I’m (not) THE Gay English Teacher

It’s no secret I’m gay. It never really has been, well maybe in College, but all my friends swear up and down to this day that they all know I pitched for the homo team even when we met in our freshmen dorm. {Nevills Hall, represent!}  I’ve always felt that when it came to work/school and my career that I would be “out” but I never walked into my classroom waving the rainbow flag in front of my students. Rumor mills are the same in every school across America, there were whispers, suspicions and if it ever came up, I would never deny it, I am an out proud gay man; I never wanted it to be the focus. I was an English teacher who was gay, not the gay English Teacher.

When I first started teaching and for most of my decades long career years things were very very different. This is before we got the Marriage Equality Act passed and “Will and Grace.” These were somewhat tough times. Matthew Shepard was killed less than five years before I started teaching. You had to be careful. Case in point, a gay male friend of mine was outed at a school he was teaching in. Almost overnight he sensed the tide turning against him. He couldn’t outright be fired just for being gay, but things started happening, like the janitor suddenly stopped cleaning his classroom. Parent complaints multiplied –  seemingly overnight. After years of consistently stellar reports, he received lower scores on observations…he resigned midyear and found a lower paying job; where he was much happier.

Most of my memories and experiences as a teacher have been overwhelmingly positive. Looking back there are some that might not have been so positive.  Sometimes parents try to get too close to a teacher or fish for information that is none of their business. My outgoing, friendly personality often interprets as being an invitation for them to pursue a friendship.  Hiding myself on social media was just as much hiding from the parents as it was for hiding from the students! More than once during a parent teacher meeting a parent would lean in and say, “Mr. D we should go to {insert name of gay bar here} and have a drink,” I would answer, “Your son is failing English Honors, you know that’s why you are here, right?”  Another time, on the last day of school, I was packing my car and ran into a parent in the parking lot. We got to talking and I mentioned that I was leaving on a cruise later that day. “Oh, is it an Atlantis Cruise?” she asked, adding a wink. {Atlantis is a private travel company catering primarily to gay men. An Atlantis cruises can have anywhere between 2,000 and 7,000 homosexuals on board sailing the seas for a week!} I answered “No. But I have been on more than one of those and they are fun.” Gotta give the people what they want!  Sometimes that goes well like on this occasion but sometimes it bites you in the ass…

A “well meaning” parent suggested to the principal that I favored the gay and lesbian students because I too was gay.  My amazing principal at the time answered her flat-out “Let me make this clear Mr. DeDominic’s sexual preference is not up for discussion, nor does it in any way influence his lesson planning, grading or treatment of students.  This meeting is over.” BOOYAH! Another not so fun time a parent was banned from contacting me and ever entering my classroom after leaving me a message stating that if I failed his daughter, “there will be trouble and you will be sorry you fairy.” Those words were perceived as a threat and I was on edge for a few days. In the end, said daughter handled in her missing work, aced a paper and wound up with a C+ for the marking period. It was only a progress report that said she was in danger of failing! Jeez!

These last two stories really do make me smile, one in a nervous kind of way. At a high school I taught, on Valentines Day, for $1 you can buy a “lovegram” and members of the chorus will serenade that special someone in class. This was a “non instruction” or “group activity” day since students are in and out of your 45 minute class nonstop, singing to each other. It’s actually super cute.  In walks three chorus students ready to sing, I quieted down the class and was then told, “No Mr. DeDominic, this one is for you!” Ok I thought to myself, this is nice, I am close with lots of the students, they eat lunch in my room…thinking nothing of it…until they start singing the song. The song chosen was “No One” by Alicia Keys, as in “no one, no one, can get in the way that I feel for you…” AWKWARD. Even more awkward as one girl in the class screams, “OH MY GOD!” I am sure my face said it all because 30+ juniors were living their life listening and watching. Thankfully the tension was cut from way in the back, “why you thirsty hos sending THIS song to Mr. D, he likes DUDES! And probably old dudes, look at him! you ain’t getting out of writing the paper that’s due Friday. Wasting your dollar!”

Lastly, one day after dismissal a sophomore girl named Rayne* walked into my room, Rayne was out of the closet at the time, walking from class to class hand in hand with her girlfriend. She wondered if it would be ok to ask me a very personal question, I say sure, “Mr. D, are we family?” she inquires smiling ear to ear.  I say “Yes Rayne, we are family” “I KNEW IT! My gaydar is on point. Everyone insists you and {insert female teachers name here} are a couple because you are together all the time but I knew!” I calmed her infectious enthusiasm down letting her know that while I am out and proud I am a teacher who happens to be gay and I don’t want to be known as the gay English teacher. She lets me know in no uncertain terms that she has my back, because that’s what you do for family.

Sometimes you are lucky enough to find gay family that has your back wherever you go! Even when you are the Gay English Teacher! What the hell, cant fight city hall.

@copyrighted April 13, 2019

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