The Closet

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Being in the closet is one of the most humiliating, degrading, and torturous things I can imagine, and I live it everyday. I hate it, but life circumstances have demanded it for now, hopefully, that will change someday soon. Teaching at a small conservative private school, where gossip is a sport that ranks up there with football makes it even worse. To explain, my students are taught by parents and pastors that being gay is disgusting and sinful. They hear their parents constantly make racist and homophobic comments, and so words like faggot and nigger roll off their tongues like any other word. My students learn quickly that any derogatory language will not be tolerated in my classroom or in my presence.

To give an example of the attitudes that I am trying to fight against and teach more tolerance to, let me tell you about teaching the Holocaust. As I was describing the systematic murder of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews and 1.1 million children, my students were laughing, joking, and gossiping. One had the gall to ask me to tell a holocaust joke, because they think it’s funny. I was beyond furious and frustrated. If I could just make them understand that it is attitudes like these, the attitudes of hatred and indifference that led to the Holocaust in the first place, maybe they would take life more seriously, but as long as there is no support from parents and pastors, the role of teachers is diminished.

They do not understand the consequences of their actions, and a large part of that has to do with their parents who have always gotten them out of trouble and made them believe that there are no bad consequences. I have a few students who find it one of their great joys to gossip about my sexuality. They have tried in every way to out me, but yet they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. So I wanted to simply put in writing what some of those consequences would be. First, I’d lose my job, publicly and humiliatingly. There would be those who would fight for me to keep my job and those who would fight for me to lose it. It would either become an ugly public battle in the community, or I’d leave quietly with my tail tucked between my legs not being given the chance to fight.

Second, if I lost my job, in this economy, it could prove impossible to find another teaching job. I love teaching, but there just aren’t that many jobs available. Yes, the economy may be getting better, but anyone who is familiar with the politics associated with education knows, education, especially higher education, takes the first budget cuts when there is economic turmoil, and it is education that is the last sector to see a recovery once the economy improves. I may get frustrated with my students but I truly have a passion for teaching. Anyone who knows me, knows how excited and passionate I get about new ways to teach subjects, spreading the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and seeing someone have even a glimpse of interest in what I talk about. Yes, I get frustrated with students, but the pros outweigh the cons.

Furthermore, my family would be humiliated. Grant it, I think my family should love me no matter what and accept my sexuality for what it is, but that’s a fantasy and not the reality. They would face ridicule and gossip behind their backs and sometimes to their faces. I’ve dealt with this all of my life, and it would devastate me to know that I was the cause of those I love facing the same torture. They would suffer as much as I would, and even if they accepted my sexuality, they’d still be ridiculed and shamed. All for something that I cannot change, and that God created as part of who I am. I can no more change my sexuality than a black man can change his skin color or a leopard his spots. I was born gay, I have always been gay, and I will always be gay.

I wish we lived in an ideal world where homophobes were the ones who were shamed, where racists were derided, and no one ever had to live in a closet. Sadly, that world does not exist. I hope it will some day, but it is a long way away. What I would settle for now is that people understand the consequences of their actions. Cruelty and gossip can have devastating consequences far beyond someone’s understanding. There is a snowball effect that can occur and slowly, deliberately, and effectively destroy someone’s livelihood and life. The life I live, I live because I have certain circumstances and obligations. Because of that, my depression often worsens. I hope one day I will not only be out completely, but I will also be out of this current situation. Alabama is not the best place for me, at least not the part of Alabama where I currently live.

Alabama may have seen their gay marriage ban ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, but Alabama hasn’t changed much since the 1960s when federal judges declared one segregation law after another unconstitutional. Just because something becomes law through the courts, does not mean that it will be accepted. Discrimination will continue against the LGBT community, just as it did for the African-American community. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said when he was accepted last year into the Alabama Hall of Fame, Alabama and the nation “have a long way to go” before realizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality (and I realize King’s dream of equality did not reach to LGBT Americans). Cook went on to say that Alabama was “too slow” to guarantee rights in the 1960s, Cook said, and “still too slow on equality for the LGBT community. Under the law, citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation” Cook went further and stated that “We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future.”

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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