Am I brave? Certainly not in the sense of a soldier fighting in a war or, say, a paramedic attending a dangerous incident site. That is a very different kind of bravery and one which few of us will (thankfully) ever have to show or search for within ourselves.
Sure, I suffered the usual run-of-the-mill bullying growing up. My classmates teased me for whatever seemed vaguely eccentric behaviour (“you listen to Mozart?”) or whatever they couldn’t quite reconcile as part of their fairly narrow and limited definition of a ‘normal’ teenager. Was I brave? Gosh, no! I probably ran away and hid more often than not, and in my later years at school, I just developed an almost teflon-like coating against the insults and taunts, which would simply slide off me.
Today, I am a teacher and a very happy and successful one at that, with 11 years in the classroom and a passion for my profession that only wavers when the school holidays seem too far away to contemplate. One of the terrific changes I have noticed is that, in general, today’s children are becoming far more tolerant of those who don’t necessarily identify with the homogenous, hetrosexual mindset of old. It is possible to see difference actually being celebrated and supported – no bravery required; only the courage to be one’s self.
Attitudes amongst the teaching profession to gay teachers is something that still continues to evolve. Let’s face it, it is an aging profession and is not attracting a young, diverse cohort to re-populate its ranks. I’ve had the privilege of working in a number of outstanding schools in my career so far, yet each of them has always, in their own way, treated ‘the gay teacher’ as a little bit of an inconvenient truth. A polite embarrassment. By way of example, I was once introduced to a new teacher by a current member of staff who delicately lead her aside and confided apologetically that, “We have a male teacher… he’s a gay.”
Lord, have mercy.
From being asked to not disclose information about my partner, to outright being interrogated about why I like working with young children (“What would you say if a parent had concerns about this?” was one such question), the awkwardness is palpable. This last point and it’s insidious insinuation never fail to upset and disgust me; that sexual orientation directly correlates with peadophilia.
So am I brave? No! But I keep doing what I do because I love it and little by little, one leads by example. I’ve always maintained that I am a professional first, and my sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with my capacity to do my job. The bravest thing I can do is ignore the murmur in the background and be the best human that I can be.