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Come Out, Come Out, Queerever You Are??!?

posted: 6.27.07 by Barclay Barrios

When I was in grad school I was all BAGGS–you know, Big Angry Gay Grad Student. Everything I read in my grad seminars was homophobic or, at the very least, heteronormative and I played the gay card in class discussion proudly and often. So, when I started teaching it was only natural for me to want to come out to my class, in part because, given the rates of suicide among LGBT youth, I wanted to serve as some sort of role model for my students gay, bi, straight, trans, and otherwise. I remember distinctly my first classroom coming out. We were discussing Gloria Anzaldua’s selections in Ways of Reading and I made some comment about how I object to her connecting gay men and femininity because, well, I was gay.

What struck me most about that moment of revelation is just how much of a non-moment and non-revelation it seemed to be. There was no reaction from the class, not then and not afterward. Perhaps they had figured me out long ago or perhaps at a major urban campus running into someone gay was such a given that it didn’t require any sort of comment at all. Dunno. We discussed my coming out (and coming out in general) in the Teaching Writing class I was taking at the time. [True story: Richard E. Miller discussed that class discussion and its unusual conclusion in “The Nervous System.”]

Perhaps I have become jaded with age, but I don’t tend to come out “officially” in class any more, though I imagine at least some of my students find me obviously queer. For me, personal revelations of any kind within the context of classroom discussion only have value if they add to the discussion. These days, with most the readings I teach, coming out would just be gratuitous.

I like that I have a pedagogical standard for personal revelation but I still sometimes wonder if coming out is not the “right” thing to do (whatever that means). As informed and enlightened Bitsters, what do y’all think?

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Categories: Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Readers, Teaching Advice, Ways of Reading
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3 Responses to “Come Out, Come Out, Queerever You Are??!?”

  1. Selber Says:

    I agree, for the most part, with Selber in being slightly uncomfortable about, or at least a bit reticent in regards to, revealing too much about my personal life. In my past experience, students have tended to read “too much” into what this or that identity or attribute may influence other aspects of my life (in particular, my political leanings). Barclay describes a somewhat unique situation, however – after all, a gay teacher in a way *has* to disclose this information, contra, for instance, teachers of a certain ethnicity, nationality, etc., if they want to show community to students with the same identity. All of this, however, has me thinking about the role college instructors may play in their student’s lives beyond immediate academic concerns, an issue I have perhaps neglected recently.

  2. Selber Says:

    I’m not sure about the self-disclosure thing. It’s not in my nature. I even felt weird about telling students that my wife was pregnant. But I needed to do that because there was a very real possibility that the pregnancy would disrupt class. I agree with you, Barclay, that there can be sound pedagogical reasons for self-disclosure. I’m sure it helps students to know something informal about their teachers, to get to know them as people. For me this tends to happen (if it happens at all) in small moments, with students who migrate toward teacher interaction and who seek help outside of class. This is also when I tend to learn more personal things about students (which can be useful information to me). I think it works well when there are situations in which teachers and students learn about each other, rather than top-down moments of teacher disclosure.

  3. Barclay Barrios Says:

    Much agreed. And I think you’re pointing to the spaces where that happens for me–my office/office hours, before/after class, any place and any time outside of “class” as a geotemporal location.