Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just Another Student Coming Out Story...

An eighth grader on my floor whom I taught when she was a sixth grader - and when I was "Ms. K" - stopped by my classroom at the end of the day today along with a friend of hers (whom I also taught as a sixth grader). I asked how she has been over the past year or two, since I was on a different floor last year and rarely got the chance to see their class during that time.

While she was updating me on her new teachers and how it feels to "rule the school" in eighth grade, the student added that she "has a man." I responded "Oh, yeah? What's his name? Is he in our school?" She looked at me, paused for a moment, and said "No, he's not in this school... And actually, I'm lying. I have a girlfriend!" She gave me a big smile at first but then immediately proceeded to say "But you're the only one who knows about it." I reassured her of my understanding of discretion, saying "Well, none of my current students know that I used to be Ms. K - at least not yet - so I understand keeping things quiet. Don't worry."

She proceeded to tell me that she and her girlfriend have been dating since May. (She has the date they began dating painted onto the strap of her backpack). Apparently she thinks her mom and many other people in her community have an idea that she's gay, but she's not worried about negative responses because - in her words - she is "too gay" for anyone to bother her about it. (I interpreted this to mean that she is so confident about her identity that nobody would try to give her any trouble about it.) She anticipates that people in her life will be relatively understanding and allow her to lead her life as she chooses. At one point in the conversation, she added "I love reading books about anything gay, or same sex. Woman and woman, man or man, I love it. I can't get enough. Anything, I tell you." Her uninhibited enthusiasm and excitement were inspiring.

What moved me the most about the conversation was how casual it felt. The student made it clear that she was completely comfortable approaching me to share this update, even though she had only spoken with a few close friends about it. The impromptu conversation this afternoon became one of those rare moments when I receive concrete feedback - in this case, two years after the fact - that at some point I did something to make a student feel safe and good about herself. That is one of the most gratifying things to know as an educator, even if I didn't necessarily know it at the time.


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