As a gay teacher, I was concerned starting my career about just how honest I should be with my students. Yes, we are living in a fairly progressive society and the state of California has laws that prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in both housing and employment, but that still doesn't mean the world we live in is entirely safe for those in the LGBT community. That said, though I do not include it in my day one introductions, nor do I write it on my walls, I have made the decision to be honest about myself---or said another way--I decided that I would not lie to my students.
Each year I have come out to my students at a different time and in a slightly different manner--all of which seemed appropriate for the occasion. My first year teaching I came out while we were working on a writing assignment about discrimination. The class was brainstorming types of discrimination that took place on a high school campus, some people were sharing personal encounters with discrimination, and I spoke about some of the reactions to my own coming out process. Last year though I had made no "official" statement regarding my orientation, a student wrote "mr alger is fuckin fagget (sic)" on our class website and I responded--which I wrote a blog about. This year, as we began brainstorming major life events for writing autobiographical narratives, I again shared my coming out process as one of my major life events.
A lot of conservatives get up in arms about gays making themselves visible. The common question is "Why do you need to make your private business all of our business?" Different people have different answers, but I think the answer is one remarkably simple answer. Gay people need to come out and make themselves visible because they are an invisible minority. While you may think you can look at someone and tell they are gay, at the end of the day there is no piece of clothing, hair style, or even make-up application that has any bearing on a person's orientation. The only person that knows for sure if someone is gay or straight is the person in question, and even they might not have it figured out yet.
Gay people make themselves visible to belong. People of a certain ethnicity can look around and see people that look like them or sound like them and know that they have a community to belong to. People of a certain religion have churches and other places where they meet and find belonging. Gay people have to make themselves visible in order to find each other and create a community, for if they didn't--they would have no community.
Different people make themselves visible in different ways, I and I would argue that the majority of them do so subconsciously. Some people adopt a particular style of dress, or style themselves a particular way. Others adopt certain stereotypical vocabulary words or speech patterns. More rally around certain cultural icons. Whatever the means, there are certainly stereotypical qualities of the gay community that exist, and while they are indeed stereotypes, they are a visible part of the community that someone who wants to be visible might find themselves embracing.
The problem, however, is that not all people that fit the stereotype are gay, and not all gay people fit the stereotype. Even within these means of visibility, there are still many that are left invisible and many that are mistaken for belonging to the LGBT community despite the fact they are straight. Indeed, many young people especially are teased and called "gay" or "fag" for inadvertently displaying any of the stereotypical behaviors or signs even if they are straight. Some instances of this have even driven straight youth to suicide.
Where that leave us, is coming out. Coming out is an important step in ever LGBT person's life and is equally important for the rest of our community. The purpose in coming out is to settle the questions once and for all. Coming out says to the rest of the LGBT people around you "Yes there is an LGBT society, and I am a part of it." Even if you think you are alone, you can never tell if you are alone until you come out--perhaps if you do, someone will follow suit. A black person never has to say "I"m black" in order to be a visible part of their community. But if none of us ever said "I'm gay" our community would no exist.
I was reminded how powerful that experience is just today. Yesterday was the day that I officially came out to my class and talked, briefly, about my coming out experience in relation to my own autobiographical narrative. Today, a student told me that they went home and came out to their family afterwards--thereby coming out to me today. It was an incredibly powerful experience and we were able to talk about it a bit, and afterwards I thought--I could never be a supportive resource for this student had I not taken that step first.
So to all the people who say that we gays have no business letting the world know that we are gay, that we should keep it to ourselves, I say--until you have a better way for us to let the people who are still afraid to be themselves know that there are other happy, healthy people just like them out there, until you have a way for us to realize that we are not alone in the world, until you have a way for young people to stop killing themselves because they feel they have no place to belong, and until you can think of a better way for us to make a community that accepts us, we will keep coming out.
My name is Michael Alger
I came out the fall of 1998.
I am gay.