Monday, January 26, 2015

The Closet

Being in the closet is one of the most humiliating, degrading, and torturous things I can imagine, and I live it everyday.  I hate it, but life circumstances have demanded it for now, hopefully, that will change someday soon.  Teaching at a small conservative private school, where gossip is a sport that ranks up there with football makes it even worse.  To explain, my students are taught by parents and pastors that being gay is disgusting and sinful.  They hear their parents constantly make racist and homophobic comments, and so words like faggot and nigger roll off their tongues like any other word.  My students learn quickly that any derogatory language will not be tolerated in my classroom or in my presence.

To give an example of the attitudes that I am trying to fight against and teach more tolerance to, let me tell you about teaching the Holocaust.  As I was describing the systematic murder of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews and 1.1 million children, my students were laughing, joking, and gossiping.  One had the gall to ask me to tell a holocaust joke, because they think it's funny.  I was beyond furious and frustrated.  If I could just make them understand that it is attitudes like these, the attitudes of hatred and indifference that led to the Holocaust in the first place, maybe they would take life more seriously, but as long as there is no support from parents and pastors, the role of teachers is diminished.

They do not understand the consequences of their actions, and a large part of that has to do with their parents who have always gotten them out of trouble and made them believe that there are no bad consequences.  I have a few students who find it one of their great joys to gossip about my sexuality.  They have tried in every way to out me, but yet they don't understand the consequences of their actions.  So I wanted to simply put in writing what some of those consequences would be.  First, I'd lose my job, publicly and humiliatingly.  There would be those who would fight for me to keep my job and those who would fight for me to lose it.  It would either become an ugly public battle in the community, or I'd leave quietly with my tail tucked between my legs not being given the chance to fight.  

Second, if I lost my job, in this economy, it could prove impossible to find another teaching job.  I love teaching, but there just aren't that many jobs available.  Yes, the economy may be getting better, but anyone who is familiar with the politics associated with education knows, education, especially higher education, takes the first budget cuts when there is economic turmoil, and it is education that is the last sector to see a recovery once the economy improves.  I may get frustrated with my students but I truly have a passion for teaching.  Anyone who knows me, knows how excited and passionate I get about new ways to teach subjects, spreading the knowledge I've accumulated over the years, and seeing someone have even a glimpse of interest in what I talk about.  Yes, I get frustrated with students, but the pros outweigh the cons.

Furthermore, my family would be humiliated.  Grant it, I think my family should love me no matter what and accept my sexuality for what it is, but that's a fantasy and not the reality.  They would face ridicule and gossip behind their backs and sometimes to their faces.  I've dealt with this all of my life, and it would devastate me to know that I was the cause of those I love facing the same torture.  They would suffer as much as I would, and even if they accepted my sexuality, they'd still be ridiculed and shamed.  All for something that I cannot change, and that God created as part of who I am.  I can no more change my sexuality than a black man can change his skin color or a leopard his spots.  I was born gay, I have always been gay, and I will always be gay.

I wish we lived in an ideal world where homophobes were the ones who were shamed, where racists were derided, and no one ever had to live in a closet.  Sadly, that world does not exist.  I hope it will some day, but it is a long way away.  What I would settle for now is that people understand the consequences of their actions.  Cruelty and gossip can have devastating consequences far beyond someone's understanding.  There is a snowball effect that can occur and slowly, deliberately, and effectively destroy someone's livelihood and life.  The life I live, I live because I have certain circumstances and obligations.  Because of that, my depression often worsens.  I hope one day I will not only be out completely, but I will also be out of this current situation.  Alabama is not the best place for me, at least not the part of Alabama where I currently live.

Alabama may have seen their gay marriage ban ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, but Alabama hasn't changed much since the 1960s when federal judges declared one segregation law after another unconstitutional.  Just because something becomes law through the courts, does not mean that it will be accepted.  Discrimination will continue against the LGBT community, just as it did for the African-American community.  As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said when he was accepted last year into the Alabama Hall of Fame, Alabama and the nation "have a long way to go" before realizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality (and I realize King's dream of equality did not reach to LGBT Americans).  Cook went on to say that Alabama was "too slow" to guarantee rights in the 1960s, Cook said, and "still too slow on equality for the LGBT community. Under the law, citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation"  Cook went further and stated that "We can't change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future."


silvereagle said...

