“Have you got a girlfriend sir?”
Such a question is faced by many male teachers and for the vast majority, it would probably be simple to answer. A quick ‘Yes’ would undoubtedly send a class spiralling into innumerable questions about what the girlfriend was like, when the wedding would be, when the first child would be, how they would fit four children and a dog into a car on a holiday to Scunthorpe etc etc.
Yet, what if the answer was ‘No’. They see a ring on my finger.
“Are you married sir?”
“No,” I reply, as the ring is on my right hand. A young, male teacher who hasn’t got a girlfriend or isn’t married? The pupils now need to tread a little more carefully. They are aware that something is “amiss”.
“Are you a lad then sir?”
“If you mean am I bachelor, then yes I am.”
Oh thank goodness. We can put a label on him. But bachelor… what does that even mean?
Well folks, if you must know I’m gay. I thought I was asexual for a time, but then realised I’m still into men, so I believe that places me as homoromantic. And now let’s get back to Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing.
There we go. That’s the truthful answer. That’s the answer that sums up how I identify myself. But do I want to tell my students that? Because, let’s face it, there is *a lot* to unpack there and a whole lot of personal history that I would care not to divulge. Well, why don’t I just tell them I’m gay? Because, o Voice of Reason, that’s fundamentally *not* what I am. I do not identify as such because it’s so much more complex. Yes, homoromanticism comes under the bracket of homosexuality and then queer, but they are not the same thing. Marmalade is not the same as raspberry jam, yet both come under the label of conserves.
Any teacher will tell you that developing a rapport with your students is one of the many keys to success in the classroom and thus pupils have to know a little bit about you, in order for them to trust you and, more crucially, learn from you. It is necessary, as Standard 1.1 of the National Teachers’ Standards asserts, ‘To establish a safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect’. Whilst these Standards aren’t tiered in importance, the fact that it is the first one shows some significance I feel. Students need to know who the person orating at the front of the classroom is and if you throw in the curveball of gay or, even more mind-bending, homoromantic, the environment which you have worked so hard to achieve will, unfortunately, be rocked (at least for a brief period of time). Why would it be rocked though? My reply: heteronormativity. Because, as my last post mentioned, a heteronormative framework actively or otherwise excludes the queer, placing it on the periphery, marginalising it in a hope that it will be forgotten. Consequently, the ‘mutual respect’ that is demanded from the DfE, would be eroded as the two-way street of trust between teacher and student would then be cordoned off.
Now, obviously, there are those teachers out there (and I applaud them) who are honest with their pupils and state their sexual orientation or their gender preferences. And I say – go for it. If they are comfortable in doing that then that is absolutely fantastic. With myself, however, it’s a slightly different story. I do not affirm that I am straight to my pupils, yet, equally, I do not affirm that I am gay or homoromantic for that matter. I label myself as a bachelor because ultimately that’s what I am. I transcend the importance that is placed on sex by the youth and, by extension, society (my homoromantic credentials subtly working their way in there). And why? Why do I maintain this façade, this elaborate show, this display of smoke, mirrors and intrigue? Because it’s my private life. And, on the most basic level, as a human being, I am allowed that right. In the same way that I don’t ask my students about who they are going out with, I do not expect them to ask me the same question and thus, as far as I’m concerned, I satisfy Standard 1.1 – that level of mutual respect is established.
As a teacher, it is necessary to put in the metaphorical line-in-the-sand, so the students behave and work accordingly and, as yet, I have not encountered any problems.
The Teaching Queer series is by our guest blogger A, a teacher who enjoys transcending social norms in the same way his limbs transcend typical biological restrictions on flexibility.