Yesterday a student approached me right at the end of class asking for a moment. When the rest of the kids had cleared out on their way to PE and electives, I asked her what was up. "I just thought you should know that (and here she named another girl in the class) has been spreading rumors that you're gay." She hastened to add that she didn't believe such a terrible thing for a minute; she just figured I'd want to know.
She was wrong-- I didn't really want to know. Knowing forces me into a difficult position. I am gay, and for most of my life I have lived with a certain amount of shame because of it. When I was much younger, it was not acceptable at all, and although over the years being gay has become less of an issue, even for a teacher, I am not open about my sexuality with the students. For a teacher at our school, it's okay to be gay; it's fine if adults-- colleagues and even parents-- are aware of it, too, but we don't mention it to the kids.
In the rare cases that it comes up, as it did for me yesterday, we usually tell the students that it's inappropriate for them to discuss a teacher's personal life. That's not entirely true, though. Any of my heterosexual co-workers would have no problem telling kids that they were married, nor would they be discouraged from doing so. I know of one teacher in my building who happily shared the details of his engagement with each of his classes. He called it "building relationships."
So, what did I do yesterday? I told the first student that although it was inappropriate for someone to be speculating about my personal life, I hoped she understood that there was nothing wrong with being gay, and I was not insulted by the rumors. She looked at me with skepticism. "You should be!" she said indignantly, perhaps honestly believing that she was defending my reputation.
"I'm not," I said flatly, but I was lying. My day was ruined. My stomach ached as if I had been caught doing something wrong; I was worried that the rapport I was building with these new students would be compromised, and I dreaded telling the counselor and the other teachers on the team about the incident, but I had to.
I'd like to say I was back to normal today, but I was still a little off balance. We had a modified schedule for testing, so I didn't see either of the two students involved, and maybe that was for the best. Even so, I'm sure it'll be fine when I do see them tomorrow. Internalized homophobia is insidious and damaging, and as I know all too well, damn near impossible to get rid of completely, but soon enough it fades back beneath the conscious surface. Until next time.