Where gossip ranks up there with football" I will put this in my list of phrases to be remembered. Along with p.i.p (previously important person) and p.u.p (previously unimportant person". Don't worry you are neither of these. Your comments this morning show you to be a VERY important person in the lives of your students. Don't be discouraged my friend.

naturgesetz said...

I certainly hope you can stay in the closet as long as you need to. Clearly Alabama is not the ideal environment for you. It might make sense to start looking for jobs in more tolerant regions, in public or private schools that won't fire you for being gay. You'd still be teaching people who need it, but you might be more effective when more of your students are more open-minded.

I'm reminded of something a friend of my aunt's said at Christmas dinner. She's originally from Oklahoma, and she taught for a while at the University of Southern Mississippi. Students would ask her, "What's it like on the outside?"

JiEL said...

I can understand you and @naturgesetz said it: if you want to get out of the closet, you must find a place where LIBERTY of your way of living is no problem.

As always, I can tell you that being free to be what you are and in all your life's activities is such a GREAT FEELING.

I did teach in a private school and 3 public ones years after and NEVER had to hide my homosexuality,
Even more, the Montreal School Board has ruled to give us protection against any discrimination.

In the last high school I was teachong (2004-2011) we were 4 gay guys and 3 lesbians. One of the lesbians was a adjoint principal.

My advice is, if you have the urge to do so, is to relocate to a place (there are many in USA) where gay life is mainstream.

One of my friendsS friend, a gay guy, is principal in a New York high school and has no problem living his life with his BF there...

It's all a question of motivation.

Hope you'll find your way out of the closet because, I so much know, the feeling is very wonderful.

(BTW, before 1999 I was married to a woman for 22years and VERY closeted. LIBERATED and OUT of the closet since 1999.)

Bodhisbuddy said...

Dear Joe,

I hope you'll allow me to call you on this little pity party you seem to be wanting to throw for yourself.

Not to belittle any particular thing you've written, because I know that from within your perspective each item is huge, but please go back and examine some of what you've written from a detached and constructively critical point of view. E.g. "one of the most torturous things..." Child, please! Either this is rank hyperbole or you're one of the least imaginative people I've yet to meet - something I highly doubt.

Also, does it not strike you as ironic that you complain about your students lacking ability/desire to face consequences while you allow yourself to cop to a "circumstances dictate my life" defense? I know you believe God has a plan for you. Do you think this is it...a life of self inflicted "torture"?

I'm not suggesting you have to come out immediately or even eventually. The consequences of actions (or inactions) have real and perceived costs as well as real (or imagined) benefits. You seem to have a handle on some of these. Others you are clearly speculating about, albeit mostly informed speculating. Choose your battles or choose to avoid them, but don't delude yourself thinking you don't have a choice. Your options may not be of your choosing, but the choice or non-choice always is. Own that.

Now you can't usually make other people's choices for them (unless you're the daddy!) but you can choose to involve and inform them. Just don't abdicate your decision to them. Doing so is your choice and you live with its costs. You don't get to abdicate responsibility for the outcome as a result.

Is your life really pretty great? I sure hope so.
Could your life be better? Undoubtedly! Everyone's could. Can you whine about it when it sucks. Sure thing. Your friendly readers will tolerate a bit of self pity now and then. Just no party invites, please.

Amanda said...

Since this is your blog Joe you write whatever you feel like. No one can walk exactly in your shoes and know what goes on in your day to day life. They may try to equate their personal experiences to it but at the end of the day only you know your own heart and mind. I'm not in education nor am I a closeted or uncloseted gay man. But I am a human being and a mother with children the same age or close to what you teach. And you're right that children repeat and follow what they're taught. This is why I choose to teach my boys acceptance, tolerance, and love. I wish you for all of those things and more. Whether that is at your current location or not. And, I certainly didn't take this as a pity party. Just someone who may be frustrated, upset, and wanting to vent to friends who will listen. ((Hugs))

RB said...

