In this country, there wages many debates about what should and shouldn’t taught in the classroom. There are many people who feel that dealing with certain topics such as race or sexuality are bringing politics into the classroom. I don’t disagree with these individuals, but I would counter that keeping them out of the classroom is equally politically. Discussing these issues in the classroom would be a liberal viewpoint, however, not discussing them is a conservative viewpoint, and not, as many have suggested, a neutral standpoint. The status quo in many parts of this country has been conservative for many years and, in other parts, it has been more liberal. In doing work with this class, and developing this unit, I realize there are people who are going to be upset. So, I want to open this with a plea to you.
As an educator, my job cannot be completed if my students’ basic needs aren’t met. It’s why I am expected to serve breakfast to my students in the morning. It’s why I send my kids to the bathroom when they ask. It is why when I am concerned about something that is happening to them I have to report it. Part of ensuring student success in my classroom is ensuring student safety, both physical and emotional. I don’t allow inappropriate language in my class. I don’t allow students to bully one another because of their race, religion, nationality, gender, sexuality, or any other qualifier. It is my job to ensure that when kids are in my classroom that they are safe.
I am a gay educator. Those two identities, being gay and being an educator, are separate but important to who I am. They aren’t masks that I can put on and take off when I enter the school building. Pretending that one doesn’t shape the other would require mental gymnastics that I haven’t engaged with since I was in the closet. I don’t see the need to hide who I am. Part of me being me is talking with my hands and other signals that might suggest I am a little more crooked than straight. Do my kids care? Some do. Some don’t. When students do make it an issue, it is an opportunity for me to demonstrate the reaction I expect my students to demonstrate in a situation where another student attacks their identity. I don’t get mad in the moment. I just try to bring the incident to smooth conclusion without escalating it and then later addressing the issue privately.
The fact that I am gay doesn’t define me as a person or as an educator, but rather is a part of the broader spectrum of who I am as a human being. This is not something that is unique to me. It is true of the students in my classroom and the artists they study.
Understanding a whole person is important. Being able to recognize that people are more than just a label is important. It is also important to know that labels do exist and the role they play in society. In many of the works students will encounter in this unit, a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity may not appear to play a role in the work, but the culture surrounding that identity, and their ability to show that identity plays a role in the way they approach their work. Though, as stated above, sexuality and gender identity alone do not play the only role in this though examining the intersectionality of the author’s life and work should be done.