and learning one…”  No one did, and so I didn’t get to tell them that whenever one of my kids’ teachers reads a story that has a mother and a father in it that they are reinforcing the isolation that my kids sometimes feel when they don’t see their parentage reflected in the curriculum.  I didn’t get to tell them about the sophomore student I had last year that wrote in a personal essay about how much it hurt her every time a teacher referred to winter break as Christmas break.

Do you see yourself?

I’m certainly not advocating for a watered-down politically correct curriculum in schools where no one is celebrated so that no one is offended.  Our schools’ curricula across disciplines should be filled with what so many multicultural education experts refer to as “mirrors and windows.”  We need to provide space in the curriculum so that all students see themselves (the mirrors) and learn about others (the windows).  Certainly, this is harder to do for our students who are not part of the dominant culture.  A Christian student who doesn’t read a Christmas story in school isn’t going to feel like society is ignoring his culture.  He simply needs to turn on the television or walk into a store to see his culture in full swing.  The Muslim student who is fasting for Ramadan though, is far less likely to walk into Target and feel validated by his culture.

To do this effectively, we obviously need to know our students, and this can be especially delicate when talking about touchy subjects like racial identity and religious views.  Last year though, I realized that had to get over it and just ask.  So in the beginning of the year, when I have my kids fill out a questionnaire that includes such innocuous items as “What career would you like to pursue after school?” and “List three words that describe you,” I added a few items that helped me identify students who might need some extra attention:

  • One of the many things we will be discussing is how race impacts identity in the characters we study and in ourselves.  To better help me prepare for these discussions and be sensitive to all of my students, please indicate how you racially identify.  Select as many as you feel appropriate!
  • To the same extent that I’d like to be sensitive to issues of racial identity, I’d like to be sensitive to each students’ religious background.  Please indicate how you identify.
  • Are there any religous or cultural holidays that you celebrate that are not recognized by the school calendar?  Please select any that are appropriate from the following list or add to the list in the “other” box.

Since I teach a fairly homogeneous school, most of the answers were similar: White, Christian, No.  This made the few responses that differed stand out all the more.  This knowledge is obviously very important, and it helps me remember how I might be able to bring a few more mirrors into my classroom for them (and to serve as windows for the rest of the class), but I took it one step further this year.  The third question about cultural holidays was an important one since my school has a “no homework” policy on certain vacation periods, vacations that typically revolve around Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.  This year I looked up the handful of holidays my students identified and looked up the dates for each one.  I set a reminder on my phone for each holiday, and a few days before each one, I sent an email to the individual students, CCing his/her parents, wishing them a joyous celebration (if appropriate–that took some Googling in some instances) and letting them know that I was sensitive to the fact that their observance wasn’t recognized by our school calendar.  I added a note that if their family commitments impeded their work for class, they should touch base with me so we could work it out.

I’ve done this all year for holidays like Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Dewali, and this weekend Chinese New Year.  Of the dozen or so emails I’ve sent out this year, not a single student has asked for an extension, and every single one of the students, and all of the parents, sent a note of thanks for acknowledging their tradition.  These are students who have learned to be truly bi-cultural, most of them juggling their private family commitments with the demands of a high-performing school system that requires extensive work at home on a schedule that is tuned to the Christian majority.  They know how to ring in the Year of the Horse while cramming for midterm exams.  And simply having that feat acknowledged sometimes goes a long way.

Anticipating Her Realization

Start Drilling!

My daughter came home today with a ring full of math flashcards and a set of instructions about how we could help her memorize these sets of the simple formulas.  According to state frameworks, she has to be able to answer these basic equations (9+0=9, 1+6=7, etc.) immediately without thinking or else she receives some kind of failing score on a report somewhere.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  She’s in first grade and she loves school, and at the same time, I can see that she’s already sensing what a struggle learning is for her.  Given her history of in utero substance abuse, we’ve always known that she would likely have some learning disabilities, or at the very least some significant delays.  She spent all of her first few years in Early Intervention before getting transferred to a Special Eduction Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at age three.  The IEP is supposed to provide her greater access to the curriculum and development, and I wonder how it works in tandem with her race.  At what point will the stigma of being labeled a Special Education student coincide with what study after study shows are the lowered expectations of her race?

She has an amazing teachers this year; whenever neighbors hear her name, they ask, “Who do you know that you ended up with the best of the best?”  The teacher is also black, and she’s doing wonderful things with our daughter, following suit with a white teacher last year who did just about everything an educator can do to show a young black girl that she is worthy of the same expectations and education as the white kids that surround her.  And I still wonder if it will be enough.

We do what we can at home.  I insist that my husband and I follow Carol S. Dweck’s work on “The Perils and Promises of Praise,” cheering our daughter’s effort in relation to achievement rather than the achievement alone.  In the past two months, she’s made tremendous strides in her reading, and I am constantly telling her, “You’ve been working so hard with your reading, and look at how it’s paid off!”  She often beams with joy, and I’m hopeful that she’s making the connection between hard work and success, even if the latter doesn’t necessarily mean “the best.”  Of course these gains have come as part of educational interventions.  She gets pulled out of her classroom environment for 30 minutes a day to build up these skills.  Our son is almost surpassing her at sixteen months her junior, and I can see her getting frustrated when he sounds out complicated words with ease.  I wonder how often this happens at school for her.  How often does she see the other children, the other white children, expending limited effort to reach a point that requires tremendous concentration and effort on her part?  Not that there aren’t white children who struggle right along with her of course; they are just one of many though so they fade into individuality in a way my daughter never will in this school system.