Two comments:

1. You need to change your situation. Get the f=== out of there! When is the last time you even applied for a job? There are hundreds of teaching jobs in every city. I'm sure you can find something better.

2. You're a 36 yo never married guy. You love poetry and literature. I'd be willing to bet your sexuality is less of a secret than you think. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I'm just being realistic.

Jay M. said...

"life circumstances have demanded it"

I lived it long enough. Fuck what everyone else might think. I did it. I came out. Life is good.

You need to get out of there. I don't know how far out you've applied, but look to the VA Community College System, VCU, UR, UVA, Longwood, W&M (got an in there).

How far are you looking? Sometimes it takes great change to effect GREAT CHANGE and a HUGE STEP out of your comfort zone...move away...I did it. 400 miles. And, yes, another 30 years before I came out. Don't suffer like I did for another 25 years before you come out, live your life, be yourself.

JUST DO IT! BE TRUE! (HAHAHAHA! I wish I worked for Nike!)

Naturgesetz said it..."What's it like on the outside?"

Pretty damn good!

Peace <3

Anonymous said...

Get out of there. I'm from Georgia but now reside in Philadelphia and I know what you must be going through. As one of my out friends told about growing up in South Carolina, "As soon as I could, I ran." You need to find a life. You are surrounded by people, but you are perpetually alone. Life circumstances cannot justify the absence of a life on your part. Move to Birmingham. Move to Atlanta.

The point is, as others have written, you do have the power to change your life and you are worthy of finding love. God would not wish you to live a life of such unhappiness. You are to "live abundantly."

naturgesetz said...

Tangent —

While you're there, you can consider yourself to be engaged in "de-schooling" your students.

But you can also de-school students somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what "city" you're from but "hundreds of teaching jobs" out there is just you believing the bullshit that the Obama administration is spewing about the economic turn around and end of the recession. I recently graduated with a BS degree in business/marketing and 50% of my graduating class had no job offers at graduation. Me being one of them. Yes I interviews many times and applied for countless jobs only to get to the final round and be turned down or be told the job had been put on hold due to continued budget cuts. i finally got a job several month later but after incurring quite a bit of debt. Without friends and some financial support I would have been homeless while waiting for one of those hundreds of so called available jobs that were mine for the taking if I'd only thought to apply. it's really easy to judge the situation of others with a flipant get off you ass remark and says a lot about your character for kicking a man when he's obviously down and discouraged by recent events. Furthermore whether or not people suspect his sexual orientation or not honesty means nothing as to the likely outcome of publicly confirming those suspicions. The parents and school board can't do much on suspicion but they can and will if comes out of the closet in this situation and community. You may think you're just being realistic and a "friend" who's telling him the hard truth, but I think you're a complete fucktard and have no clue of what's reality in the south.

Anonymous said...

I'm incredibly sorry for the situation that two ignorant and inconsiderate teens are putting your through. Coming out is a personal choice and so much goes into it. And no one should be outed and be robbed of that decision. One thing to keep in mind that I have learned is that it takes many of us gay men years to accept our own sexuality and then perhaps more years to be ready to share it with everyone else. But then we are often surprised when others don't accept it immediately after hearing our great revelation. It may takes just as long for others to accept who we are as it did us. That said, it's not crazy to think of how this could affect your family in such a conservative close minded community. But I agree with many of the comments that you need to keep searching for an opportunity to move away and be able to live your life completely without fear or reservation while doing what you love most, and that is teaching and sharing your knowledge with others. I know you've applied for at least 40 jobs in the past 6-8 months. Don't give up. Keep trying and know you have friends who understand this is difficult and discouraging but love and support you nonetheless. You're a good man and you'll be an even greater man once you are free from having to hold back or pretend to be someone you are not. As always thank you for creating this blog and sharing your feelings and perspective which others. Your friendship and the things shared on your blog have helped me thru difficult times and have inspired me to be a better person.
With love, Ethan