Being gay is a big part of who I am. I like talking about it. I like making jokes about it. I like telling my story of how and when I “knew” and the people who have supported me and loved me through that journey. I like being able to introduce people to my wife. And not my “sister” or “my friend.”
When we decided to move abroad for a few years, one of the big things that was important to us was being somewhere we could be ourselves and be open. But we also knew there was a huge range even within these boundaries. There were places where we could be open with everyone (friends, colleagues, students, parents, etc.) to places where we could be open with close friends only. The hard part about this is that there isn’t a rule book about what kind of place you find. There is the advice coming from conservative members of your community who say to tell no one. And then there are the progressive voices, the ones who say, “Screw that. Tell the world.”
So this past year I have played it somewhat safe. Our friends and colleagues all know. They know and love Em. We are just another couple. And I feel that love and support 100% and it’s overwhelming when I sit here and think about it. But this year when it comes to sharing this side of myself with students and parents – that has been a big “no no” for me. Which might not sound like a big deal to some of you. “That makes sense – your students don’t need to know your personal life.” But that’s it right there – my being gay isn’t my “personal” life. It’s not something that shouldn’t be shared because it’s “intimate” or “crossing boundaries.” Not talking about it makes it so it doesn’t exist. IT IS WHO I AM. We encourage kids to be themselves, to stand up for what they believe, to be empathetic, and to be open. And that is why not being “out” with my students feels weird. It feels wrong. It isn’t who I am. It’s not who I’ve been since I was 23 and made a speech at a KUA Community Period sharing my story with students and faculty alike. It’s not who I’ve been since I was the faculty advisor to the Gay Straight Alliance at Rivers and, in order to empower my brave students, had to model that openness myself. So when I’m asked on Monday morning, “What did you do this weekend?” And I say “I went to the beach and I went for a hike with my dog” I feel like I’m lying. It wasn’t me who went to the beach and went for a hike. It was us. Me and my wife. The person I love. The person I share my life with. And not saying that feels awful.
And while I am so appreciative, and in awe, and grateful for the incredible group of supportive friends we have made this year, it isn’t enough. And no one is keeping me “in the closet” with my students. I’m doing it to myself. I think that being out to my students is the most important thing I can do in furthering their education yet I’m too afraid to do it. And that sounds self-righteous. And selfish. “They should know that I’m gay. It will change their life.” But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that if one adult (just one!) – who supports them, and pushes them, and says hi in the halls, and laughs with them – is gay, it makes it real. It humanizes the “other.” And I know that so many of our students are open and supportive. There are many days, when eating lunch in my office, I hear the students outside talking and I smile to myself. Because I hear them using inclusive language. And being LGBT friendly even though they don’t know I’m listening. But there is a part of me that is afraid of what will happen if they “knew.” Would my role as a counselor all of a sudden be called into question? Would some of them not want to open up and be close to me anymore? Because of what “I am”? Would parents call and request that their child not be in my class? My gut tells me that the answer to these questions is no. No. This wouldn’t happen. But it’s the fear of what would happen that keeps me quiet. And that’s where the problem lies.
Today was an incredibly tragic and sad day. Em and I sat on our couch tonight just looking at each other, and holding each others hand, and crying. Without knowing what to say. Because we have done a good job of protecting ourselves. We are so fortunate to have surrounded ourselves with friends and family who love us unconditionally. We are so fortunate that it has been easy to forget how much hate there is in the world. That just as much as I can’t understand people who hate gay people, or hate people of color, or any other marginalized group, they don’t understand me. They look at my wedding pictures and it makes them sick. And that there are people out there who don’t think I deserve to live. Because I chose to spend my life with a woman. WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU CARE?!? (sorry for the language – I don’t know how else to say it). I look through my newsfeed today and it’s FULL of supportive and loving messages and posts. It makes me shudder to think of what newsfeeds look like for groups of people who believe differently than I do.
All year coming out to my students have been on my mind. I didn’t want to make it about me. I wanted it to come up naturally. If they asked a question I envisioned I would casually drop a hint and start the conversation. But there were opportunities. I mentioned I was married and they said, “You are!?!” and I just dropped the conversation there. Or Em and I would run into students outside of school and I wouldn’t introduce her (making Em feel invisible). There were opportunities. And I did NOTHING.
Why am I writing all this? I don’t know. Because I’m mad. Because I’m scared. Because I’m sad. Because I want to fucking shake people who can look at us, or my friends, or my family members, and think that our/their style of love makes them worthy of hate. FUCK YOU.
So I’ve been quiet. And even as I write this I know I’m not going to do anything about it tomorrow. Or before we fly home on Thursday. But the itch is there. And all year it’s been getting harder and harder not to scratch. And it’s moments like this that solidify the fact that if I’m not part of the solution then I’m part of the problem. So I don’t know when, or how, but it’s coming. I’m going to have to scratch sooner or later. I’ve known that it hasn’t felt right all year to stay quiet. It’s been safe. And comfortable (in some ways) and uncomfortable (in others). But safe doesn’t matter. Safe isn’t going to help change anything. People in Pulse thought they were safe. Safely celebrating. Celebrating who they are (were) and who they love(d). And that was taken from them. So to sit here for the next year(s) and stay quiet is letting the monster win. Is letting the fear and the hatred resonate inside of me. And if today has taught me anything, it’s that our world is not safe. We can surround ourselves with people who love us, and support us, and do a damn good job of helping us forget the world around us. But we are not safe. So not talking about it and not being true to ourselves, me not being true to myself, in front of young people, people who are going to set the tone for years to come, is not going to change a thing. It’s going to keep letting the haters win.
To the 50 lives lost. I see you. I hear you. I miss you. You have only made the itch that much stronger. We are not defeated. We are not gonna sit down. We are gonna stand up. Each in our own way. Until we are truly safe. #loveislove