We do our best to convey to her that she is perfect just as she is, no matter how hard she has to work at certain things.  We tell her that some kids can’t immediately identify a key change in a Broadway ballad like she can, but when the ring full of dozens of equations shows up in an envelope, and I’m making a daily reminder on my phone to spend ten minutes on math, it all sometimes feels so insurmountable.  It feels so inevitable that she will become disheartened with the systems that are working against her.  I suppose that I too know it’s inevitable that that will happen, and I’m just hopeful that I’m doing the most I can to prepare her for that realization.  We all reach that point where we understand that life is inherently unfair; I just hope she doesn’t reach that point too soon.

Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The start of school is a big transition time in our household.  My husband and I are both public high school teachers, and as of this year, both kids are in elementary school.  By August every year, we have the summer routine down and can really enjoy the time off.  Then September starts to rear its head, and each of us starts displaying anxiety in our own ways until finally the start of the school year is here and we each head out the door armed with backpacks and lunch bags.

Yesterday was the start of my seventh year at my current school, twelfth year of teaching overall, and I still pessimistically expect the kids to be unenthusiastic lumps who don’t even crack a smile at my hilarious jokes.  Of course, this is just the opposite of what happens.  Adolescents are usually pretty eager to return to the routine that the school day offers, and at this point they haven’t been burdened by the unending mountain of homework that will build up in the next day or two.  Most of the kids sat with warm smiles, laughed at my jokes, and said “thank you” when they left class.  Some of that is due to the blessing of teaching in this affluent suburban town where kids are taught manners (if maybe not some of the more important lessons of life), and I’m starting to believe that some of it is a credit to my reputation and demeanor as a teacher here.  (Yes, I’m a bit like Stuart Smalley in that regard.)

This year, I was even more nervous about introducing myself.  We dropped off the petitions for a change of name with the county courthouse earlier this week, and even though my last name won’t be officially changed to my husband’s for another month or two, I felt it necessary to tell the kids that this was coming.  I had grilled female colleagues who had made the transition from one name to the next upon marriage, and I came to the decision that I would let them know I was changing my name and that they were welcome to continue using my original name if using the new one would be too traumatizing for them.  Still, I couldn’t just offhandedly mention that I was changing my name without giving a reason, and since I got married more than nine years ago, I couldn’t just give my student some genderless explanation.  In each class, I puffed up my chest and offered this:

“Welcome to class everyone!  You’ll see I’ve written a different name on the board than you have on your schedules, and that’s because my two children and I are taking my husband’s last name…”

I blathered on for a little bit longer hoping that might dilute the “my husband” part of what I was saying, and then I quickly shifted gears to our first day activity.  I’m not quite sure why I still get nervous about this.  I think it has to do with the exhausting anticipation of “coming out” over and over again.  I like to think of it as a type of PRE-traumatic stress disorder, and I’m pretty sure this is something that most gay people can attest to.  (I honestly didn’t know Pre-TSD was a real thing until I just Googled it.)

Prior to coming out, I was sure that no one knew.  I was also sure that even though most of my friends and family had gay friends that they really liked, I was the one person that they would not like being gay.  There was very little evidence to suggest that this was the case, but when you grow up in a hetero-normative world, where people tell young men they’re going to be “lady killers” and all the romantic word problems in math deal with opposite sex couples, you’re just sure that no one could possibly believe that you might be gay.

When I told my parents that I was gay at a restaurant during the summer after my freshman year of college, my mom literally cheered like she was at a football game, screaming, “I knew it!” with a huge smile.  I received similar reactions from the other close friends and family in my life, although possibly with a little less flair.  Even with all that positive energy around my initial coming out, my heart still skips a beat when a mom on the playground asks where my wife is and I have to politely correct her.  I was doing some consulting work a few months ago and found myself in a car full of Texan teachers who asked about my family.  I honestly thought they were going to pull over the car, call me a pervert, and order me to walk, but when I said I was married to a man and made a little joke about it–“It is Massachusetts after all!”–they smiled and said that was wonderful.

So when I stood up in front of the class the very first day and announced that I was taking my husband’s name, I think a little voice in my head was saying, “Get ready…there’s going to be a walk out,” which is so insane I know.  The moment came, the kids barely reacted, and then we moved on.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I typically mention my family every year when I’m introducing myself, but I still have a little bit of anxiety about it and that usually happens after the first day, definitely not within the first few minutes of class.

After six years, I’m pretty sure most of my students know that I’m one of the “gay teachers” on campus once they see my name on their schedule.  In a few months, I’m sure they’ll be mistaking me for the only other brazenly open gay man on campus, a math teacher who is an older tall white man with no kids who speaks about his husband as openly as I do–while this last item is literally the only quality we share, students are constantly calling me by his name in class, much the way I will refer to my son by my daughter’s name and vice versa simply because of their interchangeability in my mind at the moment.

Self-Prescirbed Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder Medication

Self-Prescribed Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder Medication

I personally try to make it a point not to assume anything about a student’s identity until they reveal it to me.  As part of a questionnaire that my students fill out at the start of the school year, I added racial identity and religious affiliation this year in the hopes that I might be able to front load some of this knowledge and not have to find awkward ways for them to disclose it.  Unfortunately, we’re not at a point yet where I can add a question about sexuality, and I follow the advice I always give which is that no matter the suspicions, a person has to be ready to tell you that he or she is not heterosexual before you can talk to them about it.  I’m not sure our world will ever get to a point where the assumption of heterosexuality isn’t a given, so I don’t anticipate my self-diagnosed pre-traumatic stress disorder to dissipate any time soon.  Until then I’ll just deal with my anxiety like everyone else does, by drinking cocktails and being kind of nasty to people until the moment passes.